Remove fragrance from clothes washer?
May 20, 2011 11:12 AM   Subscribe

How do I remove fragrance from a clothes washer & dryer?

[asking for a friend with multiple chemical sensitivities] Previous tenant used blue (Snuggle?) fabric softener to the point it's stained the plastic parts of a top-loading washer. Dryer also contaminated with dryer sheets & fabric softener carry-over.

It's giving her migraines when she wears clothes washed & dried in this pair. She's tried "bleach, ammonia, Lestoil, Drano, enzymatic stain and stink removers (not all at the same time)" but the smell remains.

I've pointed out that using harsh cleaners can cause sensitization and she's finally beginning to listen to my suggestions of a respirator with an organic vapor cartridge and a face shield.
posted by frek to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd run a clothes-free load with some vinegar in the water, but if ammonia didn't work, she might be out of luck.

I can't imagine that the washer, after all that, is still trapping fragrance, so my guess is that the culprit is the dryer. I have no idea how she could go about safely (as in, not creating a fire hazard) de-stink the dryer. Can she wash her clothes in the washer and let them line dry? She'll at least be able to identify the culprit that way.
posted by phunniemee at 11:15 AM on May 20, 2011

The dryer drum would be metal, so I am not sure how it can be trapping anything especially if it's been cleaned with those cleaners. She should try replacing all of the plastic and rubber parts of the dryer, such as the lint trap and door gasket. The lint trap, if it's a plastic mesh, could be the culprit since the air passes through it.
posted by cabingirl at 11:24 AM on May 20, 2011

Best answer: I agree with phunniemee... I personally have never had a problem with sensitivities after running a wash with vinegar. (but then again nothing has ever been washed in my washer with fragrance.)

I'd recommend applying bleach just to the stained parts, letting it sit overnight, and then rinsing it off in the morning. Then run a wash with a gallon jug of vinegar (making sure not to let the bleach and vinegar interact, I don't know if they will but better safe than sorry).
posted by saveyoursanity at 11:24 AM on May 20, 2011

And my advice applies just to the washer, sorry. Has she tried cleaning the dryer hose?
posted by saveyoursanity at 11:24 AM on May 20, 2011

There's a product called Lemi Shine that is usually used in dishwashers to deodorize and to remove hard water deposits; they also make a variant for washing machines. It's mostly citric acid, and should deodorize pretty well. For the dryer, maybe run a load of towels soaked in the Lemi Shine solution?
posted by prenominal at 11:37 AM on May 20, 2011

Best answer: If your friend is very, very sensitive, she may be out of luck. My experience with fragrances in laundry products is that they are damn near permanent--I'm sure they are designed to be, so that users think "my clothes always smell so fresh when I use X!" I have a few garments that have been washed many times, in many different solutions designed to destinkify them, and aired out in the sun for weeks, but they still smell like the Tide that their previous owner used two years ago. Those smells are designed to last, and they do.

The best general unstinker that I've found, by far, is zeolite. It works slowly, but it works. Here's a version made for laundry. Also very good is Smells Begone (the UNscented spray version).
posted by Corvid at 11:43 AM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is she in a large apartment complex? If so, it might be worth asking the maintenance guys if they have a spare washer and/or dryer they'd be willing to trade for the ones currently in her apartment. Sometimes the maintenance guys at larger suburban complexes that supply washer/dryer units have an extra machine or two they've fixed up in their spare time for the next time a unit breaks, and if she asks nicely and explains that hers work, they might be willing to make the swap.

Has she tried washing a load in the washer and then drying it on a rack? That might help disambiguate which unit the smell is coming from. If the smell is mostly from the dryer, she could buy a couple racks and dry her clothing that way.
posted by pie ninja at 12:21 PM on May 20, 2011

Draino?? Really? Maybe that's where the migraines are coming from. Run a few loads on hot with vinegar and borax for the washer. As far as the dryer is concerned I have no idea. Most dryer I've seen are powder-coated metal drums. I really don't see anything penetrating that. I'd look for anything plastic, pull it out and scrub it w/ a 2:1 vinegar/water mixture. Try and get a brand new lint trap if she can. Clean out the air intake and exhaust.
posted by no bueno at 1:04 PM on May 20, 2011

2 Loads on hot with 2 cups of white vinegar each. you can also wash some plane old towels with it, then run those same towels through the dryer with towels or washcloths soaked in white vinegar as well.

In general we've found white vinegar to the universal de-stinker.
posted by iamabot at 3:49 PM on May 20, 2011

Lots of white vinegar and very hot water would be my first choice when cleaning anything. If that doesn't work after a few tries, useTSP added at a quarter cup to a washload. The dryer is harder- replace the outlet tube, clean the lint thing with vinegar, tumble a vinegar soaked old towel. Again if that doesn't work, 1/2 cup TSP (wear gloves, eye protection, and a mask) to two gallons water. Wipe down everything possible.

Don't get reckless with the TSP- it's not good for the environment to add phosphates to water, which is why TSP has been phased out of detergents.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:43 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you for your help! I'm the chemically sensitive friend. My landlord is very OCD, I can't even use Drano Pipe Snake without advance approval, so some things an option.

After rubbing the plastic areas that were most exposed to the liquid fabric softener with a pumice stone (I bought Pumie Pumice Scouring Stick, thinking it would be like Lava soap with some pumice in it, but it was just a pumice stone) and soaking for 2 days with a quart of vinegar and a quart of 91% isopropyl alcohol in hot water, the washer is better. Your input was decisive in doing vinegar again, in a larger amount than previously. Thank you. I'll do another treatment with even more of those. I think changing the corrugated drainage hose will also help and I should be able to slip that past the landlord.

With the dryer, I put rags drenched with whatever chemicals were washed in the machine and running it without heat. The previous squatters and last tenant were horribly cheap, so they didn't double rinse their clothes and transferred quit a bit of fabric softener to the dryer. Most fabric softeners contain silicone, and I fear whatever it is has been baked in. Chemicals to remove silicone are dangerously toxic and expensive.

There is no hope of purifying the dryer until is has been totally de-linted. A friend's 150 psi air compressor wouldn't budge the vent hose (a horrible fire danger), so I took out what I could reach by hand. There's still much more lint. I've asked the landlord to clean it and add a screen so no more insects build nests there, but it hasn't happened after a week. They pretended they had no idea what I was talking about when I requested they strip the machine and blow that out. The entire metal shell needs be lifted in one piece off the mechanical parts. I'll request it again tomorrow, and order one of the 10 ft dryer vent cleaners, too.

Again, thank you. If you have other ideas, please, continue to share them!
posted by erinys at 4:59 PM on May 22, 2011

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