Fabric softener begone
April 24, 2012 9:18 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to get the stink of scented laundry detergent & fabric softener out of these sheets?

This is an issue that keeps coming up. I frequently stay with various friends in other towns, and although I seriously appreciate their hospitality, the smelly grease of their fabric softener seems to get all over everything I own, my skin, my hair, etc. I bring my own sheets & pillowcase so I don't have to have theirs right against my skin, but then my sheets pick up the smell (it's so incredibly strong, I just don't understand why people use this stuff!) and nothing seems to get it out. I wash them multiple times in hot water, and have tried chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach, vinegar . . . it's all over my clothes, too, and I can't abuse those in the laundry the way I can white sheets. Would ammonia work? What else could I try? I just want my things to smell clean, not like anything else.
posted by HotToddy to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
When you washed them with vinegar, did you soak them before the rinse cycle for about an hour with the vinegar? That's how I'd recommend doing it. Also, if you haven't tried it already, you can try soaking in hot water for several hours with a cup of baking soda added, then wash as normal.

If you could hang them outside to dry on a clear, bright day, the sunlight will help break down the perfumes too. The sun may fade darker colors, though, so be aware of that possibility.
posted by empyrean at 9:26 AM on April 24, 2012

Try hanging them on a clothesline for a few days. We have family members who use a lot of room freshener (sic) sprays, candles and plug-ins, which cause the same problem. A couple days of strong sunlight (rain is good too) seem to help.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:26 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Never used ammonia.

I'm not a fan of scents, and I use one of the cloth-diaper friendly options out there; off the top of my head these are Country Save, Rocking Green, Ecos, Bio-Kleen, and Charlie's Soap. I use the last on the list, best results for me and my water hardness.

Additionally, I use vinegar in the rinse in place of fabric softener, and a bit of borax and baking soda throw in the loads.

A friend of mine uses a hydrogen peroxide and water soak to get sweat/oil smells out of running clothes (I'm not sure of his exact ratios) and has added vinegar and baking soda to his washing routine.

When I can, I line-dry my clothes. A multi-wash and line-dry trip is usually good enough for stuff I acquire from folks who use such clothing grease.

Maybe also only use those sheets for travelling? Pack away with a baking soda sachet?
posted by tilde at 9:28 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're feeling bold, you could start telling your hosts that you're allergic to the scented detergents and softeners. Lots of folks are, and it would get you off easier than telling them they're stinky.

My grandma hates nutmeg, and tells everyone she's allergic to it so they leave it out of recipes they cook for her.

Not how I would personally handle it, but YMMV.
posted by phunniemee at 9:35 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have found that a teaspoon of pure tea tree oil added to the wash seems to remedy even the most tenacious of scents. Ie mildew, perfume, work out clothes, etc .
posted by Rapunzel1111 at 9:52 AM on April 24, 2012

I think my comment was eaten, but have you tried borax?

What about vinegar (first wash) then baking soda (second wash)?
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:54 AM on April 24, 2012

Hanging outside in the sun for a day or so might do the trick. I am also sensitive (but luckily not extremely allergic) to various scents, including shampoos, detergents, dishwashing soap, perfume, etc, so I'm always really reluctant to add more chemicals to the mix.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:57 AM on April 24, 2012

If you're feeling bold like lying to your friends about why you bring your own sheets, then tell them you are allergic. Unless you do in fact have an allergy, you seem to simply be kind of picky about the way your friends do their laundry.

Sunlight and fresh air might be a good solution for getting rid of the scent. Do you have space for a clothesline?
posted by emelenjr at 9:57 AM on April 24, 2012

Have you ever mentioned to your well-intentioned friends that you are particularly sensitive to laundry scents?

They may be pouring on the detergent and fabric softener because they just feel like that's what you do when you have a guest over and you want them to know, "Hey, we washed these sheets! They aren't dirty even though their used!"
posted by misha at 10:22 AM on April 24, 2012

Charlie's Soap will break down the 'grease'-y film on the fabric and get rid of the stink. They also happen to have wonderful customer service.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:27 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't have high hopes for success. I've been trying to get the stink of Tide out of some blankets for a couple of years. I've soaked and washed them multiple times in every de-stinkifier I could find, and left them hanging out on the clothesline in the sun and rain for weeks at a time, and I can still smell that stuff. It has faded a lot, but it's definitely still there. I think I could burn them, and the ashes would still smell like Tide. Avoiding exposure is the only real solution.

The sad truth is, it may be time to buy new sheets. If the things you've already tried haven't worked, this is a battle you're not likely to win.
posted by Corvid at 12:25 PM on April 24, 2012

I bought this enzyme laundry detergent made for sports clothing that purports to get the smell out of anything. It took five cycles for our athletic gear, but it did the trick. The stuff I bought is called Sports Suds, but I'm sure you can find something similar anywhere.
posted by tatiana131 at 1:11 PM on April 24, 2012

Yeah, this is a common problem in the cloth diaper world so I'd try soaking your clothes in cloth diaper detergent (Rockin' Green is what I use; they have specific instructions on how to "rock a soak" on their website). Personally I wouldn't try to fight greasy, scented residue with more grease or scents (tea tree oil or scented soaps). Hanging everything outside once it has been soaked and washed should help, too.
posted by Jemstar at 1:49 PM on April 24, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas! For those suggesting I claim an allergy or ask them not to use these products—I don't see how that would help since if I can't get the stink out, how could they? Not to mention not wanting to be an enormous pain in the ass as a houseguest. Honestly, I wish I could go back to staying in a hotel, but I'm having trouble thinking of a way to do that without hurting their feelings. It's not just the scented detergent and fabric softener, it's the Febreze on the furniture, the Febreze-impregnated garbage bags, the Oust in the bathroom, the scented candles, etc. Everything I own comes back reeking of this stuff.
posted by HotToddy at 4:54 PM on April 24, 2012

Yes, ammonia works. Pour about a cup in the rinse cycle and then let it run as usual. The smell of ammonia completely goes away by the time the rinse cycle is finished, and all other smells go with it. It's really amazing. And cheap! And quick!
posted by Houstonian at 5:27 PM on April 24, 2012

Response by poster: Update: I tried ammonia and it made a huge difference. Not completely gone, but much, much better. Thanks all!
posted by HotToddy at 6:40 AM on April 25, 2012

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