What’s Making My Clothes Smell?

Clean laundry should smell fresh, but sometimes stubborn smells linger
on clothes, even after they’ve been washed. Consumer Educator, Teresa
Hunsaker, has solutions to common smelly laundry scenarios.

We have all probably experienced this frustration a time or two in our
laundry….smelly “clean” laundry! Anything from perspiration smells not
coming out completely, sour smells, campfire smoke or other smoke smells
not being removed sufficiently, or even gasoline spills not being removed.

Doesn’t matter what it is that lingers….it is not what we wanted after doing
the laundry.

Here are some points to consider:

1. Get to the laundry as soon as possible. Try not to let dirty smelly
clothes sit in with other mildly dirty clothes.

2. Use the hottest water possible for the type of fiber and weave of the
fabric being laundered. If I am doing towels I want HOT for sure. The
heavy dense weave and loops in terrycloth towels will hold body oils,
perspiration, and micro-organisms more readily than other types of

3. Do not over pack the washer. In our daunting piles of laundry
sometimes we think we will get “more” done in less loads by filling the
machine as full as we can….not a good idea. The clothes need plenty of
room to move and clean in the water. The detergent and water combined
cannot clean as well if there are lots of items packed into the machine.
Heavy and dense clothes, like towels and jeans, add to the problem, so
consider the type of fabric you are dealing with so as not to over-pack the

4. Consider a pre-soak for some tough odor problems. Pre-soaks can
use vinegar, or borax, or ammonia…as listed below for the laundry load…
just used as a pre-soak, OR, you can use products like Gain, which is a
detergent with added enzymes. These make good pre-soaks too.

5. Use the best detergent and the right amount for each particular load
of fabric type, soiling, and size.

6. Add in either vinegar (1-2 cups per load, depending on size of load,
type of fabric, and odors), borax (1/2-1 cup), baking soda (1/2-1 cup),
washing soda (1/2-1 cup). Ammonia works well for smoke removal…
ammonia is really effective on anything that might have an oil/grease base
to it…like soot/smoke or even gasoline. Use about ½-1cup non-sudsing
ammonia and be sure to never use with bleach.

7. Dry immediately, dry completely as quickly as possible. Do not let the
laundry sit in the washing machine, this allows micro-organisms to grow…
they love warm and moist places to multiply. Get the clothes dry as soon
as possible…use drying racks, clotheslines, and the dryer…but do not
over-fill the dryer either. Every now and then, on a warm sunny day, take
your laundry outside for a nice line drying. It is amazing what that will do
to freshen a load of laundry! Since most people don’t even know what a
clothesline is, use drying racks or hangers. Hardware/home stores have a
number of options for clotheslines.

8. Clean the washer drum every now and then. Run the machine through
a full cycle without any clothes. Use anywhere from a ½ cup to a cup of
liquid bleach in with the water, but no clothes. Let it go the full cycle. This
does help clean out any build up of detergents, oils, and fabric softener
from the interior drum. Some have used Zep Odor Control Concentrate for
this, others have used Whirl Out (used for hot tub cleaning), Affresh, or
Tide Washing Machine Cleaner. I find that bleach is cheap and effective,
and I don’t have to try to find the other products.

9. Additives such as fabric softeners will help mask odors, but not get to
the actual cause of the odors. There are also rinse cycle additives available
at places like Bed Bath and Beyond that will freshen up the smell of your
laundry, but are not a fabric softener.

10. Adding 3-4 drops of your favorite essential oil to an unscented
detergent before adding into the wash is also a way to change up the smell
and it lasts longer.

Here is a general rule of thumb:

· Campfire Smoke (or other smoke): Ammonia…1/4 to ½ cup in
with the wash along with ½ cup washing soda. Vinegar in the rinse water…
1/2 cup.

· Perspiration: Baking soda…make a paste of water and soda and
rub into armpits. Launder as usual, but rinse with vinegar in the rinse

· Gasoline: Vinegar 2-3 cups in a sink of warm water…let clothing
article soak for 1-2 hours, add ½ baking soda to detergent and wash.

· Sour smell: Borax…1/2-1 cup to a regular wash cycle but with as
hot a water as possible, then rinse with ½ cup vinegar in rinse.

· Smelly washer: 1 cup bleach to a wash cycle but with no clothes,
or commercial products like Affresh, Tide Washing Machine Cleaner, or
other commercial washing machine cleaner.


If you have any questions, contact Teresa Hunsaker at the Family and
Consumer Science Education Department at the Weber County USU
Extension office at (801) 399-8203 or online at www.extension.usu.edu/web

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