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Scientists Discover Why Your Dirty Laundry Stinks (discovery.com) 142

HughPickens.com writes: Discovery News reports that dirty laundry smells bad because of certain chemicals called volatile organic compounds, which can't always be washed out on an eco-friendly 20C cycle. Researchers identified six volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on dirty t-shirts and socks. "The need to conserve the environment by reducing the wash temperature and the use of biodegradable washing products have grown in importance in the new millennium, making this type of research more high profile," says Professor John Dean. The researchers gave 6 men and two women a new pair of socks. They asked the volunteers to wash their feet with tap water and dry them before wearing the socks for at least 10 hours in a specified type of shoe. They then put each sock into a separate sample bag and stored them in the dark overnight. The researchers graded each sock and t-shirt on a scale of 0 (no malodor) to 10 (malodorous) by smelling them. To determine the chemicals present, samples were taken from each one. Items were then washed on a cold cycle using unscented detergent, and resampled before they were dried, at which point researchers took one final series of specimens. Following a method called static headspace-multi-capillary column-gas chromatography-ion mobility spectrometry (SHS-MCC-GC-IMS), six main VOCs were identified as the main culprits behind smelly clothing. Each one left its own scented signature. Butyric acid, for example, produced a rancid butter-like odor, while 2-heptanone created a banana-like fruity smell. "The work is fascinating as it links an everyday event -- the washing of clothes -- with cutting-edge research," says Dean. "In this particular research project we applied a new and innovative analytical technique for the detection of volatile compounds found in laundry items. We hope this provides a way of analyzing the effectiveness of different washing techniques."
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Scientists Discover Why Your Dirty Laundry Stinks

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  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Tuesday May 24, 2016 @09:05AM (#52170553)

    This has nothing to do with anything, but I love the fact that I came across this story while, for the first time in months, listening to Don Henley's song "Dirty Laundry."

    That is all.

    • Dirty little secrets, dirty little lies... dirty little fingers in everybody's pie.....Haven't heard that song in years...and after 4,000 gallons of vodka and 30,000 joints, I still remember those lyrics!!!!
    • Re:Awesome timing (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Tuesday May 24, 2016 @09:53AM (#52170815) Homepage

      Even though it appears environmentally friendly to wash the underwear in a low temperature with detergent designed for it that doesn't mean that it solves all problems. Especially fungal spores may reside in the fabric after a low temperature wash, while washing in 60 degrees Celsius or higher will kill them.

      I know this from personal experience - changing the washing temperature to a higher temperature helped me to get rid of the fungal infections I repeatedly had on my feet.

      So if you suffer from repeated fungal or bacterial problems, try raising the washing temperature.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Why waste hot water on a whole load of clothes when your socks will fit neatly in the rice-cooker? Of course if walking around in sushi all day is not your thing....

        • Because only an idiot would think that only your socks get things from the environment on them ... no way anything else you were could have the same affect ...

      • If you've been in a muddy area such as a farm that may have any kind of animal poo mixed in with it then you really need a hot wash to make sure most/all pathogens are dead.

        • Most of those pathogens aren't bad for you, they just strengthen your immune system.

          But city dwellers have more problemsmwith the smell.

          • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

            "Most of those pathogens aren't bad for you, they just strengthen your immune system."

            That may be true, but that bad ones are REALLY bad. Certain animal strains of e-coli can cause severe poisoning and kidney failure and salmonella is pretty common on farms.

      • The speed of most chemical reactions (including the surfactant action of detergents) doubles for every increase of 10C. Washing in cold water is just silly.
  • Black Socks [youtu.be]

  • So the standard greener way doesn't work. We really don't want to start (re)using toxic chemicals just for a slight improvement in smell. We don't want to dissolve our clothings.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I've experienced this since I started using unscented laundry detergent. I don't think the "old" soaps worked better, but just the perfumes covered up the fact that they weren't working very well. This is probably why we used to use lye in the laundry. A strong base works all kinds of wonders destroying various waste products of biological processes.

    • You can buy a box of tri-sodium phosphate for a couple dollars at most home improvement stores, like Lowe's and Home Depot. Add a quarter cup to your laundry and it really helps.

      • Except, you are not supposed to use TSP if your location is on sewer (as opposed to septic tank). In fact, it might be against the law where you are.

      • TSP is sold in home improvement stores for household cleaning - in particular cleaning walls before repainting. It is the recommended cleaner for that use because modest amounts of TSP residue doesn't interfere with paint adhesion, whereas the surfactants used in most current day cleaners do - which means that you need to rinse walls much more thoroughly if you clean them with something else. The environmental impact is manageable if it is reserved for that use.

        Using TSP routinely in laundry would lead to f

    • by hattig ( 47930 )

      Even using in-wash anti-bacterial liquid as an additive doesn't work well if you then forget to take the washing out for a few hours. You can mask it a little with fabric conditioners, but now we're up to three things you need to add to the wash.

      Basically, we'd best go back to 90 degree boil washes and starch :/

      • If you are willing to wear nothing but cotton and linen that might be feasible. Even then it would wear out your clothes a lot more quickly and make the dyes fade. Other fabrics, including all those modern stretch ones - forget about it. And no more elastic waistbands in your cotton pants or skirts; you'd have to go back to drawstrings.
    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      We really don't want to start (re)using toxic chemicals

      Who is this 'We' you refer to? Do you have a mouse in your pocket?

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Tuesday May 24, 2016 @09:22AM (#52170647)
    >> laundry smells bad because of...chemicals...which can't...be washed out on an eco-friendly 20C cycle
    >> conserve the environment by reducing the wash temperature and the use of biodegradable washing products

    Long story short, they seem to be telling us at least one of two things:
    - you shouldn't bother with "environment friendly" detergents and washing techniques if you have kids, dogs or ever work out
    - we now know why filthy hippies smell that way

    I'm pretty sure if it came to "family smelling bad" or "saving the twin-tuffed arselizard" my wife would be on the side of "nuke them from orbit - it's the only way to be sure." Personally, I can't see washing temperatures dropping at all, but I would expect the equivalent of a "detergent catalytic converter" to become part of our washing machine wastewater system in twenty years - there aren't many good reasons to keep flushing that stuff into our sewers and septic tanks.
    • by sinij ( 911942 )

      - we now know why filthy hippies smell that way

      I think additional research is needed before you can justifiably make such generalized claim.

      • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

        - we now know why filthy hippies smell that way

        I think additional research is needed before you can justifiably make such generalized claim.

        Additional inside research will probably tell you that hippies smell a strangely moving pattern of yellow, green and blue.

    • Flushing what stuff? We removed the phosphates years ago, which were the substances that actually got the detergent to work without basically distilling your wash water.
      • Here's a list of "other stuff" found in there.
        http://www.washwise.org.au/_documents/Laundry%20detergent%20ingredients%20info%20sheet.pdf
    • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

      Long story short, they seem to be telling us at least one of two things:
      - you shouldn't bother with "environment friendly" detergents and washing techniques if you have kids, dogs or ever work out
      - we now know why filthy hippies smell that way

      I couldn't find any mention in the articles of eco-friendly washes being unable to clean the smells. Was that an invention of the submitter? (or am I just blind and failed to notice it in the articles?)

  • Now, would someone please create detergent that actually cleans something? It doesn't actually remove stains. Sometimes it actually cleans something if your water is COMPLETELY soft.

    This includes dishwashers, which are only capable of rinsing off your dishes after you've completely washed them.

    • We use the detergent packs in the dishwasher and the dishes get really clean, with no residue and minimal pre-rinsing involved (usually just to get the vegetable residue off, as the more fibrous stuff doesn't disolve and gets trapped in the filter).

      I've read that the packs have an advantage in that they're the right amount and combination of detergents to work effectively, which is important now that they've removed the truly effective phosphates from detergents.

      For clothes washing, we just use unscented Co

      • by ncc74656 ( 45571 ) *

        We use the detergent packs in the dishwasher and the dishes get really clean, with no residue and minimal pre-rinsing involved (usually just to get the vegetable residue off, as the more fibrous stuff doesn't disolve and gets trapped in the filter).

        How new is your dishwasher? If it's fairly new, it stands a chance of doing an OK job. An older dishwasher ("older" probably means at least 8 years old at this point, give or take a bit) won't work worth a crap with the newer phosphate-free detergents. Last y

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          Our current dishwasher is a Bosch, bought about a year and a half ago. It was as close as we could get to the highest Consumer Reports dishwasher (fscking manufacturers seem to play model number games, meaning you can't necessarily even find the specific model rated highly...).

          It replaced a Sears (oem'd by KitchenAide, I think) dishwasher which was about 8 years old. That one worked well with the same detergent we use now, until it didn't.

          I couldn't really figure out why, it passed the built-in diagnostic

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Dishwashers are for a final cleaning after the dog has removed the stuck-on food.

      • My dogs have the official job of cleaning dishes before they go in the dishwasher. They love going to work in the evenings.

    • by edbob ( 960004 )
      For washing dishes, I actually use a product called "Cascade Fryer Boil Out". The reviews on Amazon are funny, but the stuff really works in the dishwasher.
  • by zenlessyank ( 748553 ) on Tuesday May 24, 2016 @09:52AM (#52170813)
    Wear all brown so no running colors. We solved this centuries ago. Leave it to stupid humans to have to re-invent shit every 50 years.
    • Right...because brown is the new every-other-color. What size Mao suit would you like?

    • by WallyL ( 4154209 )

      Did people in history wear brown to minimize running colors, or maybe they were poor and couldn't afford colored clothes? Maybe their clothes' colors were already washed out.

      I'm trying to have a serious conversation and not just trolling (like I usually do).

    • by phorm ( 591458 )

      "Wear all brown so no running colors."

      Especially underwear, as then you don't need to use a heavy bleach to clean out any unsightly stains!

    • by Raenex ( 947668 )

      But "boiling water" isn't "eco friendly" according to the summary because of energy use. Try again:

      The need to conserve the environment by reducing the wash temperature and the use of biodegradable washing products have grown in importance in the new millennium

      • The summary is wrong and injecting traces of straw man and fud to manipulate the readers fears. You, however, seem to be a pedantic troll looking to start an internet argument. As you can see, I don't need to try again.
        • by Raenex ( 947668 )

          You offer no counter-argument, only insults and incorrect use of the term straw man. Try again.

          • Go the fuck away, troll.
            • by Raenex ( 947668 )

              Nice job showing the extent of your intellect.

              • Did you hang on to your daddies dick this long?
                • by Raenex ( 947668 )

                  Does it feel good to toss out insults when you lack arguments?

                  • I know it is funny to see someone so lost as you without their meds. Put up a webcam so I can watch you in full color. You can post your IP here. Maybe we can get some folks to get you some help.
                    • by Raenex ( 947668 )

                      Still no arguments? How does it feel to be that guy? Is your fragile ego imploding, knowing you are wrong and intellectually bankrupt?

                    • Score : 5, Insightful That pretty much sums up the facts. Here is a mirror. I think that will help you see who is bankrupt intellectually.
                    • by Raenex ( 947668 )

                      *snort* Yeah, because Slashdots mods are infallible and great arbiters of truth. More like post something shallow but plausible early, get modded up, and mods moves on. In the meantime, you have no counter-argument beyond insults because you are that guy, intellectually bankrupt and reduced to insults and appealing to mods on your original post.

                    • Does it make your vagina hurt when you know that I AM THAT GUY and there isn't anything you can do about it. HAHAHAAHAHAAAA.. Cry more. Maybe one day you will have an original thought all on your own and you won't have to troll others that make you jealous.
                    • by Raenex ( 947668 )

                      Why would I be jealous of somebody who loses an argument and resorts to insults? I'd be ashamed to be that person.

  • Scientists Discover Why Your Dirty Laundry Stinks

    Yup, gotta stick the word "your" in there. Can't just say "dirty laundry." It has to be "your dirty laundry" because people are idiots and can't infer how a story might apply to them without being specifically told.

  • Expose your clothes to a good dose after the wash cycle.

  • Please tell me they gave EACH of them a new pair of socks, not one pair for all eight? I mean, it's kinky enough to be sniffing people's socks, but that would be just too weird.
  • by Marginal Coward ( 3557951 ) on Tuesday May 24, 2016 @11:10AM (#52171319)

    When I was in high school, I took Chemistry II. Part of that was to do an advanced experiment of some kind. I ended up picking one out of a book the teacher had. It involved butyric acid.

    The school chemistry lab was very well stocked, though many of the chemicals were quite old. For example, we had a large brick of sodium in a jar filled with kerosene. First thing, the teacher told us, "Absolutely leave that thing alone." He went on to tell us that it could explode if dropped in water. [edcoogle.com]. He was serious, and we took him seriously.

    But I digress. The lab also had the butyric acid I needed. I did the experiment (not very successfully, IIRC) and then proceeded to my next class. It was a computer class, on the original TRS-80 "microcomputers."

    Everybody thought the computer teacher was a wonderful teacher and a very nice guy, including me. Just after class started, he said, "What's that smell?" We were all a bit puzzled, but we all started sniffing around, and the teacher ended up honing in on me.

    I smelled of rancid butter. Having found the culprit, the teacher told me, "Get out - just get out."

    I meakly protested, "Don't I need a hall pass?"

    "I'll bring you one, just go."

    It turned out that some of the butyric acid had vaporized and adhered to my clothes. I somehow managed to make it through the rest of the day by issuing various warnings and apologies in my remaining classes. I think we had to throw the clothes away.

    • by chihowa ( 366380 )

      Try working in a organoselenium chemistry lab. That smell permeates you and make your friends wish you were only a pig farmer.

      Or a biochem lab when somebody (inevitably) spills a bottle of beta-mercaptoethanol. That'll clear out a building.

      Chemistry's fun that way: there are so many foul smells to experience and each one is truly unique, like a putrid snowflake!

      • Try being on a submarine. When I left the 655, I kept my underway uniforms thinking that I'd be assigned to boat again someday... that never happened, so they got stuffed in a box and forgotten. Found them on our most recent move, and thirty years after the last time I was underway they still smell of submarine.

    • N-butyric acid is about the nastiest stuff I've ever smelled, and it's amazing how fast that stench can travel from one end of a large room to another. We had this stoner that started hanging around the chemistry lab a lot. One day I took him to the back room with a conspiratory air, and convinced him that this stuff was "soooo rad", and would "make you higher than a kite". I pumped him up enough that when I uncapped it he sniffed deeply without testing it first. He cried out, coughed, and vomited. For

  • The researchers gave 6 men and two women a new pair of socks. They asked the volunteers to wash their feet with tap water and dry them before wearing the socks for at least 10 hours in a specified type of shoe. They then put each sock into a separate sample bag and stored them in the dark overnight. The researchers graded each sock and t-shirt on a scale of 0 (no malodor) to 10 (malodorous) by smelling them.

    You can't tell me that the grad student research assistants who conducted this experiment aren't some

    • "The researchers graded each sock and t-shirt on a scale of 0 (no malodor) to 10 (malodorous) by smelling them. "

      Worst. Job. Ever.

  • I want to take our 2016 advanced scientific knowledge, build a time-travel device, and tell someone who lived a thousand years ago that hot water cleans better than cold water.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Things like formaldehyde, dyes, and other chemicals used for sizing. That's why almost all new clothing has a weird smell to it.

    TFA mentioned that the participants were given "new socks" - if these weren't washed thoroughly several times before the test started, I wonder how much of those VOCs were from the chemicals that came on the socks from the factory.

    • by castus ( 4552487 )
      The butyric acid and organosulfides smell pretty bad, and I doubt anyone would add them to clothing.
      Using an advanced instrument called a nose, I couldn't detect anything that smelled like any of the ketones they found either, but they were present in pretty small quantities in the study. They seem slike odd chemicals to add to clothing anyway.
  • Typical "Oxi-clean" (hydrogen peroxide) additives often work well.

    Also you can use an ozone generator and pump your closet full of ozone for a similar effect.

    Ozonating your whole house can get rid of some stubborn odors.

    (Be aware though that excessive use of either method will cause some rubber products to break down faster than with normal exposure. Also, if you ozonate your house, don't be in it at the time.)

  • Didn't see but what were the socks ,made of? i had very bad foot oder way back in the day and that was all because of not using cotton socks and used the fake materials,plastic socks have you. That makes a huge difference in absorption, air flow and cotton just cleans better if not bleach top the rescue lol
  • What a beautiful smell you've discovered!

    Now you mind telling me how we get out of here?

  • by evilsofa ( 947078 ) on Wednesday May 25, 2016 @03:06AM (#52176947)
    "Control to Static Headspace-Multicapillary Column-Gas Chromatography-Ion Mobility Spectrometry, please respond..."
    "Control to Static Headspace-Multicapillary Column-Gas Chromatography-Ion Mobility Spectrometry, please respond..."
    "Control to Static Spacehead-Multitipperary Column-Godammit I quit!"
  • The wash temperatures in different models of washing machine are not created equal.

    Old school washers in the US offered three wash temperatures (if that many): hot, warm, and cold. None of them were temperature regulated. Hot is whatever comes out of your hot water tap (usually somewhere in the range of 120F to 140F), cold is whatever comes out of your cold water tap (which may be anywhere from 35F to 80F depending on location and season), and warm is a 50/50 mix in theory. (If the water pressure of your tw

  • use ozonated, cold water. Ozone is very effective at neutralizing VOC's.
  • I dont care what kind of detergent you use, you always use the hottest water available on underwear and socks.
  • Rather get a washing machine that is more effective and makes stuff cleaner (european style, sideways drum instead of upright).

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