Is it possible to keep the collars of white shirts clean, and if so how?
June 30, 2013 3:50 PM   Subscribe

Yellowish stains on the crease and wings of my shirt collars - can they be removed, or should I kill them with fire? Yellow snowflake details inside...

I've found myself recently in a situation where I have to drag up as an adult - suit, collared shirt, tie (God help us), and have gotten around this awkwardness, and my freakishly long arms, by buying white poplin shirts from a regular high street store which does independent collar and sleeve measurements. I've bought shirts from a couple of these.

However, I've found that after a while these get discolorations, in particular on the crease of the collar and also, possibly as a result of attempts to clean it, over the wings of the collar. These are far more visible in direct sunlight, and make me feel a) shabby and b) not like a real adult. My solution to which so far has broadly been to buy new shirts, so I now have about 20 white shirts, of which maybe 4 are wearable. I have tried hot washes and stain removers, with limited success. This seems to be more of an issue in summer, which makes me wonder if part of the problem is sunblock from my neck getting on the collars. The alternative - that I am constantly secreting an indelible staining chemical - would be demoralising but I guess must be entertained.

So, before I either throw them out or spend a ton of money on getting them professionally cleaned (possibly with an uncertain result), I'm wondering if there is actually any helping these things - perhaps with bleach, although I don't really know how bleach works? - or whether I just need to throw them all out and start over, perhaps with a different color.

Cleaning tips/work-acceptable but vileness-friendly shirt color recommendations sought, along with any suggestions as to how to prevent similar horrors to future shirts...
posted by running order squabble fest to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
They are likely oil stains from your skin. Powder some white chalk and rub it into the stains and let it sit for a while, then saturate with heavy-duty greasefighter like dawn and let that sit for a while, then wash. You might need to do this a couple of times if they are really bad.
posted by windykites at 3:55 PM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

This guide, though written with and American audience in mind vis-a-vis suggested products, did a great job on a couple of Goodwill shirts I purchased without looking closely enough.
posted by notsnot at 3:59 PM on June 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sounds like sweat stains, which explains the Summer worsening. Do not use bleach. I had good luck with Oxy-Clean, if that's available over there. For the really tough ones, I made an Oxy-Clean paste and really rubbed it in there. (This mirrors notsnot's link.)

There are products you can apply immediately after taking them off that will prevent this.
posted by supercres at 4:07 PM on June 30, 2013

Sweat can cause yellowing stains. I recently tried to google this because my son had a white shirt he was yellowing. I remembered my mother claiming that my father's yellowing sweat was due to medication he was on. My mom is a very intelligent, observant lady but I could not get confirmation of that idea. I recall one theory I googled up was urea being sweated out and another was somr kind bacterial problem.

I would try peroxide, which breaks down blood. But it might not help the already yellowed shirts. I would try treating new shirts consistently before washing since blood sets in hot water and with time. Yeah, urea is not blood, but if it does not help the already stained shirts, I would try that approach next. (Peroxide is a nontoxic bleach substitute.)
posted by Michele in California at 4:09 PM on June 30, 2013

Notsnot's suggestion Is good, but way too fussy for me. I've gotten god-knows-what stains out of white napkins by just soaking them in a bucket of warm water with a couple of measure ( comes with the Oxi-Clean) of Oxi, let them soak for as long as you can (days, in some cases), then run through the wash with an extra rinse. Snowy white, and no damage to the fabric from scrubbing, also because Oxi is an enzymatic cleaner, so doesn't harm the fabric the way bleach can/will.
posted by dbmcd at 4:10 PM on June 30, 2013

Just so you know, this is totally a thing; it's not just you, and it's called ring around the collar. These days you can just take the shirt off, spray the collar with a OxiClean pre-treatment spray you can get at Tesco or Morrisons, and throw it in the hamper. Then launder as usual whenever.

PS: It will work against pit stains, too.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:10 PM on June 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

My link's method is really fussy, as dbmcd says. At this point, it may be what's required to get the stains out, with a spray of Oxy being the only supplemental requirement.
posted by notsnot at 4:33 PM on June 30, 2013

OxyClean! Presoak the whole pile of them in the bathtub in OxyClean and HOT water overnight, then wash with a liberal dose of OxyClean. Scrubbing an OxyClean paste into the stains with a stiff-bristled brush will get out deeper stains with a little work, but it's easier to soak the shirts in the tub overnight.

I now throw oxyclean in with my husband's dress shirts even if I can't see the "ring around the collar" yet, because it's just so common and eventually shows up.

Also, check the cuffs, if you're getting ring around the collar, you may also be getting similar staining on the cuffs.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:02 PM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try dish soap + lukewarm water to remove grease stains, then wash with Vanish or similar oxyclean-type stain remover.

Do you use cotton shirts or polyester/cotton shirts? My personal experience has been that polycotton shirts get these yellowish stains on the collar easier than 100% cotton shirts. You could try a shirt with a different fabric and se if it makes any difference for you.

Any "ring around the collar" is somewhat less visible on light blue shirts and on white/light coloured shirts with checks, stripes or some other pattern.
posted by iviken at 5:03 PM on June 30, 2013

A 100% addition of Clorox2 should take care of the existing stains. In the future, just get in the habit of spraying Shout on the collars before you launder them. Or before you throw them in the hamper.
posted by gjc at 5:09 PM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, thise are sweat stains. I use Nature's Miracle on all kinds of mammal stains (people sweat, cat puke, baby spitup) and it works like a dream. You can get it on Amazon UK.
posted by slmorri at 5:20 PM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Or Amazon US. I assumed you were in the UK because of the high street reference, maybe that was a bad assumption.
posted by slmorri at 5:23 PM on June 30, 2013

A light dusting of talc powder around the wearer's neck (Amazon sells good unscented powder for billiard players, apply it with a big powder brush) before donning the shirt has worked wonders for me to stop sweat/oil ring around the collar. The sunscreen is a complicating factor, though-- maybe just leave it off your neck? How much sunburn do you get under a shirt collar anyway?
posted by Bardolph at 5:32 PM on June 30, 2013

My dad taught me to get some laundry detergent and and old toothbrush, rub it into the stain really well, and throw in the washing machine. Works really well.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:53 PM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a professional shirt-wearer, I echo the above suggestions for OxyClean and preventative maintenance. Here's my routine:
- OxyClean and a tiny bit of water on the area in question, work it in until it starts to feel warm (you can feel it WORKING!). Then add a bit more water. Grind that stuff in
- OxyClean the collar, pits, and ends of your cuffs. Those areas get grungy
- OxyClean scoopfuls in a bucket or large container of hot water. I tend to use a lot of OxyClean at a time and soak multiple things at the same time. Agitate every once in a while, leave overnight. If you can stand it, leave it in for a couple days. Dump out water. Add more OxyClean. Keep agitated. Might wanna use a brick in a ziplock bag to weigh things down
- OxyClean pre-wash in your washing machine. I avoid hot water for dress shirts: keep it on permanent press or delicates. Flip sleeves inside-out (habit. Maybe it protects buttons?) and air-dry on hangers. Make sure you're not using a hanger that'll transfer color (stained wood hangers, hangers that might rust, etc.)
- Alternatively, pre-soak preventatively with Shout or Resolve. Don't just do it right before you wash, spray the sucker down hours before
- No bleach. Ever.

You can buy big boxes of OxyClean. May wanna parcel it out into large ziplock bags, as time and exposure to air makes those magic blue crystal bits turn white (I don't think this affects the effectiveness of the stuff, but hell, anytime you've got magic blue crystals they're worth saving). Always never forget to remember to OxyClean/spray all areas in question: collar, pits, cuffs. At least pay attention to them.

For advanced maintenance and stain removal for most things, look up Amodex. Excellent stuff. Works great for inks (it's even gotten "bulletproof" fountain pen inks out of my shirts!), and their kits come with a handy stiff toothbrush, suitable for rubbing OxyClean in.

Post-crazy OxyCleaning, after you pull the shirt out of the wash: look at the shirt under different lights, such as a fluorescent light. If, in the future, you still see any stain remaining, do NOT iron the shirt. Try to remove the stain again. Ironing is going to bake that stuff in.

As a tangent: do not ever use your iron's built-in steam stuff or sprayer. I don't care if you've got the most awesome iron out there and use quadruple-purified and distilled water: stuff will build up inside, and at some point, that gunk will be spewed out onto your shirt, which you will then bake in with your iron. Instead, use a spray bottle

I do not have any affiliation with OxyClean. It just happens to be one of the few as-seen-on-TV products that actually works. Not that I order a bunch of stuff off of TV.
posted by herrdoktor at 6:22 PM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Looks like you've gotten a lot of good Oxyclean advice, but I wanted to chime in to add that your sunscreen may be a culprit. Avobenzone, a common sunscreen ingredient, reacts with iron in the water (if you have hard water) and produces orange stains. The only solution I've found thus far is to avoid avobenzone in my sunscreen.
posted by Empidonax at 6:56 PM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Squeeze some lemon juice on the stains and sprinkle them with table salt. Place the shirt (stain side up) in direct sunlight for a few hours. Rinse and let air dry to check if stain is gone. Repeat as needed. It may take anywhere from a few hours to several days for the stain to completely disappear.

I used this method on a 50 year old white lawn christening gown that marinated for three weeks in the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina. It came out snow white with no damage to the fabric.
posted by JujuB at 7:33 PM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm sure the Oxy-Clean stuff works. I've got some - it does wonders with stains from kids. We also use a variety of stain specific spot removers. With my shirts that I wear to work every day, I wash the undershirt as normal, and rotate two shirts through the dry cleaner every week. $2.00 per shirt per week a lot may seem like a lot comparative to my other clothes, but it takes me no thought and I never have to think about it - and my shirts are always pressed.

They also remove jelly, coffee stains, ketchup, sew on buttons I've broken, and otherwise keep me looking good despite my apparent worst efforts.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:42 PM on June 30, 2013

Just want to nth Oxy-Clean. I use it on my white linen (that I get real sweaty in here in Mississippi). It beats the shit out of stains (actually literally).
posted by anansi at 8:11 PM on June 30, 2013

I can't believe that nobody has suggested wearing undershirts!
posted by oceanjesse at 10:10 PM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing the method linked on Put This On. I had a few white shirts with very bad armpit stains that look like new after using this method.
posted by Silvertree at 8:40 AM on July 1, 2013

Oxy-Clean should clear it up no worries. My mother used to soak my fathers Chef whites in it over night to keep them sparkling white so if you can either soak the shirt in a diluted mix of it or put a paste on the stain and let it sit for a bit and then wash. You can throw a scoop in with your wash as well.

Vinegar in your rinse water might help as well if it's a hardwater vs sunscreen reaction too.
posted by wwax at 9:01 AM on July 1, 2013

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