How can I de-funkify these towels?
July 28, 2007 9:44 AM   Subscribe

How can I de-funkify stinky towels & clothing items?

I have some items of clothing--primarily jeans, but also some towels--that have a faint odor of B.O. even after washing & bleaching. This is probably because during hot summer months, I sweat a lot, and these items are used a lot and are often damp. I also probably put off washing them longer than I should. Be that as it may.

Is there any kind of washing or treatment I can do that will get rid of this lingering smell? Even when I bleached the towels in hot water, as soon as they got damp again, the smell was noticable. (I think some kind of skin oil is building up in the towels that is resistant to detergents)
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
There are some laundry detergents that include Febreze. That should probably work.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:48 AM on July 28, 2007

Could it be your washing machine or dryer just aren't doing the job?

Perhaps if you switch detergent and take the offending garments to a laundromat, which I imagine has tougher machines, you might notice a difference.
posted by mdonley at 9:51 AM on July 28, 2007

Add half a cup or so of vinegar to the mix when you're doing laundry and see if that helps. Vinegar has removed cat urine smell and moldy-odor from my wash, maybe it will work in your case.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:05 AM on July 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

This is actually an issue I had with Judo uniforms. If you wash them often (and right after use), it should improve. Otherwise, a bit of bleach always worked. (You're not supposed to do this to Judo uniforms because bleach weakens the cloth.)

Other people have also said that dunking the item in vinegar (acetic acid kills the mold?) or freezing it in the freezer has worked.
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:06 AM on July 28, 2007

A couple of caps full of Pine-sol added to the wash should do the trick. My clean freak MIL told me about it - best tip ever.
posted by iconomy at 10:25 AM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have had success with this method (try on a small area first for colourfastness):

Do not put clothes in the washer first. Instead, let the washer fill with (preferably) hot water. Add your usual amount of detergent. Also add 1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide (the kind that comes in the brown bottle in the drugstore). When the washer is full, add your clothes and wash as usual.

Hydrogen peroxide is the ingredient in those earth-friendly no-chlorine bleaches you can buy ready-made.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:31 AM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hang the items to dry outside in the sun.

As a bonus, you get to save money and conserve energy while you freshen up your clothes.

Baking soda added to the wash water is another solution, or, if it is indeed an oil causing the smell, Simple Green.
posted by yohko at 10:32 AM on July 28, 2007

I find that the Bounce dryer sheets with Febreze seem to take care of a lot of the nasty smells my husbands brings home with his clothes.
posted by saffry at 10:33 AM on July 28, 2007

I find that products with Febreze leave a really strong perfume in clothing that to me, is unpleasant and it lingers even after the garment in question has been worn.

Adding vinegar to the rinse cycle of your wash should eliminate any funky odors without imparting a new funky odor to the load. Hydrogen peroxide as mentioned above will also work, and it's the same ingredient that you find in "Oxyclean" and similar products--you can add a scoop of Oxyclean powder to every load, or for really stubborn smells, dilute a few scoops in the hottest water possible for the fabric you're washing and let the load soak for a few hours before running the cycle through, then run the load through another cycle with ordinary detergent.
posted by padraigin at 10:39 AM on July 28, 2007

I've found that a combination of Oxyclean and Washing Soda gets all of the funk out of my clothes.
posted by blueskiesinside at 10:53 AM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

To me, polyester fabrics seem to retain a funky smell that can't be washed out, so I avoid them.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 11:41 AM on July 28, 2007

Try Borax as well. It can be found in most grocery stores.
posted by jammnrose at 11:43 AM on July 28, 2007

We have had thie same issue with baby laundry. If you put the clothes in the washer, sprinkle 1 cup of baking soda amidst the clothes, and add 1/4 cup of vinegar to the bleach compartment of the washer and run the wash, the smell comes right out.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 11:43 AM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oxyclean is the bomb. I used it after reading about it in an old AskMe thread and it really gets the funk out. I originally wanted to try Borax but my local supermarket no longer carries it. However, I recently noticed it at Target and people swear by it.
posted by sneakin at 11:47 AM on July 28, 2007

A little bit of ammonia in washing machine will cure this, just make sure it doesn't get mixed with bleach. Peroxide and oxyclean work really well on white stuff, but can cause discolorations on some colored items and can damage wool and silk fibers.
posted by pluckysparrow at 12:14 PM on July 28, 2007

For me, the nuclear weapon in this conflict has been my 7 liter pressure cooker.

I put a trivet in the cooker which sits at least an inch up from the bottom, add half an inch of water, load the towels in on top so that they can't touch the water, and steam them at the high setting for 10 minutes.

If you then run the cooker under the water to drop the pressure and remove the towels with tongs, as I do, they come out so steaming hot that they dry in the air almost immediately to the point it only takes about half an hour hanging in the bathroom for them to be completely dry.

I've done this with other cloth, including some delicate and delicately colored things, and nothing has been harmed so far.
posted by jamjam at 12:28 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

If they are polyester there is nothing really that seems to help, although perhaps jamjam's method might. For other fabrics a combo of bleach and vinegar (added to the washer when it is filled with water, not mixed together directly) will sterilize your gear and get the funk out. There is a certain danger in this so just bleach or just vinegar might be tried first. Sunlight also helps. Does anyone line dry their clothes in the sun anymore?
posted by caddis at 1:26 PM on July 28, 2007

Here's what I do: Put your clothes/towels in the washer and fill it up, along with your usual detergent and 1/4 cup of baking soda. Let it soak for 2 hours and then run the load. Not the most convenient method time-wise, but it's always done the trick.

Also: when washing towels, don't let them sit in the washer for too long once the cycle is through . Get them to the dryer ASAP.
posted by puritycontrol at 1:49 PM on July 28, 2007

If skin oil is the problem, try to soak the clothes in warm water with regular liquid dish detergent before you wash the clothes in the washing mashine.

Mythbusters tried vodka to remove bad odor from clothes:

"Myth: Vodka can remove smoke smell from clothing

Kari created automated smoking machine, a tube with holes to hold lit cigarettes, stuck inside of an 'airtight' box.

They smoke-infested two jackets inside the box and took them to the laundromat. One of the jackets was spritzed with a spray made of 1 part vodka to 3 parts water. Grant was once again the official smeller. His verdict: the vodka-spritzed jacket smelled better.


If the bad odor comes from some kind of bacteria, maybe you could try to put a moist towel in the microwave oven (PDF link)? "Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and
Candida albicans in the towel were completely killed by microwave irradiation for 1 min. When three towels were irradiated simultaneously, it took 2 min for complete killing of the bacteria. (...) These results indicate that a sterile steamed towel can be obtained by microwave irradiation of a moist towel wrapped in wrap film."

See also this this post.
posted by iviken at 2:40 PM on July 28, 2007

We always used vodka/water solutions in the theatre to sprtiz & de-funk clothes we couldn't wash. It's an old trick and (used to be) the first hit when you google madonna+vodka. A couple cups of inexpensive vodka in the rinse cycle works really well on strong odors.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:12 PM on July 28, 2007

We love love love Odo Ban. One gallon at Sam's Club is about twelve bucks and comes with a spray bottle filled with a less concentrated mix that's great for drapes and furniture.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:57 PM on July 28, 2007

Best thing I've used is plain white vinegar. Nontoxic, won't make weird spots on clothes and won't destroy the environment. I pour it in the wash water before dumping in the clothes. Works beautifully on Mr. Smalltown Girl's super-smelly bicycling clothes. (Mine, too.)
posted by Smalltown Girl at 8:14 PM on July 28, 2007

It's likely a result of detergent and oil buildup. You can 'strip' your clothing by doing the following (BTW, it's common to strip cloth diapers. So, hey, if it works for poo, it should work for BO.)

Step 1

First wash your clothing as you normally would. It is important to start with clean clothes. If your clothes are soiled when you begin the stripping process, you may set stains in the fabric. Simply run a normal cold wash cycle with a small amount of detergent, and rinse as usual.

Step 2

Run the load through a hot wash with no detergent. Turn up your water heater if necessary to make sure that the water is really hot (but be sure to turn it back down afterward for safety).

You may want to use just a drop or two of original blue liquid Dawn dish detergent to this wash to help cut some of the oils, but it's not always necessary. You can also add a bit of baking soda to absorb odors.

Step 3

Be sure to do an extra rinse at the end of your wash cycle. Add some white vinegar to this final rinse to remove all detergent residue. Don't worry, your clothes won't come out of the wash smelling like vinegar. When the clothes/towels dry, all the vinegar smell will disappear.

Step 4

Rinse, rinse, rinse. Run the load through as many rinse cycles as necessary until no suds appear. This may take up to three or four rinse cycles, or even more if there is a lot of detergent residue. Hint: to prevent detergent from building up too much, use one-fourth to one-half of the detergent you would use on a regular load of laundry. Your clothes will get just as clean, but without the residue buildup.

Step 5

Sunlight is a natural germ-killer and stain-remover. If you have access to an outside drying line, hang your clothes in the sun to dry. If this isn't an option, it is not absolutely necessary - the previous steps in the wash are more important.

In addition to getting rid of the funk, it will also make your towels much fluffier and more absorbent. I picked up a gianormous bottle of white vinegar at Costco for less than $3.
posted by dancinglamb at 11:08 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Nuke them in the microwave for a couple of minutes.
Put them inside a plastic bag and tie it up first, otherwise your microwave will smell really bad.

Nuke for two minutes.
Remove the bag carefully. It will be hot.
Untie the bag and wait a few minutes.

Worked like a charm on my wooled hiking socks and my dri-fit clothing. It kills the bacteria which causes the bad smell.
posted by ye#ara at 11:32 AM on July 29, 2007

Nthing vinegar. With an infant, a diaper-wearer and a bed wetter in the house, not to mention me gardening and coming in soaked in sweat, 1 cup of vinegar added to the washer as it's filling always does the trick. Keeps the washer gunk-free too.

We line dry when we can and that always helps too, but isn't required.

Vinegar can be had at my local Wal-Mart for ~1.20/gal. It's also useful for cleaning kitchens, bathrooms, floors, cabinets, windows, and sometimes people. It is an effective treatment for dandruff and yeast infections. And perhaps most important, if the kiddies get a hold of it, there are no calls to the poison control center - just pickled kids.
posted by kc0dxh at 7:23 AM on August 1, 2007

Detol - laundry rinse!! (Unless it's dark then whatever) Or Canasten make an awesome laundry rinse (smell great!!)

Basically it's bacteria and you need to kill it... Kill it good!!
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 11:24 PM on October 19, 2007

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