Will essential oils go stale on my clothes?
October 27, 2022 6:46 PM   Subscribe

I’m trying to wash my sweaters / tops less and using a spray of water, vinegar, and a few drops of essential oil on the underarm after a few wearings (if they’re tight enough to even make contact with my underarm). An incident with natural deodorant a few years ago makes me worry slightly that I’m condemning my sweaters to stank.

The natural deodorant was basically essential oil in a cream base and stuck to my clothes so much that 10+ washings later, after trying to spot treat, etc., they still smell like stale sandalwood oil (or… sandalwood oil + stale cream? idk). (If you have suggestions on how to get the smell out, very welcome, as some of my favorite souvenir items were ruined. I’m afraid to wear them because if they make contact with a jacket or undershirt, it seems like they’ll transfer the smell.)

So, I’m a little afraid that spraying clothes with even a very diluted amount of essential oil will backfire. The water + vinegar + essential oil (plus airing out the items for awhile) seems to work beautifully, but maybe I should just leave out the oil?

Also, is there a chance my body oils / smells / etc. are going to compound due to fewer washings, and ruin the clothes faster than if I just washed them… ? I’m laundry ignorant when it comes to anything beyond machine washing.
posted by stoneandstar to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
Oil stains clothes. If you are handwashing wool/silk use woolite or similar.
posted by brujita at 7:04 PM on October 27, 2022

Best answer: I have no hard data on this, but I feel like intentionally putting any sort of oil on fabric is not going to be a good idea from the perspective of staining and dirt getting stuck, even if nothing else. If you do have oil on a garment, the best bet I've found is a bit of liquid dish soap ("Dawn"), but beware that some fabrics may suffer color damage.

If you are very concerned about machine washing damage and have the resources and space to indulge in a ridiculously expensive appliance, the modern ultra-fancy washing machines can do basically a super-gentle hand-wash job. I've had accidental kleenex come out of the delicate cycle of my Kenmore version with the plys separated, but otherwise unharmed.
posted by LadyOscar at 7:08 PM on October 27, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Water + vinegar + essential oil is a weird combination. Pure essential oils may not stain, AFAIK, usually being products of a distillation or like process. Still, essential oils aren't readily miscible with water, and the vinegar will compete with any essential oil regarding smell. Additionally, the vinegar can have a corrosive effect over time and itself cause discoloration. And also, both vinegar and essential oils can cause skin irritation, especially in places that remain damp, like arm pit areas.

However, pure essential oils do tend to evaporate fairly quickly, and also tend to have anti bacterial/fungal properties, and might actually help keep your clothes from getting funky when applied when not wearing. You might want to try it with a white t shirt first, to see if any discoloration happens, and to find if it actually will allow repeated wearings without getting stinky. I would just bite the bullet and figure out how best to launder my clothing, but this could be a neat experiment to see what kind of results it will yield.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:39 PM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cheap vodka was always the go-to in the theatah. The wardrobe folks would spray down costumes with vodka after the show and it would mitigate the perspiration smell. Maybe a couple drops of essential oil in a spray bottle of vodka? It's not my area of expertise, but I've seen it done....
posted by Floydd at 8:01 PM on October 27, 2022 [15 favorites]

Best answer: Yes use vodka for this.
posted by phunniemee at 8:12 PM on October 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The old-timey remedies for this were spritzes of vodka or ammonia. Regarding the staining caused by your natural deodorant, the problem was probably the base more than the essential oils. The "natural" ones all seem to have a base featuring coconut oil or some other oil.
posted by HotToddy at 8:16 PM on October 27, 2022

Best answer: (Sorry about mishitting the enter key, I’ve flagged my previous comment for deletion.)

Also, is there a chance my body oils / smells / etc. are going to compound due to fewer washings, and ruin the clothes faster than if I just washed them… ?

Yes, absolutely. I try to get a couple of wears out of my tops between washes as long as they’re not smelly or soiled. But even if you can fully deodorize and sanitize a garment without washing it, the residue of body oils, cosmetics etc isn’t good for fabric in the long term, and I doubt vinegar or most essential oils would be much better.

In the long term I’ve found the best way to avoid wear and tear on clothing isn’t to hold off on laundering them but to use the coolest temperature that gets them clean, turn down the final spin cycle if possible, and line dry. Turn tops inside out and use a lingerie bag for additional protection if needed.
posted by bettafish at 9:46 PM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Any kind of essential oil is going to blend with perspiration on clothing and turn into a vague “lavender armpit” smell that lingers in the fabric. The best defense I’ve found for clothing smells is crystal deodorant spray applied and left to dry when the shirt is clean. It is astounding how well it prevents the funk from forming, plus no stains that I have seen.
posted by corey flood at 9:58 PM on October 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I wear thin merino sweaters like tshirts, and go 3-4 wears between washing. Wool is like human hair, and silk even more delicate - I would not spray just one portion of a natural-fiber garment with a strongly acidic solution including that much vinegar. Nthing the people above who are talking about cheap vodka - the costumers I know use it mixed 1:1 with distilled water, in a spritzer. It’s super-volatile, and so it dries quickly and cleanly.

Other things I do to manage with my wools and silks: hang everything on a hanger, rather than chucking it in a hamper, because airing out is important. Get a small, efficient USB fan and run it 24/7 in your closet (this is also an anti-moth strategy, since they aren’t fond of moving air). If you don’t already own thin, comfy undershirts, they can help absorb some sweat and extend the number of wears available on a sweater. If you have a handheld steamer, that’s another helpful tool to freshen up wool sweaters, pants, etc.

For what it’s worth, Lume is the single best deodorant I’ve found, and hasn’t stained any of my woolens or silks, even when I’ve had direct pit contact.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 10:12 PM on October 27, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Wool is protein-based and ammonia may stain it, also bleach. You can test hydrogen peroxide. Silk is also a protein and very finicky about anything. Hanging clothing in the sun helps, as does spot-cleaning with alcohol or shampoo + water. To save electricity and make my clothes last longer, I wash as needed, rarely use the dryer.
posted by theora55 at 6:48 AM on October 28, 2022

Best answer: Vodka or diluted rubbing alcohol for the win!
posted by tristeza at 8:32 AM on October 28, 2022

If you get rubbing alcohol note that sometimes it has camphor added to discourage people from drinking it. You may prefer a camphor-free brand. It’ll be on the label.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 10:13 AM on October 28, 2022

To reduce the need to wash sweaters that were mostly clean save for the pits, I started wearing these undershirts with special underarm sweat absorbing pads. Game changer.
posted by girlpublisher at 6:01 AM on October 30, 2022

« Older Please recommend a high-lumen smart LED bulb   |   Diversity/equity/belonging Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.