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Friday, July 6, 2012

The stinky swimsuit solution

by Lili Mounce

We were up at family friend's house a week ago, and my two daughter's brought their swimsuits for a soak in the hot tub. When we gathered our things to leave, my daughters put their wet suits into a plastic grocery bag. Until yesterday, we had totally forgotten about the suits.  Uh, oh!

Do you know what happens when you leave wet swimsuits in a plastic bag for a week? The smell is horrible. Mildew is the culprit.

So, you've left your swimsuit or wet towel in a plastic bag or hamper all week. Mildew can make a big stink! How do you refresh your suit or towel? From cheapest to most expensive, here are 5 stink eliminating suggestions for you.

1) This is an old-timers solution for mildew. Fill a bathroom sink with lukewarm water amd 1 cup of white vinegar plus 1 tablespoon of salt. Add suits or towels (or anything with mildew smell), and swish around for a minute. Allow to soak for 30 minutes. (The salt and vinegar will kill the mildew.)

Drain the sink, press out most of the water, but do not rinse. Place item(s) in sun for several hours, until dry. Sun exposure will further kill any remaining mildew.

Wash item(s) in warm, soapy water and rinse very thoroughly. Repeat the rinse cycle. Dry thoroughly, and if possible, in the sun. (Hanging any laundry to dry in the sun will help remove mildew, leaving you with fresh-smelling linen and clothing.) 

Most of the time, this will do the trick.

2) If it's your towel that has a persistent smell, and you are using fabric softener, try omitting the fabric softener, adding a 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle instead, then sun drying. For some reason, fabric softeners, while smelling fragrant at first, can leave just enough moisture in the towel so that as it sits in the linen closet, it develops a bit of mildew smell.

3) Still stinkin' big time? Put the offensive item(s) into the washer, and fill with water to the appropriate fill-to line. Add 1 cup of baking soda. Run the machine just long enough to fully saturate the item(s) with the baking soda/water. Shut the machine off and allow to stand for 3 hours. Start machine back up and allow to run it's full cycle. Fill the machine with water and detergent, and run on warmest setting the fabric can handle. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer, and in most cases will rid clothing/linens of its malodors.

4) Not working yet? Try substituting Oxy Clean (or other oxygenated product), or borax, for the baking soda in the above instructions.

5) If the odor persists even further, consider one of the brands of hunting detergents designed to hide the hunter's human scent (products such as Scent-A-Way, available where hunting equipment and clothing are sold, a bit pricey, $10 for smallest bottle, I recommend trying everything else first).

If you notice a mildew smell on all your laundry, it could be that your machine needs cleaning. For a very detailed cleaning procedure that any normal person can do with everyday supplies, check out How to Clean Your Washing Machine.

For my two daughters' swimsuits, I went with #1 on the stink eliminating list. Lots of vinegar, lots of sun and a wash and double rinse. This was enough to solve the stink of the swimsuits.

Have you had success getting the stink out of laundry at your house? Tell me what you used.


  1. Thanks! I didn't know about the fabric softener issue--sometimes I have had problems with washcloths and towels. Too late for today's laundry but I will try that in the future! Do these techniques work for perspiration smells, too?

    1. Hi Kris,
      For sure the hunter's detergent will work. I believe it's carbon based. Products like Scent-A-Way are extremely effective at eliminating all human odors in clothing (and there are other brands, this just is the one I've seen advertised at Cabela's the outdoorsmen type place in our area, Wal-Mart may also have something similar),

      Baking soda may work better at deodorizing perspiration than vinegar. I would try making a paste of baking soda and water and rubbing into perspiration areas, then do the full-on soak with more baking soda. I would try that as my first step.

      The other complication with perspiration, both stains and odor, is, for most of us, that it's a mix of deodorant (which leaves a film) and body perspiration. A little cheap shampoo rubbed into perspiration areas on fabric should break this up and allow simpler things like baking soda and Oxy Clean to penetrate.

      Some people use pet stain and odor products with success on laundry for odors. And there's a product called Odoban, available at Wal-Mart, Sam's Home Depot. I haven't used Odoban, but have heard from a friend that it works quite well for teenage boy smells, and is fairly reasonable.

      If I come across anything else I'll add it. Hope you had a great 4th of July!

    2. I think I have Odoban hiding somewhere in my storage shelves! The previous owners of our house were smokers and I can testify that Odoban does a nice job of removing tobacco smells. I didn't realize you could use it on laundry.

      We had a great 4th. Perfect beach weather. I am using my day between guests to de-sand my house (6 kids at the beach tend to bring in lots of sand!) and catch up on laundry. Hope you enjoyed yours and have a great weekend.

    3. Kris, yes, use the Odoban as a presoak. Take your most offending items and put in the washer filled with warm water and about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of the Odoban. Let soak for about 2-3 hours. Drain, then wash with detergent as usual (you can also add about 1/4 cup Odoban to this wash load, if the items are really bad).

      The comments section is often the best part of a blog. Things come up/get added that offer some of the best info! I have heard that Odoban is good for getting out the smoker's smell from homes/apts. Did you use it for carpet shampoo and curtains?

      Our 4th was a nice family time. BBQ, fireworks and croquet.

      Desanding the house! That's a new house chore! Hope you enjoy the rest of your company (your parents, right?), and then it's crash-time! Have a great weekend, too!

    4. We bought new curtains--the smell was too bad. We used Odoban to wash down walls/cupboards/any flat surface. We used a dry shampoo, Capture, for the carpets. Removing the wallpaper (boy does wallpaper suck in tobacco smells!), and priming and painting the walls, was the most helpful. It was not a fun task!

      You have a great memory. Yup, my parents come tomorrow. I really do enjoy my summertime visitors. We live in west Michigan in the snowbelt so needless to say, we aren't a top destination spot in the winter. I try to make the most of my summertime visitors because all too soon I will feel isolated!

    5. Wow! It sounds like you had quite a chore, getting all the tobacco smell out. I never would've guessed wallpaper would be so porous and odor absorbing.

      Seattle is not exactly the winter destination spot, either. No one wants to come here knowing it's going to rain and then rain some more! But summer is beautiful. We never want to leave here in summer. So we take our family vacations in winter. Enjoy your company!

  2. I did something much more offensive than leave a swimsuit in a bag- I left a bag with several oranges and a banana wrapped up in a quilted blanket for a week in my trunk! Don't even ask how that happened. I returned to find the bag full of fruit slime that had oozed onto the blanket along with a ripe, disgusting scent. Washing with baking soda and drying in the sun did the trick. I am always forgetting things like this in the summer, so I'm glad to see your list of multiple fixes for swimsuit-in-bag syndrome!

    1. Hi Alicia,
      Oh, no! That must've been disgusting to deal with! I'm glad you were able to get the stink out! There would have been a little voice in my head that would say "just toss the blanket", then over-ruled by the louder voice that would tell me to just clean it up.

      I think, though, that I can probably top the fruit slime stink. Two years ago at Thanksgiving I had the turkey fat and drippings in a large measuring cup on the counter when my sleeve caught on the cup and I spilled the turkey fat all over myself (and the counter, cabinet fronts and floor). I tossed my turkey-fat saturated clothes into the hamper and forgot about them for about 5 or 6 days. Old turkey fat is about the worst smell I can imagine. I washed those clothes about 6 times in the hottest water, and tons of detergent before I thought to do a baking soda soak. I did eventually get all the stink out, but I still sometimes imagine I am smelling rancid turkey when I wear that shirt.

      So, you're not the only one who suffers from swimsuit-in-a-bag syndrome!
      Thanks for commenting!

  3. I'm still learning from you, while I'm improving myself.
    I definitely liked reading all that is posted on your website.Keep the posts coming.
    I liked it!

  4. Thank you for your informative post, Ms. Lili Mounce! I have found that using your methods as a First go-to step has always worked for me, even with more products and new detergents emerging on the market throughout the years since you first wrote and shared. Now, with my own college-aged kids doing their own laundry for the first time, your methods will continue through another generation.

    Hope to see more of your advice on other savy topics to follow your motto - "live richly, making intelligent choices with our finances".
    An appreciative Fan!
    - Martin

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Martin. I really appreciate that you took the time to comment.


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