How can I rid my house of laundry soap / softener odors and allergens?
June 25, 2014 10:39 AM   Subscribe

I need help freeing my house / furniture of evil chemicals, because I seem to be allergic to damn near everything. I am particularly interested in ozone generators or other beyond the norm solutions - because we have tried so much already!

I have developed bad (mostly eye) allergies to almost all fragrances, particularly those in laundry products like Tide and Downy. We have moved to using all unscented products and this had made home somewhat of a sanctuary from the inescapable hell of the outside world. However, a friend of my wife recently came over and the allergen from her clothes seemed to leech into a couple pieces of fabric furniture and we just can't get rid of it! It even transfers from the chair to the clothes of those who sit on it, then those clothes start bothering me! Actually, the scent has noticeably faded but whatever causes the allergic reaction has not. We have tried all manner of cleaners to no avail. I'm ready to get rid of the chairs and buy new stuff but these scents are everywhere and I feel like all that will do is help until the next friend comes over. Therefore I am hoping to find some way to rid the furniture / house of whatever it is that bothers me.

We have multiple HEPA filters which have historically been helpful but don't seem to be doing a lot for this issue. I have an allergist and have tried many different eye drops and other drugs so I don't need advice about that. The house is literally brand new, so there may be off-gassing from carpets and paints and etc, but nothing bothered me the first month after we moved in.

I am considering getting an ozone generator and running that for a while, but I can't seem to find a straight answer on the safety and effectiveness. Some people swear by them, but the EPA doesn't agree. I also wonder if it is a safety issue even if I run it only while not in the house (we have a 3-month old).

Any thoughts about the O3 generator or other out-of-the-norm ideas would be greatly appreciated!
posted by SpookyFish to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's an issue of transference. Fabric softener coats the clothes (and some of the scents in detergents as well). Imagine your friend walking with damp paint all over her clothes. When she sits, it's transferred physically to the places she has sit upon.

Sprinkle on baking soda to soak it up a bit, both smell and liquid (I use baking soda and Dawn [a degreasing dish soap] to get stains and smells out of clothes, particularly second-hand clothes). Vacuum well. The cleaners you are using may be irritants as well.

Eventually I'd switch over to microfiber furniture. You can scrub the heck out of them to get the surface clean with a dampened cloth.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 11:02 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ozone Generators are dangerous and generate smog indoors. Don't get one, especially with a young infant in the house.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:07 AM on June 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

I have no definitive response, but I can point you to a source that might - try asking in a multiple chemical sensitivity forum. One of my best friend's moms had that, and it was smells from detergent and such that also triggered her as well. I get the sense that this is a common problem for people with MCS, so you'll find suggestions in there, I'm sure.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:14 AM on June 25, 2014

Maybe try the various products from Allersearch? They're aimed at animal/dust/pollen allergies, but they might have at least some effect on fragrances since they're oxidizers & surfactants. The ADMS spray, for example, might be worth a try on the chairs -- circa $20 for a good-sized bottle.

...again, neither I nor anyone I know have serious fragrance allergies, so YMMV, but from my POV these are pretty great products (I use them for someone with animal allergies, to clean bedding, carpets, clothing, etc.) and might be worth a whirl.

Ozone is bad news.
posted by aramaic at 11:43 AM on June 25, 2014

One thought I have is to dilute regular isopropyl alchohol and put it in a spray bottle, that should break down the hold of fragrances in fabrics and help them to dissipate.

My parents had an electrostatic air purifier back in the day. Helped a LOT.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:56 AM on June 25, 2014

I have an ozone generator, but I only use it occasionally when no one, including pets, is in the house. It can damage lungs and isn't good for living things. It is great for cleaning air, and I've used it for organic odors (something died in an inaccessible floor space). After setting the ozone machine for a couple of hours, I return to open all windows and doors to get fresh air in quickly. Over time, ozone can damage materials like rubber, so I only use it occasionally. I much prefer it to all sorts of ineffective "air cleaning" products that are mostly fragrance.

I also favor using isopropyl alcohol to clean non-leather upholstery and carpets.
posted by quince at 11:59 AM on June 25, 2014

You may also want to consider adding a lot of air-purifying plants to your home for general air turn over and purification.

It's been my experience that both the spider plant and variegated snake plant are quite easy to live with and maintain.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 12:07 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Please don't get an ozone generator for your home for the reasons stated above.

There are places where you can take your items to be cleaned through ozone and then have them returned to you. I have a friend who is doing this due to a house fire. But the process takes *months* and I imagine it is very expensive.

When I've gotten fabric softener on my hands from cleaning out the communal washers in my apartment building, the only thing that helped remove the odor/film was vigorous scrubbing with a combination of lemon juice, dawn dish soap and salt. Unfortunately, I don't know how to apply that to upholstered fabric. Perhaps you could try leaving the furniture outside on a sunny day for a few hours? Sorry you are going through this.
posted by girl flaneur at 12:16 PM on June 25, 2014

I will second the suggestion to try baking soda.

You might also see some results from setting them outside in the sun for a bit.

If you are not joking and are seriously considering getting rid of the chairs as part of your solution, I find that wood, metal, and leather upholstery* is much, much more tolerable for my issues. I plan to never again own fabric upholstered furniture.

As for the idea that getting rid of the chairs only helps short term -- "until the next friend comes over" -- if it impacts your health seriously enough, it isn't unreasonable to try to meet friends elsewhere in order to protect the sanctuary you have created at home.

* I also like glass but not sure that applies to chairs. It tends to be a surface thing, like tables.
posted by Michele in California at 1:56 PM on June 25, 2014

Ugh, this has happened to me and it's horrible. The issue is that the laundry products are specifically formulated so the scent will last for months and cling tenaciously to fabrics. Any time I'm on a plane or bus my clothes positively reek of other people's laundry products and it takes about six washes on hot water to to get rid of the smell, and even then it's not gone, just less obnoxious. A HEPA filter, ozone generator, etc won't do anything to help--the problem is not in your air, but on your furniture. Ammonia can help a lot--use a microfiber wash cloth wetted with diluted ammonia to wipe down the furniture. You'll have to do it over and over but it should help. I wash my laundry in ammonia all the time when this happens to me and it's never harmed any of the fabrics. If you're thinking of getting rid of the furniture anyway, I think this is your best bet.

It's baffling why they even make such strongly scented products in the first place. Many times I can smell people who are walking an entire block ahead of me. I'm sure they don't realize how bad they smell but really it's just as rude to impose your super strong smells on people as it is to impose your super loud stereo, with the difference that the rudeness ends when the stereo is finally turned off, whereas these scented products spread everywhere and linger for days and weeks.
posted by HotToddy at 2:02 PM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

An areca palm is a great air purifier. As someone upthread suggested, get air purifying houseplants.
posted by lunastellasol at 3:06 PM on June 25, 2014

Have you tried a steam cleaner or carpet cleaner that has a furniture attachment? It's a pain but it does get smells out.
posted by stray thoughts at 7:37 PM on June 25, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks all. I will skip the ozone generator for now, though I still don't see why it would be a problem to use one the way that quince does -- but it doesn't seem like it would be that effective on furniture anyhow.

Empress, it does seem like I have MCS. I had seen references to that before, but never really looked into it. Thankfully I don't have it as severely as some people, because PITA. The link you posted doesn't seem to have any forums, but it does have a good backgrounder on it. I did find a good forum here.

aramaic, I use the Allersearch laundry soap, but somehow missed that they have other products. ADMS and ODRX sprays ordered.

The steam cleaner didn't help much, though we only have a little home model and it isn't particularly strong or steamy. Will rent or borrow a more powerful one to try, and also give baking soda, ammonia and Isopropyl alcohol a shot, then report back here.
posted by SpookyFish at 8:50 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well I have tried everything mentioned in the thread (except the ozone generator) to basically no avail. The smell is gone, but my eyes still go bonkers when I am around these chairs. I do think it has gotten slightly better, but no magic bullets. We have already relegated them to the bonus room and the living room is all leather; we are going to replace these shortly too. They were not terribly expensive chairs to begin with so recovering or professional ionizing isn't really worth it.
posted by SpookyFish at 8:40 AM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

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