Dear Home-Ec 101
I am sorry if you have had this question before, but maybe it bears repeating. I live in hot and sticky Thailand now and I have noticed my tops are not smelling very fresh anymore when I perspire. I usually wash them in cold or warm water with liquid detergent then I hang them to dry. After they are dry, I usually give them a short spin in the dryer to take out the wrinkles before hanging them or folding them.
Oh who doesn’t enjoy a good discussion of laundry, sweat, and body odor? -I’m kidding, it’s not my favorite topic, but it IS a good one since so many people struggle with these problems in their laundry.
If you haven’t removed all of the sweat, deodorant, detergent or a delicious combination of the three from your clothing, each time that the shirt gets wet, no matter how it occurs, via water or more sweat those funky odor molecules still in the shirt can go back into solution. When those molecules are in solution (usually, that’s your sweat) they are able to smell again. Good times. Sometimes the heat of the dryer is enough to permanently set some stains, hopefully not in your case.
If you are regularly using deodorant / antiperspirant, chances are you have more than one issue going on with your shirts. Turn your shirts inside out and feel the underarm area, if there is a slightly waxy or greasy feel, you probably have a buildup of deodorant in the material. Deodorants cover up body odor and the waxy medium used to apply it to your underarm can also do a good job of trapping odors in the armpits of your shirt.
Try soaking your shirts for several hours in a tub of water with 1 cup of white vinegar. This will lower the pH of the water and hopefully will help remove some of that deodorant build up. If you have a top loading washer, go ahead and fill the tub with warm water, then add your shirts and the white vinegar. Allow the washer to agitate for a bit and then turn off the machine and let the clothing soak in the washtub.
Unfortunately soaking isn’t always possible in some front loading clothes washers, you may have to use a container of some sort. If there is a significant build up of deodorant and antiperspirant on your clothing, you may need to repeat this a couple of times. Deodorant residue can sneak up on you and may not be obvious until it is an annoying problem.
Consider trying out different types of antiperspirant / deodorant and finding one that fits your personal body chemistry and doesn’t leave a lot of residue.
Sometimes the discoloration caused by antiperspirant is permanent, even if you haven’t used the dryer.
If you don’t use antiperspirant or deodorant, chances are you’re dealing with perspiration stains. For severe perspiration stains, try crushing a couple of uncoated aspirin into a powder and mixing with a little water to create a paste. Apply this paste to the underarm of your shirts with a toothbrush and then launder as usual. The salicylic acid will help get rid of the stain. In the future, sponge or spray the underarms of your shirts with dilute white vinegar before tossing them in the hamper. Be sure to allow the shirts to dry before tossing in the hamper or you’ll have to read up on mildew stain removal.
Another possible cause of the odor in your laundry is what’s known as detergent build-up.
If there is too much detergent in the wash portion of your laundering, your washer isn’t going to be able to rinse all of it away. The residue left behind is actually quite sticky and great at trapping odors in the fabric.
Checking for detergent build-up in a top loading washer is quite easy. Put one towel or a couple of shirts in the tub, set the washer to run a small load on the hottest water safe for the fabric. Leave the lid open and look for suds while it is agitating. If there are suds, you’ve been using too much detergent. Give your smelliest laundry another run through the washing machine, in the hottest water it can tolerate, with only white vinegar OR borax to help rinse away that build-up.
If you have a front loading washer and have been using the high efficiency detergent, determining if there is a build-up is a little more difficult since high efficiency detergent is specifically manufactured to be less sudsy in general. You are going to have to rely on your nose. I’d run an experimental load of your offending clothing with just vinegar or borax and see if it comes out smelling better.
Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.