Sweating up the Dry-Clean-Only
August 9, 2006 6:20 AM   Subscribe

Sweat-a-filter: Dry cleaning isn't working! How can I permanently remove body odor from dry-clean-only clothes?

I live in a very humid, hot climate. Cruelly, I also live in a place where I and most others are required to wear business suits to work every day, including on days when it's like a sauna outside. I'm naturally a very sweaty person, which is embarassing for me all summer long, but it's especially bad when I have to look and feel presentable for a business meeting and instead I end up drenched in sweat. My sweat, naturally, smells like sweat, and I'm constantly paranoid that I smell bad. Now I'm afraid that my clothes are making me stink.

After living here a while, I'm now finding that suits I've owned for more than a year (and thus sweated into many, many times) smell like body odor even when they're clean. They're all dry-clean-only, but dry cleaning only removes the smell temporarily. The first time I wear an old suit, by the end of the day, it smells like I haven't cleaned it in weeks. Most of the suits in question are cotton or wool with either natural fabric or nylon lining, and it's mostly the lining that smells like BO, although I'm paranoid that I can be smelled from a distance because the stink is strong.

I've tried switching dry cleaners a few times. I've tried Dryel and other "freshening" products for dry-clean-only clothes, but that appears to just mask the smell for a few hours, after which the stench returns. The smell is concentrated mostly in the armpits and the crotch area, where I sweat the most. I have a few really expensive suits, so I don't want to have to throw them away after a year of wearing them, but I'm embarassed to smell like I haven't showered all summer long. I'm spending a fortune dry cleaning after each wearing, and still, my clothes smell like BO.

I never have this problem with any of my washable clothes, including ones made of synthetic fabric. Washing in the machine with detergent seems to remove any traces of sweat or odor. Even the dress shirts that I wear under the suits come out clean, despite the fact that they're absorbing more of my sweat than the suits are. I can't wash my suits with water and detergent, can I? Can I give some special instruction to my dry cleaner (I've been embarassed to say "my clothes smell like BO" and ask them what to do about it, but is there some specific treatment I could ask for)? Is there a magic laundry tool that I can pretreat suits with before having them cleaned to remove the smell? Is there at least some way I can prevent new suits from becoming funkified?
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
you can sponge clean the linings. you can use clothing pads. definitely spritz everything down (inside out, so the linings get good and saturated with that famous theatre trick, vodka and water solution. (about 3 parts water to 1 part vodka). turn them rightsideout again in the morning, then make sure you are storing them somewhere where air can circulate around them: at least an inch apart in the closet. don't leave them in plastic.

alternately, buy the whirlpool personal valet and dry clean at home.

also, find someone you trust, ask them to sniff your suits and tell you whether or not you're paranoid.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:43 AM on August 9, 2006 [2 favorites]

What about Febreze? That's supposed to eliminate odors. It might be more permanent than dry cleaning.
posted by GuyZero at 7:01 AM on August 9, 2006

Have you tried to attack the problem from the inside? There are many great products out these days to curtail hyperhydrosis. Check out Certain Dri for over the counter help and consult your doctor for stronger prescription products.
posted by any major dude at 7:43 AM on August 9, 2006

At the very least, you could try keeping a couple clean suits in your office, and changing into them only for meetings.
posted by ootsocsid at 8:03 AM on August 9, 2006

A clothing steamer can freshen up suits between wearings.
posted by hortense at 8:56 AM on August 9, 2006

At my school (back in the day) we wore a uniform even for gym. It was cotton -- I guess your suits are probably wool. We put off washing them as long as possible, and used rubbing alcohol to stave off odor. We just doused the fabric with alcohol and then let it dry.

If you want to try this, test it on something that you don't care about. I doubt it would hurt the cloth, but the dye, I don't know. Also, dabbing might be better than dousing.

I've read that body odor is cause by sweat + bacteria, not just sweat -- I always figured that's why the alcohol worked.
posted by wryly at 9:28 AM on August 9, 2006

I bet he lives in Japan. Their anti persperant is pretty crappy and formal wear is the bane of the salaryman. They do sell those pads crush-onastick mentions, but he probably wants to renew his stinky suits. The steamer sounds like a good option.
posted by robofunk at 11:36 AM on August 9, 2006

I have had this same problem, and dry cleaning alone seems largely useless. I have had success with Febreez, I spray it on the inside of my clothes in the relevant areas and let them dry wrong side out. If I do this before dry cleaning it seems to work particularly well.

Never put your clothes in the closet until they are thoroughly dry. A spray bottle of rubbing alcohol can work, too. Again spray on the inside and let dry. Sometimes airing them wrong side out in the sun can do a world of good, too. But of course, try these things in inconspicuous spots first to make sure you aren't damaging the fabric.

As an aside, the best deodorant I have found for my stinky spots is antibiotic ointment. I put a thin coat under my arms and it kills the bacteria that leads to odor for most of the day. I take a small tube and reapply if needed. (I am allergic to antiperspirant.)
posted by rintj at 1:12 PM on August 9, 2006

If you are in Japan you might want to get yourself some desiccant for your closet (I guess this applies to outside of Japan as well). Because of the humidity and bacteria the smell might 'grow' even when your not wearing it.

You could go high tech and get some sort of closet ozone generator. I've heard ozone is not heathy for synthetic fabrics or humans though.
posted by robofunk at 1:52 PM on August 9, 2006

For a longer term solution, give up on the wool and buy linen suits instead? You might not sweat as much in them.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 6:02 PM on August 9, 2006

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