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Cheapskate: Several cheap solutions for removing stains from shirts

From time to time I reach into the proverbial EC mailbag and pull out a few of your questions to answer here. My goal is to select questions I believe the answers to which will have a wide appeal. But I can tell you for sure that when the question arrives with a photo showing me the problem, it gets my attention in spades.

Dear Mary: My husband wears white undershirts and no matter what brand or fabric content, they get gray blotches in the wash.

I typically use non-chlorine bleach and fabric softener, but recently stopped those additions and that didn’t help. I use high efficiency detergent. The washer is set to “whites” and dryer to “cottons.” I changed detergent brands and switched from powder to liquid but still the blotches appear.

I wash my white t-shirts in the same load as his undershirts, and mine come out fine.

Any suggestions on why these blotches appear, how to remove existing ones, and how to avoid them in the future will be very much appreciated! —Mona

Dear Mona: The pattern and location of the stains in your photo leads me to believe this is not a detergent problem. The culprit here is most likely perspiration. My best guess is that these blotches are caused by a reaction between urea, a broken-down protein, and salts found in human perspiration, occurring in varying degrees from one person to another. Yellowish armpit stains in white t-shirts are a sign of the same thing — sweat that has interacted with antiperspirant ingredients, causing those stains to show up yellow.

If you’ve been washing these shirts in chlorine bleach in an attempt to remove the kind of stains I see in the photo, you’re only making matters worse. But don’t fret! You have several options regarding how to remove these stains and also avoid new ones in the future.

SOILOVE. The easiest way to remove sweat stains is with a stain treatment like Soilove, formulated to attack protein-based stains like grease, ink, beverage, food, grass, blood and perspiration. Treat old stains and also treat the sweaty areas on shirts before they have a chance to turn into stains. And you can treat the old stains with Soilove, as well. It is a remarkable product.

LEMON JUICE. Before washing, combine equal parts lemon juice and water, and scrub until the stain is gone.

WHITE VINEGAR. Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar to 1 cup of water, and apply to the stain. Let it sit for 30 minutes before washing.

SALT. Add 1 tablespoon table salt to 1 cup water. Sponge the solution into the stain until it’s completely gone. Launder as usual.

BAKING SODA. Combine 4 tablespoons of baking soda and 1/4 cup of water. Dab on the stain until it’s gone then wash.

AMMONIA. Dilute household ammonia with an equal amount of water and pour onto the stain. You don’t need to let it sit before washing, just toss it in.

HYDROGEN PEROXIDE. Dilute hydrogen peroxide with an equal amount of water, apply to the stain, and let sit for 30 minutes before washing. Don’t use hydrogen peroxide on colors, as it does have similar properties to bleach.

Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740.

Mary invites questions, comments and tips at, or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, and the author of “Debt-Proof Living,” released in 2014.


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