Banish the Towel Buildup
November 1, 2018 4:22 PM   Subscribe

My husband’s towels have an awful waxy type buildup that I can’t seem to get rid of. Help?! I can’t keep buying new towels.

We switched to thin cotton Turkish style towels in part because they dry really quickly as mildew smell was a problem for his towels previously as they wouldn’t dry fast enough.

However, his towels now have this thick, waxy, rough buildup mostly near the edges. I’m convinced it’s from him wiping SOMETHING on them, but he claims he isn’t anymore and it’s just his body oils. (He used to wipe excess deodorant and possibly hand lotion on them but that may have stopped after the last set was ruined.)

But whatever the cause, I can’t get rid of it. 

I’ve tried:
Washing in hot, washing in hot twice, adding vinegar, trying liquid Oxyclean, and spritzing with Spray n’ Wash. (We normally use 7th Generation as he has sensitive skin. No fabric softener. They air dry or tumble dry with no dryer sheets.) 

Whatever this is feels imbedded in the fabric. This is the second pair of towels we’ve bought but they’re pricey and it’s apparently an ongoing issue. My two towels are soft and lovely.

What else should I do? Soak them in … something? Install a full body air dryer instead?
posted by Crystalinne to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
posted by txtwinkletoes at 4:28 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

It’s not some sort of hair product?
posted by Middlemarch at 4:29 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

How much vinegar are you using and when are you using it? I'm asking because that should have helped with the mildew problem, too. You can add vinegar in to the regular wash cycle, but I've also added in place of fabric softener, so it rinses through at the end of the cycle. Maybe try that?

You could also try soaking with Oxiclean. I'd soak them for a few hours and wash again, and do that a few times before the next few washes.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:35 PM on November 1, 2018

Dish soap, hand wash.

I’m betting it’s just a bunch of sebum: human output of that per person per day varies across probably two orders of magnitude.

And also this is why some people prefer thick terrycloth towels that are washed every few uses (and can dry between uses), rather than whatever thin muslin or flour sack type stuff you are using.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:00 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just a quick update: I'm soaking one in hot water with oxiclean high def in a bucket and stirring occasionally. There are spots where the buildup is turning white and you can almost scrape at it but it's still IN there. Not to mention that if it gets on your hands it's also impossible to get off, even with dish soap. (Feels like deoderant to me.... *side eyes the spot where my husband usually sits...*)
posted by Crystalinne at 5:07 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

A trick from my cloth diaper washing days -- try turning up your hot water heater higher before you are going to wash a load of towels. Boil a giant stock pot of water and add it to the wash load while it's filling. This will hopefully boost the water temp enough to melt whatever buildup is there in the fabric.
posted by fancyoats at 5:09 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you have a big enough stock pot, you can straight up boil them too to help get the waxy stuff out -- you might have to do it one towel at a time, but it is worth the effort.
posted by fancyoats at 5:10 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've had some luck with soaking deodorant-caked items in hot water with ammonia, then laundering as usual.
posted by Janta at 5:26 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ammonia is very good at getting rid of grease. (Do not ever combine ammonia with bleach, as that can create toxic chlorine gas.) Hot water, detergent, ammonia. Wash towels frequently.
posted by theora55 at 6:26 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Give him the information about what you've tried and the suggestions here and make him responsible for the care and cleaning (and, if necessary, replacement) of his own towels.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:26 PM on November 1, 2018 [44 favorites]

Why isn't he the one dealing with this? Why are you the one stirring the bucket?

I suspect that he's actually not being as conscientious about getting stuff on his towels as he says, because he doesn't see it as his problem. He might not be lying - he could just not be thinking about it. Make it his problem, see if things change.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:34 PM on November 1, 2018 [15 favorites]

Before attacking my husband further - I'm looking for solutions to the buildup. Yes we are working on him being more conscientious (he has ADHD and I think he does things out of habit and forgets.) As to why I'm doing it - not that it matters to the problem at hand - but I'm disabled and home all the time, therefore I take on most of the housework and finances while he often works 50+ hours per week, grocery shops, runs errands, takes me to appointments, and takes care of me while I'm sick.
posted by Crystalinne at 8:11 PM on November 1, 2018 [11 favorites]

Have you tried washing soda in a hot wash? I agree with fancyoats, most “hot” washes on modern washers are not nearly hot enough.
posted by Lycaste at 8:19 PM on November 1, 2018

Press the waxy bits with a medium-hot iron (sandwiching a dishcloth between iron and towel), then soak the towels in Dawn blue dishwashing liquid. And maybe buy another towel or two anyway - whatever he's got going on, he should rotate his towels more frequently than you do because his are prone to this build-up.

Also, I had to ditch Seventh Generation because it just didn't get the laundry clean and caused weird build-up of its own. If you can't switch, and if his skin can tolerate it, adding 20-mule-team borax as a booster may help going forward.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:08 PM on November 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

Any chance he uses a different kind of soap or shampoo in the shower than you do?

Try washing with 1c of white vinegar and then again with detergent. (I also had to abandon 7th Generation because our clothes weren’t getting clean. All Free & Clear seems to work and doesn’t trigger my skin.)
posted by Kalatraz at 10:31 PM on November 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

He's not rinsing the soap off well enough or he's wiping something on them. No human produces that much sebum, especially after a shower.
posted by fshgrl at 10:34 PM on November 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

I also gave up on seventh generation laundry detergent as it just didn't work very well. It may be the products he use just don't work well with it. I'd try the other free and clear detergents.
posted by Aranquis at 3:04 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

You could try sending them off to the dry cleaner and see if nonpolar solvents can succeed where water-based solutions have failed.

Or if you've got one that's so far gone as to be of no use except as a test subject, you could try soaking it with engine degreaser before putting it through a hot wash with extra detergent by itself.
posted by flabdablet at 3:20 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

If it's deodorant, I've found Fels Naphtha (it comes in bar form) worked wonders on deodorant marks on shirts when nothing else would - maybe give that a try? I wet the bar and rubbed it on the stain generously as a pre-treat before washing. Hope that helps!
posted by AV at 3:36 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Where are you, do you have hard water? I'm in PA and our water is pretty hard, and soap + hard water + body oils turns into a whole 'nother substance similar to what you describe.

I would rub Feels Naptha on the edges of the towels as a pre-treatment, use borax to soften your laundry water, add ammonia to dissolve the...stuff, and switch to Tide Free & Clear liquid because 7th Generation just doesn't work very well.
posted by desuetude at 8:46 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh! Oh!

I have a buildup problem on my bras, and after years of soaking them in Forever New and scrubbing the sides with a toothbrush, I discovered a different product of theirs that works so much better! It's called Variance, I like the powder better than the liquid, and it doesn't make my very sensitive skin itchy. I still have to rub a bit in the washing, but it really lifts the soap and deodorant and body schmutz.
posted by ApathyGirl at 11:42 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you want to try something interesting that might work, get some polysorbate 80. Polysorbate 80 is a solubilizer of fats into water. Food grade, very safe and non-irritating straight out of the bottle and available on Amazon. Pretreat directly with Polysorbate 80, rub in a bit and let sit, wash in warm or hot water with regular detergent. It's completely removed a few rather spectacular set-in oil stains on t shirts that I didn't catch before washing and drying which I had previously given up on.

Oxyclean isn't going to budge lipids, it's an oxidizer not a surfactant. It works on proteins and water-soluble stuff but not fats.

I also like Variance liquid, though I haven't tried the powder because I couldn't find an ingredients list for it. It has worked well for general cleaning of bras and synthetics, but it doesn't do so well with natural fibers.

I don't bother with vinegar anymore for laundry. Just making the water slightly more acidic doesn't do much.
posted by monopas at 12:50 PM on November 2, 2018 [8 favorites]

I would try scrubbing the areas with a nylon scrub brush and dish soap. Dish soap is designed to break down fats and the brush would keep the gunk off your hands. After, launder like normal.

If that didn't work, I would try RLR. I've heard about this stuff from cloth diapering people. I have no idea what's in it, but they all swear by it.

Maybe in the future he only gets cheap towels? Sorry, that sounds frustrating.
posted by purple_bird at 1:52 PM on November 2, 2018

Seriously, try the ammonia suggested above.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:00 AM on November 3, 2018

Maybe try Lestoil? It works on grease stains, even old, set in ones!
posted by yawper at 9:25 PM on November 3, 2018

I've never had any luck with oils that have polymerized (turned into a tacky sticky film that refuses to wash off) with any cleaner dissolved in water. If I got the oil off mechanically, it never dissolved, just got all over everything else; I ended up with sticky fingers, washcloth, scrub brush.... It does sound like it could be body oils combined with anti-perspirants; that can get sticky in less than a week. Something in the antiperspirant seems to act like a polymerizer.

One thing I discovered that will easily remove them is dry baking soda.

Grind dry baking soda into or on whatever has that sticky oil residue. The baking soda and film combine and easily wash off with soap and water. It can take a couple of applications to get all of the oil, but it doesn't take long, just a couple of scrubs and rinses.

If your fingers are sticky, try rubbing them with baking soda as a test.

Wet baking soda is less effective, and it's not effective at all when completely dissolved in water. But dry baking soda completely removes the oil, and quickly. And baking soda is dirt cheap.
posted by Wilbefort at 9:23 AM on November 5, 2018

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