Willy asked: My sister smells like mold and mildew. I do not, and I wash all our clothes. We live in the same house, and the laundry is never left sitting in the washer. It is completely dried before returning it to her closet. I don’t know where it is coming from. Please help me. Could this be a medical issue or medication? This house is only nine years old and extremely clean.
If you’ve noticed an odd odor resembling mold or mildew that seems to be with you no matter how much you wash, there are a handful of likely causes. The following list will help you narrow down potential causes and hopefully lead to a cure. With any luck, you’ll smell fresh and clean in no time!
If you have mold in the closet or drawers where your clothing is stored, they will easily take on the odor. Check wooden areas, unfinished ones in particular, for discoloration which can indicate mold. Thoroughly check closet floors for damp spots, especially if they’re carpeted. Look for discoloration on painted walls or fuzzy growth of any color on the walls or fixtures. If you can’t find signs of mold or mildew but the smell is there, try steam cleaning the carpet. Using baking soda as a carpet powder (sprinkle it on, wait an hour, then vacuum it up) can also work to temporarily remove a carpet odor.
Thoroughly inspect the mattress, box-spring, and area under and around the bed. Since much of our time is spent in bed, this is a prime location to pick up an odor.
- Even if you can’t see mold, it could be deep within the mattress. Consider putting the mattress in a plastic mattress bag for a couple weeks to see if that remedies the smell. Putting a mattress pad over the plastic will help to make the plastic less noticeable. Be sure to deodorize the mattress pad first to eliminate it as a potential cause as well. The mattress pad can be washed with a cup of white vinegar added to the rinse cycle.
- In the morning, pull down your bed covers to help the moisture from your breath and sweat to dry faster, which will reduce the presence of odor-causing bacteria.
- Opening a bedroom window for an hour every day can also help to refresh the stale bedroom air that develops each night as you add more carbon dioxide.
- If you would rather not open a window, there are some houseplants that can help to clean the air, such as ferns and ivys.
- All cotton sheets usually hold onto odors less than cotton or polyester blends, so consider getting new bed sheets as well.
General Odor Removal
- A mold odor eradicator to help with the scent.
- Some home remedies you can try are a bowl of either white vinegar, baking soda, or fresh (unused) coffee grounds. Set the bowl near the source of the odor for a few hours or even a few days. For a larger room, use more than one bowl.
- A dehumidifier will also work wonders in a room with a mold or mildew odor, but the only true cure is to get rid of the source of the smell, so it may be time to call in a pro.
Leaving wet clothes in a gym bag or the washing machine even just once for a few hours can cause a smell that is difficult to eradicate.
- Rewash clothing with a cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle to help get rid of any lingering smells.
- Check the tags as well; acrylic fabrics hold on to odors more than other fabrics, as do permanent press and resin-treated fibers (which can include cotton).
The Laundry Hamper
Give your laundry hamper the sniff test to see if the odor is there.
- Plastic hampers can be wiped out with a mix of equal parts white vinegar and water.
- Fabric-lined hampers can be steamed with a clothing or upholstery steamer. Be sure to leave the hamper open and point a fan on it after steaming to help it dry as quickly as possible to avoid having the mold return due to the moisture.
- For cardboard hampers, use the guide How to Remove Mold from Cardboard.
- If you often have clothing that gets wet from gym sweat or washing dishes, consider switching to an open basket, which will allow the clothing to dry more quickly.
- You can occasionally sprinkle some baking soda into your hamper directly onto the clothes to help reduce odors until they can be washed. You don’t have to worry about removing the baking soda before washing either; just toss the clothes in with the powder.
Closed-toe shoes can harbor odor-causing bacteria. Sprinkle some baking soda or salt into each shoe and leave it overnight, then shake it out in the morning. If you don’t need to wear the shoes, you can leave the salt or baking soda in them until you do.
The Washing Machine
Some machines, front loading styles in particular, can develop mold or mildew in the machine and the smell will transfer to clothing. Clean the washing machine with white vinegar, paying close attention to any seals, rubber fittings, or dark areas that can hide mold. You can run the machine with just water and white vinegar, but you’ll still need to peel back any seals to wipe away mold if it’s there.
Make sure the vent is clean and that there’s no lint stuck inside the machine. Dryers can pick up odors that transfer to clothing in the drying process.
Change your diet.
One of the greatest contributors to your body odor is your diet. Have you ever noticed how your odor is particularly pungent the day after you eat asparagus or you smell a little sweeter in the days after eating a lot of fruit, especially pineapple? Other foods to watch out for are ones that have high sulfur content, such as eggs, garlic, onions, and cabbage. Caffeine can also contribute to body odors. You can systematically cut out foods from your diet until you figure out which one is the culprit. Adding in more leafy green vegetables like kale, chard and spinach to your diet can help to remove any odor as well. Fresh parsley is also helpful for deodorizing your body.
Lower your Stress Level.
Sweat does not always stink. In fact, sometimes it’s odorless. When you are under a lot of stress or are angry, the apocrine glands cause your sweat to smell more musky, so simply lowering your stress level can change your body odor. If you think this may be a problem, switch to using a deodorant as well. There are bacteria that flourish in the presence of apocrine fluid and deodorant will work to kill them, removing any additional odor they may be causing. An antipersperant only works to stop you from sweating temporarily. You can also try wiping some white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide over your armpits to help kill the bacteria.
Sloughing off some dead skin can help remove any odor that may be clinging to your body. An easy body scrub recipe to make is a mix of equal parts sea salt and coconut oil. You can add in other items as you see fit, such as a squirt of honey if you have a lot of cuts or bug bites, or a scoop of fresh coffee grounds, which can also be helpful for deodorizing. Be sure to rinse out the shower with some soap after using it to remove the oil residue, which can be slippery. Olive oil can be substituted instead if needed; they both are antimicrobial. Sugar can be substituted for salt if needed.
Deodorize your body.
At the end of your shower, rinse your hair and your body with vinegar. You can either use undiluted apple cider vinegar or a mix of one part white vinegar in two parts water. It helps to warm the vinegar slightly as room temperature liquid can feel cold after a hot shower. Vinegar is a very effective deodorizer and also will help to lower your skin’s pH. Some shampoos and body products are too alkaline (even neutral pH is too alkaline) and can disrupt the pH balance of your hair or skin. Rubbing a sliced lemon or lemon juice over your skin can help to lower its pH as well. Skin is naturally slightly acidic, which helps to prevent bacteria from living on it.
Change body care products.
With the wide variety of chemicals in products today, it is possible that one ingredient could be reacting with your natural odor or body chemistry in a way that creates a bad smell.
- Just switching to any new product may work, or if you want something completely different, try a product from a health food store. These products tend to have a very different chemical profile than the more common varieties. For example, you can find a deodorant that is salt-based or a body wash that is coconut-based.
- Another option is to get an antibacterial body product like Dial soap to kill any odor-causing bacteria that may be on your skin.
- Replace your loofa or other shower sponge product that may be harboring odor-causing bacteria as well.
Soak your feet.
Feet are a common source of funky smells. Soak your feet in a foot bath of either tea or salt water to deodorize them. For a salt soak, mix one cup of either sea salt or Epsom salt in a gallon of water. This can be repeated daily for two weeks if needed.
Call a doctor.
If the above solutions have not proven effective in removing the smell, it may be time to head to the doctor for a checkup. Even a mild infection can cause an odd body odor, and getting one can be as easy as walking around barefoot or using someone else’s shower. If you are already taking medicine for a condition or illness, ask your doctor if it could be the cause of your strange odor. Fish oil supplements can also contribute to strange body odors.
- If you tend to sweat a lot, attach maxi pads in the armpits of your shirts to absorb the sweat.
- Odor is often intensified by heat, so lowering the temperature in your home may help to keep odors at bay.
- Also consider where you are spending time. Perhaps the smell is getting picked up from an activity or place you frequent?
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