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How to remove toxic gick smell from thrift shop clothes?

 
Posts: 63
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I buy nearly all of my clothes from thrift shops. While sometimes a single wash is fine and they are ready to wear, but often times, I find that they have lingering smells of toxic laundry detergent and/or fabric softener. Repeated washing sometimes removes it, but there have been several things that even after multiple washings and other efforts, still reek and give me a headache from the chemical smell. I have tried soaking them in water with baking soda and an unscented detergent as well as hanging outside in the sun and rain. I have tried to just avoid particularly smelly items by checking in the store, but sometimes have been unable to detect the smell until I got home, probably because such smells are so pervasive in the stores.

I imagine I am not the only one here who has encountered this problem. Has anyone else found a solution that doesn’t involve washing countless times? I searched the interwebs with little success and would be most appreciative of any ideas.
 
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I soak them in water with essential oils in it for a while, and then hang outside to line dry. Sometimes I have to do this more than once, but it seems to work. The oils I use most are clove, lavender, and eucalyptus.
 
pollinator
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Kate Downham wrote:I soak them in water with essential oils in it for a while, and then hang outside to line dry. Sometimes I have to do this more than once, but it seems to work. The oils I use most are clove, lavender, and eucalyptus.



I have used the same method with great success. Essential oils seem to do a wonderful job of breaking up those scent molecules from the chemicals. I like to use the thieves combination for that: lemon, rosemary, eucalyptus, clove, and cinnamon. It leaves the clothes smelling so good, too!
 
pollinator
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Believe it or not, putting them in a freezer works too. Smell is bacteria, and that cannot live in 0 degree temps, so a 48 hour stint in the freezer will kill a lot of the smell too. (Having a non-food freezer really helps).
 
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I have the exact same problem, and have mostly stopped buying thrift store stuff because of it. I think it's the new 'modern'  detergents and fabric softeners that do it.
Vinegar doesn't kill the chemical gick, freezing does nothing for chemical smells,  sunlight doesn't work well either. I once left clothes out in the rain and sun for 2 weeks (after washingo 4 times in various detergents, with vinegar,with dish soap, with baking soda) and that somewhat helped, but the residue persisted and I ended up redonating it. I haven't tried essential oils  as I am scent sensitive to most of them too-maybe if they removed the scent,they would be easier to wash out.

I have some success using dish detergent, as most of the smells seem to be fat based.
 
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I buy all of our clothes at one local really inexpensive thrift store...$2 for all you can stuff in a grocery bag.  There is always one smelly culprit after I run them through the wash that takes forever to get the scent out of.  I just keep throwing it back in with whatever laundry I'm doing.  It doesn't seem to smell up the rest of the wash and eventually the smell is gone.

I use soap nuts for most of our laundry and sometimes borax and/or washing soda (not the same as baking soda).  Washing soda is what I scour fabric and yarn with for natural dyes and it seems to work the best for smells also.  Warm to hot water with a good cup of washing soda for a full load in the machine....then a good rinse or two.

I think the smells are a combination of laundry detergents,fabric softeners and personal deodorants, bath soaps and perfumes? Bad, bad smell pollution going on there.  I can hardly stand to be in the section of a store with all of the laundry supplies.

I would not have used so much water as freely as this back when we were hauling water and washing by hand in buckets but I also don't remember thrift store clothes smelling as strong thirty years ago?  

 
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It sounds as if "water +" is not doing the trick for many of you. I use baking soda dry to absorb odors. Have any of you tried working the baking soda into the clothing dry, putting it in a plastic bag or bucket and leaving it for a week and then washing it? I don't have anything stinky to try it on at the moment.
Also, there's been a lot of issues in areas about people introducing bed-bugs to their home via second hand clothing. This may be why the Thrift shops are washing things in much more potent chemicals than they used to. That suggests to me that under the smell there may be some sort of pesticide? Just some thoughts for others to consider.
 
pollinator
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I have used isopropyl alcohol to remove the lingering perfume smell by soaking the entire sweater in it then washing it.  I did a test patch to make sure the sweater wouldn't be damaged before I drenched the entire sweater in alcohol.
 
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I'll bet hanging them on the line for a week would do it. They don't have to be in the Sun. I often wear the stuff without washing it, if it seems clean. And then I just continue washing it whenever it gets dirty.

This might be more of an issue with women's clothing since women are more likely to use perfumes, antiperspirants and other smelly things.
 
Judith Browning
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Jay Angler wrote:........................................Also, there's been a lot of issues in areas about people introducing bed-bugs to their home via second hand clothing. This may be why the Thrift shops are washing things in much more potent chemicals than they used to. That suggests to me that under the smell there may be some sort of pesticide? Just some thoughts for others to consider.



Our thrift store does not wash anything...they send stuff to the landfill if it is dirty or too damaged in some way to hang up on the racks but they are definitely not washing stuff.  It is all volunteer and they have enough work just sorting.  

I'm pretty sure they have one of the bug companies come round and spray the building but not the merchandise.

Bedding is all sold as dog bedding and at your own risk so I assume they have had bed bugs passing through at some point or just have a fear of them.  I've shopped there for forty years now and never brought any home...sheets, blankets, etc...sometimes I leave them in the car to heat up to the temp that is supposed to kill them just in case but have never seen a sign of them.

What I've noticed is that it will be the occasional piece of perfumed clothing, not everything...some of the detergents I even recognize and some are much more subtle.  It is as varied as are the donors of the stuff.  We have a lot of well off retirees who donate expensive brand things...I'll have to start checking labels and see if there's a pattern in who uses the stinkiest laundry products



 
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baking soda boraxo combo cleans up some stuff
but i had experience with wool blanket, where there must have been some kind of bugs or bug eggs in it
after drying used it and got all bit up by whatever it was took 2 weeks to heal. next blanket for me will be handcrafted quilt by experienced quilter with good reputation. sometimes second hand stuff hide surprises
 
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I am at this moment wearing a sweater I bought from a consignment shop in June when I was visiting my mom in the US. I`ve washed it several times and it still smells like dryer sheets (or something). I assume the smell will go away eventually but it is AMAZING how long some of these smells linger.
 
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I place sweaters or pants on the warm heater in the bathroom over night. Gets rid of cigarette smoke and general stink, not sure about perfumes and stuff like that.
 
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I have some clothes that were forgotten in the wash and when they get wet smell horribly! I've tossed them in the wash a few times and one shirt has been left to soak in baking soda and vinegar yet there is still a slight odor. I have yet to leave them out in the rain and sun or try the freezer.
 
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I also love my quirky and sensible opp shop wardrobe but my odour problem is self inflicted. I work in a vineyard & although organic, we are pretty free with our use of sulphur & after 30+years I hate the smell. I use eucalyptus in my wash & wash my tractor clothes separately & use teatree in castille for scrubbing on my skin but it is ever present. I've tried soaking my work gear in napisan which I pour on my gum trees but would love to hear if anyone has a more friendly solution. Whilst not using sulphur is the obvious answer it isn't an option while I live & work in my chosen life. Happy for any suggestions.
 
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Depends on how bad. I make a spray with essential oils, drop of natural dish soap and water. It's a room and clothes spray. Tea tree for bacteria, hang outside fresh air then another spray of whatever oil mix you love.

I use tea tree to spray on the soles shoes for people who don't want to take off shoes
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:Believe it or not, putting them in a freezer works too. Smell is bacteria, and that cannot live in 0 degree temps, so a 48 hour stint in the freezer will kill a lot of the smell too. (Having a non-food freezer really helps).


Can confirm that freezing works pretty good, it is commonly done by denim enthusiasts that want to limit the amount of washing of their precious jeans.
 
pollinator
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Jay Angler wrote:...
Also, there's been a lot of issues in areas about people introducing bed-bugs to their home via second hand clothing. This may be why the Thrift shops are washing things in much more potent chemicals than they used to. That suggests to me that under the smell there may be some sort of pesticide? Just some thoughts for others to consider.


It was my thought too, Jay, that the thrift store itself is using that very smelly laundry deteregent. You might be right it has something in it against bugs!
 
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The good old way! White vinegar: did you know the only way to stop cat urine smell is the white vinegar. The floor mop will not develop smelly bacteria if you poor vinegar on it. I wash with vinegar the floor, the window, etc.  My dog have once skunk smell and after 3 bath with vinegar, it was gone. In the first 10 minutes the smell of vinegar fade. Vinegar and baking soda are very useful for any kind of washing, and the are not dangerous for nature.  I am Quebecoise that explain my English ....  
 
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You can try soaking your clothes for twelve hours in diluted EM (efective microrganisms).  Then rinse and dry them in the sun.
It works for most of my smelling clothes, but  then I live in a tropical climate.
 
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I agree that these chemical scents are pervasive!! We've tried washing over and over, using vinegar and hanging on the line in intense sun for sometimes three weeks. And still the noxious smell lingers. Ugh.
What seems to help the most is EM- Effective Microorganisms. Just a tsp in the wash water and if you can put another tsp in the rinse water all the better. We've also had great success using it to eliminate other smells, like gasoline on the hands after working on vehicles, cigarette odours lingering in cars or houses, ammonia from manure in the barn. It is very useful stuff!
 
pollinator
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Sergio Cunha wrote:You can try soaking your clothes for twelve hours in diluted EM (efective microrganisms).  Then rinse and dry them in the sun.
It works for most of my smelling clothes, but  then I live in a tropical climate.



Would LAB serum work?
 
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I don't know if this will work for clothes, but when my brothers and I came home covered in skunk, my mom use tomato juice.  I think she used it on our clothes also.

The neighborhood kids got to watch used washed down in our underwear.  It was mildly humiliating, but my mom wasn't going to let us in the house until we were descented.

It worked pretty well, albeit not 100%, my classmates noticed a faint, lingering scent for a few days.

It might be worth a shot.
 
Sunny Baba
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I've never heard of LAB serum so I had to look it up. Seems like it is a lactic acid solution whereas the EM also has yeasts and other microorganisms besides the lactic acid ones. So it may be more effective because of its diversity of micro -species.
But you could try it, I suppose and give us a report back!
 
Jay Angler
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Hmmm... if someone's going to experiment with microbes, how about kombucha? SCOBY stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, so that sounds like a variation on a theme as the EM and might be easier to access. If I had something stinky, I'd try myself. There are some clothing shops, and definitely stinky soap shops that I simply can't walk into for more than about 2 minutes. It has to be a combination of the PPM and the artificial nature of them, because I'm fine in tea shops like Murchies even though they sell lots of different, but mostly natural, flavours.
 
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I’ve heard vodka sprayed on it and freezing but I haven’t tried it.
 
pollinator
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May not work on all odors but I’ve had success using salt water- soaking the clothes in a tub of it for a day or two, the washing as usual. If you live near the ocean, that saltwater works even better.
 
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None of the second hand stores I've known wash anything. They spray it all with Febreze to cover up the stench of dirty laundry, and/or an insecticide/disinfectant for lice, bed bugs, pathogens, etc. , and it has a strong floral scent to cover up the chemical scent. I usually just have to wash over and over and over, 'til it fades. But even if I liked the smell, I wouldn't want to wear something sprayed with those chemicals until it had been washed several times. Here's a longer article:  https://awomanaday.com/2013/02/06/how-to-make-yourself-look-more-crazy/
 
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Heather, I have had very good luck removing odors by washing items using TSP instead of soap/detergent. (follow label directions) then, add 1 cup household ammonia to the rinse water and hang the item outside to dry
 
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I was a commercial fisherman for years, and I know quite a bit about getting stubborn smells out of clothing. The answer is Coca Cola. I wouldn't be caught dead drinking it, but a can in the wash water (in cold water for proteins like fish slime, blood, milk, etc) takes bad smells away. In Alaska, even commercial laundries use it for fish smell. Works for cat pee too, though in that case, I''d sak it in a bucket of coke for a while.
 
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I like the idea of essential oils. How many drops of oil do you put in? I can't soak in my front loading washer, but do in a 5 gal bucket or small bathroom sink.
 
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About a year ago, when my daughter was pregnant, the thought of pulling out my old maternity and baby clothes filled me with dread. They have been stored in my mildewy basement for at least 25 years...but I didn't want to throw them away, as there were some very special items in those bags and boxes. I did an online search and stumbled upon an awesome product called OdorKlenz. I was blown away by how effective it was. No way did I want my baby granddaughter to be wearing anything that still had a slight mildew smell, but this product worked incredibly well.

What is OdorKlenz? Here is a quote from their website:

    "OdorKlenz® products are made from safe and effective earth minerals which are designed to remove the most stubborn odors from your home. OdorKlenz® products are versatile, durable, and reliable odor neutralizers. They are strong enough to eliminate stubborn odors but gentle enough to use around your family and pets. As OdorKlenz® products come into contact with the offending odors in circulating air or on surfaces, the product’s chemistry attaches to and reacts with the pollutants or destroys/neutralizes the pollutant. OdorKlenz products contain no masking agents or perfumes that leave behind residual scents. It is ideal for use on a day-to-day basis to eliminate household odors like sweat, smoke, pet odors and household cleaners, and much more."

There were just a few items that needed more than one trip through the washer, mostly thick fleece things that needed a little more time for the minerals to penetrate all the crevices thoroughly. I would buy this product again in a heartbeat!

Louanne
 
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I agree with france grenier. Plain old white vinegar. I have a smelly husband. I tried lots of perfumy solutions for washing his close. Then I discovered that adding a couple of cups of white vinegar to the wash water does wonders.  his cloths justr smell clean.
 
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I love Borax.  It is amazing at getting bad odors out.  We have an old cat that sometimes pees on things she shouldn't and cat pee is about the worst, but I mix 20 Mule Team Borax and hot water and add it to the wash and it does the trick.  I can't tell you how many expensive sprays I have bought, and good old borax worked better.
 
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It depends what it is, but sometimes I just can’t remove it and it’s best to just get rid of it. The petroleum based chemicals are designed to stay. The time energy and chemicals it takes to to try to remove it with solvents is over the top in my experience. Bleach did not work. Four months hanging outside in the sun rain and snow did not not work for me. It improved somewhat but not enough. Vodka is a solvent and even that did not work. A strong acid, like a lot of vitamin C powder, worked a little bit but damaged the clothing in the process. EnvrioKlenz is a good product I think, but it did not remove the perfume chemicals.  It’s just not wort it to me.
 
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As someone with multiple chemical sensitivities who shops at thrift stores almost exclusively, i hear ya! I use a low chemical greenie type of detergent, some washing soda and vinegar in the first rinse of everything i wash, but it isn't always enough to remove the chemicals other people have left in clothes..
I work with the fiber arts also, and have two suggestions.

If cotton, I boil them on the woodstove. It strips everything out. (I try to do this annually for my dish towels and sheets anyway)

Otherwise, there is a product on Dharma Trading that is made specifically to strip the residues out of fabrics. The traditional product is called synthrapol, but Dharma Trading came up with their own, less toxic version which I use. Its called Dharma Professional Textile Detergent. It's kind of spendy but I love the stuff.
 
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I’ve also tried vinegar, baking soda, sunshine, multiple washings without success.  I agree that it probably is Febreeze spritzed on all the clothes at the Salvation Army because they all have that same strong perfumey smell.  I’m always afraid that someone will notice it, or the pinhole rip in the back of the neck where the staple was holding on the price tag.  I don’t have the answer, but I’m glad you asked the question.
 
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I've stopped buying used textiles because of the toxic chemicals. I also can no longer go to a public indoor event, not only because of the smell in the air, but because if I sit in a chair I'm probably going to have some transfer of perfumes onto my clothes. This has actually happened many times. If it wasn't bad enough already, laundry products are being pushed on TV ads that ad extra smell that lasts for "weeks" - more like eternity. I wish there was a class action lawsuit against these manufacturers. I would much rather smell male cat pee, human sweat, and all other barnyard odors combined than the toxic man-made chemical concoctions. I would even ad skunk spray to that list.
 
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