Why does this fabric smell so bad (and can I fix it)?
June 17, 2008 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Why does this fabric smell so bad (and can I fix it)?

I bought a bedsheet in India. If it had any particular smell I definitely didn't notice. After I got home I washed it, and now it has such a strong chemical smell that it's noticeable from a few feet away, even after being aired out for a few days. Has anyone come across this before? I'd like to know why it happened and if I can do anything about it. Repeated laundering hasn't helped so far, but admittedly I've only tried twice.
posted by egg drop to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
If it's a strong chemical smell, it could be from the use of cheap dye. (does it smell like the Juniors clothing section at Wal-Mart?) Soaking in a vinegar dilution can be used to 'fix' some dyes, and keep them from bleeding. I don't know how much that would affect the smell, but it might be worth a shot.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:07 AM on June 17, 2008

Hmm, the dye hasn't bled any so far. Not sure what the Juniors section smells like, but this cloth smells downright toxic.
posted by egg drop at 10:34 AM on June 17, 2008

I was going to suggest common salt as a mordant.

This lifted from Wikipedia:
"A mordant is a substance used to set dyes on fabrics by forming an insoluble compound with the dye. It may be used for dyeing fabrics, or for intensifying stains in cell or tissue preparations. A mordant is either inherently colloidal or produces colloids and can be either acidic or alkaline.

Mordants include tannic acid, alum, chrome alum, sodium chloride, and certain salts of aluminum, chromium, copper, iron, iodine, potassium, sodium, and tin."

It is worth a try.
posted by lungtaworld at 10:48 AM on June 17, 2008

Try it on a small sample first!
posted by lungtaworld at 10:49 AM on June 17, 2008

Thanks. I'm not sure dye setting is the problem (it doesn't bleed) but I'll give it a try.
posted by egg drop at 7:48 PM on June 17, 2008

If you have access to the great outdoors, try letting it flap in the breeze for a few days. Exposure to direct sunshine will help too, if you're not worried about the colors fading too fast. Spread it out as much as possible so that air can flow freely past all surfaces, and take it inside in the evenings so it doesn't get damp overnight.

If you don't have even a balcony or fire escape, you can try a pretty strong detergent called Synthrapol. It is used by dyers to pretreat fabric and yarn for dyeing, by removing sizing, oils, and other stuff that prevents dyes from penetrating the fibers properly. It might remove whatever is making your fabric smell bad. It also prevents excess (bleeding) dye from redepositing on fabric so if it leaches dye out of your fabric at least it won't stain other areas of the cloth. (It's sort of the opposite of a mordant.)

You won't find it at supermarkets; maybe an exceptionally well-stocked yarn or crafts supply store might have it but you can order it online from many suppliers.
posted by Quietgal at 7:55 PM on June 17, 2008

That's funny. I bought a bedsheet in India 10 years ago. I turned it in to a quilt and it still stinks. Many washes and airings and treatments and dry cleaning later, it's not better. I decided last weekend, after my visiting sister told me it smelled like a dog, that I would get rid of it. It's a shame as it looks gorgeous.

The bedsheet doesn't smell chemically.... more musty... and it's never left.

At the same time I was given a whole bunch of Tibetan textiles, manufactured in India, by Tibetans...(wedding gifts) and they stank of chemicals of some kind. After hours of soaking (to the point where they faded) and sitting in the sun.... the smell went. But the fabrics look terrible. I wondered if the smellw was the um... ?chloroform or whatever was in those cotton blankets that came out of China recently and caused such a ruckus.... it may not have been cloroform... but an equally well known chemical..... used for setting dyes I think.
posted by taff at 8:43 PM on June 17, 2008

For the sake of my credibility... such that it is... I should add that I've remembered it wasn't chloroform... the chemical was formaldehyde. How embarrassment!
posted by taff at 12:04 AM on June 23, 2008

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