A Commuter’s Guide to Laundry

by Emma P. | June 27th, 2012   

By Emma Pretto

Any commuter knows it’s a struggle to keep clothes fresh and dry in the summer months. Waiting outside for the bus, cramming into a crowded subway, or walking to the office all take a toll on your work wardrobe. Perspiration stains are inevitable and difficult to remove, but fear not! I had the pleasure of speaking with Mary Marlowe Leverette,’s Laundry Guide, about these pesky stains. Her wealth of knowledge, shared here in the form of answers and links, will help you keep your clothing as good as new. Consider it a commuter’s guide to laundry!

city commute A Commuters Guide to Laundry

TheWorkingWardrobe: Before we talk about removing sweat stains, are there any preventative measures to take with clothing before wearing?

Mary Marlowe Leverette: To lessen the yellowing and build-up that can occur on the underarms of clothing, always allow deodorants and antiperspirants to dry completely before dressing. For silks and dry clean only fabrics, dress guards will help protect the underarms and allow you to wear the garment more than once during the steamy summer.

TWW: Have you found that different types of deodorant leave different types of stains? If so, which types are the least egregious stain-makers?

MML: Every type of deodorant can cause stains and build-up; however, antiperspirants do cause more yellowing on light colored garments than plain deodorants.

TWW: Which fabrics are easiest to wash and remove stains from?

MML: It is easier and less expensive to remove perspiration stains from garments that are machine washable. Man-made fibers tend to hold odors longer because hot water is not recommended for everyday washing. Cotton is one of the easiest fabrics to clean.

TWW: And the question all commuters want the answer to: what is the best way to remove sweat stains?

MML: To remove the stains in a washable garment (if it’s dry clean only, dry clean your item each time after wearing it to prevent the yellowing), here are some options:

  • 1:1:1 – One part baking soda, one part hydrogen peroxide, one part water. Make a solution of the three ingredients. You will need about 1/4 cup each of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and water to treat one shirt. Protect the countertop with a thick white towel, rub 1:1:1 solution into stains and allow to work for at least 30 minutes. Use an old soft toothbrush or bristle brush to loosen any residue and then wash as usual in warm or cold water.
  • 1:1 – One part oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach, Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach), one part ammonia. DO NOT USE CHLORINE BLEACH. In a well-ventilated room, wearing rubber gloves, mix solution well – about 2 tablespoons of each ingredient per shirt. Again, protecting countertop with thick white towel, rub solution into stains for at least 30 seconds. Wash as usual in warm or cold water.

oxiclean A Commuters Guide to Laundry

  • For light colored shirts (blue, yellow, pink) test the solutions in an inconspicuous spot – perhaps along a hem – before trying the treatments under the arms. If there is no fading, proceed as for white shirts.
  • Darker colors may have stiffness or residue on the fabric under the arms. To remove the build-up and freshen the garments, fill the washing machine with cool water and add one cup of white vinegar. Allow shirts to soak for at least 30 minutes. Drain vinegar water and wash as usual in cool water.

TWW: Do laundering techniques differ for different articles of clothing? Would you remove stains from a silk blouse the same way as a blazer?

MML: Every garment should be cleaned following the care instruction labels sewn into the garment. Granted when some tags say “hand wash”, you can wash it on a low setting with Woolite – just make sure to put your item in a garment bag. Cashmere usually has the most confusion on dry clean versus hand wash. To keep the softness of the cashmere, hand wash your item, rinse well and never wring it out. It should be dried flat and reshaped during drying. If pressing is needed, it should be done while the garment is still damp and always on the wrong side using a press cloth between the iron and the cashmere. If the garment needs pressing between cleaning, use a steam iron and follow all pressing directions.

TWW: Do you suggest any specific stain removal products? Do you have a preference among the on-the-go stain removal products?

MML: There are several stain removal products that work very well. All of the on-the-go stain removal pens (Tide To Go, Wine Away, etc.) work equally well on washable fabrics and specific stains.

(At TWW, we swear by Oxiclean!)

TWW: Are there any natural stain removal products that can be made at home?

MML: The best natural products for home stain removal are:

  • Distilled White Vinegar
  • Baking Soda

TWW: What clothing items should always be taken to the dry cleaner and what can safely be hand-washed at home?

MML: Here is a quick list of questions that will solve the dilemma of wash or dry clean:

  • Are there spots or stains that you don’t know how to treat?
  • Is the garment made from acetate or rayon? (Both can shrink or become misshapen in water.)
  • Is there a special finish on the garment? (Stiff fabrics have a stabilizing finish to help them hold their shape that water can ruin.)
  • Is the garment difficult to iron? (Structured garments, such as suits, can be difficult to iron and often lose their shape when washed.)
  • Is the garment leather or suede?
  • Is the garment made of a fiber that you’re not familiar with and has never successfully home laundered?
  • Is the garment special to you?

If you answer “yes” to any of the above questions, take it to a professional.