What’s bleaching my towels all splotchy like?
September 18, 2006 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Help me figure out what’s bleaching my towels and possibly causing health problems. Hint: I don't think it's my facewash.

I moved in to an apartment in NYC in April and have noticed that my bathroom towels are being bleached in a splotchy way. At first I thought it was because I was using Benzoyl Peroxide while showering as mentioned in a previous askmefi so I became rigorous in my rinsing ritual. Then I noticed it was affecting all of the towels in my bathroom, including the one I only use in wiping the mirror. This is not happening in the laundry cycle as I’ve noticed it in a brand new towel that had yet to be washed.

Occam's razor suggests that indeed the problem is just the Benzoyl Peroxide and I must have somehow gotten it on to all of the towels involved. The thing is, I seem to have a much higher incidence of canker sores (Note: not cold sores) that are more painful and longer-lasting since moving in. I don’t know that the two are related but I thought it might be relevant.

I’m wondering if anyone has any ideas of what might be going on? Could there be something in my water causing this? Does anyone know where I could get a water test that would help me figure this out? I don't have any idea what I would even look for. I’d like to have some proof before I bring it up with the landlord so I don’t seem like a total nutjob.
posted by funkiwan to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Could be another toiletry. Toothpastes can bleach for instance. You might take an already ruined towel and test it with each thing in your bathroom to find out what the culprit(s) might be.
posted by edd at 9:38 AM on September 18, 2006

What are you cleaning your bathroom with? Are you using a spray containing bleach?
posted by gfrobe at 9:48 AM on September 18, 2006

If you are using Gly-Oxide to treat the canker sores, that might be it - that product is carbamide peroxide and might have a bleaching effect.
posted by KAS at 9:52 AM on September 18, 2006

It's more than likely the BP. I've noticed that no matter how well I rinse, it still gets on my towels. Difference for me is that I use it in cream form, post face washing. I've solved the problem by simply replacing all my colored towels with white ones.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 9:59 AM on September 18, 2006

I've got the same thing going on in my NYC apartment!

Is it only one kind of towel? Are they really thick? Do they go sour really quickly, too? Is your towel rack really close to a heat pipe?

My girlfriend tried to blame this phenomenon on me (both counts -- stinky and splotchy), saying that I got the towel "too wet", which spurned another argument all together on how it's possible to get a towel too wet, but I digress.

We haven't made any headway on the problem, other than noticing that some new thinner towels we purchased stay fresher longer, and don't appear to be splotching.
posted by jeffxl at 10:05 AM on September 18, 2006

Did you switch laundry soaps, or switch from powder to liquid? Sometimes if you put liquid laundry soap directly on an item, it will end up leaving a discolored patch -- not completely bleached, but lighter than the surrounding areas.

Does the water feel noticeably more "hard" or "soft" than in your previous place? (If you move from hard water to soft water, it will feel like your soap never quite rinses off, like your hands are left with a slick coating. If you move from soft water to hard water, it will feel like it rinses off, and also makes your hands extra dry.)

Do you know anything that triggers canker sores in you (eg, vinegar or other acids, chocolate, red wine) that could give you a lead on what kind of thing it might be in the water?

Are the towels touching anything else in the bathroom (eg drying rack, top of the shower curtain rod, sink rim, floor) that might have been cleaned with a bleach-based product?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:24 AM on September 18, 2006

It could be the BP, but that hypothesis is undermined by the fact that it happens to the towel you only wipe the mirror with.

Your experience and jeffxi's could both be explained if there is some kind of war between micro-organisms going on in your towels.

Human beings use oxidizing agents (bleaches) to kill molds and bacteria-- but so do some other bacteria. Lactobacillus Plantarum, for example, secretes hydrogen peroxide.

LP is a normal constituent of human flora, and is also found in pickles and sourdough, which resonates with jeffxi's story of sour towels, perhaps, and so, under this hypothesis, you could be the source of the LP, and your apartment or your water supply or your food supply could be the source of the competing organism(s).

The cause of canker sores is generally said to be a mystery, but I think it is likely something important could be learned by paying close attention to your towels and your increased crop of canker sores.
posted by jamjam at 12:07 PM on September 18, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far everyone. Here's a bit more information:
- edd: The scientific method. I like it! Will do. I'll report back my findings. It does seem unlikely I would have gotten toothpaste on that many towels and in that great quantity. The stains are quite large on some towels.
- gfrobe: You assume I'm cleaning my bathroom, which is charitable of you. On the few occasions I have, it's only been with an eco-cleaner whose name I can't remember. But any cleaning that has occurred has been limited to the floors and tub. I have yet to clean the walls, door, or toilettries rack where the towels are mounted and in contact with.
- KAS: I'm not using Gly-Oxide or any regular treatment for the canker sores. I did try hydrogen peroxide and Listerine as mentioned in a previous mefi thread but that was long after the staining had started.
- jeffxl: The problem has presented itself on four different towels of all different thicknesses and colors (several bath towels, two hand towels and a washcloth) purchased from several different stores. The heat has been off in my building since May if I recall.
- LobsterMitten: I don't believe it's laundry soap related as the problem occurred on one towel fresh out of the plastic wrapping before I even took it to the laundry.
- I haven't noticed a change in the hardness or softness of the water since my previous place.
- No idea what has been triggering the canker sores. Interestingly, I was away on vacation in Portland and bit my lip and expected a canker sore as mouth trama can bring them on for me and I had been getting them pretty frequently. The day after I returned to NY, with the mouth wound well on its way to being healed, a canker developed.

Keep those suggestions coming. I'm determined to get to the bottom of this.
posted by funkiwan at 12:59 PM on September 18, 2006

Perhps the BP on the towels you use in the shower is transfering to the other towels inside the washing machine?
posted by lockle at 2:19 PM on September 18, 2006

How about checking your ceiling. There may be a slow drip coming down on to your towels that you haven't noticed?
posted by gfrobe at 3:02 PM on September 18, 2006

But any cleaning that has occurred has been limited to the floors and tub. I have yet to clean the walls, door, or toilettries rack where the towels are mounted and in contact with.

Maybe this is the problem. Don't assume things were properly clean when you moved in. In my last house the bathroom was covered in a layer of cleaning product that hadn't been washed off, and in this one (just moved in) the inside of the oven was coated in oven cleaner. Since I'm allergic to a lot of cleaners this kind of thing really pisses me off, but it's not uncommen. Even if it was cleaned you don't know what was used, someone may have bleached down the whole bathroom to make it 'hygenic'.

Assume everything is dirty and toxic, clean it all properly. See if that stops the bleaching problem you're having.
posted by shelleycat at 3:45 PM on September 18, 2006

My housemate has this problem.

The bizarre thing is I don't. I use green towels and she uses purple towels. We share a bathroom, washing machine, and use the same kind of laundry detergent. However, we use different face washes and don't wash our clothes together. So, I figure something's either in her face wash, or something's going wrong in her wash.

Utterly perplexing.
posted by moonshine at 5:20 PM on September 18, 2006

Maybe, just maybe, the canker sore thing is unrelated to the spots? A few things trigger them pretty reliably for me: sodium lauryl sulfate toothpaste, certain foods and high stress levels. Is it possible that your move to the new place caused/was concurrent with a reason for higher stress or a change in diet?
posted by Opposite George at 7:20 PM on September 18, 2006

Canker sores are usually connected with stress, but not always. I would guess it's just a coincidence.
posted by rxrfrx at 5:03 AM on September 19, 2006

Best answer: I tried an experiment as edd had suggested. Pictures are posted here and the summary photo is here. It was fun! Basically, I spaced out labels on a mostly unstained portion of an already stained towel. I then placed 1/2 teaspoon of water next to every label, adding whatever thing I wanted to test for (e.g., for the walls, I went and swabbed most of the surfaces in the room with the wet towel).

So, it appears that in all likelihood Benzoyl Peroxide (#5 in the test) was the only culprit. You'll notice some portions of the towel seem whitish, but that's because I haven't rinsed them yet. I figure I'll wait another day and rinse the towel, let it dry, and take some more pictures. But I'm skeptical anything else is going to yield any color change. I still don't understand how the washcloth got involved but that mystery seems smaller than conjuring some other mysterious source of the problem.

While I was hoping for a spectacular result, this gives me some sense that I can control things. Of course, there's the lingering doubt that maybe I'm missing something in my methodology (perhaps the water's only funky in the early morning and I did my test at night?!) but probably the best way to assure myself is to wash all surfaces and get rid of the BP and confirm no new stains appear. I suppose I value my sanity over my complexion and the BP can take a rest for a month or two.

As for the cankers, I think Opposite George was correct in suggesting they're unrelated. I am using an SLS-free toothpaste and try to avoid acidic foods (e.g., tomato sauce). I have tried to be pretty attentive to what brings them on but haven't discovered it as of yet. To be honest, I'd much rather have stained towels than have a canker. When they're bad, they're really terrible.

Thanks everyone for your thoughts and suggestions. This was my first askmefi post and it was really great having you all on my team!

posted by funkiwan at 12:52 PM on September 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

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