Deodorants, Antiperspirants, and Vintage Clothing

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

Dearest dress, I never meant to hurt you.  It’s not you, it’s me, and the terrible way I’ve treated you.  Photograph by Frank Myers.

Don’t you hate it when you’ve been doing something your whole life and later discover that this thing you’ve been doing is harmful to something you love?  My heart sunk to the bottom of the Marianas Trench when I read that my deodorant/antiperspirant, which I thought was great because it didn’t streak on my vintage clothing, was actually full of aluminum.  Said aluminum not only made my dress shirt armpits sparkle with the most resistant strain of glitter herpes I’ve encountered to date, with an accompanying foul odor when the heat of an iron was applied, but it also caused a chemical reaction that made the armpits of some of my vintage clothing start to yellow/stain.  How do I know this?  There were casualties.  Then research to determine the cause of said casualties.  I never go down without a fight.


“Deodorants prevent odor-causing bacteria, while antiperspirants prevent sweat. To do so, antiperspirants rely on aluminum-based compounds, such as aluminum chloride, to cause cells in your sweat ducts to swell and block sweat from escaping. When these active ingredients (which also happen to be quite acidic) bond with your sweat, they’re prone to stain clothing.”


Perhaps I’ve been lucky thus far with my antiperspirant not staining my clothing until recently, but I feel like this news should be broadcast, warnings posted in vintage clothing store dressing rooms, shouted from the rooftops.  Maybe people don’t keep their clothing as long as I do, so it just doesn’t come up.  Whatever the reason, I’m here to raise awareness of this issue and present some information on my journey to aluminum-free deodorant and stain/sparkle-free clothing.


We sweat a lot when we dance.  We have to wear SOMETHING or our dance spaces will smell even more like locker rooms and foot cheese than they already do.  I decided I could deal without the antiperspirant component of my underarm regimen, as I tended to select clothing for dancing that already doesn’t show at lot of soaked-through sweat, but the smell had to be UNDER WRAPS.  But I had to change my deodorant fast, or suffer the consequences of damaging even more clothing.


I headed to the Internet to read reviews of aluminum-free deodorants and I found most reviews to be incomplete, overly-optimistic, and not descriptive enough.  There were also options other than stick and roll-on, which sounded like a pain in the butt.  Then I came across this article titled “Do Any of These Hippie Deodorants Work?” by Kat Stoeffel that was exactly what I needed – one person’s journey through a myriad of recommended deodorants with different applicators, brands, pros, cons, daily conditions, duration of effectiveness, and a ranking from worst to best.  As everyone’s body chemistry is different, I went with her top two and was prepared to try others down the line if necessary.

Kat’s second highest recommendation, Le Couvent de Minimes Everyday Deodorant, is a French cologne which has alum stone as its active ingredient and dates back to 1862.  True to Kat’s assessment, it did smell like a fancy Williams Sonoma hand soap, and would work as a nice unisex scent.  Unfortunately, my skin had a sensitivity reaction to this deodorant.  It did work well and I may try it again in a different season.


The deodorant with Kat’s highest seal of approval was Lavilin, an Israeli deodorant that featured images of athletes on the cardboard packaging around the bottle, which looked promising.  I had to get used to wearing a roll-on, but it was usually dry by the time I finished drying my hair and I haven’t seen evidence of it leaving residue on my clothing when I remove it.  It’s been working like a champ on regular office days for the past month.  While it boasts 72 hours of coverage, I’d err on the side of caution when going to a swing dance – I would always reapply my old deodorant/antiperspirant before attending a dance, just to be safe, and that reapplication was needed with Lavilin if I wanted to continue to smell fresh at the end of the dance (per a self-sniff).  Lavilin is my winner of the two.

Thankfully, it was just that easy, trying two and coming up with a winner.  I am so relieved to have found a deodorant that has less of a negative impact on my wardrobe!  If you have stories, recommendations, or other information about what works for you, please feel free to post it in the comments.


The guilt is immense.  I’d like to say I have all the answers for my recovery plan, but I don’t.  I’ve soaked the damaged red gingham dress in Oxyclean twice and the armpits are still yellow.  I’ve used vinegar on a cranberry colored dress shirt and I can still see the glitter of aluminum embedded in the fabric.  I did, however, manage to eradicate all glitter and stains from several white dress shirts following the advice of this video, using a paste of water, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide:

I probably need to try this on my cranberry shirt and gingham dress, but the peroxide has me worried it will bleach the color…need some more confidence…please feel free to insert confidence in the comments section, as well. 😉


I realize there are all sorts of warnings and cautionary things we can do to protect our vintage clothing (like not wearing it – but where is the fun in that?), but a change of deodorant was a fairly easy lifestyle change for me to make and it’s also made with an eye toward protecting the lifespan of my modern clothing, as well!  Hopefully, I’ll never have to make a peroxide and baking soda paste again.





13 thoughts on “Deodorants, Antiperspirants, and Vintage Clothing

  1. Hello, have you ttried Retro Clean? I purchased vintage barkcloth curtains on Etsy and they were filthy (knowingly) though I didn’t know to what degree. I soaked them 4 times in the tub with Retro Clean and the water was brown! But, it was a good thing, they were unbelievably clean when I was done, so if it can do that for that degree of dinginess, I’m sure it could help your clothing 🙂

  2. If you absolutely cannot part with an antiperspirant/deodorant while dancing, you can always use underarm pads/dress shields. They come in two forms: disposable that stick to the armpits of your dress or non-disposable washable ones that can attach to your brassiere. Kleinert’s ( carries them and have been carrying these sort of products for over 100 years. You can even find vintage Kleinert’s dress shields (example from Pinterest: The Japanese stores carry armpit shields that adhere to your armpit instead of your dress to block the sweat and deodorant from coming in contact with your clothes and contain odor-destroying charcoal.

    I also wanted to point out for your readers that a lot of the “hippie deodorants” contain essential oils that can also stain clothes. At one point, I wanted to use a non-aluminum deodorant after reading about how harmful they were. I bought a natural deodorant that was jasmine scented to compliment my normal perfume. Long story short, I smelled great but I found that once my armpits warmed up from activity, the essential oils seemed to liquify and come to the surface of the deodorant which stained my clothes permanently.

  3. Sulfamic Acid
    You can get it in the tile cleaning section of any home improvement store.

    A little rubbed into the pit stains and then wash.

    Some people use Lime Away but it is just Sulfamic Acid…

  4. Sorry to hear about the staining on your dress- I hope you’re able to get it cleaned up okay! If you’re still testing aluminum-free deodorants, I highly recommend Tom’s of Maine (unscented). I have to take more frequent fan breaks when we go out dancing, but it seems to work well based on similar self-sniff tests and doesn’t compete with flowers or perfume…

  5. Long have I pondered the sparkly underarms of my shirts. THANK YOU SO MUCH. I hope I didn’t donate my favorite white shirt, because if it can be saved with your paste I’ll be one happy camper!

  6. I use sweat pads whenever I wear vintage clothing or modern silks. Many of my vintage dresses came with sweat pads pinned it not them. They were washable and meant that dresses could be worn many times before dry cleaning. You can buy sweat pads today. I have these washable ones 🙂

  7. Be brave girl! The hydrogen peroxide & baking soda solution is safe on your coloured clothes too! While I don’t have any vintage clothing, I recently did this test on a favourite white blouse which had turned too gross to wear due to yellowy-grey pit stains. I figured if it didn’t work, it was gonna get tossed. I soaked the pits in vinegar to loosen the stain, then applied the laundry detergent-hydrogen peroxide-baking soda solution with a toothbrush, worked it into the fibers & then let it sit & soak. What was fascinatingly gross was how slimey that alum soaked area felt when I rinsed it out before tossing in the wash. It came out white & beautiful! So, emboldened, tried my white t-shirts & threw in a favourite old orange one to try. Again, either this works or it becomes a rag. It worked! So, again emboldened, did ALL my coloured t-shirts. Again: it worked! I think the hydrogen peroxide is not strong enough to bleach the cloth And its main focus is this bio-based pit-smorg it can chew on. As well, combined with the baking soda, it changes the chemistry…I gotta ask my son how that would work. Anyways: that is my pit-stain removal with no casualties story: hope that helps!

    1. Talked to my son & now I know why the clothes are not bleached with the hydrogen peroxide… Stick with me, this will be a reader-friendly chemistry-lesson.
      The vinegar is the necessary part! Its acid softens the alum which then ‘floats’ in the vinegar. The hydrogen-peroxide (hp) & baking soda combine to make a Super-Base! If you remember chemistry, if you mix an acid with a base they neutralize each other… The hp goes after what’s easiest to chew, which is the dissolved alum, rather than the cloth. Together, they eat up what is hanging on to the fibers, then any excess hp is neutralized with the vinegar, turning it to water! So, essentially: the vinegar is important, but also is the rubbing of the mixture to get it well worked in to lift the most muck out of your clothes! Yay!!!

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