Help! The Laundry Smells Like Rotten Eggs

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

I followed all of the advice in your how to deal with stubborn body odor in laundry article and my clothes still stink. There’s sort of a rotten egg odor and nothing I do gets rid of it.

How do I get rid of this sulfur smell in my laundry?

Signed,
Sick of the Stink in Stinesville

Heather says

Did you know that scent is one of the most powerful memory triggers? When I was a little girl, I went to Girl Scout Camp (Camp Loco for you South Carolinians) and they had a serious sulfur issue in the groundwater. It was so bad that neither Kool-Aid nor sweet tea could cover that eggy taste. It’s been –well, we won’t say how many years– a long time and the slightest whiff of sulfur takes me to that hot, sweaty summer.

Sulfur odor in well water has two potential sources and it takes a little bit of household detective work to determine which is the likely culprit. In both cases, Hydrogen Sulfide is the offending chemical, but how it gets into your water determines the solution to removing the offensive odor.

1.  Sulphate reducing bacteria:  H2S is often the result of bacteria doing their bacterial thing and processing organic matter into waste.

2. Hydrogen sulfide gas: If your well is in shale or sandstone hydrogen sulfide gas dissolved in the water itself is possible. You may notice other symptoms of this issue around your house – corrosion of your pipes and silverware that quickly turns black for example.

Unfortunately this sulfur compound, as you have noticed, can build up on your clothing. In order to solve this issue you’ll need to address the actual cause or you’ll quickly understand the plight of Sisyphus. I contacted the reader and asked if the smell was present in only the hot water or in the cold water, too. In her case, the odor is found in both, which was a little disheartening as this hot water only has the simplest fix.

If sulphate reducing bacteria has colonized only the water heater, it is possible to kill it by raising the temperature of your water to more than 140°F for 48 hours.

If you choose to attempt this fix, please be careful if you have an elderly relative or young child in the home. Water over 140°F can cause scalding and extra care should be taken.

If the odor returns, bacteria is likely colonizing the magnesium and aluminum anode rod in the water heater. You can try replacing it with an aluminum-zinc rod -go ahead and flush your water heater at this time. If you also utilize a water softener in your home, you’ll find that this tactic likely won’t be effective. The salts that condition the water negate the effect of using zinc instead. Isn’t chemistry fun?

Call your county extension office and ask if hydrogen sulphide gas is an issue for groundwater in your area. If indeed this is the case, you should consider treating the water before it comes into your home. Unfortunately there isn’t a simple solution and requires either aeration or chlorination of the water at a point between the well and your home. The option you choose depends on your budget and longterm plans.

If hydrogen sulfide gas is not of local concern, again it’s probably sulphate reducing bacteria, only this time it has colonized your well and pipes rather than just the water heater.

Thankfully sulphate reducing bacteria in your well can be treated with household bleach. Here is a guide that gives step-by-step instructions to determine how much bleach is needed based on the depth and size of your well and how to shock the well and your pipes.

Before starting, know that you will not be able to use your water supply for 12 – 24 hours and you should plan accordingly. Remember this includes flushing the toilets! If you choose to remain in the home during the time of the shock you can use buckets of water filled before the shock to flush your toilet. If you are also on a septic system you must use care when flushing the bleach from your pipes, you don’t want to overwhelm your septic tank. Too much chlorinated water can kill off the good bacteria in your septic system and cause it to not process the waste. Collect the shocked water in buckets and dispose of it anywhere but down the drain.

If the sulfur smell begins to return shortly after shocking your well, it is definitely time to have your well inspected. Bacteria may be entering your well through cracks or your well may need to be moved to a better location.

Once you eliminate the hydrogen sulfide from your water source normal laundering will remove the rotten egg smell from your clothing. It may take a couple of washes to completely eliminate the odor, but you’ll get there.

I’m sorry there wasn’t a just use vinegar or borax style answer to the problem.

Best of luck!

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

Solve Household Odors

References:

 

How to Iron: A Home-Ec 101 Guide

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Stephanie says:

Let’s work to iron out the wrinkles.

I love ironing. I do. Roll your eyes. Scoff. Mutter, “whatever, who loves ironing?” I do. There is something satisfying about taking a pile of clean clothes and one by one getting all the wrinkles out, then putting them away. I don’t iron every morning. Heavens no. I need my beauty rest, and more importantly a cup of coffee and an egg sandwich that I can eat at a pace that will not force it to repeat on me. I iron on Sundays. You see, during the week, I do laundry, usually Thursday’s and Friday’s, and anything that I would like to be ironed goes in the “ironing basket.”

How to iron

I hope you are reading this, Husband, the only thing that goes in the “ironing basket” is clean, un-ironed clothes, not your nasty socks or bath towels.

Set aside a time for ironing – or it won’t get done.

Once all the laundry is done, or as done as it’s going to get, I iron. In my house, ironing happens on Sunday afternoon.

Sometimes I pull out all the hangers and say, “once these hangers are full I’ll be done,” and there’s other times where I will put a time limit on the ironing. I may say, “from 4:00-5:00 I will iron.” And whatever gets done gets done, anything that’s leftover gets ironed next week.

You just need to make sure you have an enough clothes for the week.

What do you need to iron?

  • Sizing
    A laundry product that adds body to fabric. Sizing is most often used for synthetic fabrics and makes ironing at low temperatures easier. The spray also helps clothing to be more stain resistent by reducing it’s ability to absorb soil.
  • Starch
    Made from vegetable cellulose starch adds body and stiffness to fabric. It works best on clothing made from natural fibers like linen and cotton as it needs to be ironed at a higher temperature than sizing
  • Water
    Using distilled water will prevent mineral build up on the soleplate of the iron -that’s the part that comes in contact with the clothing.
  • Iron – the linked iron is just one example. If you iron regularly you may want to invest in an iron with a self-cleaning setting. This will eliminate the need for hot-iron cleaner
  • a padded ironing board.

There is a debate in my family, starch or sizing? I’ve always sworn by starch. I like my clothes stiff and pressed. My parents use sizing, which gets the wrinkles out but still allows for some body and movement to your clothes. Here’s the deal, on linens, non-knit cotton, wool, durable fabrics, use starch. Things like knit skirts, or like my husband’s polo’s, use sizing. Why? Because if you use starch on these fabrics the iron sticks to them and creates more wrinkles that you will just need to use sizing to get out.

How to iron

First, fill your iron with water. There should be a fill line on the side. If you overflow, no big deal, your ironing board will just get a little wet, but it’s water, it will dry. I would suggest using distilled water if you have invested in a really nice iron because the minerals in tap water can end up shortening the life of your iron.

Second, do a quick spray of starch on the piece of fabric you are starting with. There is a technique. It involves a little dance, spraying from side to side in time with the rest of your body. Make sure you shake the can well before you use it because whatever magic is in that can settles and you don’t want that on your clothes. Give the sizing or starch time to absorb, if you begin ironing too quickly, the starch may flake rather than coat the fibers that make up your material.

Button down shirts are easy, start with the front panel that is on the side in which the rest of the shirt will be hanging off the back of the board Then just work your way around until both front panels and the back panel have been sprayed with your starch or sizing. You’ll follow this routine for the ironing, too.

Expect to move the shirt four times. I love a nice, crisp sleeves. You can button the sleeve if it is not already, if you don’t want to mess with it, just fold the cuff as if it were buttoned and lay the shirtsleeve flat on the board. When you lay the sleeve on the board line up the rest of the shirt as if you were buying the shirt. You know when you buy a new button down shirt and it looks like whoever is going to wear it walks around with their arms at a 45-degree angle? Iron sleeves like that, use the seam in the sleeve as a guide for where to make the crease. If a previous crease exists, try to match the fold along it or you may create a second crease

With button downs, the collar is easy, lay the shirt face down with the collar “popped” and spay and press it. Once it’s done, fold it over, and hang up your shirt. Time to move on.

Polo’s are next. Grab your sizing. You will  want to put the shirt on the board as if you were putting it on your body, the bottom goes on the end of the board first. Situate the shirt like you’re going to move it 4 times again, just like the button down. I usually do the front left first then rotate the shirt away from me until all four “panels” are done. Remember, every time you move the shirt, spritz it with some sizing and give it a moment. Make sure you shake the sizing well too. Collars on polo’s are a little trickier because you can’t lay them flat, so like you did with the rest of the shirt, “pop” the collar and putting the shirt head-first on the end of the board, work your way around. Now sleeves. Depending on the size of the individual wearing the shirt, you can either get the sleeve on the end of the board or just lay it flat, try not to create a crease.

What do you want to do next? Shorts? I love ironing shorts. And I love wearing nice pressed shorts. I feel so preppy in my crisp white khaki Gap shorts with a gingham button down. *sighs* OK! Shorts are different than pants for ironing. Shorts you can put on the board, pants you cannot, typically. Shorts are easy, depending on the size, you can put them on from the top or from the bottom, spray them down, and press. Work in circles until both legs are done. Pay extra attention to pockets. If there is a flap pocket, they are notorious for getting all bunched up in the wash, if this happens, get it with the starch, and carefully help the fabric lay down while you iron over it. Once you have the whole pocket under the iron, hit it with the steam. You did make sure your iron had water, right?

Pants are another beast. You want to do these in sections. You can’t probably “dress” the board like we have been depending on the size of the pants. So you will need to lay them flat on the board. Well-made pants you will be able to flatten in no time, on both sides. If where ever you got your drawers cut some corners you may end up with some creases on one side. It’s the price of doing business. I usually do the front right leg first and if I can’t get up toward the top of the pants, I scoot them down and quick press that portion. Then I flip the leg of the pants over, and move to the next side.

Some special stuff with pants: pleats and creasing. Both of which are a wee outdated, but we will cover them here just for the sake of being well-rounded.

Pleats, not necessarily just with pants, I should correct myself, I have tunics with a back pleat. The key to ironing a pleat is to lay the item on the board as you want the pleats to appear and then press the pleats.  If you try to navigate that big old iron in those little creases, you will just drive yourself insane, so just don’t.

Creasing, my dad, up until like 2009 creased his jeans. It wasn’t until one of his golf buddies took him aside like, “dude…you don’t iron jeans, and you certainly don’t crease them.” My mother was overjoyed knowing that she didn’t have to iron my dads jeans anymore.

To iron a crease you want to hold the pants like you’re looking at them from the side and you want to turn in the front flaps, like where the button and fly are, until you look like you have the crease where you want it. Then lay both legs piled on top of each other on the board and press. You will want to use steam here to really get a sharp crease.

Some final thoughts and quick tips:

Make ironing as enjoyable as possible.

  • I have an ironing playlist in Spotify that I listen to when I iron. It gets me pumped up, it’s actually what I am listening to as I write this. Put your favorite songs that will get you dancing and singing along, it makes this boring task go much faster.
  • Don’t get distracted, especially if you have kids. I’m guilty of this, it seems like everyone I have ever met wants to talk to me during “ironing time.” Draw the line. Scorched clothing = more work.
  • Try not to feel overwhelmed, I find if I separate my clothes from my husband’s on the bed and take one from each pile, it seems to go faster and I don’t feel guilty if I get burned out half way through and he has no shirts for the week.
  • Think ahead, check the weather, if you have multiple seasonal clothes in your basket, plan out that you may need long sleeves and short sleeves during that week, iron a few of each.
  • Finally, stay dedicated, ironing everything at once is actually a time-saver. Would you rather spend an hour on a Sunday and save all that time every single day of waiting for the iron to heat up, and adding water, and setting up the board then ironing? Knowing that everything in my closet is ironed and ready-to-wear any day of the week is very comforting, especially on mornings where I can’t seem to get moving.

Happy Ironing!

Stephanie Coccaro is married to @jaredwsmith and lives with him, and their 3 dogs in West Ashley.  She is currently enrolled for the rest of her life at the College of Charleston majoring in English.

Bleach Spots Appearing on Khaki Shorts

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

I have been puzzled by this mysterious pink / red stains on my khaki shorts for years. Whenever I get new khaki shorts, it will get these red / pink stains on them whenever I wash them. I don’t use bleach or fabric softener. I only use powdered detergent, cold/warm water and that’s it. Whatever I do, it will only create new red/pink marks across the khaki shorts. What is truly bizarre is that I tried not washing one of my new khaki shorts I bought and the stains still appeared! It looks like it has something to do with the water in the home I live in. It only occurs on my khaki shorts and not anywhere else. I need help with this as I have google searched for months without any answer. I’m afraid to buy new khaki shorts now.

Signed,

Shorted on the Shore

Heather says:

The stains you describe sound like bleach stains. Bleaching agents -not necessarily chlorine bleach– can appear in many innocuous forms in our modern lives. However, acne creams, whitening toothpaste and mouthwash are the usual culprits. Some dyes are less able to resist these bleaching products, which is why you will only notice this on some fabrics. After giving this some thought, my guess is splatter from vigorous toothbrushing landing on the bathroom counter or the shorts, themselves. Then, all it takes is a lean in for a close look in the mirror and voila, bleach stains on khaki shorts. The would appear either as a dot or a smear depending on the contact method.

In all likelihood you wouldn’t notice the tiny spatter or rub for several hours until that pink / orange / reddish spot appeared.

To prevent bleaching stains like these in the future, be extra careful with your bleaching products. Try to get in the habit of wiping off your bathroom counter and washing your hands thoroughly after applying acne creams or medication.

For what it’s worth, some people’s sweat seems to oxidize the dyes of some fabrics leaving mysterious stains. However these stains would be in very specific areas, prone to sweating. Since you mentioned spots rather than blotches -these would appear where the shorts crease when sitting- my money is on one of the previously mentioned products.

On an unrelated note, getting to the bottom of these mysterious bleach stains has felt like an episode of House the Domestic Edition and heck, I’ve been cranky enough to play the lead.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

The Great Washing Machine Debate

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

What washing machine is better top or side load?

Signed,
Wishy-Washy in Waseca

Heather says:

Isn’t it fun when someone answers your question with “It depends?”

The front-load vs top loading washing machine debate has been going on for years, about ten in the US. High-efficiency front loading washing machines hit the mainstream back in 2004 or so. Some of the lower end models of front-loading washing machines had major problems that frustrated their owners. The good news is that there have been improvements, but Once Bitten Twice Shy and people were reluctant to give these washers another chance.

So let’s take a look at where things are today.

Should you buy a top-load or front-load washer

Front-load clothes washers are still more efficient than standard top loading machines but not that much more efficient than high-efficiency top-loading washers.

Efficiency isn’t everything or we would all be driving hybrid cars, right?

Some front loading washing machines are stackable, so if you’re super tight on space, this may be an option for you.

High-efficiency top loading washers are generally easier to load and unload, unless you’re of small stature. The ease of loading and unloading can be improved for a front-load machine by placing the appliance on a pedestal.

Front-loading washers tend to remove more water during the spin cycle than their top loading counterparts which reduces the amount of energy used to dry the load of clothing. This factor won’t matter at all, if you prefer to hang your clothing to dry.

Front-loading washers are still slightly better at stain removal than the top loading variety, but it’s pretty marginal and I am willing to bet that pre-treating makes a big difference.

Top loading machines still use more energy to agitate the clothing, use more water, and require more detergent for loads of comparable size, but the gap has been shrinking over the last few years.

And of course, the final comparison is cost.

Standard top loading machines are the cheapest, but least efficient appliances. High efficiency top loading washers come in second in both terms of cost and efficiency. Finally front-loading machines are the most expensive, but most efficient machines.

When you’re making your appliance choice, factor in the long term cost of electricity and water use. If your water is heated by natural gas or propane, you’ll find your clothes washer likely has less of an impact on your overall energy costs than if you’re stuck with an electric water heater like me.

Which of these factors matter most to you?

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

Hard Water and Dark Laundry

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Dear Home Ec 101,
I am very careful about how I wash my darks in order to avoid fading – washing them only in cold water, air drying or drying on the lowest setting. Despite this I feel my darks are fading much sooner than they should. Any suggestions?

Signed,
Dull in Duluth

Heather says

I wrote back to Dull in Duluth and asked her a couple of questions:

Q: What detergent do you use?  Do you have hard water or soft?

A: I have 3 boys ages 4, 2 and 11 months so I use Dreff for everything – their clothes as well as ours. We have hard water.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner, I know exactly why her dark clothes are fading more quickly than expected.

In addition to the faded appearance of the dark clothing, jeans will feel stiffer and even soft cottons may feel scratchy.

Why?

Hard water mostly contains calcium and magnesium ions, but other fun minerals and chemicals can get in on the game, too. Hard water is measured in grains per gallon and the unit grain is about a kernel of wheat. (I just learned that little factoid and had a major duh of course it is moment).

Slightly hard water starts about about 1 grain of minerals per gallon with very hard water containing 10.5 or more grains. (Areas with very hard water also tend to have more problems with kidney stones -looking at you Tennessee).

If your water contains less of hardness per gallon, you may find that using more detergent per load may help. Once you hit the 15 grains point, you simply cannot add enough detergent to bind the minerals AND clean your clothing. It’s time to start looking at non-precipitating water conditioners and household water softeners.

Non-precipitating water conditioners grab the minerals and make it so they can’t attach to your clothing, they stay in solution. (When particles in a solution are no longer able to stay in solution they precipitate)

The problem with this type of water conditioner and automatic washers -which I imagine you use, but feel free to correct me if I’ve found one of the few people who chooses to use a wringer style washer- is that while the conditioner doesn’t precipitate the laundry detergent does. The foam resulting from the combination of minerals and detergent is sticky and can cause buildup in your washing machine and lines which over-time can cause clogs.

Consider investing in a water softening system for your home or the laundry room alone. (Water softeners can add sodium content to the water and those with heart conditions and circulatory issues will need to take further steps and filter the water they intend to use for drinking and cooking.)

Soft water doesn’t leave residue on shower doors, in your toilets, or tubs. You’ll find your hair rinses cleaner and your skin feels less dry when using soft water to wash.

Without the residue left by minerals, your laundry’s colors will stay brighter, the dark colors won’t appear to fade as quickly, and your whites will stay… whiter.

Neat.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com