Musty Smell on Clothing

I have had a problem with my water heater leaking in my basement and leaving a ton of water on the floor. I didn't notice until it was too late, that some dark clothing got wet and sat in the water for some time.


I pre-washed and soaked everything in hot water with a combination of my normal laundry soap, Oxiclean, and color safe bleach and then washed everything in the same combination. Most things came clean just fine, but I have some jeans and such that still just plain stink like mold. Does anyone have any ideas to get these clean or should I just count my losses and throw these few items out?

By Danielle from MI


Musty Smell on Clothing

Have you tried putting vinegar in the wash? Sometimes it can remove odors from laundry. We normally use about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of vinegar, when our towels start to smell bad. (08/09/2010)

By WildIrish

Adventures with the Musty Old Trunk of Doom- A Love Affair with Vinegar.

I recently went to an estate auction where I found a very nice, but very dirty, old clothing trunk full of old clothes. It's the kind that you see on the top of stage coaches in Clint Eastwood movies. I knew it smelled, but I was enamored with the piece of furniture and thought a little mildew smell would be no big deal. Poor, poor naive me. Knowing what I know now, it really wouldn't be a big deal. Bring on the vintage clothes, I got this. But getting to this point was chaos.


For starters, let me explain that this trunk had clearly been being stored in a barn. It was covered with dust and spider webs and frankly, filled with silverfish. I didn't know about the silverfish until I got home. But a little soap and water had the outside looking oh so vintage chic, with a little oil on the old leather and metal cladding. The outside was no big deal. Then, I turned my attention to the innards. I don't know how old the clothes in the trunk are, or how long they have been sitting in the old barn. But I was told that some of the sweatshirts were WWII issue, and there is one full length petticoat that is probably turn of the century.

Most of it is men's farmer garb, but evidently in good condition, and most strange of all, my size. I'm tiny all the way around. Now, I love me my vintage, so I wasn't about to throw any of this away. We're talking a little over two good washing machine loads of wardrobe here. There didn't seem to be any rot or even moth holes. The only problem really was the smell.


The first really bad idea was to throw half of the mess into the clothes washer with as much bleach as was reasonably safe for the local water table. I probably did some injury with the sheer amount of bleach I actually used at the end of this. Within minutes, the entire house stunk of the horrible, greasy, evil mildewy smell. My instinct was to remove it from the house as soon as the load was done, but my mother was a little quicker on the gun than I was and ran it through again with more bleach, just trying to get the smell out of the house. I think we were shell shocked and didn't really understand what was going on at this point. After two washings, I took it all outside and dried it overnight on the chain link fence. It still reeked. I was now thoroughly terrified of the other half of clothes still left with the trunk.


Basically the house stunk for a week. We opened windows, we washed walls, we burned candles. We ran the clothes washer through various cleaning cycles with bleach. All we really ended up doing was making ourselves sick with mold allergies (and probably bleach fumes). And the clothes still stunk, and now they were a little faded from all the bleach. While I was trying to figure out what to do with the clothes, I began to tackle the trunk itself. First, I stripped the old paper out of it and scrubbed the insides with comet. It still smelled, but at least I was sure the silverfish were eradicated. Then I bought a quart of lacquer to seal the wood.

My thinking was that since lacquer is so thin, it would soak up really good and seal down any remaining mold. And it did, but the lacquer smell was pretty potent too. And the wood was so old and dry that the quart can didn't even make two coats. So I ended up getting another quart of polyurethane (clear satin), which is slightly thicker and far less stinky, and gave it another three coats. Finally, after five coats, the pores were starting to fill in, it started to have that satiny rich look, and the mold smell is completely gone.


But back the clothes. Frankly terrified of these toxic clothes and wondering if I was going to have to toss the whole thing in the garbage, I read online that several people had used either liquid fabric softener or vinegar to get rid of moldy smells in towels. So I hedged my bets and got both. I got the uber cheap fabric softener, Purex lavender, I think. Then, not about to bring these clothes anywhere near the house, I got out this big vat we usually use as a dog bed. To give you an idea, it's large enough that our 90 lb. golden retriever has had puppies in it. I filled it with water from the hose, dumped in a gallon of vinegar (might have been overkill), three capfuls of fabric softener, and in went the washed-half of the moldy smelling clothes.

The effect was instantaneous. I don't know what the science is, but vinegar did what bleach could not do. I want to know if the smell is caused from the living mold, if bleach is just not killing the fungus, or if the vinegar somehow breaks down some sort of toxin in the air? I really want to know the mechanics of this. For good measure I let them soak for another three hours in the sun. I am so smitten with this notion of a wise and powerful vinegar that I honestly don't know if I have any cause to buy bleach ever again.


Long story short, I tossed these over the chain link and dumped in the other half of the clothes. I was a little dubious, even still. This second batch hadn't been machine washed and bleached twice and had been sitting sealed in a garbage bag outside all week in some corner where we could give it a wide berth. Again, instantaneous results. If I had only known about this before sealing the wood inside the trunk, I certainly would have given it a good dousing with vinegar just for good measure. I mean, maybe I'm downplaying the fabric softener too much here, but I really think it was the vinegar. I went inside and poured a bunch of both vinegar and fabric softener in the washing machine, ran it on a cleaning cycle, and the funky smell in the house went away completely with just one cycle, after a week of terrorizing the entire house.

Listen to me, I'm practically waxing poetic over vinegar. (But seriously. Distilled White. Try it, it will change you.) I've also learned over the years that you can put a couple of drops of vinegar in a Netty Pot (sinus rinse doohickey) and it helps with things like sinus infections (because, as you might have guessed, I'm very allergic to mold). Diluted vinegar is also great for breakouts or just that tacky moist skin you, or at least I do, sometimes get on the face and neck. And apparently, it can rehabilitate vintage barn finds. Vinegar, old friend, you just vamped me with a new wardrobe. (10/10/2010)

By encartaphile


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