Deodorants and Antiperspirants

Perspiration is composed of 98 percent water and two percent dissolved solids. It contains organic matter (ammonium compounds, urea, amino acids, oils, lactic acid, etc.) and inorganic matter (chlorides).

Fresh perspiration is acidic (pH 4.5), but changes (decomposes) to alkaline (7.0+)1 upon contact with bacteria on the skin and in the air. Differences in pH can occur due to personal variations in diet, drug intake, and general life style. Perspiration decomposes through the action of bacteria (called iphtheroid) present in the perspiration and develops an odor.

Upon aeration perspiration precipitates on the fabric as a white residue forming white salt rings. The accumulation of these salts makes the fabric stiff which is very difficult to remove, especially on colored items.

How Does Perspiration Affect Fabrics?

Perspiration can be harmful to fabrics in many ways. Being water-based, it affects all water-soluble dyes, sizings, repellents, finishing oils, germicidal, and fungicidal finishes. (Fungicidal finishes aid in preventing perspiration/deodorant buildup.) The salt buildup, which occurs as perspiration evaporates, makes the fabric stiff. The rigid fibers do not bend easily and can physically break during flexing of the fabric.

Deodorants and Antiperspirants

Purpose and Function

One of the old methods used to defeat perspiration odor was by masking it with perfumes and oils. Today, there are two methods of preventing perspiration odor:

  • by preventing the decomposition of perspiration with deodorants, and
  • by reducing the amount of perspiration with antiperspirants.

What Is the Difference?

Deodorants only prevent the development of odor in perspiration; they do not reduce the amount of perspiration. Antiperspirants reduce the amount of perspiration. Antiperspirant/deodorant combinations perform the functions of both products.

Deodorants may contain antibacterial agents that prevent bacterial decomposition of perspiration. They also contain anti-infective agents and materials that absorb and chemically deactivate the acidity and odor of perspiration.

Astringents in antiperspirants swell and coagulate protein in the skin, thus reducing the pores through which perspiration is discharged. Astringents are composed of various aluminum salts (aluminum sulfate or chloride).

Deodorants and antiperspirants are available in various forms, such as liquids, creams, sticks, and sprays. The consumer’s preference dictates which type and form of these products they choose.

Do Deodorants and Antiperspirants Affect Fabrics?

Some antiperspirants and deodorants are harmless to fabrics. Stick or cream deodorants are less injurious to fabrics than liquid products. Liquid products usually have a lower pH (greater acidity) and penetrate the fabric quickly and thoroughly. Therefore, if the manufacturer’s directions for proper application are not followed, damage may occur from overuse of the product. There are several types of damage that result from the use of deodorants or antiperspirants including chemical damage, buildup of the product, discoloration, or any combination of the above.

Chemical Damage

IFI’s Textile Testing Laboratory conducted a study on the effects of deodorants and antiperspirants on various fabrics. Results of the study show that the more acidic the product is, the greater the degree of damage (see Figure 1). This acid damage, called hydrocellulose damage, results in strength loss on cotton, rayon, or cellulose-based fabrics. It is caused by the various forms of aluminum salts which are an integral part of the antiperspirant. Without these salts the product is ineffective.

The strength loss occurred when the fabric saturated with the product was exposed to a temperature of 100° F for two days. These test conditions simulate the damage that occurs due to an overuse of the product by the consumer. This damage is accelerated by aging when a person neglects the soiled garment for several days before cleaning.

Wool and acetate fabrics were also tested and showed no strength loss after aging. Some strength loss was noted on silk but it was not as significant as that which occurred on the cotton and rayon fabrics. Since each antiperspirant or deodorant has different chemical compositions, the effect on fabrics will vary.


The most frequent damage is caused by an overuse of the product or its improper removal in the cleaning process. This leads to a buildup of the product forming a stiff cake of residue.

Deodorant/perspiration Stain

This stain/discoloration occurs when the fabric contains perspiration residue combined with deodorant or antiperspirant buildup. As these chemicals remain on the fabric they begin to turn yellow or brown in color, noticeable on white and beige fabrics. On darker colored fabrics, it appears as a white, chalky buildup or residue. The discoloration tends to “wick out” in the underarm area each time the garment is cleaned or worn. When the moisture evaporates, the residue from these products remains causing unsightly stains.

This combination stain can also be seen on men’s shirts in the underarm and adjacent areas. It is not uncommon to see a stiff, cake of residuals.


IFI Garment Analysis records show that discolorations or color changes will occur on almost any type of fabric. Yellow or brown discolorations are caused by perspiration or a buildup of the product as they age. The heat of cleaning accelerates the staining and causes the stain to become set.

This type of discoloration is typically seen on beige and white silks and/or lighter colored fabrics. Colored fabrics can show a variety of color changes or discolorations depending on the type of dyes used in manufacturing and/or the pH of the perspiration or the product.

Removal and Correction

To remove a buildup, combination stain, or reverse a color change, we must take into consideration the presence of perspiration salts and the buildup of the deodorant/antiperspirant. Be certain to test all used agents for colorfastness. Removal includes the following steps:


1. Flush with steam, use a synthetic detergent if necessary, or rewash, if care label permits it.
2. Ammonia or protein formula, 28 percent acetic acid, or tannin formula. (Use also to correct a color change.)

After these steps, any yellowing or stiffness present is related to perspiration; use the following stem:

3. Treat small, local areas with three percent hydrogen peroxide on silks and wools. Use chlorine bleach on cottons and other fabrics.
4. On white, washable items, treat larger stained areas on silk and wool with a three percent hydrogen peroxide bath for approximately four hours. A chlorine bath can be used for other white fabrics when appropriate.


1. Dryclean if care label permits it.
2. Rewash to improve whiteness of whites.
3. If stiffness & yellowing is still present after drycleaning, rewash in hot, high alkaline formula.
4. Bleach with three percent hydrogen peroxide or chlorine bleach according to fiber type or care label instructions.


Our study indicates that some antiperspirants cause chemical damage in consumer use. Therefore, the consumer must realize the consequences of its improper use. When a spray, liquid, or cream product is applied, it must be allowed to dry completely. This will prevent direct wet contact staining on clothing. Ultimately, the consumer is responsible for proper use and care to avoid such damage. This also calls for frequent cleanings and thorough removal of the product to prevent a buildup and possible fabric damage.

The other type of damage which could occur due to the use of these products is a color change. The use of an antiperspirant could result in an acid color change while the use of a deodorant would result in an alkaline color change. This type of damage is not due to improper use by the consumer but to improper dye selection by the manufacturer. Manufacturers have available to them dyes which are not acid or alkaline sensitive and will withstand normal consumer use.

This article is from Drycleaning & Laundry Institute TOI-626.

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