Unfortunately for some allergic and most sensitive people, brand-new garments, even if they’re made of untreated 100%-cotton, can release strong odors that will require special cleaning techniques to remove them.
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Why is this so? Many new-clothing odors are due to the presence of chemicals that have been applied to the fibers. This may have occurred during the plant’s cultivation, or later during milling and manufacturing. For example, a non-water-soluble form of formaldehyde has become a common chemical treatment applied to some 100%-cotton items. Undergoing this process provides permanent wrinkle-resisting qualities. Realistically, non-water-soluble formaldehyde odors can be difficult if not impossible to significantly remove. The best advice is to avoid buying items with wrinkle-resisting treatments in the first place.
While the use of formaldehyde as a wrinkle-resisting compound is fairly well known, fewer people are aware that other items may have similar chemicals in them. That’s because some dyes and sizings also use bothersome chemical compounds. What is sizing? Sizing is nothing more than a temporary, stiffening glaze. Its purpose is to help retain the original shape of an item, so its appearance remains attractive to potential purchasers. Unlike the formaldehyde chemicals used to create wrinkle resistance, the chemicals used in sizing are usually water soluble. Therefore, they’re generally designed to wash out in about three to four washings. (Of course, chemically sensitive people may find it’ll require more than that for them.)
Unfortunately, even undyed organic-cotton fabric can be bothersome—just because of cotton’s strong, natural, grainy smell. This is probably the result of crushed cotton seeds releasing their natural resins and oils into the surrounding cotton fibers during ginning.
Furthermore, any item—no matter what it’s made of—can (and usually does) absorb a variety of ambient odors. These may include perfumes, air fresheners, pesticides, combustion gases, or tobacco odors picked up at manufacturing plants, warehouses, transport vehicles, or at retail outlets.
If you find new clothing odors objectionable, some sensitive people have found that adding 1/2–1 cup of powdered milk per wash load will help remove these smells. Also, borax (about 1/3–1/2 cup per load) will often help. However, be careful when using borax with dark fabrics because of its mild bleaching effect. In addition, baking soda can help make your new clothes more tolerable. In this case, you might try using 1/2–1 cup per load. Many sensitive people find that in order to sufficiently remove the odors using one of these natural powders, they often have to repeat the wash cycle over and over again—perhaps as many as ten times—depending on how sensitive they are.
One product that some people have found particularly effective at removing new clothing odors is zeolite. Two- and ten-pound containers of natural zeolite are available. Powdered zeolite can also often be purchased from local chemical supply companies in bulk (50 or 100 pound bags) at lower cost. To use this simple mineral powder, add two level tablespoons to the washer and agitate to dissolve the granules completely. (Note: Some people may want to wear a dust mask when using this product.) After that, add a new garment and soak it for several hours. Then run it through a complete wash/rinse/spin cycle. Of course, you can repeat the entire regimen from the beginning if you find it necessary.
Another simple odor reducer is white vinegar. Vinegar has the added benefit of helping fabric retain its color—something that the powders mentioned above can’t do. To use white vinegar, pour 1-2 cups into the washer—the exact amount depends on the load size. By the way, a number of sensitive individuals find that if they alternately wash with vinegar and then baking soda, their new clothes seem to become tolerable sooner.
Yet another possibility to remove unwanted odors in new clothing is to use about 1/8–1/4 cup SafeChoice Super Clean (AFM) for each wash load. This unscented, undyed, biodegradable, synthetic, liquid detergent is sold by most AFM dealers. However, be aware that Super Clean can bleach some colors slightly.
It’s not uncommon for some sensitive individuals to want to soak their problem clothing overnight in the washing machine to reduce unwanted odors. If you’re using baking soda, that may be fine. However, soaking overnight with vinegar, products containing bleach (regular or alternative bleaches), or other fairly reactive compounds can be potentially corrosive to the washer’s interior metal parts. Therefore, rust formation could easily form on steel that is sometimes exposed along the edges of porcelainized or painted surfaces. This rust could discolor fabrics. To soak clothing for more than a few hours, use a plastic bucket or some other type of container incapable of reacting. Then, remove the clothing, place it in the washer, and then add the liquid contents of the bucket to the load. At that point, you can run a complete wash cycle through.
No matter what you use to remove new clothing odors, extended airing may also be necessary. However, be sure to hang your clothing outdoors only in dry, uncontaminated surroundings. Some individuals have actually had to air certain items daily for a week or more. In fact, airing for months is not that uncommon for those persons who are extremely sensitive.
(This article is from the archives of the original Healthy House Institute, and the information was believed accurate at the time of writing.)
(Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The Healthy House Institute, LLC.)
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