I don't want the funk. I don't have to have the funk.
March 14, 2014 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Synthetic funk has set into my clothes. They smell even after washing. These are otherwise good quality clothes. Halp.

I typically wash in cold water, dry on low heat. I leave my special shirts to drip dry. I use biodegradable natural branded liquid soap. I have to avoid most scented detergents.

New shirt starts out fine. Stays fine for months or even 1-2 years. Then they take a trip to funky town and never come back. It starts out faintly but once a smell sets into a shirt, I know it is doomed, as the smell will only increase with time. The tragic end is always the same: a newly washed shirt starts to smell after about 1h of wear, whether I'm sweating or not, and I have to go change.

It's always the same smell, not workout B.O. funky, but it's not fresh either. It's not my natural personal scent. Maybe like "teenage girl hasn't washed bedsheets for 2 weeks" smell. (sorry....) I don't wear deodorant or antiperspirant, so that's not building up. I don't think it's me, since a new shirt won't smell like that.

My only hypothesis is that it's some kind of bacteria that gets transferred... like I had one bad shirt and then the smell is just propagating from shirt to shirt like the plague. Maybe via my jacket, since that doesn't get washed as often. I think it is synthetic funk since I don't think my cotton/silks/wools smell like that, but then I don't wear them nearly as often.

Please tell me how to make it stop. The Funk just ruined a very nice sweater. Thanks in advance.... sorry for the TMI.
posted by St. Peepsburg to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Have you tried Sport-Wash? It's designed specifically for synthetics.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:19 PM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have you cleaned your washer out lately?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:22 PM on March 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have researched up one side of the internet and down the other for the solution to this problem. Whoever solves it is going to be a billionaire. There are a LOT of people looking for the answer.

I do have the complete solution, however it involves a degree of risk. It is chlorine bleach. Not a lot, just the minimum amount needed to kill the odor. You'd be surprised how many things that are supposedly not bleachable are actually perfectly fine with a little bleach. Almost everything, in fact. My philosophy is if it stinks, I'm not going to wear it anyway, so at that point I have nothing to lose. I can't stand any kind of scented laundry product so I can't comment on those, but I've tried just about every other home remedy and this is the best. If you can follow it up with line drying in strong sunlight, that's ideal. But sunlight alone won't do it, you have to use bleach.
posted by HotToddy at 1:26 PM on March 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

These are synthetic shirts, like for running or some other activity? I second sport-wash. Works great.
posted by GuyZero at 1:28 PM on March 14, 2014

Best answer: Sport Suds Detergent

No Sweat

McNett MiraZyme Enzyme-Based Odor Eliminator

Win Detergent Laundry Detergent

You need an enzyme cleaner. One of these will do the trick.
posted by barnone at 1:29 PM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

My work clothes get that funk too. I started putting plain white vinegar (about a cup per load) into the wash water and this has kept clothes from getting the funk smell. Doesn't fix those that are already funky though. Not sure if this works for like workout clothes or other stuff that is super-sweaty (hard to tell from your question if these are just regular clothes or workout clothes).
posted by holyrood at 1:30 PM on March 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I like using Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda with detergent. I used to have this problem with my husband's shirts but this stuff has solved it.

They don't sell it at Target for whatever reason, I make special trips to Walmart and buy a bunch of them at a time. It's on Amazon.
posted by gerstle at 1:30 PM on March 14, 2014

Response by poster: spikelee - I have not tried sport wash, I didn't even know such magic existed. Some of these shirts are sportswear (soccer jerseys and cycling gear) but most of it is some kind of cotton-polyester or cotton-spandex blend. I am wearing a 100% cotton dress shirt right now that has a faint soupçon of funk but so far hasn't passed the point of no return. (Or maybe it has and my coworkers suffer in silence.)

birds of a feather - I have a front loader Kenmore which has a class action suit against it for that musty smell setting in. That being said I believe this smell happened in my previous apartment's machine which was a top loader.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:32 PM on March 14, 2014

Yup: white vinegar. Get one of those fabric softener balls. Fill it with white vinegar, all the way, even past the ostensible fill point. Close it up, drop it in with the clothes.

Also seconding the "clean out your washer" suggestion. Many people use too much detergent and it sort of accumulates below the wash drum as a stinky sludge. Run your washer on its hottest setting with bleach, no detergent, empty, several times. See if that helps, too.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:33 PM on March 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: HotToddy - I have been considering the bleach angle, but haven't made the leap yet. What mix do you use and do you pre-mix it with water and then add to the wash?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:33 PM on March 14, 2014

Best answer: I asked a similar question previously, you may find some of the answers helpful.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 1:39 PM on March 14, 2014

Does it smell all over or more in the pits?
posted by purple_bird at 1:44 PM on March 14, 2014

I've gotten out funk with a soak in vinegar or in really bad cases-- ammonia. I've found that that natural fibers are less likely to stink. I've also found it helpful to let my clothes dry out in the sun.
posted by oceano at 1:44 PM on March 14, 2014

If this is happening to cottons too it may be that there's a funk in your washing machine. Is it a top or front loader? Either way, run an empty load with a cup or more of bleach in it on really hot. Perhaps let it air out with the door open after you're done your washing so it doesn't stay too humid inside the machine.
posted by GuyZero at 1:45 PM on March 14, 2014

Response by poster: purple_bird: funky in the pits only
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:47 PM on March 14, 2014

we soak our stuff in a solution of oxyclean when this happens.
posted by juliapangolin at 1:48 PM on March 14, 2014

Try using unscented powdered detergent; the liquid stuff leaves a coating on fabric after a while.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:51 PM on March 14, 2014

Do you clean out your washing machine. If you have a top loader with a centre part you put fabric softner in this can be an insidious hiding spot for all sorts of nasty smelly gunk. It should pull apart for a good clean. In a top loader the soap/fabric softener dispenser can get a build up clean the crap out of that too. Some washing machines come with a self cleaning cycle now a days. If not just run an empty load with no soap super hot with extra rinse, throw in some bleach in the dispenser or a bunch of white vinegar.

Try washing your clothes with white vinegar in place of the fabric softener, no you won't smell like a salad, the smell dissipates.

Air dry your clothes in the sun, UV is a natural bleach and antibacterial. In front of an open window if you don't have a backyard.
posted by wwax at 2:00 PM on March 14, 2014

Best answer: Based on my own experience, I don't know that you'll be able to salvage the several years old shirts, but I bet you can restore the newer ones. Here's what I do and it works for me: Get a spray bottle, fill it with distilled white vinegar, and spray the pits of all your shirts before you throw them in the wash.

In a few washes, shirts that aren't too far gone should be restored to normal.

I've also tried just adding white vinegar to my wash in general and it's not nearly as effective as treating the pits directly.

There's value in cleaning your washing machine too, but I'd start with vinegar in the pits. If you have an HE machine, it may have a cleaning cycle and I've had better luck with products like Affresh cleaning tablets than with vinegar. I haven't done the bleach in a cleaning cycle option, mostly because my washing machine manual called for 2 CUPS (!) of bleach and that freaked me out.
posted by purple_bird at 2:01 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I use just a tablespoon or so. My front-loader has a bleach dispenser and I put it in that. I've used this even on a a couple of nice black cotton tops from Boden, which should be a disaster, and they look fine afterward. Really it's surprising how you can get away with using it on so many things. Note that I do it as a one-time treatment, though. Not every time. I don't know what this smell is, I certainly don't smell it on my body, only on my clothes, and only after many wearings. I would feel embarrassed except I've seen hundreds of people online asking about the same thing so it must be pretty common.
posted by HotToddy at 2:12 PM on March 14, 2014

Best answer: Came in to recommend white vinegar and line-drying ALL shirts. The ones with stinky pits already might be a lost cause but spraying the pits of all shirts with a water/vinegar mix right before washing has kept me from losing any shirts since I started doing this, about eight years ago.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:14 PM on March 14, 2014

I have the same issue with synthetic workout gear.

What works for me is washing in warm water (hot, if the clothes can stand it, but most of them can't) with regular powdered laundry detergent and about a half-cup of Borax per load. If I'm doing white synthetics by themselves, I'll also add Clorox, but obviously that's not an option except for whites and I only do it occasionally.

Borax is not a soap itself — it's billed as a "laundry booster", for whatever that's worth — but it seems to improve the ability of the detergent to get the synthetics clean. It's a hell of a lot cheaper than Sport Wash, too.

Target and Walmart both sell it, as do most older grocery stores and even hardware stores. Also makes good insecticide, and if you mix it with Elmer's Glue you can make Silly Putty. Good stuff.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:15 PM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know of this is the funk you're describing, but if it's a musty/moldy/fungus-y smell, it may be that you're letting your clothes sit in the washer too long before drying, or not drying them completely. I find that if clothes sit even a little too long or are put away slightly damp, that scent sets in and never washes out again. I agree bleach, and using vinegar in the future will help. And make sure to dry clothes thoroughly and promptly. Oxy-clean can do amazing things too. I've seen it completely remove set in blood stains.
posted by catatethebird at 2:41 PM on March 14, 2014

Best answer: I had the same problem with a front loading washing machine and the problem went away as soon as I switched from liquid to powder detergent.
posted by lilnublet at 2:43 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a runny-hikey-bikey person so I spend a lot of time in Under Armour type clothes and they can definitely accumulate the stink. I am a big fan of Sno Seal Sport Wash*, which is the detergent favored by hunters to remove human odors from their clothes so they don't tip off the prey with their funk. Many outdoor stores have it or you can buy it in Wal-Mart (it's in the hunting/camping section, not in the laundry aisle, though!)

*This is a different product, also called Sport Wash, than the recommendation above.
posted by workerant at 2:50 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Every few months I do a decon - all of my shirts and bras go into a hot-ish wash with bicarb soda and a vinegar rinse. Then another hot-ish wash with a vinegar rinse. Then hung inside out in direct sun, outside if I can. Then I shave my pits (not part of my usual routine unless I'm going somewhere fancy and sleeveless. I will swap deoderants then as well sometimes but I am fairly settled on Mitchum unscented because I find scented deoderants exacerbate the stank. Dudely spray deoderants are sometimes okay, but there are certain categories of scent that make me smell like wet laundry covered in baby powder.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:20 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bleach or vinegar, *not both* unless you want to release some poisonous chlorine gas. Bleach and ammonia is unsafe also.

I don’t have many synthetics, but some laundry problems I was having were improved by a bit of vinegar in a rinse cycle after the main wash. From what I understand vinegar works as a rinse aid and neutralizes types of smell that are not neutralized by basic compounds like sodium carbonate (washing soda) in the detergent. I add it in a rinse cycle before the last rinses so that the vinegar itself is rinsed out well. (I’ve heard that some components in washers could potentially be damaged by acetic acid so I don’t want any sitting around in my washer between washes.)
posted by D.C. at 4:26 PM on March 14, 2014

Best answer: Borax is useful but the real key is washing soda. It's mildly caustic, which strips out the fatty acids that create stench. Try a cup-per-gallon soaking solution to freshen things up, then throw in a couple of tablespoons with the laundry detergent during the regular wash after that.
posted by dogrose at 4:26 PM on March 14, 2014

Yep, on the washing soda, though some powdered laundry detergents contain it as a main ingredient already (like the “environmentally safe” brand I use). I’ve also read that adding a bit of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to the wash can do a better job at smell neutralization than sodium carbonate, but I’ve never tried that. (And, to be clear, the vinegar I mention above can neutralize *other* types of smell that the basic compounds don’t react with.)

[Not a chemist or laundry expert. All info based on online research and personal experimentation. YMMV.]
posted by D.C. at 4:53 PM on March 14, 2014

Best answer: Seconding juliapangolin on oxyclean, it does wonders for funky pits in poly and cotton/poly blend shirts. I use the recommended amount for heavily soiled clothes, then once the washer is loaded and starts to agitate, stop the cycle and let it soak for 30 minutes or so, then finish as usual. Worth a try for shirts that says non-chlorine bleach OK and anything you were ready to throw out anyway.
posted by superna at 4:59 PM on March 14, 2014

After washing, hang in a well ventilated area for a while. Spray with a decent amount of Febreeze or zero odor- let hang for a day or two longer to air out.
posted by slateyness at 10:35 PM on March 14, 2014

Best answer: Confirming the vinegar (or rubbing alcohol) and water mix in the pits before washing, a handful of baking soda in the washing machine then hanging them to dry in direct sunlight. No clue what part or combination of the trifecta make it work, though I have seen more than one person swear that it was something about the sunlight breaking down certain enzymes, but it's such a relief not to have to throw clothes away because that fruity funk gets reactivated when I warm up the least little bit. I have actually managed to salvage a few older shirts that I had stopped wearing but hadn't gotten rid of yet. Good luck, I know it's frustrating.
posted by jacy at 4:39 PM on March 15, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all these ideas, I've marked as best answer the ones that seem reasonable so I'll give it a try and let you all know what works.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:08 PM on March 15, 2014

Response by poster: Came back to report my discoveries so far:

- Ran an empty wash cycle with hot water and bleach to clean my front loader. Seems ok, hard to tell.

- Vinegar on pits. Haven't worn the shirt yet though. Shirt smells ok out of the wash.

- Hydrogen peroxide on the pits. Fizzed nicely. Took out most of the smell but not entirely.

- No Sweat Sport Wash *** ding ding we have a winner. I soaked my sports goodies in 1/4 capful mixed with water and it removed Years of stank. Then I played soccer in said clothes and they did not re-stinkify. Amazing. Thanks!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:47 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: - Final note, vinegar on the pits seemed ok but hard to tell since it was washed with an item that had been soaked in the sport wash.

Sport Washes FTW!!!!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:46 PM on March 27, 2014

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