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What Causes Yellow Stains on Clothes?

Noticing yellow stains on your clothes is not uncommon, especially on white clothes. Some clothes that were once white may even turn yellow over time. Most of the time, yellow stains on clothes aren’t hard to remove. But what causes yellow stains on clothes in the first place? This is an important question to ask if you want to prevent them in the future.

Numerous things can cause yellow stains on clothes. The most common include:

  • Too much bleach
  • Deodorant/sweat
  • Too much detergent
  • Not enough detergent
  • Oxidation
  • Grease
  • Cigarette smoke/nicotine
  • Skincare products

It can be hard to narrow down what’s causing yellow stains on your clothes, or it could be due to multiple reasons. In this article, I’ll explain the common reasons for yellow stains on clothes. Also you will learn how to remove those yellow stains and how to prevent them from happening again in the future.

What Causes Yellow Stains on Clothes

What Causes Yellow Stains on Clothes?

Yellow stains on clothes may have more than one cause. But hopefully, you can look at this list and narrow down what might be causing them in your particular situation. Here are all the common causes of yellow stains on clothes and why they cause them to form.

1. Too Much Bleach

One of the most common causes of yellow stains on clothes is using too much bleach. Using too much bleach or using bleach too frequently or incorrectly can cause yellow stains to form over time. These stains can be localized, or the whole garment may have a yellow tint.

The reason this is the case is that bleach is naturally slightly yellow, even though it intends to whiten clothes. If the bleach isn’t rinsed or diluted properly with water, some residues may be left behind on the clothes.

Luckily, this is an easy fix. Just make sure that you’re following the instructions on the packaging and using the proper amount of bleach. Also, avoid bleaching your clothes too often, and make sure you add them to the proper dispenser in the washing machine.

2. Deodorant/Sweat

Another one of the most common causes of yellow stains on clothes may be the type of deodorant you use and the way it interacts with sweat. Sweat is a mixture of water and body oil, which is slightly yellow, but usually, sweat is not enough to cause yellow stains by itself.

However, if you use deodorant that contains aluminum, which is the most common type of deodorant, you may notice more yellow stains on your clothes. The aluminum in your deodorant reacts with the sweat to cause yellowing. You’ll most likely see these types of stains on the armpit areas. Switching to an aluminum-free deodorant may help fix the problem.

3. Amount of Detergent

The amount of detergent you use may also cause yellow stains on clothes. It can be due to using too much detergent when you wash clothes or not enough. The type of detergent you use may also affect this.

It’s worth noting that not using enough detergent may not be the direct cause of the yellow stains on your clothes. However, the yellow stains may be caused by food, deodorant, skin care products, etc., and not using enough detergent means that whatever caused the stain may not get rinsed out. Pre-treating stains before you wash them and upping the amount of detergent you use can fix this.

If the stain is caused by detergent directly, it’s likely because you’re using too much detergent. Using too much detergent can leave behind a residue as all the chemicals that make up detergents may not get rinsed out. Heavily fragranced detergents are more likely to cause this than free and clear formulas. Using less detergent can prevent this.

4. Oxidation

If stains aren’t treated and rinsed out completely, they can oxidize over time. This can cause them to turn yellow, even if the stain wasn’t yellow previously. Oxidation occurs when the stains and clothing are exposed to oxygen, similar to how rust forms on objects containing iron.

The exposure to oxygen causes a chemical reaction, which may cause the stain to break down or turn color. This can happen with any stain, including food stains, bleach, oils and grease, etc. Some exposure to oxygen is inevitable, but making sure stains are removed as much as possible and changing the way you store your clothes can help reduce the chances of yellow stains forming over time.

5. Grease

Grease and other oily substances can also leave behind yellow stains, which will likely look oily, so this type of stain should be easy to pinpoint. But what’s hard to pinpoint is exactly what caused the stain since there are so many sources that grease and oil stains could come from.

Common causes of getting grease and oils on your clothes could be from a job, food, natural body oils or skincare products. They can leave behind yellow, oily stains if not treated and rinsed. And unfortunately, once this type of stain sets in, it becomes even harder, if not impossible, to remove.

6. Cigarettes/Nicotine

If you’re a smoker, that may be what’s causing yellow stains on your clothes. This is due to the nicotine found in cigarettes and the smoke produced by them. Even if your clothes are washed regularly, the residue can build up over time, causing yellowing. It can even cause white surfaces in your home to turn yellow over time.

Of course, how long it takes for yellow stains to develop and how hard they are to remove depends on how much and how frequently you smoke. But reducing how much you smoke or making sure that you smoke in a well-ventilated area or outdoors may help prevent this. Pre-treating your clothes before you wash them can also help.

7. Skincare Products

Lastly, skincare products you use on your body, such as lotion, moisturizer, shampoo, oils, etc., can all cause yellowing over time. This is because one of the main components of these products is oils, most of which are naturally yellow. But they are also made up of other chemicals that may cause yellowing.

The most likely reasons for these products causing yellow stains on clothes can be due to several factors. You may be using too much of a product. Or depending on the product, if it isn’t rinsed off well, that can also cause yellowing if it gets on your clothes. Finally, if your clothing touches the product while it is still wet, it can stain the clothes and cause residue buildup over time.

How to Remove Yellow Stains on Clothes

Now that you know the potential causes of yellow stains on clothes and may even have been able to narrow down what’s causing yours, you may be wondering how you can remove them. There are several methods for removing yellow stains from clothes. But how effective each one is will depend on the type of stain and how long it has been there.

Baking Soda

Baking sodaBaking soda has many uses when it comes to cleaning, and removing yellow stains is one of them. There are a couple of ways you can use this method. You can make a paste or a soak, depending on the size of the stain.

For smaller, localized stains, create a baking soda paste by mixing equal parts water and baking soda. Apply the paste to the stain and let it sit until the paste is dry. Then, rinse off the stain and wash the clothing as you normally would.

For larger stains or if the whole garment is yellowed, you can also create a baking soda soak. Mix 1 part baking soda with 4 parts water in a large tub or bucket. Then, add the garment to the water and let it soak for several hours or overnight. Then, wash the clothing as normal.


VinegarWhite vinegar is another versatile cleaning agent that can remove yellow stains and whiten clothes. As with baking soda, you can also use vinegar in two ways. The first is to mix equal parts water and vinegar in a spray bottle. Then, spray it on the stains, dry it, and wash the clothing.

Alternatively, if the whole garment is yellowed, you can make a vinegar soak by mixing 1 part vinegar and 4 parts water in a bucket. Add the clothing to the water and let it soak for a few hours or overnight. Then, wash the clothing.

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is great at whitening clothes due to the amount of acid it contains. It’s great for smaller yellow stains or sweat and deodorant stains. You may not want to use it for larger stains because you may need to juice quite a lot of lemons. You also want to avoid using lemon juice on delicate fabrics since it does contain a lot of acid.

To use it, mix ¼ cup of lemon juice and 1 gallon of water. Pour some into a spray bottle and use it to spray smaller stains, then let it dry. Or, you can soak the clothing directly in the solution for 1-2 hours. Whichever method you choose, be sure to wash the clothing afterward.


Vodka is sometimes used as a disinfectant and can also be used to remove yellow stains from clothes. Mix 1 part vodka with 1 part water. Then, either add it to a spray bottle and spray it on the stains or soak your clothes in it for a couple of hours (just make sure to use cheap vodka). Rinse the clothing under cool water, then wash as normal.

Bluing Agent

A bluing agent is a blue laundry product that can be added to the washing machine while your clothes are washing. As the name implies, this liquid is blue. It works by neutralizing the yellow tint, giving the appearance of whiter clothes. Because of this, you want to use it on white clothes that are entirely yellow if you want the evenest appearance of white. It can even be a safer alternative to bleach for your white clothes that haven’t yellowed over time.


BleachIf you want to remove yellow stains from your clothing, you always have the option to use bleach. Of course, this method will be most effective for yellow stains that weren’t caused by bleach in the first place.

You can either soak your clothes in a diluted bleach or use it in the washing machine. Just make sure to follow the directions on the packaging and use the proper amount. Also, make sure that it gets rinsed out thoroughly to prevent new yellow stains from forming.

How to Prevent Yellow Stains on Clothes

If you want to keep your clothes looking good in the first place, or make sure that they don’t get any new yellow stains on them after removing the old ones, you’ll want to know how to prevent them on your clothes. There are several things you can do, especially if you don’t know exactly what’s causing the stains.

Pretreat Clothing Before Washing

A good way to prevent yellow stains on clothes is to pretreat them before you wash them. This will help to break down any stain, regardless of the source, to keep it from turning yellow or oxidizing later if the stain isn’t removed.

You can use a homemade pretreatment solution or buy a commercial product. But if you know the source of the stain, whether it be food, grease, or something else, make sure the product you use is suitable for removing that type of stain.

Avoid Using Too Much Bleach

I’ve already mentioned this but making sure you use the proper amount of bleach is one of the best ways to prevent yellow stains. When used correctly, bleach should whiten your clothes without causing yellowing. Also, make sure that you’re diluting the bleach with water properly and that it gets rinsed out thoroughly. Leaving bleach residue on clothes is what causes yellowing.

Use the Proper Amount of Detergent

Remember to also use the proper amount of detergent. Use enough to remove any stains from your clothes, but not so much that it doesn’t get rinsed out and leaves behind a residue. If you’re unsure how much to use, check the instructions on the packaging. Many detergent cups also have measurements on them to help you.

Let Skincare Products Dry

If you use a lot of skincare products, make sure that you let them dry thoroughly before getting dressed. If your products are taking a long time to dry, you may be using too much. Make sure that any products that need to be rinsed off, such as shampoo, in-shower moisturizer, body wash, etc., are rinsed off thoroughly to prevent residue from getting on your clothes.

Swap to Non-Aluminum Deodorant

If you sweat a lot and are left with sweat stains on your clothes, consider switching to a deodorant that doesn’t contain aluminum. There are many options for non-aluminum deodorants that are just as effective. You can tell these products apart from aluminum-based deodorants because they’re usually labeled aluminum-free. If you can’t switch deodorants, consider wearing darker clothes when working out, and make sure to pretreat workout clothes before washing them.

Smoke Outside/Have Smoking Clothes

If you do smoke and want to prevent your clothes from yellowing, make sure to smoke outside so that the smoke is more ventilated and doesn’t linger on surfaces in your home, including your clothing. Also, consider having clothes you wear just for smoking or darker clothes.

Change Storage Habits

Remember that when it comes to our clothes, some oxygen exposure is unavoidable. However, to prevent oxidation and reduce yellowing, try storing your white clothes in sealed, airtight containers to limit oxygen exposure. Storing your clothing in the dark, cool, dry places can also help prevent oxidation and reduce yellowing.


There are several common causes of yellow stains on clothes. But, it can be tricky to figure out the cause. Hopefully, this guide helped you narrow down the potential cause of yellow stains on your clothes and learn how to remove the stains. I hope you also found the yellow stain prevention tips helpful.