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15th November 2023 EDT FEATURES

Yellow Stains on White T-Shirts? Here’s How You Can Remove and Prevent Them

Keep your white tees clean and fresh with just a few simple steps.


The white t-shirt, a staple in the wardrobes of many, has become an irreplaceable modern classic. It is a piece of humble garment not limited by the seasons—you can wear it on its own during hot summer days or layer it as a base when the colder months arrive.

But it is also these same no-frills yet relatable qualities of a white t-shirt that make it especially susceptible to external factors, eventually resulting in fabric yellowing and/or discoloration.

We asked Yuria Okada, cleaning professional from Baluko Laundry Place in Tokyo, Japan, for her expert opinions on the ways you can keep your favorite white t-shirt fresh like day one. Read on for more washing and care tips!

What causes yellowing in t-shirts?

How to Clean White T-shirts

According to Okada-san, it’s unlikely that a t-shirt wet with sweat will turn yellow within a day or even a week. This is because the main reason for yellowing in t-shirts is oxidized sebum stains. When sebum comes into contact with oxygen in the air, the white fabric of the t-shirt gradually turns yellow.

Yellowing is most noticeable around the neck, while some people may be concerned about discoloration under their armpits. The neck area tends to yellow as it is the part where the body is in constant contact with, making it more prone to sweat and sebum. The fabric around the neck is also thicker, so dirt can accumulate there more easily

Over time, sebum stains that cannot be removed by daily washing gradually accumulate, oxidize, and cause yellowing.

How to wash white tees:

How to Clean White T-shirts

At Baluko Laundry Place, the cleaning experts follow a 4-step process to keep yellow stains at bay. One effective way to prevent yellowing is to soak and wash garments with hot water of about 40℃ containing oxygen bleach. This method can also significantly remove yellowing that has appeared over time.

  • Step 1: Check the wash and care instructions on the t-shirt label
  • Step 2: Soak t-shirt in hot water and oxygen bleach
  • Step 3: Wash in washing machine
  • Step 4: Dry t-shirt in low temperature

Additionally, Okada-san also offered more do’s and don’ts when caring for and washing white t-shirts at home:

■ Check the care label

You may think that your white tee is 100% cotton but it may be mixed with other materials, so it’s essential to check the care label. However, some apparel manufacturers prohibit the use of oxygen bleach due to risk of the t-shirt texture changing.

In principle, 100% cotton t-shirts can be soaked and washed with oxygen bleach. Cotton is a strong material, so if the yellowing is severe, it is advised that you increase the water temperature to about 60℃.

How to Clean White T-shirts

■ Use a gentle alkaline detergent

Wash your t-shirt using a weak alkaline detergent to thoroughly remove sebum stains. Alkaline detergents are known for their stronger properties in breaking down sebum and oil-based stains, compared to neutral detergents.

Although their ability to break down oils is slightly weaker, these cleaning agents can help keep your clothes fresh while preserving their texture. Remember that it’s best to avoid soaking a garment for more than 2 hours though.

■ Wash your t-shirt ASAP

It is most efficient to wash away dirt or sebum from your clothes when you can. Some people store their laundry for a week but the longer you get to washing any garment, the harder it is to remove the dirt.

You can also perform a pre-wash treatment on areas such as the collar and armpits. Make a 1:1 mixture of weak alkaline detergent and water and apply to the areas of concern.

“Just getting into the habit of pre-washing can make a big difference in how well your T-shirts wash,” Okada-san said.

How to Clean White T-shirts

■ Always use laundry nets

If you don’t want the texture and quality of the t-shirt to deteriorate over time, it’s good to turn it inside out and use a laundry net. Though mostly made of cotton, t-shirts do have a certain amount of elasticity, but once they get stretched out it’s simply impossible to return them to its original state.

■ Avoid the sun as much as you can

Okada-san also noted that since t-shirts come in a variety of materials and colors, there are elements that may undergo various chemical changes when exposed to UV rays. If possible, dry your t-shirt in the shade.

Rather than an absolute no for sunning your clothes, it’s a question of balance. If you are drying clothes outside in the sun, it’s a better idea to take them in as soon as they’re dry.


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