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Bleaching effect of sweat

In order for sweat to bleach clothing or alter the color, sweat volume, presence of antiperspirants and bacteria, and the dyes in clothing make some more prone to this effect than others. Read more...




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What types of sweat glands do we have?

We have two types of sweat glands under the arms, eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine sweat glands are all over the body. Apocrine sweat glands tend to be focused on the scalp, underarms, and groin. Apocrine sweat may linger longer on the skin and have the opportunity to interact with bacteria on the skin to trigger an odor.



What is the composition of sweat?

The mean pH of sweat is in the acidic range. It is predominantly composed of water (about 99%). In addition to water, sweat can also contain amino acids, urea, potassium, sodium, chloride, lactate, pyruvate, and potentially medications that are being taken. Sweat is colorless and odorless on its own.

How can sweat change the color of clothing?

When sweat comes into contact with bacteria, clothing, and antiperspirants it can change. Bacteria can add an odor to sweat. Antiperspirants can interact with sweat to create yellowish stains on clothing. And, the pigments in textiles can interact with sweat to alter the color and potentially lighten or create a bleaching effect on clothing. Sweat can also lighten clothing simply because after it attaches to clothing, the water content may evaporate leaving behind the salt to crystalize on clothing.

How can we reduce the tendency for sweat to alter the color of clothing?

In order for sweat to bleach clothing or alter the color, the higher the sweat volume, the presence of antiperspirants and bacteria, and the dyes in clothing make some more prone to this effect than others.

To try to reduce the tendency towards this it can help to:

  1. Apply a thin layer or small amount of antiperspirant to reduce the chances of the product causing its own discoloration.

  2. Consider applying antiperspirant at night instead of in the morning to give it the opportunity to dry. Antiperspirants are effective for longer than a few hours so it is ok to apply the night before.

  3. Try to avoid letting stains set into clothing by washing instead of letting too much time pass.

  4. Consider the prescription antiperspirant containing aluminum chloride. It comes as a solution so the residue left behind is minimal to reduce the chances of the product itself leaving behind discoloration.

Alternatively, consider reducing sweat overall with Botox injections.

Are there other ways to reduce the tendency for antiperspirants to alter the color of clothing?

Sweat can combine with aluminum in antiperspirants to leave a yellow residue on clothing. The residue from an antiperspirant can also contribute to these stains. There are two opposite approaches to considering how to address this frustrating issue.

The first option is to consider an antiperspirant with less aluminum/lower concentration OR a natural deodorant with no aluminum. With less aluminum, there could potentially be reduced stains on the shirt however the challenge is that there may be more sweat! Aluminum chloride is the active ingredient in antiperspirants that controls sweating. The only alternative antiperspirant ingredient may be glycopyrrolate which is prescription.

The second option is the opposite extreme. Potentially increasing the antiperspirant effect with a higher concentration of aluminum or the prescription aluminum chloride antiperspirant could reduce the amount of sweat produced leaving less sweat to react with the aluminum to potentially reduce the chances of yellow stains on shirts.

Are athletes more prone to the tendency for stains from sweat?

Athletes may be more susceptible to developing yellow sweat stains on shirts by producing more sweat. With increased sweat, there is the potential for increased sodium present in the sweat to interact with aluminum in antiperspirants to risk yellow sweat stains.


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