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:

 

Household Odors: A Home-Ec 101 Guide

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Scientists say that people can smell at least one trillion distinct scents, scent cells are renewed every 30 to 60 days, and women have a better sense of smell than men. Combine all those things together with a house full of people and there is potential for A LOT of odors. On top of all that we know that scent is a powerful memory trigger, and we want our house to smell good and create good memories. Listed below are some articles that can help you find and conquer bad household odors. Just click the title of the one you want to read more about.

Guide to Household Odors

Can This Smelly Freezer Be Saved?

Due to a series of unfortunate events, my small chest freezer (that sits under the house) was left unplugged for 3 WEEKS! Of course the entire inventory was a total loss, but the real problem is the SMELL.

Don’t Just Cover Up Musty Odors

My problem is that I keep towels that we have used in a closet until I do laundry at the end of the week, and I wanted to know if there is anything I could put inside the closet to keep down the musky smell until laundry day?

Eliminated or Hidden? Febreze vs. Stink

I’ve heard from a friend that the way Febreze works is by “gluing” the molecules causing the smell to the fabric.

Help! Our New House Smells Like Mothballs!

There’s only one little problem with our dream home: it smells a bit of moth balls. I’m hoping that most of the stench is attached to the current owners’ furniture, but some of the smell has certainly transfered to the walls and floors of the house.

How Can I Make My Cat’s Litter Box Smell Better?

Why is cleaning out cat boxes such an ordeal? How can I make my cat’s litter box smell better if I’m a little bit remiss about getting them scooped every day?

How to Clean a Smelly Garbage Disposal

How do you de-stink a garbage disposal?

How to Deal with a Cat Marking Its Territory

Our cat marks all areas of our house by peeing especially when another animal comes to visit or where she last marked. We are at our wit’s end…. is there any solution to this problem?

How To Deal With Mildew In The Laundry

I forgot about a load of wash in the washing machine. Of course, it’s almost the entire wardrobe for both my children and the entire load *reeks* of mildew.

How to Eliminate Sulfur Odor in the Laundry

I’ve noticed a sulfur odor in our clean clothes and I can’t get rid of it no matter what I do.

How to Eliminate Shoe Odors in Small Closets

I just did some awesome cleaning in my closet and swapped out my winter for summer stuff. I noticed my closet has a funky shoe odor.

How to Fix Sour Smelling Towels

Why do towels and washcloths smell sour and how do I get rid of that funky odor?

How to Freshen Plastic Storage Containers

My spouse, it’s not me, no never me, has a bad habit of leaving his dirty plastic containers in the back of his car. I have to tell you, they are FUNKY. How do I remove the bad odor?

How to Get Rid of a Fish Odor in the Kitchen

I’m trying to encourage an elderly dog to eat and someone recommended canned mackerel.  It worked a treat but now my kitchen stinks like fish.

How to Get Smells Out of Car Upholstery

Have you any idea how to get the smell of smoke and sweat out of car upholstery without making the entire vehicle reek of Febreze?

How to Reduce Cooking Odors

I love having my home grown bacon or sausage on the weekend, but how do I get rid of the horrible grease smell after I have enjoyed breakfast?

How to Remove Kerosene Odors from Unwashable Items

I do alterations and repairs on bridal wear and I recently returned some dresses that ended up absorbing the smell of kerosene. How would someone remove the smell of kerosene from un-washable clothing?

How To Remove Mildew And Musty Odors From Towels

My towels all smell funky. Is it my teenage son? He’s usually pretty good about hanging up his towel, but lately they’ve all developed a stink. There is nothing quite like stepping out of the shower to be greeted with a musty, mildewed, smelly towel.

How to Remove a Musty Odor from Dresser Drawers

An old roommate of mine borrowed a dresser from me and used it while we lived together. After she gave it back the drawers had a musty smell that I couldn’t get rid of. If I put any clothes in the drawers they come out smelling funky and musty too. What should I do?

How To Remove Musty / Mildew Odor From Furniture

I recently retrieved a table from my garage that was stored for about a year and it smells like there could be a mold or mildew issue. How do I clean the table to remove any traces and the odor of mold and mildew?

How to Remove Mothball Odor from a Closet

There’s only one little problem with our dream home: it smells a bit of moth balls. I’m hoping that most of the stench is attached to the current owners’ furniture, but some of the smell has certainly transfered to the walls and floors of the house. So what is a gal to do?

How to Remove Mothball Odor from Clothes

How does one get rid of this smell; a smell that permeates everything it contacts?

How to Remove Musty Odor from Jeans

For a few weeks I’ve occasionally noticed a musty smell. At first I thought it was something in my house, but I couldn’t ever pin it down. I finally realized it was my favorite pair of jeans!

How To Remove Odors From Shoes

How do you get the foot-stink out of shoes? Specifically, leather shoes, since those make your feet sweat like a fat guy chasing after an ice cream truck in August?

How To Remove Odors From Stoneware

Whenever I cook or use a strong smelling condiment, my dishes always pick up the smell I can never get the odor out.

How to Remove Smoke Smell from Plastic Toys

I recently purchased replacement pieces for a beloved vintage Fisher-Price toy on eBay. They arrived today after a long wait, absolutely reeking of smoke.

How to Remove Urine Odors from a Couch

We contacted the manufacturer, who suggested spot cleaning the urine stained area with diluted dish soap. This got the stains out. Unfortunately, the smell of pee still remains.

How To Get Rid of Musty Odor In A Home

Here’s my dilemma. The house is clean, but there is a fusty, musty odor, like a large dog is secretly living in our house.

Potential Sources Of Mildew In The Bedroom

There is a musty / mildew smell in my home, but I’m having issues locating the source of the smell. As far as I can tell, it’s restricted to one bedroom. I’ve examined all of my clothing, removed the air conditioner, checked all of the furniture, and even the air ducts. I’m guessing it might be in the carpet? Any ideas?

What Causes Smelly Sheets?

I have smelly sheets! I wash them and I promise I don’t use too much laundry detergent. Then I dry them and then store them in a built-in bookshelf that’s in our closet. For some reason as soon as I get the sheets out to put on the bed they smell weird, a little musty.

What To Do About Stinky Shoes

I got my favorite pair of shoes wet last week and now they stink to high heaven. Is there anything I can do to save these shoes?

What To Do With The Drawer That Makes Clothes Stink

After the clothes are confined there for a few weeks, they develop a strong odor that spreads to other clothes which would otherwise not get smelly.

What To Do When Your Mattress Smells Like Cat Pee

It’s been a week, and while my husband swears he can’t smell the urine anymore, I still get whiffs of something–whether it’s urine or just the cleaner, I’m not sure. But it smells funky, and I don’t know what to do!

Send your domestic questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

bathroom cleaning

Tips to keep your bathroom squeaky clean!

guide to the laundry room

Click the picture for more tips!

Can This Smelly Freezer Be Saved?

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
Help! Due to a series of unfortunate events, my small chest freezer (that sits under the house) was left unplugged for 3 WEEKS! Of course the entire inventory was a total loss, but the real problem is the SMELL. It really smelled like something died down there, and it permeated the house for a couple of days.

I have cleaned, bleached, Lysol-ed and baking soda-ed, all to no avail. It sat open and unplugged for a couple of weeks to air out. It’s not as bad as it once was, but now that I have plugged the freezer in and closed the lid, the once (finally) faint smell seems stronger. I’m afraid the odor will attach itself to any new food I put in. I am almost ready to throw in the sponge and just get a new freezer, but my inner tightwad is having a hard time with that! Can this freezer be saved?
Kind regards,
Fetid Freezer

how to save a smelly freezer

Heather says:

I have good news, there is a very good chance your freezer can be saved. There is a product called activated charcoal, which is charcoal that has been treated with oxygen to make it very porous. This means that it has a ridiculous amount of smell grabbing surface area.

There is a term called adsorb, don’t mix it up with absorb. To absorb means to take in and adsorbing means clinging by chemical attraction. See? SCIENCE! (Do you have any idea how hard it is not to do a Jesse Pinkman reference right now?)

Those funky odors are the result of organic chemical compounds, which thankfully activated charcoal is super good at attracting and trapping. It’s thankfully much better at grabbing bad odors than the plastic in your freezer.

You can find activated charcoal in the aquarium supply sections of some large box stores and it is also on Amazon under the name activated carbon. Some people complain about the cost of activated charcoal, but compared to the cost of a new freezer, it’s pretty reasonable. It’s really going to come down to how much time and disposable income do you have to invest. If you’ve got enough money to replace the freezer and your time is at a premium, that may be the route to take as I also suggest completely dismantling the freezer to clean it.

Think of the freezer as a plastic box wrapped in a Styrofoam or other insulating material and wrapped in another box with a motor and freezer coils attached.

You’ll want to dismantle your chest freezer as much as possible, without disturbing the coils or messing with the motor. You’ll want to be really sure none of the liquid from the thawing meat filtered is still inside the freezer insulating materials of the unit. Look for screws, unscrew them, and gently pull the plastic liner out. In most cases, the insulating material is nonporous.

Once the freezer has been disassembled and any missed leakage cleaned up -use an enzymatic cleaner or dilute vinegar OR dilute bleach.  Let the material dry fully, reassemble, and plug it back in. Now place the activated charcoal in the interior of the freezer and turn it on to its lowest setting. You’re not going to want it to run a lot, but you do want the fan circulating the air.

Close the door, cross your fingers, and give it 24 – 48 hours and I bet you’ll be surprised by the difference.

I have heard some people have had success with regular charcoal briquettes, but please just NOT the kind with lighter fluid as those have their own smell and you’ll just be trading one funky odor for another. You could also crush the briquettes to increase the adsorbing surface area, too.

Guide to Household Odors

Click the picture for lots more tips!

For those of you out there who have noticed their ice cubes taste like onions or other strong cooking odors, you may find that keeping a mesh bag of activated charcoal in the freezer really improves the taste and smell of your ice.

Best of luck, what an aggravating experience that had to be.

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

More on Mildew – The Basement Is Damp

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Dear Home Ec 101,

When I am in the basement, my allergies kick in, immediately, with all the typical allergy symptoms! It may be associated with dampness in an 1880’s basement. We keep it very clean, and no moisture seems to be present, except on a wall or two in which the paint is affected.

Signed,
Sneezing in Snelling

Heather says:

Allergies are no fun. As an aside for your overall health, I highly recommend getting tested to know exactly what is triggering the attacks. Is it dust mites or mold / mildew? (Granted some of the things I am about to go over will help no matter the cause, it’s just good information to have)

To make this information more helpful for the Home-Ec 101 audience, I’m going to answer it as though you hadn’t begun looking for water damage.

Humidity enters your home through four pathways:

  • rain water or plumbing leaks
  • capillary action – your building materials absorbing water from the ground. You’ve seen capillary action every time you’ve used a paper towel to mop up a spill
  • diffusion – water vapor molecules moving through your building from the outside (high concentration) to the inside (lower)
  • air transport – pretty obvious – windows, doors, vents etc

In a basement you’re most likely to see the first three, unless the basement is a walkout and in that instance, air transport can play a role.

Not seeing moisture damage doesn’t mean it isn’t occurring. Invest ten bucks or so in a hygrometer.  HygrometerIf your basement’s humidity level is more than sixty percent, it’s time to take steps to mitigate the problem.

Why sixty percent? This is the point at which our little microscopic friends begin thriving. What happens when organisms thrive? They multiply. Fun.

What can you do to reduce humidity in your basement?

First ensure that all gutters direct water at least a few feet away from your foundation.

Next, look for moisture damage and ensure there aren’t any plumbing leaks, if so have those fixed and ensure that none of the dry wall or insulation has turned into a mold factory

If your basement is unfinished, with dirt floors, install a vapor barrier -plastic sheeting- to do just that.

If it’s a minor, seasonal problem a product like DampRid can be useful, just make sure that the canister you buy is adequate for the square footage.

Danby PremiereIf the humidity problem is more than just during the spring, consider investing in a dehumidifier. Pictured to the right is one I have. As most of you know by now, I live in the South. I also have an older home and rather than crank the AC, I turn on the dehumidifier as lower humidity makes higher temperatures more comfortable (When you sweat it actually evaporates instead of just making you feel gross.) If you have a utility sink you can drain directly into that rather than fussing with the reservoir.

Once the humidity can be maintained below sixty percent, it’s time to thoroughly clean the basement. Don’t forget, if your washer is in the basement, to check it for mildew, too.

Good luck and feel better.

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

Another Case of Musty Odors

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Dear Home Ec 101,
The problem in our family is confined to specific cotton undershirts and one specific dresser drawer. It does not matter how we wash the shirts. We’ve soaked, used vinegar, borax, triple rinsed, air dried for a week, used the gas dryer and everything is fine until the shirts are put in a closet or that one drawer. Note, nothing bad has ever been in this closet or drawer. We’ve had them since brand new. After the clothes are confined there for a few weeks, they develop a strong odor that spreads to other clothes which would otherwise not get smelly. We’ve had to resort to banning that one drawer and going through the closets looking for cotton undershirts to re-wash (no other kind of cotton shirt is affected, even though they are usually worn against the skin without undershirts, so it’s not from body odor.) This only happens to some undershirts. Not even all, just some, even though they can all be in the same laundry load together. It seems to me that we will have to gradually separate the smelly from the non-smelly shirts then throw away the bad ones. I will never put anything in that one drawer again though. Nobody has ever had a clue about what could cause such specific smelliness. I look forward to your opinion.
Signed,
Mystified by Must

remove musty odor from drawers

Heather says:

I had an email exchange with this reader a few months ago. And admittedly, I dropped the ball in getting her a satisfactory answer.

We went back and forth for quite a while on this topic. I think this is a case of false pattern recognition.

Why? Human beings are designed to recognize patterns, it’s part of the way we are wired. A bazillion -technical term- years ago it helped us find food, remember which cave or clearing was our home, and to learn, over time, cause and effect – things like I didn’t feel well after eating that perhaps I shouldn’t eat it any more.

What is probably going on here?

I think at some point there was a particularly funky shirt that caused a faint odor in the drawer. This caused an association: stinky shirt came from this drawer. Have there been other stinky items from other drawers, probably, but this one was noteworthy. And the next time a stinky item came from that drawer the conclusion was – AH HA the clothing put in THIS drawer becomes funky.

Eh well, probably the damp items put in this drawer have the potential to become funky and it happens sometimes.

Almost every one of us is guilty of putting away slightly damp clothing at least once in a while. This isn’t a huge problem with clothing hung in closets as there is more air flow within a closet than a drawer. Damp clothes in a pile, like in a drawer are pretty much the perfect storm of mildew growth.

So even if the problem isn’t the drawer itself, how do we prevent funky shirt smells in the future?

Empty the drawer, dry it thoroughly. Maybe let it dry fully in the sun for an afternoon. Sunlight is great at killing mildew spores. I’d probably play it extra safe and do the same for the drawer above and below, just to get any lurking time bombs.

Treat the shirts like you would musty, mildewed towels. If they smell super funky, you aren’t going to wear them anyhow -we hope- so try not to stress about the possibility of fading.

Guide to Household Odors

Click the picture for lots more tips!

If there is any deodorant or anti-antiperspirant build up on the clothing, be sure to remove it.

Finally, ensure clothing is completely dry before placing it in drawers and consider adding a bar of your favorite soap or a sachet in the drawer. It can’t hurt.

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