It happens to the best of us: You’re about to put on a dress shirt for work and realize the collar is disgustingly yellow — even though you swear you just washed it. In some cases, you might have even just gotten it back from the dry cleaners. You probably spent a pretty penny on your dress shirts, and maybe even your polos. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to remove those nasty stains before you embarrass your girlfriend or convince your mother that she needs to start doing your laundry again. It might be nice, but let’s face it. It’s time to master laundry on your own.
The first thing to know about getting rid of collar stains, unfortunately, is that there’s no hard and fast rule that will do the trick for every person, every shirt, every time. This means you might have to experiment a little bit, but the good news is that most of the solutions are quick, simple, and typically cost less than $5. In some instances, you can even try household products that are already in your kitchen.
If you don’t know it already, those dreaded stains are commonly called Ring Around the Collar, and were a sign of disgrace for housewives in the ’60s and ’70s. Heaven forbid a husband go to work in a white shirt tinged with yellow! The horror was likely because laundry detergents like Wisk wanted to market their cleaning products to women, but the stigma has remained. You might otherwise be tidy and clean, but dirty collars certainly don’t make a great impression.
Those collar stains can happen at any time, but are worse in the summer because they’re a combination of sweat, dead skin particles, and any hair products you might be using. Some sites even suggest switching shampoos, or cleaning your neck extra well before hopping out of the shower. Sometimes, wearing sunscreen with any shirt will turn your collars a nasty color. (Chemicals in the sunscreen can interact with the type of water you have.)
In other words, the dirt is coming from you. But have no fear! There’s no need to rack up a hefty dry cleaning bill just for a collar stain — in fact, some people claim that cleaners aren’t always effective at getting those stains out in the first place. Here’s a few rules and tips to live by to keep your collars looking fresh, for little money and almost no effort. Plus, you’ll look like a laundry genius!
1. Treat the stain directly
Products like OxiClean are fantastic for many things, and people often use the powdered laundry boosters as stain removers. In fact, OxiClean became popular from those infomercials when the late Billy Mays used to proclaim its magical powers. And though OxiClean may in fact get out stains like never before, it won’t work to clean your collar unless you use it on the stain directly.
The same goes for any treatment for your collar. No matter what you’re using, you’ll have to apply it directly to the stain, let it set for a few minutes or up to a few hours, and then wash the shirt like you normally would. In many cases, you’ll want to use an old toothbrush to rub the cleaning product into the stain, or rub the collar together against itself to create friction. That will help to lift the stain, no matter what you’re using to clean it.
2. Try stain removers you already have
If you’ve already got a stain remover in your laundry stash, try that. If you don’t already own one but you were looking to buy a spray treatment anyway, Deadspin’s Squalor columnist Jolie Kerr suggests trying Zout, OxiClean, Shout, Resolve, or Charlie’s Soap. (Notice how all laundry sprays are so enthusiastic about getting rid of dirt?) Follow the directions on the bottle, which typically include spraying directly on the stain, rubbing it around (this is called “agitating the stain”), and letting it sit for a few minutes before tossing it in the washing machine.
3. Try shampoo or dish soap
If you don’t otherwise spill spaghetti sauce and don’t already have one of those products, try other soap products already in your home. Several commenters on ThriftyFun suggest trying shampoo to get rid of the stain, by dabbing a small amount on the collar, rubbing it in, and letting it rest. Many other sites recommend trying regular dish soap, rubbing it in with a toothbrush, and letting it sit for several minutes before washing it. Both of these make logical sense, since shampoo is designed to get grease out of hair, and dish soap is made to cut grease on your dishes. Since collar stains are essentially natural grease stains, they’re often effective
One blog in particular says using dish soap mixed with a little water could be useful for dry clean only shirts, especially if your cleaner hasn’t been able to make the stain budge with a normal treatment. The trick with these more delicate shirts is to only put as much on as necessary — too much water mixed with the soap will make marks on the shirts. Unlike other shirts, don’t let this one soak. Instead, dampen a washcloth with white vinegar and iron the collar with the washcloth in between. (Make sure your iron is set to the steam setting, or proper setting for the shirt.) If the dry clean only tag freaks you out a little bit, try this method first on another shirt that’s less delicate.
4. Spring for a $1 bar soap
Everybody’s mom has their own chicken noodle soup and chocolate chip cookie recipes. The same is probably true for laundry techniques. One Good Thing blogger and mom Jill Nystul writes that she used Dial Gold bar soap to get out stains in her children’s clothes, and that she uses the same technique for getting stains out of white collars.
Nystul said she dampens the collars (or even dirty shirt cuffs) with water, dips the bar of soap in water and lathers it on the stain, rubs the collar together, and washes the shirt like normal. The best part is that as far as laundry products go, this has to be one of the cheapest.
5. Try other natural ingredients
Degreasers like Greased Lightning are a weapon of choice for some people, and will probably work like a heavy-duty Dawn dish soap. But if you don’t feel like shelling out money for that, or just prefer a more natural choice, try using peroxide or lemon juice. Both methods are known to get out stains — especially if you’re mixing baking powder with the peroxide. If you’re working with a white shirt, vinegar is also a decent choice.
One last thing to remember: white shirts are much easier to treat than colored shirts, because white is OK to be bleached. With colored shirts, do a spot check first with any cleaner you haven’t used before, to make sure the shirt won’t be ruined. (Use a little bit in a spot that won’t be that noticeable, and wait for a bit to make sure it doesn’t change its color.)
Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS