How to Stop Your Clothes From Smelling of Vaginas, Bum Cracks, and Testicles
One morning, I had just sat down in my home office, after taking a thorough shower and donning clean clothes, when I smelled something odd. It smelled worse than someone who had not washed for a few days, or even a few weeks. Could it be me?
I went to Cindy, who was in the kitchen, and asked her to smell me. This is something I do from time to time. She’s exclaimed, “You smell like an old man’s bum crack!” Cindy couldn’t explain how she knew what an old man’s bum crack smells like. Nevertheless, I assumed that it was a bad thing.
I took all of my clothes off and smelled them carefully. I found that the groin area of my pants (we call them trousers where I come from) smelled like the unwashed testicles of a geriatric bullmastiff. “How could a clean pair of pants smell like this?” I wondered. Well, it turns out that there are many possible reasons, so let’s begin.
First of all, we recently moved into a brand-new apartment building, a building in which every apartment came equipped with an identical and new top-loading washing machine. Like everyone else living in these apartments, we soon discovered that these machines don’t actually work, if by “working” we mean washing clothes.
The drum fills with so little water, so delicately, that the “wash” cycle begins with most of the clothes floating above the water-line, like an upside-down iceberg that’s been dusted with washing powder. Next, the agitator rotates, with tiny alternating movements, as a beloved grandmother dancing like nobody is watching. It’s as if the machine’s inventors were attempting to model how a human washes clothes, but a human wearing a straight-jacket. This machine’s agitator is well named, but mostly for its effect on me.
As with the British Imperial System (inches, feet, and pounds), I’m not sure why top-loading washing machines still exist. I’m even more confused that they seem to be predominantly cherished in the USA, which leads the developed world. The rest of Planet Earth seems to have discovered long ago that by orienting the rotational axis of the drum so that it’s parallel to the surface of the Earth, gravity can be utilized to repeatedly lift the clothes into the air and then drop them, thereby both wetting the clothes and physically manipulating them enough to make them clean without damaging them. Can I get an Amen?
We contacted the management in our apartment building to debug the issue with this washing machine. Maintenance personnel were deployed to our location, and they determined that we were both using the machine correctly, and that the machine was operating as designed: it filled with water, and then jiggled like a toddler.
After much experimentation, I discovered that I could make the machine reasonably functional by letting it fill with water before pausing it and manually manipulating the clothes, sinking them under the water and dissolving and distributing any cleaning products that I had added. Then, once the cycle was complete, I learned to return the machine to the rinse cycle, let it fill with water, and then pause it and manipulate the clothes in the clean water again before allowing it to rinse and spin for a second time. Without adding this second, manually-assisted rinse, dark clothes would dry covered with visible, white streaks of detergent.
In summary, I discovered that our washing machine works reasonably well with manual assistance. It’s therefore more of a washing aid than a fully-fledged washing machine. Washing clothes at our place takes focus, attention, timing, and patience. But this isn’t an article about washing machines, and I had already resolved this issue when I realized that my supposedly clean pants smelled like the dismembered testicles of a corpse. It was time to step this investigation up a notch.
A few years ago when I had a really effective front-loading washing machine, I noticed that sometimes the clothes that I wore during workouts—board shorts, quick drying t-shirts, and underpants—would develop a poopy smell that would not wash out. I came to understand that this was the smell of mold growth and the waste products of that mold. I had a theory that if I could get the invisible but smelly substances out of the clothes, then I could also remove the smell.
I had also struggled with my sheets and pillow cases becoming greasy from my skin oil. They would get so impregnated with grease that washing would not remove the darkened areas. I found that soaking the sheets in a strong oxygen bleach solution for 12 to 24 hours, before washing, completely dissolved the grease.
So I experimented with soaking my moldy gym clothes for a day or two in oxygen bleach before washing, and I discovered that it completely removed the moldy smell. It salvaged good quality clothing that would otherwise have gone in the trash. When I recently tried using the same soaking technique with my pants, I found that they smelled super-clean after washing.
All my life, the armpits of my old t-shirts have been discolored with a white stain from aluminum-based anti-perspirant. This seemed to stop happening after I started using a natural deodorant. Then, not too long ago, I had noticed when folding my t-shirts that they had slightly darker marks in the armpits. Around the same time, I also noticed that when my armpits would sweat at work, they would immediately have a musky, body-odor (B.O.) smell. I thought that this was normal, or at least I thought that my body was generating the smell. Friends even told me that the smell was due to something in my diet.
So when I tried applying the soaking technique to my t-shirts, I was elated to discover that the dark stains in the armpits went away completely. I was also very surprised to discover that my armpit B.O. problem was mostly eliminated. My armpits often sweat, but they don’t smell bad.
At this point, I tried soaking all of our clothing that has close skin contact or absorbs bodily fluids, and I discovered even more miracles: I never thought it was possible to fully remove the marks from the gussets of women’s underpants. Yes, I just wrote that. My daily tasks don’t only involve advancing artificial intelligence technology. After soaking and washing Cindy’s underpants using the technique, they dried looking (and smelling) 100% brand-new.
It goes even further: I always thought that having smelly feet was normal and unavoidable. If I took my shoes off in polite company, I had developed a strategy of slowly removing them, first lifting out one heel, and then after a while the whole foot, and then repeating with the other shoe. I theorized that by releasing the pungent aroma in gradual increments, I would both reduce the instantaneous aromatic load, thereby evading detection, and also condition the olfactory senses of those present in the same way that it’s possible to boil a frog alive by slowly turning up the heat. Even though anyone entering the room would be instantly appalled, those present would be blissfully ignorant of the stench emanating from my sweat-drenched socks. So, I also tried the soaking technique on my socks, and I was surprised to discover that my feet stopped smelling.
There are many different brands of oxygen bleach, but the most famous is OxiClean. The main ingredient in all oxygen bleaches is sodium percarbonate, which is a simple combination of sodium carbonate (washing soda) and hydrogen peroxide (non-chlorine bleach). When the sodium percarbonate powder is dissolved in water, it breaks down into these two components. Sodium carbonate is highly alkaline and also softens water, which enables it to be a particularly powerful detergent that can remove stains like grease, oil, blood, and wine. Hydrogen peroxide is not only a mild bleaching agent (though it won’t bleach out dyes), but is also a disinfectant that degrades organic compounds. It kills molds, viruses, and bacteria, and destroys fungal and bacterial spores. Nevertheless, using oxgyen bleach should not hurt your conscience because hydrogen peroxide easily breaks down into hydrogen and water, and while sodium carbonate does not degrade so easily, it is not toxic to either humans or the environment.
I have found that the process of soaking clothes in oxygen bleach works well using warm or hot water. Sometimes I soak clothes in buckets, and sometimes in the tub of our top-loading washing machine; I pause the machine once it’s filled and then add the oxygen bleach and the clothes. I’ve been experimenting with soaking clothes in cold water, but it doesn’t seem to work as well.
I’m very careful with my clothes, and I try to make them last a very long time. I usually use a delicate wash cycle with cold water, and I usually hang-dry the clothes rather than baking them in a tumble dryer. I imagine that many people throw their clothes away—and buy new ones—a lot sooner than I do. I theorize that over time all of my clothes, and sheets, accumulate dead skin cells, oils, mold spores, and bacteria, and they therefore become wearable, pre-inoculated Petri dishes. Then, once the clothes get re-wetted with fresh sweat and incubated with my body warmth, their true, hidden nature is exposed through smell. The long soaks in warm sodium percarbonate solution probably dissolve and extract all of that stuff, leaving truly clean and odor-free clothes.
Try it and let me know what you discover.
WARNING: Always follow the instructions on the oxygen bleach packet, and also the washing instructions on your clothes. Dissolve the oxygen bleach thoroughly in the water before immersing your clothes to prevent locally high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide from damaging your clothes.
UPDATE (2019–08–02): Since writing this, we have started using the dryer more. Low heat and limited length cycles seem to dry clothes quickly without wearing them out too much. This seems to help to reduce the amount of mold growth and saves time and effort previously spent hanging clothes to dry. Immediately after use, we now thoroughly dry bath towels on high heat. This completely prevents them from getting moldy.