Onions, begone!
May 5, 2014 5:23 PM   Subscribe

Everyone's hands smell like onions/garlic after chopping them, unless you use gloves. I am no exception. My hands continue to smell like onions for days afterwards, despite multiple applications of soap, water, rubbing my fingers on stainless steel, using anti-bacterial odour-reducing soap, etc. I need something more effective. There's a catch or two.

I know there are approximately 100001 ways to remove onion smell from hands listed in all kinds of helpful sites on the internets. The most popular one seems to be rubbing stainless steel under cold running water, but this does not work for me. Also, water restrictions have never entirely gone away in my head, even though the drought has.

So: I would like answers/suggestions from people for whom the stainless steel rubbing has also not worked but who have found a solution that does. Bonus points if it does not involve lots of cold running water, either during the application of the solution or afterwards to remove the solution. Normal hand-washing amounts are ok.
posted by Athanassiel to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I hate to state the obvious but... use gloves? A box of nitrile gloves is only 10 cents per glove, which, depending on how often you chop onions and garlic, should be plenty, especially considering that you can adapt your technique to only ever touch the onion with one hand. For garlic, I recommend a garlic press (standard or this kind) to avoid the issue altogether.
posted by brainmouse at 5:27 PM on May 5, 2014

I use lemons, usually ones I have already squeezed. I kind of rub the halves all over my hands and then rinse. I cook with garlic and lemon a lot so it's easy. You could try a little bottled lemon juice too.
posted by Lardmitten at 5:27 PM on May 5, 2014

I've found it pretty effective to rinse the onion as I'm peeling it and/or just after peeling. It depends how juicy the onion is -- basically, I rinse as onion liquid gets on my hand. The longer this initial liquid stays on my hands, the longer I smell like onion afterwards. Then I chop and wash my hands after with soap and water, and the onion smell does not linger.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:28 PM on May 5, 2014

Wash your hands with salt & water, to merely remove the smells. Use lemon juice (fresh is best) to both get rid of the onion/garlic smell and give your hands a nice lemon scent.
posted by easily confused at 5:28 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a spray bottle of about one part vinegar to 9 parts water I keep in the kitchen for cleaning. I also use it to spray down the cutting board and knife if I chop an onion or garlic and then want to cut an apple or orange without washing the cutting board. It always gets rid of the smell. I bet it would work sprayed on your hands too.
posted by Blitz at 5:31 PM on May 5, 2014

Lots of salt, a little bit of water.
posted by Fig at 5:43 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Method's Kitchen Clementine Hand Wash does it for me and I cook a fair amount of Indian food - i.e. with a lot of onions and garlic.

Also, make sure you are using a sharp knife - this prevents squishing the onion/garlic.
posted by rippersid at 5:43 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not thread-sitting, but relevant info. I am in Australia so am unlikely to use any products from outside Australia (international shipping costs = obscene). Also I've tried this one which is great but doesn't kill onion smell.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:48 PM on May 5, 2014

I've found the secret to stainless steel is that you really have to get into your cuticles and under your nails. I use the back of a fork, a spoon, or a butter knife and really rub into the crevices where the smell hides. Other than that, seconding a very sharp knife (to avoid crushing the cells and get the job done faster), immediate hand washing, and jamming your fingers into citrus peels (even scrape the zest with your nails a bit so the essential oils get in there).
posted by mostlymartha at 5:59 PM on May 5, 2014

I'm with brainmouse on this - what you need is to go to the pharmacy and buy a big box of disposable gloves. They are great to have on hand anyway - I always wear them when working with anything that's smelly, spicy, or likely to stain. Also great to have on hand for crafts and home hair dying.
posted by joan_holloway at 6:13 PM on May 5, 2014

Soap and water usually works for me, but when it doesn't, mixing lemon juice and coffee grounds with the soap does. I learned this when a friend of mine went through a soap-making phase and made me lemon-and-coffee-ground soap.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:28 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I put a small pile of sugar on one hand, and then some lemon juice onto the pile of sugar. Then I rub it all over both hands for a bit.
posted by destructive cactus at 6:54 PM on May 5, 2014

The stainless steel never worked for me either. Rinse your hands in cold coffee after chopping onions, garlic, etc. Works every time. I used to use the leftover brewed coffee from the morning for this, til we started using a keurig.
posted by routergirl at 7:37 PM on May 5, 2014

I'm one of those people whose hands soak up onion/garlic smells freakishly well too, so I feel your pain. However, since I started rinsing or dipping the onion in cool water after the initial slice in half, and cutting it while kind of wet, even dripping onto the rough plastic cutting board to leave a thin layer of water while not being too slippery to cut, seems to keep the smell down. I started doing this to keep my eyes from watering excessively, but the side effect of less smelly hands comes second.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:36 PM on May 5, 2014

What you could do is lightly coat the hand holding the onion in olive oil or some other cooking oil. This has been working for me when handling garlic. The oil will of course make things slippery, but for me it hasn't been a problem. When you're done chopping rinse of your hands with just water first, then soap to get rid of the oil.
posted by bjrn at 11:39 PM on May 5, 2014

Use an onion chopper.
posted by iviken at 2:21 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you eat the onion? I finally realized that I was being annoyed by the smell of onion on my skin for a day or two after eating onion dishes even when the food was prepared by someone else -- the onions had never even touched my hands. Washing has little to do with it -- if I eat onions, I smell like onions. Maybe the smell you're noticing isn't just on the surface of your skin.
posted by Corvid at 2:26 PM on May 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mouthwash. Splash some in your hands and rub it in, make sure to get under your nails, etc. Then rinse off. No more onion/garlic smell :) Wash your hands with regular soap after if you don't want to smell too minty-fresh.
posted by ananci at 8:00 PM on May 6, 2014

Try toothpaste. It's cheap and a has bit of a scrubbing effect as well. I have a special tube of cheap toothpaste i keep by the sink for that purpose...
posted by PardonMyFrench at 12:41 PM on May 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Made soup last night and had the chance to try out some of the suggestions. Here's how they worked for me. YM obviously MV.

- citrus: pleasant citrus scent overlaying the onion until the citrus dissipated/washed off, leaving onion. (Actually I lie, I have previously discovered this.)

- rinsing onion under cold water when peeling/initial cuts to diminish onion juice: this seemed to work pretty well. After I rinsed my hands - water, no soap or anything else - already my fingers were nowhere near as oniony as usual.

- rubbing with lots of salt: no effect, except to highlight the existence of some hangnails. Ow.

- toothpaste: killed the rest of the onion smell dead, dead, dead. Although I did subsequently chop some garlic and stripped off some freshthyme, my fingers this morning are fine.

BTW, Corvid's suggestion that I might just smell like onion anyway if I've eaten it is a worthy one. Onions and garlic (etc) get into your bloodstream, which means they wind up in all your secretions - including sweat, breast milk if you are producing any, genital fluids. Apparently it's the same with cows, who are discouraged from eating onion grass so their milk doesn't taste like onion. Anyhow, that's not what goes on with me since days later my fingers are the only thing that smells, and only on the hand that's held the onion and not the knife.

Thanks for all the suggestions!
posted by Athanassiel at 4:38 PM on May 8, 2014

« Older Terry Pratchett's favo[u]rite limerick?   |   Cabinets: Wood or painted in a tiny kitchen? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.