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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Smelly Reaction to Detergent

By Dr. Laundry April 19, 2010

Q. When I was younger, my mother used Gain as our detergent and had to switch because when everyone in the family would sweat, the clothes gave off a bad odor. I have been using Tide and for some reason that same situation is coming back, but only for me. Is there something I can add other then bleach to my colored clothes to get rid of whatever is causing the odors once sweat is introduced to the clothing?

A. Odor is a very complex subject. When we add a fragrance to a product it can be made up of up to 100 different compounds. These all have different odor characteristics and can also react with different items and chemicals in the wash liquid. Some of these materials are also what we call substantive, which means they deposit on the clothes and create that “fresh” odor. Unfortunately, if there is some remaining sweat or its components, this may create a new and unintended smell which some consumers may find objectionable.

You didn’t indicate which version of Tide that you are using or if other family members are also turned-off by the new smell. Sometimes, individuals are very sensitive to certain odors while others don’t even notice.

I would consider switching to a different version of Tide, like the Tide Free Liquid Laundry Detergent, which has no dyes or fragrance. This could test the bad-odor creation theory. If it still persists, then it more likely is a residual sweat problem or diet issue. Make sure you’re using the recommended amount of detergent and washing in the warmest water recommended on the care label to insure you’re getting the maximum cleaning from the detergent. After that, I would definitely recommend adding 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach to your white loads and see if this extra cleaning helps solve the problem. For color clothes, it’s more difficult if this is a cleaning problem since all the color-safe bleaches like our Clorox2® Stain Fighter & Color Booster contain hydrogen peroxide which is a much weaker/less effective active than the sodium hypochlorite in Clorox® Regular-Bleach.

Give these a try and let me know how it turns out or if you have any further questions.