How to remove restaurant smells from clothing?
September 3, 2008 7:30 PM   Subscribe

How do I remove awful, greasy restaurant smells from my clothing? I work eight hours a day at a small, enclosed cafe. I come home smelling of this particular mixture of grease and cafe food (not in a delicious way). It comes off of me in the shower--but after eight months of this the smell seems to be inexorably attached to my clothing. How do I get rid of it?

Things I have tried:
- Washing with very hot water and lots of soap
- Baking soda
- Dryer sheets
- Hanging them out to dry in the sun

I pay for laundry, so I am loathe to try out multiple washings every time the clothing needs to be washed. The clothing is colored, so I can't use bleach. Also, I'm allergic to Tide laundry detergent, if that makes any difference.
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (23 answers total)
Try soaking the clothes in a bucket with some ammonia and hot water (about a cup for a couple gallons water). Then, dump the whole sloppy mess into the washer. I use ammonia to get rid of sweat smell in gym clothes.

The ammonia stinks while it's there, but after a wash and rinse, the smell is completely gone. It doesn't leave a residual smell, it's cheap, and it doesn't destroy fabric like bleach.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:44 PM on September 3, 2008

As a former waiter, I can vouch for Oxi-Clean (Actually Dollar General Oxygen Cleaner). I've never tried amonia, but the oxygen cleaner worked pretty well.
posted by piedmont at 7:52 PM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I cooked and washed dishes in restaurants from age 14 through the end of college. The only good solution is to have clothing and shoes that you don't care about and only wear to work. Wash as needed to reduce but maybe not eliminate the smell. After enough years, you probably won't even notice the odor anymore anyway.... :)
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:02 PM on September 3, 2008

Someone once told me when washing really stinky clothes that would get stinky over and over again, you should throw some vanilla extract into the wash every now and again.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:06 PM on September 3, 2008

Oh, and remember to clean the washer itself. Clean out hoses and filters and the lining of the drum, if you can get to it, and run an empty load with lots and lots of bleach.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:08 PM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could handwash your outfit in the sink after every shift?
posted by Penelope at 8:19 PM on September 3, 2008

What about throwing in some white vinegar during the rinse cycle? I do this with my towels/whites, but I'm not sure if it would help with smell.
posted by jay dee bee at 8:19 PM on September 3, 2008

Pour some Febreeze in the washer when you wash your clothes and spray between your clothes between washes. I'm very sensitive to laundry detergent and use the kind without perfumes or dyes but never have had a problem using Febreeze.
posted by Miastar at 8:22 PM on September 3, 2008

Soak in Borax before you wash, using the hottest water possible. It's the only thing I could find that removed the sour-milk smell from baby clothes (and my spit-up shoulders).
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:31 PM on September 3, 2008

Lemon Juice has been known to help get rid of smells from greasy residue. Try adding some to your laundry the next time you wash.

This book - found through google books actually has some more specific instructions depending on what you need, just by searching lemon juice in its contents.
posted by Kimothy at 9:42 PM on September 3, 2008

A combo of vinegar and baking soda in the wash water, along with whatever detergent you use, will work to get out nearly any kind of lingering smell without hurting your clothes or adding to any skin allergies.

If you can possibly set the clothes in a bucket or in the bath tub to let them pre-treat for at least 10min (but not more than an hour) before putting them in the washer, you'll increase chances of success for super strong smells (like persistent club smoking smells, for example).

Good luck!
posted by batmonkey at 9:46 PM on September 3, 2008

I know this sounds weird, but adding a can of Coca-Cola to your wash will cut grease (and greasy smells). Try it, you'll be surprised.
posted by amyms at 12:20 AM on September 4, 2008

That is, the liquid Coca-Cola inside the can, not the can itself.
posted by amyms at 12:21 AM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll second the vinegar and baking soda. Amazed what stenches it's gotten out of clothes.

But also second wearing clothes that you don't give a damn about if at all possible.
posted by Ookseer at 12:37 AM on September 4, 2008

Friends swear by Dr.Bonner's for the washing and white vinegar in the rinse like nothing else. And it's non-toxic to you or the environment.
posted by watercarrier at 4:53 AM on September 4, 2008

Blaneyphoto is right.
posted by Coatlicue at 7:15 AM on September 4, 2008

nthing blaneyphoto.
posted by benign at 7:53 AM on September 4, 2008

i suggest oxygenated power (like oxy-clean, or generic brands) and also check what fiber material your clothes are made of. i try to stick to 100% cotton if possible, as i found cotton-polyester blends to not only be itchy, but also lock smells in to them (this is especially true of stinky bath towels ... to me they always turn out to be cotton-poly).
posted by kuppajava at 7:59 AM on September 4, 2008

Try full strength Simple Green for the clothes you want to turn back into ¨regular¨ clothes. It might be permanent though. Nthing that you need separate work clothes.
posted by yohko at 8:47 AM on September 4, 2008

Response by poster: I do have separate work clothes, but the smell from those is getting on my regular clothes. I'm worried I'm going to have to seal them in plastic bags or something when I put them away. Goddamn Haz-Mat situation right here.
posted by Anonymous at 9:34 AM on September 4, 2008

Plastic bags wouldn't be a bad idea! But I just wouldn't store my work and everyday clothes together. Keep work clothes at work, if possible - several of the restaurants I worked at had lockers.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:44 AM on September 4, 2008

Hang your clothes over the radiator to dry them out. This is what we did when I lived in the Czech Republic.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 2:05 PM on September 4, 2008

I have used this stuff to good effect in a cat-pee/carpet situation. It works best full-strength -- you might try pre-soaking your clothes in this stuff, then washing as usual.

I tried a bunch of odor-eliminating sprays, strategies, and recipes for the cat pee issue, and this was by far the best one.
posted by peggynature at 7:09 PM on September 4, 2008

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