How Do You Remove Toxic Fragrance Chemicals from Clothes?

How to Remove Fragrance Loaded Laundry Detergent from Clothes by

A long time friend just asked us a really great question and we need your help offering her solutions that really work.  So activate your Non-toxic Ninja superpowers and help us out, will you?

Do you know if there’s anything a person can do to get the toxic fragrance chemicals out of clothing sooner?  If Grandma washes something she brings over for the kids, I end up having to wash it 10 times and still the scent lingers.  What can I use to get rid of the allergy-inducing smell quicker?

We’ve always tried various combinations of vinegar, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. But we’d love to know what magic formula have you found to get the job done without having to put the clothes through 10 wash cycles.

Here Are the Helpful Tips We’ve Heard from You

Kathy T. Says:

If the smell still lingers after that many washings and a vinegar rinse, it sounds like Grandma may be using dryer sheets or fabric softener, which are fat/wax-based, and fuse with the fibers of the clothes. She’ll need to strip the oily/waxy residues. I know it isn’t the most wholesome choice, but running the clothes in a hot cycle with 1 tbs (1tsp for HE) of dish soap, followed by a hot cycle with 1/2 cup vinegar, should do the trick. This is the method cloth diapering parents use to remove things like rash cream build-up. Hope it helps!

Betsy of Eco Novice Says:

We have this problem frequently with hand-me-down clothes. I buy a lot of kids clothes in thrift stores as well, and try to avoid the most heavily fragranced ones. But I have two SILs that use the whole arsenal of products on the clothes we get as hand-me-downs. I wash with RLR, which is what cloth diaper users use to strip their diapers of detergent. Then I might wash another time with just hot water until no suds (just like stripping diapers). Finally, I line dry FOREVER. Until I can’t smell or barely smell the fragrance. Some fragrance I never really can remove completely : ( especially synthetics like a fleece jacket, so then I just have to make a judgment call about whether my kids will use it or not. I mention this process in a couple of posts HERE and HERE.

Photo credit: Ralph Hockens via photopin cc

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Alicia Voorhies is a Registered Nurse who decided to take a break to relax and enjoy her young kids after 13 years of working with disabled adults. She began to explore the world of alternative health ideas and was immediately attracted to the mysteries of endocrine disruptors and their effect on children. In 2007 she founded The Soft Landing along with her mom and sisters to help parents provide a safe, natural home for their children without drowning in an overwhelming sea of information.

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  • Cindy @ OnePartSunshine

    Good question! My mother-in-law uses fabric softener that is so strong that even her trash can and extension cords smell like it! She washed a load of clothes for me almost a year ago and some of them still smell.

    • The Soft Landing Sisters

      I believe it, Cindy! My son’s friend accidentally left his sweat pants at our house. I washed them today and put them in my son’s room, not realizing they weren’t his. He picked them up, smelled them, and immediately said, “Oh these are Jack’s.” It’s just crazy how powerful those fragrance chemicals are! ~Alicia

  • Kirsten McCulloch

    Oh, I had a similar experience with a baby sleeping bag I bought on eBay. It *stank* of chemical ‘perfume’. I had to wash it at least half a dozen times and soaked it overnight twice as well, before we could even think about using it.

    • The Soft Landing Sisters

      Isn’t is crazy Kirsten? I actually get headaches from people just walking by me sometimes, leaving wafting chemicals in their wake. ~Alicia

      • Deb

        Me, too! My husband just had cancer surgery, and the visiting nurse who came on Monday left a fabric softener smell so strong that we are still airing out the house five days later. I would think they would teach nurses who are going into sick peoples houses not to wear heavy fragrances, including fabric softeners!

        • ProtectrKids

          I agree. There are so many toxic chemicals that they use in anything with a fragrance,except for therapeutic essential oils .Health care professionals should know better, since there is so many potential adverse health effects from fragrance products but they don’t . I am a RN and I had to leave my job with a county health department after developing multiple chemical sensitivities due to my supervisor’s and secretary’s perfume use and all the perfumed products she brought in for everyone at work. After that I became very sensitive to even small amounts of synthetic fragrance.

  • JBA

    Would this work with that “new denim” smell? That drives me crazy… dark denim seems to always have this awful smell.

    • The Soft Landing Sisters

      Another great question, JBA! The nasty smell coming off daughter’s black jeans is enough to kill my sense of smell, so I’ll be trying Kathy’s suggestion on them for sure. ~Alicia

  • Betsy (Eco-novice)

    We have this problem frequently with hand-me-down clothes. I buy a lot of kids clothes in thrift stores as well, and try to avoid the most heavily fragranced ones. But I have two SILs that use the whole arsenal of products on the clothes we get as hand-me-downs. I wash with RLR, which is what cloth diaper users use to strip their diapers of detergent. Then I might wash another time with just hot water until no suds (just like stripping diapers). Finally, I line dry FOREVER. Until I can’t smell or barely smell the fragrance. Some fragrance I never really can remove completely : ( Esp. synthetics like a fleece jacket, so then I just have to make a judgment call about whether my kids will use it or not. I mention this process in a couple of posts:

    The RLR plus the line drying really helps a ton.

    • The Soft Landing Sisters

      Thanks SO much for your magic recipe Betsy! I’m adding it to our list of solutions now. ~Alicia

      • Regina Ryerson

        Thanks, Betsy! I’ll try your process sometimes. But unless there’s full public disclosure of ingredients ( I can’t find any for RLR), we don’t know if we’re substituting one set of chemicals for another. Fragrance can be any of hundreds of chemicals. And just because we can’t smell fragrance, doesn’t mean fragrance chemicals aren’t there.

  • Anna @GreenTalk

    I bought an antique couch that I didn’t realize that smelled of perfume. No matter what I did to clean it the smell never came out. I had to re-upholster. Same thing happened with a bolt of fabric I bought at a yard sale. I couldn’t get the smell out no matter what I did. I even tried using an ozonator. In the end, I had to give the fabric away.

    • The Soft Landing Sisters

      That is UNREAL Anna! These outrageous fragrance chemicals just shouldn’t be allowed. ~Alicia

      • Anna @GreenTalk

        I get sick being around people who have too much perfume on.

  • Organic Baby University

    I will soak in vinegar and baking soda for 24 hours. Then wash in hot water with vinegar several times. Leaving outside to dry helps too! Another option is real old fashioned lye soap. Do one wash with that too!

  • rachel sarnoff

    Amazing how those toxic chemical fragrances last, especially when you stop using them and are desensitized! After washing, I hang them to dry in the sun, that seems to help.

  • Belinda

    Thanks for all of these ideas, this is especially needed since I just had to do a load at the laundromat, I used the dryer and when I took my clothes out I realized my clothes smelled like dryer sheets! I’ve rewashed them now twice and they still smell. Horrible, horrible stuff. There oughta be a law!

  • Living Natural Today

    Thank you for asking this question! All of the comments have been great! Toxic chemicals and fragrances on our clothing and other products are a big concern. I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, so these are things I have to constantly avoid, or else I get symptoms flaring up. Glad to see you all realize how toxic these things are! The more people who start to realize it, the more pressure there would on manufactures to begin making changes to their ingredients. Maybe one of these days these harmful chemicals will be outlawed.

    • The Soft Landing Sisters

      Oh boy, you really suffer from those darn fragrance chemicals hoisted on you by unsuspecting people then, huh? We do need to just keep talking about it and pushing for change. Go moms! ~Alicia

    • Deb

      I, too, suffer from MCS. Right now, it is 3 AM. I have been up all night, trying to air out my bedroom, as my laundry room is located in the half bath by my bed. I used tide pods today for the first time, trying to get rid of the smell of the all free and clear. Neither of those products was free or clear! How can I rid my washing machine of the smell? There are no clothes in it and it reeks of the tide. Now my nose and throat are burning, and I cannot sleep!

      • Living Natural Today

        Sorry to hear this. I totally understand. Tide is one of the worst offenders! I recommend looking at the Environmental Working Groups database when shopping for cleaners. They grade products. Look for products with an “A”. I’m not sure what will take the smell away. Maybe try wiping the inside of your washer down (a few times) with vinegar.

  • Belinda

    Well I feel silly that it took me this long to think of this, but I just put the very smelly pants that I washed 4 times (various methods, vinegar, baking soda, hadn’t yet tried Dawn – I don’t like that smell either – or RLR) in a hot water and castile soap only soak. Washed them out, rinsed them, hung them to dry and the smell seems to be gone. I am going to try this with more smelly Grandma washed clothes and hope my luck continues, thank goodness for castile!

    • The Soft Landing Sisters

      Wow, that’s fantastic news Belinda! Who knew something as simple as castile soap could do the trick? ~Alicia

  • Danika @ Your Organic Life

    I had someone ask me this on Twitter a while back. It seems to be a common problem, and one we are becoming more aware of as we remove toxic chemicals from our lives that desensitize our noses. Most of the time 1 or two washes with vinegar and washing soda will work in the hottest water the clothes can take. However, if that doesn’t work, the comment from Kathy above is likely correct, it’s due to fabric softeners & dryer sheets. However, you may be able to remove the coating by soaking in vinegar or boiling them (just as you do to strip cloth diapers) rather than using Dawn.

    • The Soft Landing Sisters

      So true Danika, and thanks for the tips! ~Alicia

  • Dymtro Khrapko

    Some specialised laundromats have pressurised Ozone chambers which gas all mal-odours. DO NOT take garments with elastics or spandex the Ozone will oxidise the rubber.

    Wash them a few times at home, air dry, then take a few in, one garment at time would be expensive. Also, specify that the garment not be dry cleaned afterwards many laundromats do it automatically, and it’s often included in the price.

  • Marianne

    Hi Ladies! I am very comforted to know that I’m not the only one that believes fragranced laundry products and perfumes should be banned from stores. It’s truly toxic and makes life tough for those of us who suffer from asthma/allergies. What can we do to draw attention to this national problem? Maybe the major networks would run a campaign? It feels like thousands of people would love to see it removed from our daily lives, yet the elephant continues to sit in the room. It would seem that a process to educate the public on a major scale is called for? Thank you guys for being here and shining a light on the issue :)

    • The Soft Landing Sisters

      We’re definitely right there with you on that Marianne! We love what Women’s Voices for the Earth is doing to bring attention the problem of toxic fragrance chemicals. Be sure to check out some of the campaigns they have going on with Glade and other mainstream companies.

    • Rodella

      please do write every time. I get grief from the major manufacturers like Proctor and Gamble because one of their reps literally said that if people are buying the fragrances they are going to keep selling them. However there is the possibility if they knew the fragrances were a problem they could either “re-tool” and come up with fragrances that don’t make people ill (in the long ago past there were such things) instead of the “unstoppable” stuff made today and the way that happens is write emails or call any and every company or store when you find yourself feeling ill in the store or from their products. The American Lung Association is behind you on the asthma issue yet when I bring that up to my local “activists” even the Environmental Health Coalition that fragrances should not be used in public schools due to the incidence of asthma they shrug their perfumed shoulders and keep wanting to rant about industry…I write to somebody every day. A big one is health care, we ought not to be exposed to fragrances at Doctors offices or hospitals and emplyees and other patients should be asked to refrain from wearing them. Carbon and other odor neutralizers can take care of bodily fluid smells so their no reason to have to wear perfume. I went to a ob/gyn office that reeked of perfume, apparently they never heard of morning sickness! We pay for our health care, we are legally required to purchase health care plans so we ought to have access!

  • Dayna Colvin

    Ok here’s one for you, you buy a used appliance like a pc/tv monitor, plug it in and it starts to outgass a fragrance, hard to believe but this happens all the time when we buy used appliances like from Goodwill, we figure the previous owners sprayed themselves near the appliance and it somehow entered through the vents, since it pours of them, the latest smells like euphoria, get a perfume jag from this one and your brain takes to the hills, that’s how they used to say it back in the 50’s. Had to take it out of the house and put in the garage, any ideas how to get fragrance out of an appliance, clothes is hard enough, sheesh!

    • The Soft Landing Sisters

      Wow Dayna, that IS a good one! I’ve never experienced that before, but surely some of our friends have. We’ll ask everybody in a new post here soon, so keep you eyes (and nose!) on the blog, okay? ~Alicia

    • Rodella

      I find that rubbing alcohol to clean parts helps, though I started to buy new stuff not knowing whether bed bugs or something worse was coming along for the ride with used stuff. The new stuff off gases for awhile but I keep bags of zeolite around, always have a window open no matter what the temp and use hepa filters with carbon pre filters. I just wrote to the Goodwill and I recommend you do and explain your problem. They can’t remedy what people bring in but the more they hear from persons who can’t work for them or buy their stuff due to fragrance sensitivities the more likely they will start asking people to clean stuff with fragrance free before they donate it…after all they are supposedly helping certain parts of the disabled community and chemical sensitivity is now being recognized particularly for persons who are getting migraines or asthma from the fragrances.

    • The Soft Landing Sisters
  • Donna

    Forgot that my Ocuvite 50 pill was left in my flannel jacket pocket – I washed & dryed it. It had melted in the pocket and my husband got all of the hard crusted residue that was left behind out BUT NOW HAS LEFT A NASTY SMELL BEHIND!!!! Have washed it several times. This is my favorite keep warm jacket – the smell is horrific!!! Is there anything I can use other than regular detergent to try & get this TOXIC SMELL OUT!!! Thanking you in advance !!! Needing your help!!

  • E.

    Dawn dish soap CONTAINS toxic fragrance chemicals. So you are just adding more perfume to your clothes, this is not good advice.

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