How to remove yellow stains from a white shirt

Has your favourite white shirt seen better days? Are unsightly yellow stains ruining the crisp, clean appearance you love? Don’t worry, you don’t have to toss that shirt in the trash. With the right techniques, you can get those stubborn stains out and breathe new life into your wardrobe staple.

Yellow stains on white shirts are a common problem that can happen for a variety of reasons. Sweat, deodorant, food, and other substances can all leave behind discolouring marks that seem impossible to remove. But with a little elbow grease and the right cleaning products, you can say goodbye to those pesky stains for good.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about identifying, treating, and banishing those dreaded yellow stains from your favourite white shirts. Whether you’re dealing with perspiration marks, makeup smudges, or cooking mishaps, we’ve got the tips and tricks to get your shirts looking fresh and new again. Let’s dive in!

remove yellow stains from a white shirt

What Causes Yellow Stains on White Shirts?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of stain removal, it’s important to understand what’s causing those unsightly yellow marks in the first place. Knowing the culprit will help you determine the best cleaning method. Some of the most common causes of yellow stains on white shirts include:

Sweat and Body Oils

One of the most frequent causes of yellow armpit stains is perspiration and the natural oils produced by your body. As you sweat, those oils and salts can seep into the fabric, causing discolouration over time.

Deodorant and Antiperspirant

The aluminium and other ingredients found in many deodorants and antiperspirants can also contribute to yellow armpit stains. As the product interacts with your sweat, it can leave behind a yellowish residue.

Skin Lotions and Makeup

If you apply lotions, creams, or makeup before putting on a white shirt, those products can transfer to the fabric and cause staining, especially around the collar and cuffs.

Food and Drink Spills

Accidental spills from coffee, tea, juice, or other foods and beverages are a common source of yellow stains. The pigments and oils in these substances can easily soak into white fabrics.

Improper Washing

Even if a stain isn’t initially noticeable, washing your shirts incorrectly can cause the stain to set and discolour the fabric over time. Using the wrong water temperature, detergent, or drying method can all contribute to yellow stains.

Aging and Oxidation

Sometimes, white shirts can simply start to yellow with age, even without visible stains. This natural discolouration is caused by the cotton fibres breaking down and oxidizing over time.

Now that you know what’s causing those unsightly yellow marks, let’s look at the best methods for removing them.

How to Remove Yellow Stains from White Shirts

There are a few different techniques you can use to tackle yellow stains on white shirts, depending on the severity of the discolouration and the root cause. Here are some of the most effective stain-removal methods:

1. Pretreat with an Enzyme-Based Stain Remover

One of the most powerful weapons in the fight against yellow stains is an enzyme-based stain remover. These specialized products contain active enzymes that break down and dissolve the proteins, oils, and other substances that cause discolouration.

To use, simply apply the stain remover directly to the affected area, gently rub it in, and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour before washing. The enzymes will get to work, lifting and loosening the stain so it can be easily washed away.

Look for enzyme-based stain removers that are specifically formulated for use on white fabrics. Brands like Biz, Persil, and Puracy make great options.

2. Try a Diluted Bleach Solution

For stubborn yellow stains, a diluted bleach solution can be an effective treatment. Bleach has powerful oxidizing properties that can break down and remove discolouration.

To make the solution, mix 1 part household bleach with 10 parts water in a small bowl or spray bottle. Apply the solution directly to the stain, let it sit for 5-10 minutes, and then wash the shirt as usual. Be sure to test the solution on a small, inconspicuous area first to make sure it doesn’t damage the fabric.

Note that you’ll want to avoid using bleach on shirts with coloured patterns or embellishments, as it can cause fading or discolouration. Stick to plain white shirts for this method.

3. Use an Oxygen-Based Whitener

Another effective option for removing yellow stains is an oxygen-based whitener or bleach alternative. Products like OxiClean or hydrogen peroxide work by releasing active oxygen molecules that penetrate and lift stains from the fabric.

Simply mix the whitener with water according to the product instructions, soak the stained shirt for 30 minutes to an hour, and then wash as normal. The oxygen-based formula will help restore the shirt’s original whiteness without the harsh effects of chlorine bleach.

These types of whiteners are safe for use on coloured shirts as well, making them a versatile option.

4. Try a Baking Soda and Vinegar Soak

For a more natural approach, you can try soaking your stained shirt in a solution of baking soda and white vinegar. The baking soda acts as a gentle abrasive to scrub away the stain, while the vinegar helps break down and dissolve the discolouration.

To use this method, fill a sink or large bowl with warm water and add 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of white vinegar. Submerge the stained shirt and let it soak for 30 minutes to an hour, agitating it occasionally. Then wash the shirt as usual.

This is a great option for delicate fabrics or shirts with embellishments, as baking soda and vinegar are gentler than harsh chemicals.

5. Scrub with a Toothbrush and Dish Soap

For really stubborn yellow stains, you may need to get a little more hands-on. Try using an old toothbrush and a small amount of dish soap to gently scrub the affected area.

Wet the toothbrush and apply a few drops of liquid dish soap. Gently brush the stain in a circular motion, applying a bit of pressure to work the soap into the fibres. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before rinsing and washing as normal.

The abrasive action of the toothbrush and the degreasing properties of the dish soap can help lift even the toughest stains. Just be sure not to scrub too vigorously, as this could damage the fabric.

6. Sunlight and air-drying

For stains that just won’t budge, harnessing the power of the sun and air can be an effective final step. The UV rays in sunlight have natural bleaching properties that can help fade and lift stubborn yellow discolouration.

After trying one of the other stain removal methods, hang your shirt out to dry in direct sunlight. The combination of sunlight and air drying can help set the stain removal and further brighten the fabric.

Keep in mind that this technique may take some time and repeated exposure to the sun to see results. But it’s a chemical-free way to get your whites looking their best.

Tips for Preventing Future Yellow Stains

Now that you know how to remove those pesky yellow stains, let’s talk about prevention. Here are some tips to help keep your white shirts looking fresh and stain-free:

  • Pretreat sweat and deodorant stains immediately. Don’t let them set in and discolour the fabric.
  • Wash shirts promptly after wearing them, especially if you’ve been sweating or using products like lotions or makeup.
  • Avoid using fabric softeners, which can build up and cause discolouration over time.
  • Wash whites separately from coloured items to prevent dye transfer.
  • Use the hottest water temperature recommended for the fabric, as hotter water is more effective at removing stains.
  • Air dry shirts when possible to avoid the yellowing effects of machine drying.
  • Store white shirts in a cool, dry place to prevent oxidation and aging.
  • Consider investing in high-quality undershirts or perspiration pads to help absorb sweat and protect your outer shirts.

With the right care and cleaning techniques, you can keep your favourite white shirts looking bright, crisp, and stain-free for years to come. Say goodbye to those unsightly yellow marks and hello to a fresh, polished look.


Yellow stains on white shirts can be a real bummer, but they don’t have to be a permanent problem. With the right tools and techniques, you can tackle even the toughest discolouration and get your wardrobe staples looking as good as new.

From enzyme-based stain removers to DIY baking soda and vinegar soaks, we’ve covered a variety of effective methods for banishing those pesky yellow marks. And by following some simple prevention tips, you can help keep your white shirts pristine for the long haul.

So don’t be discouraged by those stubborn stains – take action and reclaim the crisp, clean look you love. Your closet will thank you!

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As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.