Dear Home Ec 101,
My husband and daughter have allergies and I am sensitive to certain scents, so when our beloved Tide began to irritate my daughter’s skin and their perfume seemed to get stronger with every bottle, we switched to a Free and Clear detergent with no dyes or scents. This has helped with the skin irritations immensely. However, now that we’ve been using it for a while, I’ve noticed our towels never smell “fresh”, even when they are straight from the dryer. It isn’t the typical musty or moldy smell you might get when leaving them in the washer too long and not truly stinky but just not nice. How can I make my towels smell better without resorting to perfumey detergents or dryer sheets?
Breathless in Bel-Air
You are in luck, what you seem to be experiencing is a simple case of detergent build up.
Some of the molecules in detergent have an interesting property, part of the molecule loves water and part of it loves oil. This allows the molecules to surround tiny particles of dirt and oil and bring it into the wash water. The problem is, there has to be enough water in the washing machine to have all off these molecules in the water and not clinging to fabric. If these molecules are clinging to the towels, they aren’t getting washed down the drain. These molecules tend to trap odors. The solution? Get rid of the excess detergent.
Gather a few of your towels at a time wash in the hottest water available with either Borax or vinegar. Vinegar lowers the pH of water, making it slightly more acidic, which can make it easier for the detergent molecules to go into solution. Borax works on the same principle, but on the basic or high pH side of things. If you use both at the same time, they tend to balance each other out and you just make some salt and waste a little money and time. Look for suds. If the water is sudsing and you didn’t add any detergent, you may have to repeat the process.
It’s very easy to get detergent build up in areas with hard water, you need to have enough detergent in the washer to surround all of the minerals in the water and enough to remove the soil, but too much and you’re back to not having fresh towels.
Make sure your towels are completely dry before they are folded and put away.
In the future use the least amount of laundry detergent possible and make sure the clothes washer is not overloaded, so the clothing can be fully rinsed. It will help reduce the chance of detergent redepositing on your towels.
*Note* Apparel should not be over-dried, this causes premature wear.
Finally, pay attention to where you store your towels. If it’s under a sink or in a a small closet, dampness may be an issue. Consider a product like Damp Rid to control the humidity and use an old fashioned sachet with your favorite, non-irritating scents to add a pleasant odor. I have pretty severe allergies, myself, and I’ve found that orange peels, cloves, vanilla, or real cinnamon tend not to bother me. It’s their synthetic counterparts that set off the sneeze machine.
Send your questions to email@example.com