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How to Remove Underarm Odor From Clothes

Have you ever opened the dryer after doing laundry and smelled old gym clothes? Running your workout gear or your child’s football jersey through the washing machine may not work on tricky smells like underarm odor. Fortunately, you can learn several easy home remedies for how to remove underarm odor from clothes!

The best way to remove the underarm odor from clothes is to kill the bacteria with vinegar or a presoak. Other effective methods include applying a paste of baking soda or soda ash or treating it with a disinfectant like mouthwash. Polyester clothing holds onto body oils and may need boiling water to fully remove odors.

In this article, you will learn what causes BO and why it clings to clothing. You will discover ten easy ways to remove underarm odor from clothes. Finally, you will find tips for the best detergent to use and the quickest way to treat your clothing.

How to Remove Underarm Odor From Clothes

Why Do the Armpits of My Clothes Smell After Washing?

The armpits of your clothes collect bacteria as your sweat soaks the fabric, and regular washing will not kill all of these bacteria. This is what makes your clothes smell even after washing, especially things like gym clothes or sports uniforms!

This bacteria is also the main reason your pits smell so bad after an intense workout. This is a bit gross, so brace yourself: did you know that a particular type of bacteria lives in human armpits?

This strain of bacteria, called Staphylococcus Hominis, eats the chemicals found in your sweat. After getting strong from eating the stuff in your sweat, a particular enzyme inside the bacteria converts into something called thioalcohol, which has a rank and unpleasant odor.

Products like deodorants and antiperspirants can alleviate the odor in many cases, but some bacteria will still build up in your clothes as you sweat.

Another big factor at play here is the kind of cloth in your clothes, as synthetic fabrics hold onto body oils and smell more stubbornly than natural fabrics like cotton. Most natural or plant-based fabrics easily absorb water, meaning that water and soap can rinse away anything soaked into that kind of cloth.

Synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon – two of the most popular materials used in gym clothes and sports gear–have high water resistance, making cleaning them with soap and water more difficult. Unfortunately, polyester can absorb oils, including body oils.

On top of this, many high-performance fabrics have a special moisture-wicking design, meaning that hollow sections in the fabric carry away your sweat to keep you cool and dry.

Your sweat then evaporates off the fabric into the air, but it leaves the bacteria behind, embedded inside the polyester!

While regular washing will not budge this stubborn and stinky bacteria, the good news is that you can use a few special tricks to get your gym clothes smelling fresh again.

How to Remove Underarm Odor From Clothes: 10 Methods

How to get armpit smells out of shirts

You can remove underarm odor from your clothes using household products you probably already have at home, like white vinegar or baking soda. You can also use the time to kill the bacteria causing the bad smell by setting up a presoak to treat your stinky clothing, or even by using a freezer to kill the bacteria!

Cleaning products like Murphy’s Oil Soap and hygiene products like most mouthwashes can also eliminate the bacteria and the odor from your clothes.

One key factor in any of these methods is to treat the stinky clothing right away, though. If you let your ripe clothes sit and fester, the bacteria will multiply and the problem will only worsen. Treat and launder the stinky clothing right away to most effectively remove the underarm odor from the fabric.

As a pro tip, you can also consider establishing a schedule for wearing your workout clothes. This way, you can have five or six different sets of clothing to rotate through so you do not wear the same shirt multiple times. Even if you wash the shirt in between uses, it will slowly collect a buildup of bacteria and get more and more stinky each time you wear it.

Most commercial stain removers and laundry pretreatments don’t work so well on BO because these products target things like the enzymes in grass or food stains. You may have better luck with degreasing stain removers, but even these may not kill the stinky bacteria.

The bottom line is that you need to apply pretreatment to kill the bacteria and then wash the shirt to fully neutralize all the bad smells.

1. Presoak

One of the best and easiest ways to remove underarm odor from your clothes is to give them a presoak before washing. This gives your cleaning product time to work into the fabric and kill the bacteria.

You can use several different presoak methods.

  • Fill a clean bucket ⅔ full of hot water. Measure in ½ cup of table salt and stir to dissolve. Add the garment, soak it for 20 minutes, and then wash in your washing machine.
  • Add bleach to your washing machine and set the cycle to include a soak.
  • Add vinegar to your washing machine and set the machine to include a soak before the washing cycle begins.
  • Dissolve ½ a cup of baking soda into a bucket of warm water. Soak the garment in that for 20 minutes before laundering as usual.

2. Laundry Detergent

Arm & Hammer Plus OxiClean Clean Meadow, 75 Loads Liquid Laundry Detergent, 118.1 Fl ozWhile simply washing the clothes in your washing machine will not remove the smell, directly applying laundry detergent and scrubbing it into the stinky armpits can do the trick.

This method works best with an extra-strong detergent on synthetic fabrics.

  1. Turn the shirt inside out. Run the armpits of the shirt under water in your sink to get them damp. Squeeze out the excess moisture.
  2. Pour a drop of laundry detergent straight onto this area.
  3. Use a clean sponge to work up a lather, scrubbing the soap into the shirt’s armpits.
  4. Let the shirt sit for ten to twenty minutes, then wash it with hot water and stronger detergent in your washing machine.

3. Boiling Water

One of the big problems with getting body odors out of polyester is that it is hydrophobic, which means that water does not wash away the bacteria and oils the fabric picks up from your body. But you can solve that problem by using boiling water because the extremely high temperature will open up the fibers inside polyester, allowing the soap and water to do their jobs!

This is probably the most extreme and effective method of getting armpit odor out of your clothes. It should work even on very gross athletic wear!

  1. Turn the shirt inside out.
  2. Clean your kitchen sink and arrange the shirt in the sink so that the armpits face up at you.
  3. Boil a pot of water on the stove.
  4. Slowly pour the boiling water over and through each armpit of the shirt.
  5. Don’t rinse away the hot water, but do make sure you don’t touch the shirt while it is so hot!
  6. Mix a solution of ¼ cup baking soda, ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide, and ¼ cup water in a disposable cup. Pour this onto the armpits and use a sponge to work it into the pits.
  7. Let this sit for ten minutes, then rinse the shirt (use tongs to hold the fabric if it still feels hot).
  8. Run the shirt through a hot water wash in your machine.

4. Vinegar

VinegarDistilled white vinegar can kill all the bacteria lodged in the fabric of your shirt and make it smell better almost instantly. In fact, vinegar works so well that some health experts even recommend treating your armpits with apple cider vinegar to help prevent BO!

For clothes, make sure you use distilled white vinegar that will not stain the cloth. You can use several different methods to treat your stinky clothes with vinegar.

  • Add ⅓ cup of distilled vinegar to your washing machine and set it to “soak” mode. Let it sit for half an hour and then do a hot wash with regular laundry detergent to remove the vinegar smell.
  • Fill a bucket a quarter full of distilled white vinegar, and then fill up the remaining ¾ of the bucket with hot water. Gently lower the shirt into the water and let it sit for twenty minutes. Carry the bucket to your laundry room and wash the shirt in the washing machine as usual.
  • Mix baking soda with just enough vinegar to form a sticky paste. Rub this into the pits and let sit for 30 minutes. Rinse away the paste and then launder the shirt as usual.

5. Baking Soda Paste

Baking sodaBaking soda has a wonderful ability to neutralize unpleasant odors and can make your stinky clothes smell good again. But this is more of a temporary solution, as baking soda will not kill the bacteria causing the smell.

To use baking soda:

  1. Mix one cup of baking soda and enough water to make a paste that does not feel crumbly.
  2. Turn the shirt inside out and dampen the armpit areas under running water.
  3. Smear the paste over the armpits and scrub it in thoroughly using a damp sponge or an old toothbrush.
  4. Let the shirt sit overnight. Baking soda takes time to absorb the odors!
  5. In the morning, rinse the baking soda and launder the shirt in hot water using a strong detergent.

6. Soda Ash

Like baking soda, soda ash can absorb odors out of cloth and neutralize the scent. This is a somewhat stronger substance also known as washing soda. You can often find it from places that sell dye because cloth dyers also use it to help set colors into the fabric.

  1. Turn the shirt inside out.
  2. Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands.
  3. Measure out ¼ cup of soda ash and sprinkle it thickly over the pits of the shirt.
  4. Use a clean water bottle to spritz water over the powder.
  5. Use a damp sponge to work the damp powder into the fabric.
  6. Let this sit for half an hour, then rinse the paste.
  7. Launder the shirt as usual in your washing machine.

7. Murphy’s Oil Soap

Murphy 70481465315 OIL SOAP Wood Cleaner, Original, Concentrated Formula, Floor Cleaner, Multi-Use , Finished Surface Cleaner, 128 Fluid Ounce (US05480A)Murphy’s Oil Soap is an old-fashioned cleaning product that remains popular today for its amazing ability to clean and freshen wood surfaces. Still, you can also use it on stinky armpits in your clothes!
  1. Turn your shirt inside out and soak it in water and then wring it out so that it is damp but not dripping.
  2. Pour one teaspoon of Murphy’s Oil Soap directly onto the damp armpit.
  3. Use an old toothbrush to scrub the soap in thoroughly. You should see a lather working up as you scrub.
  4. Let the soap sit for half an hour.
  5. Rinse the armpits under running water to remove the soap.
  6. Launder the shirt, as usual, using hot water and detergent.

8. Mouthwash

Listerine Freshburst Antiseptic Mouthwash for Bad Breath, Kills 99% of Germs That Cause Bad Breath & Fight Plaque & Gingivitis, ADA Accepted Mouthwash, Spearmint, 1 LMouthwash kills unpleasant bacteria in your mouth, so it makes sense that it can also kill the bacteria from your sweat, making your shirts stink! The only catch with this method is that you will want to test the mouthwash on a hidden part of the shirt first to make sure its bright color will not stain the garment.
  1. Put your shirt in a basin with the stinky armpits facing up at you.
  2. Pour two or three capfuls of mouthwash straight onto each pit–make sure you soak the whole area.
  3. Let this sit for half an hour.
  4. Rinse the shirt under running water, then launder it as usual.

9. Without Washing

If you do not have cleaning supplies on hand and don’t want to go to the laundromat to wash your super-stinky clothes, you can use your freezer instead. Freezing temperatures will kill the stinky bacteria that your sweat embedded in your shirt. Once the bacteria dies, it cannot continue to release the smell that you find so unpleasant.

This may not be the ideal method for large amounts of laundry, but if you just have one stubborn shirt that always smells after you wash it, give this method a try!

  1. Fold your shirt and place it inside a ziplock bag. You do not want to accidentally get germs or dirt on the food in your freezer!
  2. Place the sealed shirt in the freezer and leave it there overnight.
  3. Take the shirt out of the freezer and launder it as usual.

10. Meat Tenderizer

One of the strongest products you can use to solve underarm odor in your clothes is to use a meat tenderizer! These products can break down the enzymes in meat that make them tough, so they can also attack the smelly enzyme that develops as the bacteria eats your sweat.

  1. Turn your shirt inside out and soak it to get it wet.
  2. Wring out excess water, leaving the fabric damp.
  3. Set up the shirt in a large, flat basin so you can see the armpits.
  4. Sprinkle a thick coating of meat tenderizer over each pit.
  5. Use an old toothbrush to scrub the powder into the fabric.
  6. Let this sit for half an hour.
  7. Rinse out the shirt, and then launder it as usual!

How to Remove Sweat Smell From Clothes Instantly

There is no instant way to get sweat smell out of clothes, as you need to allow any odor-removing treatment to sit for twenty minutes to half an hour.

Soaking in white vinegar almost always works and only takes about half an hour from start to finish, though you will want to launder your clothing to remove the vinegar smell after that!

If you’re in a hurry and don’t have any special cleaning products on hand, you can try the laundry detergent method of scrubbing straight detergent into the pit area of the garment and letting that sit for a few minutes before washing the garment.

Another option you could consider is to take your clothes that smell sweaty to a dry cleaner. This way, you do not have to spend time and effort removing the odors.

How to Remove Underarm Odor Permanently From Clothes

The best way to permanently remove underarm odor from clothes is to use the white vinegar method. This will kill the bacteria hiding out in the armpit area of your clothing and effectively eliminate the cause of the odor.

For shirts made out of polyester, another extremely effective way to eradicate the bacteria is to use the boiling water method.

Any method you use will only permanently remove the odor until you wear the shirt again. Once you sweat through the fabric again, you will have a new batch of smelly bacteria to deal with!

How to Get Rid of Butyric Acid Smell From Clothes

One of the best ways to get rid of a butyric acid smell in clothes is to treat them with baking soda. Baking soda acts as a base to neutralize acids and can offer a quick solution.

Butyric acid is one of the main ingredients in human vomit, but you can also find it in many dairy products like cheese and butter. It also exists in the colon and can cause awful body odor in some cases. If your pits smell like vomit instead of like sweat, the smell is caused by butyric acid.

First, you should see a doctor to treat the issue and make sure you maintain your health.

Second, you can treat your clothes by soaking them in a bath of water and baking soda for at least an hour and then laundering them as usual. You may also want to apply a paste of baking soda and water directly to the armpit area and let that sit for an additional thirty minutes before washing for a strong odor.

How to Remove Armpit Odor From Dry-Clean Only Clothes

The best way to remove armpit odor from dry-clean-only clothes is to take them to a professional dry cleaner or treat them with vinegar and water.

If you read the care label inside the garment and safely expose the fabric to water, you can mix up a half cup of water and a half cup of vinegar in a spray bottle. Mist that mixture over the pits and let it sit for half an hour, then rinse the shirt in cool water.

If you cannot get the fabric wet, as with most silk and wool garments, simply take it to a professional cleaner and ask for help!

Best Detergent for Underarm Odor

The best laundry detergents for underarm odor provide special scent neutralizing abilities. But you will still need to apply a pretreatment to the pits of your shirt before using any of these products. That said, choosing the right detergent will make your life easier and help prevent odor buildup in your workout clothes.

Arm & Hammer Plus OxiClean

Arm & Hammer Plus OxiClean Odor Blasters Fresh Burst, 70 Loads Liquid Laundry Detergent, 122.5 Fl OzArm & Hammer famously uses baking soda in its products, offering excellent odor neutralizing properties. The combo of Arm & Hammer with OxiClean gives you scent elimination and great stain-lifting power!

Plus, this product is designed to treat sweat and body odor in clothes. It also features a long-lasting Fresh Burst ability to keep the laundry smell in your clothes for longer.

Sweat X Sport Extreme Laundry Detergent

Sweat X Sport Max Odor Defense Extreme Activewear DetergentDesigned specifically to target high-performance athletic fabrics, Sweat X Sport Extreme Laundry Detergent takes an extreme approach to the body odor smells in your athletic gear. It uses NANOVASIVE techniques to scrape the bad-smelling bacteria and gunk out of the fabric while also repairing the moisture-wicking ability in the cloth.

Besides aggressively targeting odors, this product can remove the nasty stain you may acquire in your sports uniforms, like grass, mud, or even blood stains!


The best way to remove the underarm odor from clothes is to apply a pretreatment that kills the bacteria lodged in the fabric. Your sweat carries smelly bacteria into the underarms of your shirts when you work out or play sports, and your washing machine will not successfully eliminate the bacteria. Instead, try a pretreatment of soaking in water and vinegar or water and baking soda.

You can also use Murphy’s Oil Soap, mouthwash, or even meat tenderizer to kill the bacteria and get rid of the odor! If you do not have easy access to these cleaning products, or if you don’t have a washing machine in your home, you can also consider freezing the shirt to kill off the bacteria.