Funky smelling washed/dried clothes
June 15, 2005 10:45 AM   Subscribe

Lately I have noticed a residual funky smell in my clothes after washing and drying. (Think used towels. Not hotel ones as they all smell like chlorine bleach). I do use fabric softener to no avail. Is ther a way to get rid of this smell in the clothing? Enzymatic detergent? The stuff to get rid of the smell pet urine? Anybody else have this problem and solved the issue?
posted by thimk to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you fully drying? Drying right after washing?

Usually, that's mildew. And I've had it from spacing out and leaving the clothes in the washer for too long or not drying my clothes out all the way.

I just double wash as hot as I can and hope for the best.
posted by Gucky at 10:49 AM on June 15, 2005

Run a quick wash cycle with vinegar to remove the left in the washer stink.
posted by shepd at 11:07 AM on June 15, 2005

Fabric softener (both liquid and dryer-sheet versions) works by impregnating small amounts of wax into your clothes. The wax reduces static electricity, makes the fabric feel smoother thus softer, and holds the purdy smell from the fabric softener. Unfortunately the wax will also hold no-so-purdy smells just as well as purdy ones: it's wax, it's dumb, it can't tell the difference. (Another unintended side-effect is that "softened" cloth is much less absorbant). Try skipping the softener for a load or two after following either or both of Gucky or shepd's excellent suggestions.
posted by TimeFactor at 11:13 AM on June 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

Do you have a front loading washer?

If yes, check the areas around the door. The manual states that you should be cleaning it out, but it escapes the notice of many people.

A friend of the family cleaned it out to discover a set of baby socks (her kid is 4 now) that could best be described as 'soapy black goop'.
posted by unixrat at 11:15 AM on June 15, 2005

It could be mildew, but it might be in your washer or most likely your dryer, and not on your clothes. Best to get your head in there and sniff around. If you find or smell mildew, you can kill it with bleach; make sure to wash and rinse off the bleach afterwards, too.
posted by iconomy at 11:16 AM on June 15, 2005

It does sound like mildew. I have a hard time telling if clothes are wet when they're just out of the dryer so it's hit me a couple of times. I've forced myself to use much smaller loads so that things do come out dry. The mildew smell has gone away after a subsequent wash and dry cycle when it has happened.
posted by substrate at 11:17 AM on June 15, 2005

On post-view, I stopped using fabric softener and now use a bit of vinegar in my wash cycle. I don't get static problems and my clothes are soft. As a bonus they don't have that sickly perfume smell that comes from the fabric softener sheets.
posted by substrate at 11:19 AM on June 15, 2005

I've had success in eliminating funky smells by various combinations of the following: adding a heaping cup of baking soda to the washing machine; soaking overnight in 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water; line drying in sunshine.

If it's multiple loads and you're not sure of the cause, I'd investigate the washer and dryer, as iconomy suggests.
posted by ambrosia at 11:21 AM on June 15, 2005

It could be the detergent itself. I think clothes washed with Era smell gross. Towels at my rec center smelled that way and I always thought they were unwashed.

A girl I know always smelled like that and I thought it was BO!
posted by delmoi at 11:45 AM on June 15, 2005

I've found that clothes that have been left wet too long will get this smell. It doesn't come out with just another wash, you have to add borax. If you are not leaving the clothes wet, you may be getting sewer gas backing up into your machine (smell the inside of the washer after it has set empty for a couple days). You should have a trap and a vent. When we lived in a mobile home that was not set up correctly my wife would run the washer empty (low water) with a lot of bleach before doing the rest of the laundry.
posted by 445supermag at 1:08 PM on June 15, 2005

Do you have a Maytag Neptune front-loading washer, by chance? There was a class-action lawsuit about some models of the Neptune having a tendency to grow mildew.
posted by litlnemo at 1:39 PM on June 15, 2005

Assuming your clothes are getting dry this is really unlikely to be a dryer problem, look to your washer for the source. Good ideas above. One thing that hasn't been mentioned is to check your drain hose setup. Ideally you want the crook of the gooseneck of the hose to be level with the top of the washer or a bit higher. If it is much higher (like ceiling high) you can get excess back flow draining into your washing machine (a 1.5" hose 10' long holds a lot of water. You also need an air gap between the hose and the drain pipe. Make sure someone hasn't taped up the junction between hose and pipe. If the washer is draining into a sink ensure the drain is unobstructed and drain water isn't backing up such that it covers the end of the hose[1]. Either of these wrongs can cause drain water to siphon back into the washing machine and in the former you may even empty the pee trap.

Running a few loads of just water with a strong bleach solution (like 4-5 cups per washer load) may also solve this. Top loaders will sometimes get a sock or something stuck under the agitator that can cause funky smells but usually you'll be able to see something sticking out.

[1] The only way to be sure is to sit there and watch a couple of loads. Bring a book.
posted by Mitheral at 2:15 PM on June 15, 2005

Bleach or color-safe bleach (hydrogen peroxide) will get it out.
UV works, too--hang them to dry in full sunlight.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:20 PM on June 15, 2005

Vinegar is great, but check out Oxi Clean. Put a cupful in on hot with nothing else in the washer. Let it soak.

Bleach will do the same, but bleach also has a strong smell, and you might have some left over when you do your next load.

Just never mix Oxi Clean and bleach.
posted by bh at 3:03 PM on June 15, 2005

Response by poster: yes I do have a neptune front loader. Brilliant guess! I just spent an hour cleaning the rubber gasket, which was in fact covered in mildew. I just ran vinegar through and will get some bleach (used last bleaching some beach shells) and try that as well as the mildew smell remains. Oxi Clean on shopping list as well.
posted by thimk at 3:35 PM on June 15, 2005

I have the Neptune too. If you call the 800 number on the panel of your machine, they'll send you a little kit thing to help keep it clean. They also recommend that you do an empty load using hot/hot and a 1/4 - 1/2 a cup of dishwasher detergent. (Why *dishwasher detergent* is a question I never could get answered.)

I've found that, once cleaned, the problem has not reoccured if I leave the washer open a bit after a load. Once the gasket is dry, I close it. Yes, that's a sucky solution for an expensive piece of equipment, but it's easier than dealing with the actual recall.
posted by dejah420 at 5:51 PM on June 15, 2005

Yes, we have an older Neptune also. The machine is getting that mildew smell but I can't smell it on the clothes yet. I do use bleach in the white loads at least once a week, so I hope that helps.

We got paperwork about the class action suit, but my husband threw it out because he didn't think our machine had the problem. Um, he's not the one doing the laundry, I guess. ;)

dejah, thanks for mentioning the 800 number -- I might call and get the kit. How frequently do they suggest you run an empty load?
posted by litlnemo at 6:47 PM on June 15, 2005

dejah420 writes "(Why *dishwasher detergent* is a question I never could get answered.) "

Dishwashing detergent contains very little actual detergent, it's the steaming hot water that does most of the cleaning in a dishwasher. What it does contain is anti-sudsing agents and a compound to break surface tension which reduces spotting and increases the effectiveness of the hot water. So D/W detergent is pretty effective at removing soap scum which can act as a petri dish for some kinds of mildew.

If you want to see why the need for an anti sudsing agent toss a teaspoon of Dawn in a dishwasher and give it a spin. Have a gallon of vinegar handy to cut the cubic metres of foam :).

Vinegar will do as a substitute for dishwasher detergent in a pinch because it cuts suds and reduces water's surface tension.
posted by Mitheral at 8:37 PM on June 15, 2005

How frequently do they suggest you run an empty load?

I think they said to do it just the once, and then maintain the bristles with the little brush thing they send you. I've only done it once, I periodically remember to go brush the bristles, and I leave the washer open after a load, and no more problems.

Mitheral, thanks!
posted by dejah420 at 2:14 PM on June 16, 2005

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