The Problem: what causes yellow stains on white clothes?
The most common causes are deodorant, oxidation, and bleach.
While sweat is 99% water, the remaining 1% contains urea, uric acid, ammonia, lactic acid, sugars, salts, and more. These chemicals react with the aluminum contained in most deodorants and antiperspirants to create those pesky underarm stains we don’t love. Another danger is poor washing and/or rinsing, which can leave remnants of dirt and deep stains that, when exposed to oxygen, turn into yellow stains over time. This is also why white clothes turn yellow in storage. One other surprising cause of yellow stains is excessive use of bleach, which can cause the fibers in the fabric to decay and weaken over time, leading to nasty yellowing.
**N.B.: A couple of stain best practices:**
There are a few general stain rules that apply across stain types and remedies. It’s generally best practice to treat any stain as soon as possible. The longer the stain has sat in your clothing, the more stubborn it becomes. Even if you’re only able to rinse it in the moment, that will go a long way toward treating the stain.
But it is also crucial to not apply ANY heat to the garment before the stain is removed. That means wash with cold water only and check the stained area after washing to ensure it is fully gone before putting it through the dryer. Do no iron or steam if the stain is still there. This will set your stains and make them very hard, if not impossible, to remove.
For more general garment care instructions, see our care page.
The 4 Solutions to Treat Yellow Stains
Now without further ado…
Here are the four best methods to combat yellow stains on your white clothes: the long-term solution, the quick-fix solution, the most sustainable solution, and the stubborn stains solution.
1.) The Long-Term Solution: Pretreating stains before every wash
For: all whites, all washes
What you’ll need:
- A stain removal stick of your choice – we recommend the Wunderbar Stain Stick from Celsious as it is vegan, non-toxic, fragrance-free, biodegradable, and it works like a dream
Everyone knows prevention is the best remedy! Apart from choosing to wear looser fitting tops (like our best selling Split Infinitive Shirt) or switching to an aluminum free deodorant (which there are other good reasons for), the best way to avoid yellow stains entirely is to pretreat classically problematic areas with stain remover before washing.
→ Simply swipe or spritz your stain remover on the under arms, collar, and wrists of your shirts and follow their washing instructions.
The occasional full garment refresh can be helpful as well. It’s best to use non-chlorine bleach to treat whites instead of regular bleach, as it's generally safer for the fabric and more environmentally friendly. We recommend this one from our friends at Celsious, which is non-toxic, biodegradable, and cruelty-free: Celsious Supersalt Oxygen Brightener.
Sadly, if you’re reading this article, we assume you already have yellow stains that need prompt removal. Never fear! We have several power-packed stain removal methods to save your whites for years to come.
2.) The Quick-Fix Solution: White Toothpaste
For: small and/or lighter stains in a pinch
What you’ll need:
- Purely white, regular grade toothpaste (any coloring in the toothpaste can further discolor your clothing)
- Toothbrush (or other applicator – your fingers can work in a pinch)
→ Grab a toothbrush and apply toothpaste. Brush the yellow spot until the toothpaste is evenly distributed and set into the garment. Ideally, let it sit for 30 minutes before running cold water over the treatment area. In a rush, it may work to brush the area vigorously for 30 seconds to a minute and rinse with cold water. If the stain persists, reapply the paste and let it sit for a more extended period of time.
Toothpaste is a quick and easy fix because of the hydrogen peroxide present in its formula. Hydrogen peroxide is a mild bleach that can spread through multiple layers of a surface and tackle staining properties such as yellow stains on your white clothes. Note that this is why most natural toothpastes will be less effective, as many do not contain hydrogen peroxide, although the baking soda in them can help.
3.) The Sustainable Solution: Natural, eco-friendly ingredients only
For: yellowing whites in the sustainably-minded home
What you’ll need:
- White Vinegar
→ Combine ¼ cup white vinegar with 1 cup water (1 part vinegar to 4 parts water) in a bowl or spray bottle. Apply the mixture to the yellow stains and let it sit for an hour. Wash the garment in cold water and dry it as usual.
White vinegar is a natural cleaning agent that removes salts and odors from clothes, preventing oxidation due to leftover dirt and the reactions of sweat with aluminum salts from deodorants. It is non-toxic and eco-friendly, making it the perfect solution to care for your garments and the planet at the same time.
4.) The Long-term, Stubborn Stains Solution: Powerful stain removing cocktail
For: tough stains and long-term yellowing
What you’ll need:
- Dish soap (clear, undyed only)
- Baking Soda
→ In a bowl or spray bottle, mix 3 tablespoons of dish soap, 3 tablespoons of baking soda, and ½ cup of hydrogen peroxide. Generously apply your whitening cocktail to the yellow stain and let it sit for an hour. Wash the garment in cold water as usual and dry.
This cleaning cocktail can be made eco-friendly by choosing a non-toxic dish soap. The hydrogen peroxide has bleaching properties that, when mixed with baking soda and dish soap to combat odors and absorb stains, creates a homemade oxygen bleach that delivers the ultimate anti-stain power punch.
At GRAMMAR, we know how hard it can be to keep your whites looking crisp and bright. We design our garments to last a lifetime; proper garment care can do a lot to preserve your clothes for the longest time possible. If you’re looking for high-quality white shirts, we have you covered! Browse our essential shirts collection to find your new favorite piece.