Why is it so hard to get certain smells from fabric?



I don’t really understand what a smell even is because if it’s just tiny particles, why can’t it wash out? Why does it remain so strong? How can certain ones like mildew, urine, skunk etc. be so incredibly resistant to most soaps and detergents we use?

In: Chemistry

I dont know why you cant get them out. I dont know how large particles are for certain things

But if you throw in maybe 1/2 cup -1 cup give or take depending on size in load of vinegar in with the laundry load you can get a lot of smells out. Especially mold and sweat.

It’s not so much the size of the particles as the composition of them and the length of time they’ve been there. Like visible stains, smells can become ‘set’ in fabric (essentially baked in by the dryer because they weren’t completely removed by the washing). Most people have at least one shirt with a drip of food grease or oil on it that just resists all regular detergent washes… it requires finding the right cleaning agent, the right temperature, and sometimes some pre-wash work (e.g. scrubbing a baking soda paste into the stain and letting it sit, etc.). Since certain scents got into the fabric with a lot of oils (especially sweat and skunk), it makes sense that they’re more difficult to get out if we just chuck ’em in the regular wash like it’s no biggie.

For skunk, ignore advice to use tomato juice or various other “home remedies” — they don’t actually work and only mask the smell. Instead, use the method a chemist figured out actually works: in an open container with no lid mix a quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide with 1/4 cup baking soda and a teaspoon of liquid detergent. Use it immediately (may require several washes to completely remove the scent) and don’t try to store it (it can make a closed container explode!), if you have any leftover dilute it heavily with water and pour it down the drain. And it’s absolutely necessary to hang outside to air dry, skunk smell gets more and more difficult to remove if it bakes in. 😱

For sweat or mildew, add between 1/2 and 1 cup (depending on how strong the smell is) of baking soda to the wash cycle OR (the same amount of) white vinegar to the rinse cycle. If at all possible, hang outside to dry. 🙂