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That Rotten Egg Odor: How to Get Sulfur Smells Out of Laundry

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Recently, I had to figure out how to get sulfur smells out of our laundry. My teen had read that sulfur cream gets rid of acne, so he’d bought a jar of the stuff and began using it. It did wonders for his skin but it stunk up all our clothes.

It turns out, my normal laundry routine didn’t eliminate the rotten egg smell. The steps below finally neutralized the sulfur odor. And further down I share how I keep it from getting on everything else. 

Step 1: Sort to prevent damage.

Sort by color and the hottest temperature the care label recommends. I know not everyone is a fan of sorting laundry, but the process to get the sulfur smell out can lead to dye transfer and shrinkage if you don’t.

Step 2: Add the laundry powders.

Use washing soda and borax to neutralize and remove sulfur odors in laundry.

  • Washing soda, also known as soda ash or soda crystals, is highly alkaline with a pH level around 11 which helps neutralize acidic odors like those from sulfur compounds.
  • Borax is an alkaline mineral which is safe for cleaning and laundry. Both are available in most laundry aisles.

Top loaders

Use 1 cup of washing soda and 1/2 cup of borax—no detergent, no fabric softener and run a hot wash cycle. Wait for the water to dissolve the powders, then add the clothes.

Front loaders

Dissolve 1 cup of washing soda and 1/2 cup of borax in 2 cups of hot water. Pour this in your washer drum then add your clothing. Select a hot wash cycle but turn off the detergent and fabric softener dispenser. (See your owner’s manual—for many machines, you just hold the button until it beeps.)

Pro Tip

Be careful dispensing and handling washing soda and borax so you don’t inhale them. Then wash your hands afterward to protect your skin.

Step 3: Soak to neutralize the odor.

Set your machine to soak for at least 30 minutes so the powders have time neutralize the odor and loosen the sulfur’s bond to the fabric.

If your washer doesn’t have a specific soak cycle, pause the machine and set a timer. Resume the cycle when time’s up.

Step 4: Wash again.

Without removing the items, start a new wash cycle. Use the hottest setting again and your usual laundry detergent, but no fabric softener. Add 1 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle or fabric softener dispenser.

Did You Know?

Fabric softener works by adding a petroleum-based coating to make fabrics feel softer and prevent static-causing friction. But this residue can also trap odors, including that sulfur smell.

Step 5: Dry immediately.

Once the cycle has finished, remove the items and dry them as the care label recommends. If possible, line dry them outside to remove even more of the sulfur odor.

Then Clean the Machines

Once you’ve removed the sulfur smells from your clothes, get it out of your washer and dryer so they don’t stink up the next load. 

To clean your washing machine, wipe the door and gasket thoroughly with a soapy cloth, then run an empty load using hot water and 2 cups of white vinegar—no detergent, no fabric softener. If you used it, clean your dryer by wiping the door, gasket and drum.

Tips to Keep Laundry from Smelling Like Sulfur

• Use disposables as needed: Use disposable gloves to apply medications that smell like sulfur, and disposable paper towels after hand-washing.

• Dedicated linens: Having a specific set of towels and sheets for the person using sulfur lotions keeps the smell from getting on other clothes.

• Fabric choice: Opt for pajamas and sheets made of fabrics less likely to absorb odors, like as tightly woven microfiber or materials treated to prevent odors. (Clothing with Microban, for example.) Natural fibers like cotton, while breathable, may retain odors more.

Did You Know?

Natural fibers are great for reducing odors caused by trapped sweat, since they’re breathable. But synthetic fabrics are less likely to absorb odors from things like sulfur lotions because their smooth fibers don’t collect smells as easily.

• Protective barriers: Use washable or disposable covers for pillows and mattresses. This can be especially helpful for people who apply sulfur-containing lotions and acne treatments before bed.

• Keep their hamper clean: Use a dedicated, washable laundry basket or hamper for things smell like sulfur. Wash it with hot, soapy water and baking soda to get rid of the sulfur smell so it doesn’t transfer back to your clean clothes.

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16 Comments

  1. Wanda Hess says:

    While of town, my husband used a sulfur medicated substance on my dog, he was told not to use it in the house. It tarnished my jewelry last year and the laundry– ugh! Soooo, before I got home he thought he could wash all the covers and blankets and I’d never notice. Thank you, he might live after all. 🤨

    1. Katie Berry says:

      LOL I hope your dog is okay!

  2. My pup had a skin condition that required a sulfur base ointment…he’s been off of this for weeks now….he sleeps in the living room. It’s been weeks and I have tried everything to remove the smell from my cloth sectional and everything that touches the sofa ?. This weekend I will have a professional cleaning service come and shampoo the sofas, but until then I will try this with laundry and The kiddos blanky. I am crossing my fingers. This has been very frustrating.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I hope your pup is doing better, and that you’ve tackled that sulfur smell in your laundry and furniture.

  3. Thank you SO much. It took me two weeks of constantly stinking towels to put two and two together. I have washed and washed and washed them and no matter what they still have a stench (honestly doesn’t even smell like the sulfur cream now- more like urine. ?) I had all but decided to throw out all of my towels when I came across your post. Just through them in the wash now with your ingredients and fingers crossed! I knew the cream stunk but never knew it would stick to laundry this way! Going to I tell my dermatologist to give her patients a heads up next time!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m happy to have helped, Michelle! And I agree, it seems like that smell is something dermatologists should warn people about.

  4. I just started using sulfur ointment with no warning that it would stay in my towels and clothes. AND spread through the wash. I’m so happy I found this post! It saves my laundry. Thank you!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It’s an awful smell, isn’t it? I’m glad to have helped you get that sulfur stink out of your laundry! 🙂

  5. Amanda Bailey says:

    What if line drying is not possible?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      As it says, line dry if possible. If you can’t, then run them through the dryer.

  6. Maureen Honecker says:

    Wow!!! I will try this. I had to throw out about $300 worth of bedding and clothes for my teen daughter. The dermatologist never mentioned this as an issue. It really is awful.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Isn’t it frustrating when they don’t mention things like that?

  7. Oh my God. Thank you SO much for this posting! So many of my son’s clothes stank of sulphur for the same reason — that acne medication. And washing them the ordinary way only served to contaminate many more items of family clothing! Your solution worked on the first try. I am going to try salvaging a large comforter next!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m glad to have helped!

  8. Darlene Keefer says:

    This was most informative. As a kid our water was like bad sulphur smell… we got used to it. Mother used borax all the time, now I understand why. Gr8 post, thx.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Yep, that’s probably why!

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