Sunday, September 17, 2017

That Smell

When I was growing up there was a band called Lynyrd Skynyrd. In 1977 they who released a song entitled "That Smell". It's a classic.

That's not what this post is about.

No, this is another tale of smelly dance gear. A week or so ago, about half way through barre I started to notice a pungent odor. As barre progressed I realized that it was my shirt, which had developed a strong smell of ammonia.  I'd had a problem with dance gear developing a musty odor before, but that went away when I stopped hand-washing my tights and started tossing them in the washing machine.

As class progressed the smell got worse and worse, and shortly after barre I grabbed my bag and dashed to the men's changing room. Fortunately I had another shirt I could wear in my bag, and after a quick costume change I rejoined the class. Much to my relief the odor did not return.

After class I tried to think of reasons why this particular shirt would smell of ammonia. I generally wash all my dirty dance gear in a load together, along with random other clothes that will go in the same cycle. I'd done some household cleaning with ammonia a week or so before, so maybe somehow the shirt had been exposed to it? I was careful to make sure this shirt went into the wash quickly, and smell-checked it afterward. No odor. I let it air dry as usual.

This morning, as I got dressed for class, I took a careful smell of that shirt before putting it on. It smelled fine. Yet about half way through barre I caught another whiff of ammonia. Again I changed shirts at the break. The replacement shirt smelled fine throughout the rest of class. So what was wrong with my favorite shirt?

I've been doing my own laundry for almost 40 years and I've never had clothes that smelled of ammonia before. Consulting the web I found several products that people swear by to eliminate this odor: borax, white vinegar, and baking soda. I didn't have much luck with white vinegar combating the musty odor in 2013, so this time I'm starting with borax. The shirt is currently soaking in the sink filled with of 1/4 cup borax dissolved in water. In the morning I'll put it in with a load of laundry. Maybe that'll kill the odor.


  1. Could it be that the shirt in question his made on different material than the others, and would be the only holding on to the smell? Or ´cos it´s your favorite, you have used it more that the others? Some sport gear especially prone to that smell accumulation. The detergents and washing temperature are not enough to clean it properly and when the shirt warms up (by you in class) it starts to smell? SOme say that sweat needs +60C warmth to be truly removed. But then most sports gear recommend only +40C (due to the fact that elastics for excample don´t like that hot temps and might be ruined) . If you don´t get the smell off by vinegar or borax, trying +60C wash occasionally could do the trick.

    I use vinegar in all my clothes washing, as an `fabric softener`. In small amounts so that the clothes do not smell like vinegar, when the wash cycle is over. It has kept smells out so far.

    1. I'm guessing it's a combination of frequency of use, and occasionally not getting it into the wash quickly enough after wearing. It's not just me because I have similar shirts that smell just fine at the end of class (or as fine as anyone smells at the end of a hot ballet class).

      Once this shirt acquired whatever bacteria that is that is generating ammonia, it does it whenever there's sufficient moisture and warmth to activate it. I figure it doesn't smell at the start of class because it takes a while for the bacteria to produce the ammonia in smellable quantities.

      My goal is to kill the bacteria without ruining the shirt. I found this article recently that gives some hints:


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