Dear Home-Ec 101,
Could you please tell me what that awful chemical smell is on some new jeans? How I can get rid of it? I tried adding 1 cup of vinegar in my wash with soap 3 times and they still stink. I really love the jeans and hope you have a solution for me.
The smell you are referring to is most likely formaldehyde. I used to work for Old Navy and I’d come home with that smell all over me. My dad would tease me about smelling like a mortician, because that’s the chemical that is most often used in embalming. In clothing manufacturing formaldehyde is used because, in theory, when combined with urea (Yes! That’s pee! Ewwww!) it makes the clothing more wrinkle resistant, stain resistant, and is a disinfectant (what self respecting germ could survive that?). For you chemistry nerds out there, here’s a wikipedia article on formaldehyde.
So, what’s the best way to get rid of the smell? Borax and/or baking soda. When I worked at Old Navy, I would use baking soda to wash my hands when I got home. It usually worked.
In your case, I’d probably use a cup of baking soda per load of new clothing. It may take several washings as some companies are now using even stronger disinfectants and even pesticides to protect the clothing during clothing is storage. Those chemicals are even harder to get out.