De-stinking clothes without a washing machine
June 16, 2014 6:00 PM   Subscribe

I have a new shirt that smells terrible. Difficulty level: no washing machine.

I bought a t-shirt during my recent trip to Samoa and when I got home I discovered that it smells terrible. It's a chemical-y smell, probably from the paint they used on the design. I haven't worn it yet because I can't bear to be in the same room with it. But it's a cute shirt! With sea turtles!

I've seen the earlier questions about getting smells out of clothes. However: I don't have access to a washing machine, or Oxyclean, or Borax. I do have white vinegar and access to not-great washing powder. Is there anything I can do to save this shirt or is it destined for the rag pile?
posted by orrnyereg to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you have someplace outside you can hang it in the sun? That might be a good first step.
posted by jaguar at 6:08 PM on June 16, 2014

Why not just fill up a bathroom sink, lather the thing up with some hand soap, and it let it soak for a few hours? then rinse it out, and let it sit in some clean water for a few hours.

Even just hanging it up on a hanger indoors and letting it dry that way will really clean it, as long as the soap part involves some decent scrubbing.

Sounds like it's just full of fabric set stuff, which i agree, is gross as hell. I'm sensitive to it and the smell always irritates me in addition to wearing a shirt with it on it making me itchy as hell. That should work, though.
posted by emptythought at 6:11 PM on June 16, 2014

I don't understand. How do you wash your clothes normally?
posted by amaire at 6:11 PM on June 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Have you tried just washing it by hand in the sink with a little mild soap (or shampoo)?
posted by belladonna at 6:12 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I usually send my clothes out for washing, but I am not allowed to use the washing machine or choose the detergent, etc. Washing machines are expensive here, and break easily.
posted by orrnyereg at 6:17 PM on June 16, 2014

So why not just send the shirt out for a washing along with your other dirty clothes?
posted by peacheater at 6:20 PM on June 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

Turn it inside out.

To a bucket: Add heaps (lots more than seems reasonable) of the local detergent to lukewarm water, agitate as if your arm was the agitator of a top loading washing machine. Leave in that bucket overnight.

Rinse under running water for longer than seems reasonable. Do it again. Let sit in a bucket of water and 1 litre of vinegar overnight. Rinse in plain water. Again. And again. Dry in the sun.
posted by taff at 6:34 PM on June 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Okay, I clearly screwed up this question. Here's what I meant to include and didn't: I left the shirt outside on a chair for a few days thinking it would air out. No luck. I then sent the shirt out with the rest of the laundry, and there was no change. Now I'm looking for other remedies.

taff, that's exactly the sort of thing I was looking for! Thanks, I'll give it a try.
posted by orrnyereg at 6:53 PM on June 16, 2014

If it doesn't work the first time, do it two more times over a period of a few weeks. It will go eventually, but how long it takes is dependent on the dyes. I've had a similar problem with fabrics when we've been living in India, so I knew the problem and the (eventual) solution.

Don't try and mask the smell with fabric softener or hair conditioner. Trust me on this.
posted by taff at 7:03 PM on June 16, 2014

Best answer: Nthing Taff, although avoid detergent with fabric softener because it cannot really defunk technical fabrics like Lycra or wicking materials (like gym clothes/workout stuff) due to the nature of the materials.

To defunk really stinky things, I fill my bathroom sink bathroom sink halfway (or just enough to cover/submerge the clothing) with cold water and 1/2-3/4 cup of white vinegar. Let it soak overnight. In the morning, drain the sink and rinse with warm water then send out/launder as normal with detergent. You can also use baking soda in lieu of the vinegar if you don't have any, same ratio.

For things like stinky bike or running shoes I dump baking soda directly in the shoe, generously coating the footbed and leave in the sun outside for a few hours. Then just dump out the excess baking soda.

Baking soda and white vinegar are seriously underestimated magic sources, yo.
posted by floweredfish at 7:30 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sport wash defunkifies the most nasty of stank. I use "no sweat" brand. You can just soak it in the sink.
(See my recent askme in this topic; I tried it all.)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:32 PM on June 16, 2014

If vinegar doesn't work, try baking soda.
posted by CtrlAltD at 8:50 PM on June 16, 2014

If none of these approaches eliminate the chemical smell, maybe you can find a place that can scan the cute turtles and make a new shirt with a non-stinky manufacturing process. This might work especially well if you can find a friend who works at a screen printing shop and has the relevant expertise.
posted by XMLicious at 9:02 PM on June 16, 2014

Hang it in front of a fan (if you've got one) for an extended period of time.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:22 AM on June 17, 2014

Febreze. it works without washing.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:29 AM on June 17, 2014

Response by poster: An update: I ended up having to soak the shirt for 3 days (!!) in the water/vinegar solution. There was a little bit of color loss but nothing too serious. It's since been washed and is actually bearable to wear. Thanks to everyone for their suggestions!
posted by orrnyereg at 5:20 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

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