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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.