How to clean stained shirt collars and cuffs: Tips that work

It can be quite frustrating when you realise that your favourite shirt/blouse has a stain on the collar but rather than throw it out (or live with it) there are some methods you can try in order to remove those marks. As both my children are at primary school we have a lot of white shirts that get dirty on the cuffs but also the shirts get stained collars in the summer when both boys are wearing suncream (not that this is required too often in the UK).

Collar stain removal

In this article, I look at some of the best ways to clean stained shirt collars and cuffs using items you have around the house and commercial stain removers.

What causes the stains in the first place?

There are the obvious ones like pen marks on the kid’s cuffs but the inside of the collars can also become quite stained with almost a “ring” pattern. This is down to the natural oils in the skin, sweating and wearing products such as sun cream. I also read that using certain types of shampoo or body wash can cause this, but I guess this is again down to the oils that they contain.

What are the options for removing the stain?

Assuming that you have already washed the shirts at a decent temperature and the stain remains then what are your options? Well, its either going to be down to some manual work with a scrubbing brush or using some laundry product specifically designed for removing these types of stains. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of options for using products that you’ll already have around the house.

First, let’s take a look at the more basic options.

Step 1: You’re going to need some soap based product that will break down the grease and dirt on the shirt. These could be any of the following:

  • Laundry washing liquid (if using this then I would recommend you also wear some protective gloves)
  • Handwashing liquid
  • Plain old soap
  • Shower gel or shampoo (all though I would probably only use this as a last resort)

Step 2: Next, you’ll need something to agitate the product into the shirt. This could be a scrubbing brush or old toothbrush.

Step 3: The next step is to fill the sink or a bowl with hot water and put the shirt in to soak. Working at a kitchen sink is best as you can take the collar and cuffs out of the bowl and onto the drainer without getting water everywhere. Leave the shirt in the hot water for about 5-10 minutes to get a good soak then, starting with the collar, place the shirt onto a hard and flattish surface (this is where the sink drainer comes in handy).

Step 4: Now you want to apply your washing/laundry liquid or soap directly onto the collar. If you are using soap then this can be rubbed directly into the collar. Then you want to take your toothbrush or scrubbing brush and work the liquid into the collar, giving it a good scrub in the stained area. Once you’ve done this, leave the shirt for about another 5-10 minutes to give the liquid or soap time to soak in. Simply repeat these steps for the cuffs.

Step 5: The final step is to put the shirt back in the bowl and rinse off the liquid or soap. You can take it out (spinning in the washing machine first though will help remove some of the water) and leave to dry or put in the wash again in the machine.

Are there any off-the-shelf stain removers I can use to save time?

Personally, I don’t use any commercial stain remover and instead just rely on other cleaning products (such as laundry detergent). Probably one of the most well-known stain removers though is Vanish. What you will need is a “pre-treat” spray as the stain will need a concentrated dose of cleaning product in the stained area. The most suitable product would be their Vanish Gold PowerGel Pre-Treat Stain Remover.

However, while this may be effective it looks like they have recently changed the product packaging and the spray mechanism is now reported to be very difficult to use. A gel is also available in the Vanish range that you can just dab on the stain but this is fairly expensive at around £4.50 for 200ml (£22.50 per litre!), so you are paying a high price for the convenience.

The good thing about commercial stain removers though is that you can apply directly to dry clothes and leave for about 5 minutes and the just throw in the wash. It is also worth considering your supermarket’s own branded (if they have one) stain remover as they are often just as effective but much cheaper than the bigger brands. As with all cleaning products though, make sure you test on a small area first, just in case.

Are there any magic homemade remedies?

If you don’t want to use a commercial cleaner or stain remover then what are your options? Well, you’re going to have to hone your chemistry skills and make something yourself. A quick look on YouTube and I found the following methods:

  • This method involves a pre-soak and then a direct application. You’re going to need white vinegar and water for the pre-treat, then baking soda, salt and 3% hydrogen peroxide to mix into a paste that you apply directly to the stains. Looks like it could be effective but I’m not sure if everyone has hydrogen peroxide around the house and the paste looks a bit messy to make and use.

Shirt collar cleaning

  • If you want to make your own stain remover without the hydrogen peroxide then this video shows how to make it with just white vinegar and baking soda. Again this involves mixing a paste and applying directly to the stain on the clothes.

The homemade solutions are not as convenient as the commercial stain removers but they will probably be just as effective and will certainly cost less.

Can I prevent the stains in the first place?

Probably not, I’m afraid, certainly for kids. For adults, there are a few options. Looking back at the causes, then one unconventional option I came across to prevent this is to use antiperspirant on your neck. You’ll probably need a stick or roll-on type antiperspirant though rather than a spray (as this could be a bit tricky to apply). The only problem is you could then end up with antiperspirant stains on the clothes as well.

If you are using hair styling products and have long hair that touches the neck, then you could try washing your neck after applying these as they often contain oils that cause the stains.

Although prevention might not be entirely possible, you can make your life a bit easier by treating the shirt stains as soon as you notice them start to appear. This will usually require less effort than waiting until they get worse.

What about those yellow stains caused by using underarm sprays?

If you use antiperspirant or deodorant than there is a fair chance that you will notice some yellow or white staining on the armpits of your shirts or blouses. These are caused by the aluminium salts in the sprays mixing with your sweat (nice!) and forming a substance that is very difficult to shift with just normal washing.

Sometimes you’ll find that these stains will just not come out, but before you throw away your favourite shirt or blouse then you could try any of the stain removal methods I mentioned. A search on YouTube showed that the most effective method was to use the homemade solution of baking soda, washing liquid and 3% hydrogen peroxide and apply this with a toothbrush to the underarm areas of your clothing before washing as normal.