Please help me de-stink my shirts.
December 28, 2012 1:56 PM   Subscribe

How do I get a lingering stealthy BO smell out of my shirts?

I have a few long-sleeve shirts that I mostly wear in the winter. Even just out of the wash, they smell just fine until I put them on -- then they smell like they haven't been washed in a month. I've been avoiding wearing them because of the perpetual smell after ten minutes. Is there anything at all I can do to get rid of the smell, or are they destined to be rags?
posted by Heretical to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Soak them in a vinegar wash. Dry them in sunlight.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:57 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Did you already dry them in a heater dryer?

If so, your shirts are probably doomed. (A pair of my athletic socks recently went this way.) Next time around, line-dry anything that may not have been deodorized by washing.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:59 PM on December 28, 2012

A soak in oxyclean. I've used it on colors and whites and mouldy smelling towels with great results, just run through a normal wash after soaking. Just follow the instructions on the box.
posted by wwax at 2:06 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

This works in our household: I buy an enzyme spray at a pets-supply store -- the label says it removes pet stains and odors, and it works on human stains and odors as well. After spraying the offending areas, I throw the garment in the hamper and then wash it normally when the time comes. The enzyme spray works only while it's wet, so if I have a stubborn spot like blood, I wet the fabric with water and then spray it. You might want to do this with your shirts.
posted by wryly at 2:11 PM on December 28, 2012

Step one: bleach the hell out of your washing machine. Run it empty or with white towels, hottest and longest cycle, with double the normal amount of bleach. Straight Clorox, not any kind of sudsing or scented stuff.

And yes, soak in oxyclean and a laundry detergent with enzymes. (Usually this is any non-cheap brand name) You'll have to test the soak time to make sure the colors don't run.

If that fails, try washing them with a capfull of Lysol cleaner. (Not the super concentrated old-school kind, but this kind. (It might be the same thing with a different scent for all I know, but that's what was recommended and what worked for me.)) This can be harsh on clothes, so run it on a short cycle. It has never ruined anything of mine, but it has dulled the colors on things like black socks.
posted by gjc at 2:47 PM on December 28, 2012

Bleach or oxyclean in your wash (or hydrogen peroxide, which I think is equivalent to oxyclean)
posted by zippy at 2:49 PM on December 28, 2012

This is almost definitely mildew or something related - I've had the same thing happen. Wash them w/detergent in hot water and then dry them on the hottest setting that your dryer has.

In my case, it has always been caused by letting clothes sit wet in the dryer overnight or while I was at work (generally in summer, though also in winter in a badly-ventilated basement wash room in once.)

The wash / hot dry has always done the trick for me. Bleach and cleaning the washer / dryer themselves were not needed.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:52 PM on December 28, 2012

Best answer: If it's a localized issue, like the shirts' underarms, spraying vinegar on that area before washing - anywhere from immediately before (best for delicates) to up to about a day before (okay for color-fast, non-delicate fabrics) - might help.
posted by EvaDestruction at 3:04 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Previously. Personally I use vinegar plus sunlight on a couple of shirts every time I wash them.
posted by anaelith at 3:10 PM on December 28, 2012

Best answer: If you're sure it's BO and only on the armpits, try soaking the pits with rubbing alcohol or vodka. Let it dry on its own and wash again. I've never had discoloration doing this, but test it on an inconspicuous spot if you're concerned.

Also, are these shirts made out of synthetic material? Stink just loves to cling to polyester. 100% cotton is a better bet.
posted by fozzie_bear at 8:51 AM on December 29, 2012

Response by poster: There's a distinct difference between mildew smell on a shirt and body-odor smell. It's body odor, NOT mildew. The problem is not me leaving my clothes in the washer all night.

My clothes are usually all or mostly cotton, and dark. Bleaching my clothes will definitely ruin them. I've been line-drying more lately but no guarantee my things haven't been in the dryer.

I will give the vinegar a try since that's the most frequent relevant answer. Maybe the vodka, since I have some cheap stuff I will never drink!
posted by Heretical at 5:29 PM on December 30, 2012

Best answer: Try the directions here (scroll down for the vinegar ratio.) If that doesn't work, Oxyclean.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:10 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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