Shirt soaking
September 5, 2011 8:53 AM   Subscribe

Bad idea? Soaking dress shirts in a bucket of water for a week at a time.

I want to avoid yellowing/sweat-stains on my new cotton dress shirts. Getting the sweat off the shirts as fast as possible seems like the best way to do this. I don't wear deodorant, so it's only sweat that's getting on the shirts. I live in an apartment building and can only wash things every 10 days or so.

My question is: can I leave shirts in water for days at time without damaging them in some way? Is there perhaps a better process than this?
posted by beerbajay to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think the most reasonable solution to this is going to be undershirts, and if you're sweating through the undershirts (and if you are anti-deodorant for whatever reason, how about a body powder?), try spritzing the pits with spray 'OxiClean.'

Dirty shirts in a pail is going to be bad for the shirts, and also bad for your apartment; it'll get smelly fast. Other option: drop them at a dry cleaners' on a daily basis.
posted by kmennie at 9:02 AM on September 5, 2011

Can't you pre-treat the pit-stains and then set them aside for washing? Or wash them individually by hand? Or spot clean the pits, then take the shirt out of the water? If you leave shirts sitting in a bucket of plain water, it'll develop a film (all of the oils and stuff the shirt has soaked up from your body will come out), and it'll be really gross. And I don't know for sure what kind of toll it would take on the fabric/color, but my guess would be that this'll decrease the lifespan of your clothing.

I have also heard that the armpit yellowing is caused by the aluminum whathaveyou in antiperspirant reacting with the sweat, rather than just the sweat alone. Maybe if you switched to a deodorant-only stick (or one of the hippie-dippie ones with cotton fibers instead of chemicals), you wouldn't get the pit stains?

Also: wear an undershirt.
posted by phunniemee at 9:04 AM on September 5, 2011

Yeah, this is going to be mega nasty. You can easily wash shirts by hand and then hang them to dry (you'll probably have to iron them).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:19 AM on September 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I live in a very sweaty climate and use deodorant. I wash white shirts every week and use Vanish (powder, not spray, but the spray would probably work), which I think is the same as Oxiclean. Works for me. No yellow marks.
posted by Logophiliac at 9:20 AM on September 5, 2011

It might be more practical to just buy some sweat guards. I've never used them but have seen them in most stores that sell beauty products.
posted by seriousmoonlight at 9:20 AM on September 5, 2011

I did this once. I stuck a bunch of multi-colored shirts in a bucket of cold water ( mixed with no other solution) and soaked them for a couple of days. After about a 2 days, the colors started to bleed on to eachother, ruining some of my white shirts by making them a light pink color. So if you do this, make sure you sort the shirts by color before washing them.

Ultimately, the best way I found to prevent underarm stains on a nice shirt is to wear an undershirt that fully covers your armpits. Sounds counter-intuitive as an undershirt can make you warmer and therefore sweat more, but most of the sweat actually gets absorbed by the undershirt and by not the dress shirt. You can probably purchase special undershirts that are pit-stain resistant or are generally better at absorbing sweat in general.
posted by nikkorizz at 9:25 AM on September 5, 2011

You are better off pre-treating the pits. I say this as someone who uses cotton pads and is also super lazy, so soaks them for a week at a time before I get around to laundry. You have to change the water every 48 hours max, and the colour from any body fluids (in my case, red; in your case, yellow) will tint the entire item after 24 hours.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:29 AM on September 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I forgot to add, soaking the shirts in water for a couple of days did lift some the colors on the shirt, but they did not remove the pit stains.
posted by nikkorizz at 9:34 AM on September 5, 2011

Don't soak the shirts for that long. Things will grow on them/in them/through them. You'll ruin the shirts.

Hit 'em with a stain stick after you undress.
posted by graftole at 9:37 AM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could buy sweatguards, or you'll want an enzymatic pre-wash to treat the stains until you get around to washing them.

I really feel the cheapest, most effective way to deal with this is to start wearing deodorant, though. It will cost you less in time, money and aggravation in the long run.
posted by misha at 9:39 AM on September 5, 2011

switch to certain-dri! no sweat = no pit stains ever = no more stress about ruining shirts for the rest of your life. alternately, pre-treat staims with nature's miracle. but seriously: certain-dri, certain-dri, certain-dri.
posted by lia at 9:41 AM on September 5, 2011

(aargh! stains, not staims, obvs.)
posted by lia at 9:41 AM on September 5, 2011

I worked for a drycleaner for six years, and have sold and dealt with vintage and antique clothing for decades. I learned that soaking for more than half an hour or so will allow the clothing to reabsorb whatever's been soaked out of it. If they should mildew when forget about them and the water isn't deep enough or the colours bleed, those stains are near-impossible to remove. Soaking in cold for hours doesn't do much - initially, it causes the fibres to expand and release stains and dirt, and beyond that, it leaves them open to reabsorb it from the water.

As well, the yellowing doesn't come from sweat alone - from the quickest Google with accurate info:

Deodorant and Perspiration Stain Removal

Yellow underarm shirt stains are likely caused by a combination of deodorant and perspiration. Many deodorants and antiperspirants contain aluminum salts. When these salts are combined with laundry detergent, especially in cooler water settings, they are not easily dissolved, and they remain on the fabric.

To remove the stains, try soaking the shirts in warm water with an enzyme pre-soak product or rubbing the soiled area with white vinegar. Wash in the hottest water safe for the fabric. If the stain remains, dampen and sprinkle stain with meat tenderizer. Let stand for about an hour, and launder again.

To avoid new stains from forming, always wash the shirts in the hottest water safe for the fabric. Also, allow antiperspirant to dry completely before dressing.

I honestly don't know about the meat tenderizer - I've used everything from peroxide to lemon juice to vinegar to Oxy to Prell shampoo on old stains with varying results - but I will say that this is what wearing undershirts under your dress shirts is for. Even if you're not using deodorant, the reaction to the sizing from the manufacturer, detergent and not using the hottest water possible to wash and dry is the larger part of it. If your shirts aren't 100% cotton, well, synthetics just yellow and hold perspiration odors and stains like nothing else.

One of my biggest bugaboos is the cold water movement for laundry. I hate it and kvetch about it often.
I know it's great to conserve and it's all eco-friendly and stuff, and it's not so much about the germs! everywhere! as much as what's good for people's health and the clothing itself. In "the old days", good laundry practices like using the hottest water when possible, plus simple soaps, good rinsing and then hanging in the sunshine (for plain, durable, well-made clothing of good fabric) and ironing everything (my Grandmas even ironed my Grandpas' boxers!) meant more clothing lasted long enough to be worn out and handed-down, whites were whiter and so on. And get off of my lawn.

TL;DR: soaking for more than half an hour means you're just marinating them in biofilm!
posted by peagood at 9:44 AM on September 5, 2011 [14 favorites]

Pre-treating and removing sweat stains.
posted by misha at 9:46 AM on September 5, 2011

Not sure what to do about your stains, but leaving clothes soaking for more than a couple of hours results in a very disgusting smell and having to wash the clothes several times in an attempt to get it out. I found this out forgetting to put wash in the drier so it sat damp in the washer overnight, and even worse when a washer broke and I had to fish the clothes out of stagnant water. Don't do it!
posted by mermayd at 10:03 AM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dude. (Presuming you're a dude. If not: "dude.") I understand there may be reasons you are cleaning your dress shirts yourself (I have been doing some cheapo coin laundry myself this summer!) but: laundry pickup, or at LEAST dropoff, and the magic words are "shirts on hangers." If you have to wear dress shirts to work every day, and you're broke or whatever I guess, it's worth skipping lunch one day for this. I know very few men who wash their own dress shirts because most of them can't do a particularly good job. You can pretreat any stains, as described above, and the laundry people can take care of the rest and give you back your shirts all nice and pressed to your satisfaction.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:21 AM on September 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

another 'red stains, not yellow stains' person here!
Getting to stains while they are fresh is best. I do not do laundry every day- here is my solution.

I wash out the stained item(s) of clothing with soap and water, rinse, then hang them up to dry. Then they go in the laundry hamper to be washed the next time I do laundry. (Obviously if the stain happens on a laundry day, I still wash out the stain, but skip the drying bit- it goes in the machine wet.)

Soaking is only necessary when stains are set in, and is annoying. You still have to wash out the stain stuff as best you can before you soak it, or the stain just thins and spreads to everything else.

So, I would suggest- when you take off your shirt, wash out the pits, rinse and wring (gently) slap the shirt on a hangar and let it dry over night, dump it in the hamper when it's dry. Repeat the next night with the next shirt.
posted by titanium_geek at 7:32 PM on September 5, 2011

Sometimes, my friend who lives on a little island in Ontario in the summertime does his laundry like this -- place water, dirty clothes and a little detergant in a bucket, mix, set outside and forget for a week or so, then rinse in the lake and hang in the sun to dry. Works for him.
posted by Rash at 10:31 PM on September 5, 2011

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