How To Remove Odours From Hand-Me-Down Clothes

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Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and author of the New York Times bestselling book, My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag ... And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha. Her flagship column, "Ask a Clean Person," debuted in 2011. Here on Offspring, we're launching a new iteration of it, focusing on parenting and all the messes it brings. 


Jolie, I bought a secondhand onesie on Facebook and it smells like perfume or fabric softener or something? I've been trying to get the smell out, and nothing is working. What do I dooooo?

A bit of background on this question before I get into the answer: This was asked of me by a friend of mine. I mention that because I had a suggestion, one that I'll get to in just a sec, that totally did the trick for her. So! That seemed like a good thing to mention before we get into the meat of today's column. Also, I mentioned the question on a recent episode of my podcast in the course of talking about nuking odours in gym clothes. I peddle in all kinds of smells, is basically the thing.

The Dr. Bronner's Solution

While there are many ways to remove strong odours in laundry, some of which I'll detail downcolumn, there's one product that works for everyone I recommend it to, including the letter writer here. So let's start with it!

It's Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Liquid Soap, which I learned from working with two readers who had gasoline-soaked pants in need of cleaning, is aces at getting very strong smells out of launderable items. You can use the unscented kind, which they bill as their baby formula, or one of the scented ones if you prefer (our letter writer used the lavender; the women who soaked their pants in gasoline used peppermint).

I've long held a special place in my heart for Dr. Bronner's, which has to do with being sent to live in the woods for two weeks at age 14 instead of starting freshman classes, but that's another story for another day. The thing about the Dr. Bronner's, and why we used it in the woods, is that it's biodegradable, so we wouldn't muck up the lake we bathed in every morning with, like, our Herbal Essences. (It was the '90s, don't judge.)

For laundry use, you'll substitute Dr. Bronner's for your regular laundry detergent. The Dr. Bronner's website helpfully offers a Dilutions Cheat Sheet:

Laundry: ⅓ -- ½ c. of soap for a large load in a normal washer. Add ½ c. vinegar to the rinse cycle. Use half of these amounts for HE.

The white vinegar, as an aside, serves two purposes when used in the rinse cycle of the wash. The first is as an odor-eliminator and the second is as a natural fabric softener. Isn't that so grand?!?

Some Other Odor Eliminating Detergents and Boosters

Though we know for sure that Dr. Bronner's will work to solve this very smelly problem, it's not the only option out there. So let's round this out with a few other products that can be part of your odor-eliminating arsenal.

An Odor-Eliminating Detergent: The Sweethome recently updated their guide to laundry detergents, and their pick in the "best against odours" category was Tide Plus Febreze Sport. Quoth The Sweethome, "This funk abolisher blew away the competition during testing when it came to removing smells." It is not, however, fragrance- and dye-free, which is a thing that many of you will want to take into consideration when it comes to laundering baby items.

Borax: Borax is an excellent laundry booster that can serve all kinds of functions, from removing poop stains to ridding clothes, sheets and towels of soap residue. It's also quite good on odours, but it tends to shine more when it comes to fungi- or ammonia-based smells and may not be as clutch with perfumes.

Baking Soda: I'm going to level and tell you that I don't find baking soda to be all that great when it comes to odor removal in the wash. (It is quite good at brightening up whites! But that's not what we're here to talk about today.) So why mention it at all? Because it's a product so commonly associated with odor management that it's worth giving a nod to. If you do want to try it out as an odor eliminator in the wash, add ½ cup of the baking soda to the rinse cycle.

Do you have a tried and true odor eliminating detergent or laundry booster? I would for sure like to hear about it!

WATCH MORE: Home Ideas & Life Hacks

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