Why does my bionic sweat bleach my clothes?
June 1, 2010 8:00 PM   Subscribe

Why does my sweat sometimes bleach my clothes?

This happens randomly. Sometimes even moderate amounts of sweat will bleach all of the dye out of the armpits of shirts and/or sweaters, rendering them ruined after a single wear or two. I feel like I didn't have this problem until the last couple of years, and I'd be really, really excited for a solution or even an explanation to get me through another hot DC summer.

- happens to both cheap and expensive clothes.
- no obvious deodorant/grooming changes.
- no use of benzoyl peroxide or other bleaching washes or creams.

Just to cover all bases, I am 29 year old female of average weight/fitness with no known health issues. [but take anti-depressant and claritin-d daily - those could be excreted in sweat, I guess]
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Shot in the dark: Do you drink a lot of chlorinated (tap) water? Swim a lot? Shower just before dressing?

Are these clothes brand new or have they been washed? It's possible there is still dye in the clothes that have to be washed out.

Again, both answers are shots in the dark.
posted by royalsong at 8:03 PM on June 1, 2010

I would try switching deodorants around. Mrs. RKS, expert in all things laundry-related, suggested this, and I did some quick googling that suggest this is not an unknown problem. The manufacturers change things around from time to time, so even if you didn't switch deodorants, they may have changed something on you.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:10 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know you said no obvious deodorant changes, but do you occasionally use Certain-Dri by any chance? I've found that if I accidentally drip it on my clothing it will have a bleaching effect, though it takes a while to appear.
posted by pluckemin at 8:11 PM on June 1, 2010

royalsong: "Do you drink a lot of chlorinated (tap) water?"

I can think of no way chlorine in your drinking water would enter your system in sufficient amounts to bleach your clothes when you sweat without killing you, but I'd be happy to be proven wrong, since that would be awesome.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:30 PM on June 1, 2010

instead of a deodorant, make sure to get an anti-persperant. the latter has tiny particles that plug up your sweat glands and make you sweat less.
posted by Mach5 at 8:32 PM on June 1, 2010

I had this problem with manufacturers changing the formula on a deodorant I used (the gel kinds of 'Mitchum') from active ingredient to another --from Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex Gly to Aluminum Sesquichlorohydrate. It ruined a number of my shirts over a month or two before I figured it out.
posted by LucretiusJones at 8:35 PM on June 1, 2010

"Do you drink a lot of chlorinated (tap) water?"

You say you're in DC, so chlorine could be part of it; for about three months recently (and I think generally one month a year), DC had really high levels of chlorine in the water which might have had some effect on this. If it happens randomly, could it be coinciding with the times DC puts chlorine in the water to clean out the pipes? I don't know anything about fabric/dyes, but is it possible that the cloth or dye under your arms wears out faster because of the friction/sweat and that makes it more susceptible to bleaching during the times that there is extra chlorine in the water? If it was especially evident over the past few months, it could be something like that; I smelled like a pool for weeks.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:39 PM on June 1, 2010

A possibility - are you sure the dye has actually been stripped? Does it look the same after washing?

When I'm dehydrated, the salt in my sweat will leave white areas on my dark workout clothes. Are you sure you're not mistaking salt residue for bleaching?
posted by peachfuzz at 9:03 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

But otherwise, i'd suggest that your sweat is too acidic. Google acidosis - lots of people seem to have this issue.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:11 PM on June 1, 2010

The aluminum in anti-perspirant causes armpit stains because it reacts with your sweat. Try a deodorant without aluminum to see if anything changes.
posted by twblalock at 9:12 PM on June 1, 2010

Nthing the deodorant call. Though I found it was only some t-shirts for some reason (and a duvet cover)
posted by Senator Howell Tankerbell at 9:57 PM on June 1, 2010

Are you sure it's bleached? Sometimes on a hot day when I've been sweating I end up with white patches on my shirts.

It's salt from my sweat, and it washes out. It isn't permanent.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:49 PM on June 1, 2010

I had this problem, switched laundry detergents, and haven't had it happen since.

Maybe it was coincidence, but it's worth a shot?
posted by AV at 10:53 PM on June 1, 2010

My shot in dark... if there is chlorine in the water, it's in the wash water. It wouldn't have to be exuded from the body, just interact with the sweat & dye in the laundry.

(I know nothing about this, but it seems a next step to what others suggested.)
posted by _paegan_ at 1:25 AM on June 2, 2010

I've had shirts get bleached out at the armpits too; you're not crazy, and it really does suck. I've heard stories from women who sometimes bleach out their undies, either from sweat or discharge, not sure which (the vagina is naturally acidic, so.)

It hasn't happened to me for a while, and I'm still shopping at the same stores and using deodorant with the standard aluminum tetrachlorohydrex gly. If anything has changed, I would guess that it's that I'm drinking tons of water these days, and working out regularly, so the mystery bleaching agent in my sweat is far more diluted.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:49 AM on June 2, 2010

Hey I'm a 41 year old guy here and this has happened to me my entire life. The collars of my shirts end up bleached out. I've used many different deodorants, antiperspirants, laundry detergents and nothing has fixed this problem.

When I asked my dermatologist about this, his answer was not pleasing. He recommended showering more frequently, changing shirts more frequently and washing my shirts immediately after wearing them.

My home uses well water, so too much choline from a municipal source is not a problem.

One long summer without AC I completely bleached a set of sheets.

I have noticed some clothing refuses to bleach out, while others will be unwearable after one use. Very cheap shirts seem to bleach more often than nicer ones, but occasionally even a well known expensive name brand will bleach out with my toxic sweat.

On brand new shirts I simply love I use dye fixatives (vinegar and salt, Retayne, or Raycafix) during the first wash. I think it helps, but I usually only go to this trouble with ultra expensive (>$50) shirts (I am very, very cheap).

One nice thing is that my white sport socks are always bright white.
posted by Classic Diner at 6:18 AM on June 2, 2010

I have this problem occasionally too. I've noticed that clothes with cotton seem to bleach more than synthetics, if that's any help in pinpointing apparent randomness.
posted by galadriel at 7:38 AM on June 2, 2010

Same here, all my life. It's always easy to tell which pillow case is mine... it's the one that has a human head shaped bleached spot on it. I used to get white spots on t-shirts where the underarms are but that was a sort of caked on material that made the fiber stiff. That's the one due to deodorants types I think. I heard ammonia can clear that up after the fact but switching brands stopped the issue for me. I'm still bleaching things though.
posted by jwells at 7:38 AM on June 2, 2010

I think it has to do with the sweat reacting to the dye in the fabric.

I had a friend in highschool who was wearing a neon green synthetic shirt one day and by the end of the day it had neon orange sweat patches all over it. She was mortified. I was amazed.

Unfortunately, i don't know how likely you are to get information on the chemical makeup of the dyes used in clothing, so it's a crapshoot as to what will discolor and what wont.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:37 AM on June 2, 2010

My body has been bleaching my clothes and my towels all my life. It's my superpower.
posted by anoirmarie at 1:25 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Totally not an expert on this but...

I am wondering somehow you have a high amount of ammonia in your sweat, and this is changing the fabric colour.

Or as people have suggested above, your sweat is interacting with your anti-perspirant or deodorant.
posted by SarahbytheSea at 6:57 PM on June 2, 2010

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