Friday, March 01, 2013

How to Remove Underarm Odors from Washable Vintage Clothing

We've all had it happen. You put on a new-to-you vintage dress, head out the door and in a few minutes you're wondering who forgot to wear their deodorant today, until you realize with horror it's you!  Well, not you, but your dress that stinks to high heaven.  Or you run that washable new-to-you vintage dress through the laundry and while ironing it, you get knocked over with the stink when the hot iron hits the underarms.   It's the heat of the iron or the heat of your body that makes those hidden odors come alive.

If the garment you're dealing with is washable, here's how to get rid of those odors.

Borax is the magic ingredient.  See in the red bar at the bottom of the box it says, "Removes Stains - Neutralizes Odors"?  Yes, it works!  You can find Borax in the laundry aisle at your local grocery store.  It's a great thing to have around the house and can be used for lots of things besides laundry.  But simply adding Borax to the wash cycle won't deal with those hidden underarm odors completely.  You'll need to give your garment some special attention.  Here's what to do.

-  In a small plastic tub, lay your garment out with the underarm area flat in the bottom.  I usually treat the inside of the underarm area, as that is the side that lays next to the body.

-  Sprinkle a generous amount of Borax all over the underarm area.  Here, I've used about 1/2 cup of dry powder.
-  Next, get the water in the sink or tub running as hot as you can get it.  Hot water is the key, as it helps activate the Borax.

-  Use a spray attachment or run that hot water at a trickle and get the underarm area wet.  Use just enough water to make a thick paste with the Borax.  At this point you'll probably get a whiff of that smell again. Ewwwww.  Not to worry, it's just the hot water and Borax beginning to do it's job.
-  Let that paste sit for several hours or overnight.  As the water evaporates, the paste will dry.  You can re-wet it again with more hot water periodically to keep that Borax working.  I usually allow the Borax paste to sit there for at least 6 hours, but longer is better.
-  After that, just dump the entire dress, with the Borax paste in the laundry and wash it in a gentle cycle.  You can wash it with other things if you want.  The Borax won't hurt your other garments.
-  If you prefer, you can hand wash your garment.  You'll find the Borax will rinse out quite easily.
-  Line dry your garment and the smell should be gone!
-  If there is lingering odor, a second treatment with Borax should take care of it.  In this case, if you treated the inside of the underarm the first time, treat the outside the second time or vice versa.
-  If the odor is especially noxious, you may want to take a soft toothbrush and work that Borax paste into the fabric a bit. 
-  Watch out for color run with non-colorfast fabrics when using this method.  This is why I use the least amount of water possible to make that paste.  If you do see color run, don't panic as it will often wash away when you run the dress through the laundry. 

I've used this method successfully on hundreds of garments over the years.  Just keep in mind that your item must be washable, either by machine or hand.  Please don't use this method on dry clean only items.  In that instance, please consult with your dry cleaner and explain the problem so he can deal with it.