Remove Underarm and Body Odor Smell From Clothing

Woman Holding Laundry Basket Full of TowelsOver the years, we’ve learned a few things about getting smells out of laundry.

Pre-treat the underarm area

We often use ammonia, white vinegar, alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide to pre-treat shirts with odor trapped in the underarm area.  We soak the underarm area in the mixture, and allow it to sit for as long as the fabric can take it.  Then, I throw it in the wash.  Sometimes, we forget and it ‘pre-treats’ too long.  If this happens, the fabric may be ruined.  So, don’t forget.


Soaking can help remove odors, even when you think that ‘all is lost’.  It works, even when nothing else has.  Deodorants and soap residue can trap bacteria in the fabric.  Over the years, we’ve noticed that people who wear the thicker, solid deodorants have stronger odors trapped in the fabric on the underarms in their shirts.  

We suspect that this happens because the deodorant seeps into the fabric and ‘coats it’.  So, not only do you have a problem with smells, but also left-over deodorant that is clinging to the fabric.  

Sometimes, we soak  clothing items in a tub of warm water (as warm as the fabric will allow) and vinegar.  The low pH helps remove the deodorant  residue and frees the fabrics of odor.  After soaking, we wash as usual.

Use baking soda or Borax (20 Mule) during the wash cycle.  

Borax is said to remove hard minerals from water, and is an ingredient in many laundry detergents.  It is also very alkaline (high pH) and an effective cleaner – the same reasons that likely make baking soda a great laundry addition, as well.  Baking soda is also known to remove urine odors.  A word of warning:  too much of these products in one load can cause a bit of fading.  So, don’t go overboard.

Use Vinegar during the wash or rinse cycle (or both)

We first discovered vinegar during college.  On a student’s budget, we bought cheap clothing.  Cheap clothing fades a lot.   Adding some vinegar during the wash cycle prevent the fabric from fading as much.  Now, we use it more as a disinfectant and fabric softener when washing clothes.  Borax and baking powder have a high pH, but vinegar is an acid.  

Vinegar can also help neutralize the chemicals in laundry detergent.  So, maybe it is better to use it during the rinse cycle.  If you put vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser, you won’ need to use fabric softener.  Don’t worry, the smell fades away as the clothes dry.

Don’t pack the clothes in too tightly

The washing action does most of the work for you, so give your clothes room to move.  According to The Wall Street Journal:

Seventh Generation’s co-founder, Jeffrey Hollender, wonders why more people haven’t stumbled upon laundry’s big, dirty secret: “You don’t even need soap to wash most loads,” he says. The agitation of washing machines often does the job on its own.

We’re not suggesting that you don’t use soap.  But be sure to give your machine the space it needs to “do its thing”.

Hang clothes outside to dry

Sunshine plus oxygen make powerful germ-killing agents.  I have drying racks in my basement, and hang-dry most of my clothes, year round. It saves quite a bit of energy and money.  Plus, I’ve found that dryers can set many underarm odors, making them even harder to remove.

Make your own laundry detergent

We’ve made both powdered and liquid versions, and I prefer the powdered version for ease of preparation.

In the last batch, we  used:

Thoroughly mix all ingredients (approx 5 minutes).  Use 1-2 tablespoons of detergent per load.  And, consider using vinegar in the rinse cycle to cut down on soap build-up.

Use an enzyme based cleaner

We haven’t found the need to try this ourselves, but many enzyme based cleaners are said to remove bodily fluids from carpets.  So we wonder how they would work on clothing. (Example: Natures Miracle Stain and Odor Remover)

Pay attention to fabrics

There are a few fabrics that some people cannot wear.  If they try to wear them anyways, the body odor is almost instant.  We think that natural, breathable fabrics are best for people with odor issues.