Asked on Oct 27, 2013

How do I get rancid oil stink out of cloth.

by Judy

My roommate has very oily skin. His body oils soak into the fabric of his shirts, sheets & pillow cases, turn rancid & the stench is terrible. I've tried washing in very hot water, with baking soda, bleach or pine sol. His clothes smell fine when they come out of the dryer but after being folded & stacked for a few days the smell returns, Ideas anyone or does anyone have recommendations for laundry detergents for odors?

  40 answers
  • Donna Donna on Oct 27, 2013
    Try hanging out in the sun for a few hours.
    • See 3 previous
    • Julie Julie on Jan 25, 2020

      I wrote a long general reply as well but in case you don’t see it, try Charlie’s Soap. I just got an awful rancid smell out of sheets and clothing.

  • Elaine Phillips Elaine Phillips on Oct 27, 2013
    Can you try using vinegar and/or some borax in the wash with your laundry detergent? Not sure if that will do it, but it helps when we have kitchen towels that have been used to wipe up spilled olive oil.
    • Judy Judy on Oct 28, 2013
      @Elaine Phillips I haven't tried vinegar yet....not sure how well that would work for getting the oils out of his clothes/bedding but it might help deodorize them a bit better....if he doesn't mind smelling like a salad. lol
  • Mary Insana Mary Insana on Oct 27, 2013
    I remember years ago using something called Lestoil for grease stains on work jeans. There is also laundry detergent out now that removes odors from Under Armor type clothes. The problem I'm concerned with is when you say the oil turns rancid. Maybe the first thing to try is to have him change his pillowcases at least every other day. Have a big bucket filled with a good cleaning solution for him to put them to soak until laundry day. Or a better idea is to get new sheets and pillow cases and start with fresh new items and then soaking before it gets out of hand again.
    • See 1 previous
    • Diane Short Lake Diane Short Lake on Feb 24, 2020

      As a massage therapist, I understand you situation. I use oils and creams on my clients and clean the linens after every client - 1 hour use, but I cannot get the rancid smell that builds up in the sheets with storage over time. I am following. I have tried baking soda and vinegar, one at a time and together. They work fine, smell fine, until I store them together for handy use each time I change the table. I use 20 sets a week and cannot afford to replace them all the time.

  • Jennifer Babel Jennifer Babel on Oct 28, 2013
    throw it out!
  • Judy Judy on Oct 28, 2013
    Thanks for the answers, but I'm still hoping for more ideas.
    • See 1 previous
    • Cindy Cindy on Oct 15, 2018

      My husband has oily skin and it’s horrible. I have tried vinegar, borax, lemon juice, Dawn dish detergent, bleach, scalding hot water, nothing helps. It is so bad it even stains the mattress.

  • Donna Donna on Oct 28, 2013
    Try using a shampoo for oily hair directly on the stains. This works really well for ring around the collar, might help.
  • Pam Kemp Pam Kemp on Oct 29, 2013
    My hubby is a bridge builder an there are a lot of greasy ,oily an other things come home on hi clothes.. I made my own soap. I cp 20 mule team , 1 cp of washing soda an chopped up bar of fells Napa not sure of spelling. bar soap. an it really gets out the grime use 1 -2 tlb per load. then use vinegar for ur fabric softener.. my bath towels are fluffy an smell fresh even. It may take a few trys. not into the soap thing put a cup in the wash water of vinegar. nothing smells like it really!
    • See 1 previous
    • Karen Turpin Karen Turpin on Oct 31, 2013
      @Judy Borax is really good at getting stains n smells out. Homemade detergent we add a scent to ours because the Borax has no scent. Good Luck.
  • Minuet Stephens Minuet Stephens on Oct 29, 2013
    Use vinegar as a fabric softener/rinse aid. If that's not enough throw some bicarb soda in with it. It takes the musty smell out of everything even towels that were left wet in the machine for a week. You may get a whiff of the vinegar as you lift the stuff out of the machine, but you won't smell it after that. My mother hated the smell of vinegar and never even realised that I washed her clothes in it for years.
  • Lindsay Jackson Lindsay Jackson on Oct 29, 2013
    Try adding vinegar to the wash.
  • Can242832 Can242832 on Oct 29, 2013
    Soak in a sink of boiling water, vinegar, and baking soda. Yes it will expand....just add it slowly and stir the clothes. Then leave out in the sunshine for two full days. Do it ONE MORE TIME....only this time add LEMON.
  • Judy Judy on Oct 29, 2013
    Thanks everyone. I just bought a gallon of vinegar so I'll try that first & if it doesn't completely do the job I'll get some borax. I've already tried soda in the wash. I was looking online the other day & discovered that Dawn makes an industrial strength degreaser. Don't know if it's safe for fabrics though.
    • See 3 previous
    • Julie Julie on Jan 25, 2020

      Try Charlie’s Soap. It’s at some targets and for sure on Amazon

  • Pam Kemp Pam Kemp on Oct 29, 2013
    that's what it says . It s kinda scary I know! The 20 mule team an the washing soda, not baking soda are deep cleaning. I use a bit more than the 2 TLB on the dirty ones. I have used it on the socks an undies an it has did good so far an he has sum dirty socks.. They say it gets rid of the build up from soaps an fabric softeners . an that I can say yes it does. I used vinegar as softener an my towels were soft an fluffy again. It may take a few washes if it is bad. An use hot water if you can a few times. I say its worth a try it is better than buying new. Im no Susie homemaker but I think it is worth a try... good luck!
  • Sueli Nelson Sueli Nelson on Oct 29, 2013
    Sueli Washington. UT My daughter is a massage Therapist and once forgot the massage sheets in a bag for a few days, and the same rancid odor permeated the sheets. We tried all the above, but what really helped was "Simple Green", it is nontoxic and biodegradable, they suggest 1/4 cup as the machine fills with water, then add the laundry. You may have to soak the sheets, etc, for a few hours. We also use the vinegar to rinse. or 1-800-228-0709. we buy ours at Home Depot. I hope this helps.
    • Cindy Cindy on Oct 15, 2018

      I will try this. I have the same problem with my husband.

  • Neita Young Neita Young on Oct 29, 2013
    I have dealt with this problem and I use 2 or 3 cups of household ammonia in the washing machine along with the detergent. Fill the washer with hot water, detergent, ammonia, and dirty, smelly laundry, then let it agitate for a minute or two. Stop the agitation and let everything soak for an hour or so and if really embedded then possibly overnight. Start the washer again and let it run through the cycles. If this is recently accumulated oil and odor, it should take care of it. Ammonia is a great degreaser.
    • Judy Judy on Oct 30, 2013
      @Neita Young Not sure if I can use ammonia in the same house as my parrot but I'll check it out. Thanks
  • WannaBGardener WannaBGardener on Oct 29, 2013
    Let us know what works. Good luck with the suggestions.
  • AmericanWoman AmericanWoman on Oct 29, 2013
    When I was doing laundry and dealing with the stench problem I used brand name Pine Sol and added a cup to every load with the exception of the whites because I used chlorine bleach. It did help. Slowly I threw the clothing away one by one and replenished it at the same time. Some of the stench just doesn't come out after a while.
    • Judy Judy on Oct 30, 2013
      @AmericanWoman Already tried pine sol. It worked for a day or two but after hanging in the closet or sitting in a stack longer than that the stink came back.
  • Bing Bing on Nov 01, 2013
    I have some older bathroom towels that appear to have had same weird smell. Instead of using fabric softener, use vinegar (one cup per load), straight up, shaken, not stirred. The smells are gone and toss with salad.
    • See 2 previous
    • Judy Judy on Nov 07, 2013
      @Bing Love your sense of humor! We live in the woods & have to deal with a variety of critters from black bear in the garbage cans to dead mice under the fridge. Never had a dead raccoon under the house though...knock on wood. If I suggest using wine will you bring white zinfandel? It's my favorite.
  • Flicka Johnson Flicka Johnson on Nov 01, 2013
    Try white vinegar in the rinse let them soak a while. Vinegar neutralizes odors.
  • Loy213654 Loy213654 on Nov 02, 2013
    spread some talcum powder on it and leave for few hours, rub the fabric to get rid of the stains and then wash with detergent the usual way.
    • Judy Judy on Nov 06, 2013
      @Loyh That absorbs the new, surface oils but does nothing for the old, set in oils. Thanks anyhow.
  • Mary West Mary West on Nov 06, 2013
    Try washing with OdoBan. It will eliminate the odor and kill any bacteria that may be causing the odor
  • Mary West Mary West on Nov 06, 2013
    Home Depot and Sams Club both carry it
  • Mini79 Mini79 on Nov 06, 2013
    Try Sal Suds. It is sold on Amazon and the Dr. Bronner website. It is all natural and works good on grease. It is concentrated but can be used full strength. It may not work on the old stains but will work on anything new. Plus it has a nice natural scent and not a heavy chemical one.
  • Penny L Penny L on Nov 07, 2013
    BAKING SODA OR VINEGAR will rid the stink in every load at last rinse
  • Joan Joan on Feb 10, 2014
    he should bathe at least once every day, and change clothes after each bath or shower
  • Marta Marta on Oct 01, 2014
    Hi Judy, did you find something that worked? We have the same issue with our roommate. Hope you found something! :)
    • See 1 previous
    • Julie Julie on Jan 25, 2020

      Charlie’s Soap!

  • Rie Helm Rie Helm on Oct 11, 2017

    REALLLLLYYY LATE comment, but...

    One time I had a roommate like this. She would take a bath and she wasn't clean after the bath she would just leave the ring and it was disgusting! Her clothes always stunk her sheets always stunk and we went to the laundromat together and combined loads. Because she wasn't very clean she let me be in charge of the laundry though. I washed everything in the hottest imaginable water and double the soap! But you're right, later, a couple of days maybe, stinky stinky! I'm so glad for this thread because I've learned a lot. Thank you.

    by the way, did you find anything else that worked or did something specifically work that you tried from these comments in this thread?

    • Cindy Cindy on Oct 15, 2018

      I wash my husband and my clothes separately now because it’s so bad I don’t want his stink to be on my clothes :(

  • Yuliya Knowlton Yuliya Knowlton on Nov 02, 2017

    Talk to him about his nutrition - that's the root cause of the oily skin. He probably has fatty liver disease from eating junk food ( too greasy, spicy, etc) and smoking (if he smokes). In the mean time keep his clothes and linen in the attic or garage.

  • Teresa Teresa on May 22, 2018

    Wisk worked. Alas, nevermore, replaced with Persil 2 in 1 which does not work. Simple Green didn't work. Trying vinegar and Tide in wash today since vinegar is supposed to help clothes be colorfast. Tide Ultra 2in1 didn't work and I thought it lightened my colors as well. Anyone found a good detergent yet???

    • Cindy Cindy on Oct 15, 2018

      Nope. I have tried vinegar, lemon, Borax, Dawn dish detergent, bleach, tide, nothing works. Don’t know what to do.

  • Dawn Dawn on May 31, 2018

    Salt water. I use a spray bottle and dissolve salt in water, spray on smelly areas, ex underarms. It’s the only thing I’ve found that actually Removes the smell. Salt kills the bacteria that cause the smell.

  • Teresa Teresa on Oct 15, 2018

    Finally found something that works!

    ⅓c Simple Green

    ½c Persil

    No fabric softener, use a dryer sheet

    Warm water

    This worked for me, even on clothes that have sat before washing. We cover our pillow cases with a hand towel then wash the hand towels in a batch.

    Like the salt idea, I'll have to give it a try on tshirts.

  • Tina Tina on Oct 30, 2018

    On another forum, I found a reference to STTP (sodium tripolyphosphate) that was recommended for the weird stains that modern soft soaps (bath gels, etc) leave in white towels. I got some on amazon and began using it for this very problem. Even though my husband bathes and changes his clothes every morning, he’s now generating that smell—age, I think. STTP is supposed to be the best surfactant for clay based stains. I take the pillow cases and soak them for a bit in a tablespoon of the stuff and ultra hot water. Then I throw them into our front loader with detergent and a bit more STTP. It’s not a substance I use all the time, as it’s not recommended in some communities due to environmental consequences (some municipalities have inadequate facilities to remove the phosphate). So, proceed with caution. But it was the ONLY thing that seemed to work and I’ve tried Dawn, Borax, Fels Naptha, Washing Soda, Simple Green, vinegar and every combination therein.

  • Cindy Cindy on Dec 11, 2018

    i'm dealing with this issue too. I found this - it is repetitive of everything said, but it does list measurements How to Clean Those Stinky, Oily Sheets!

    1. Add laundry detergent to machine. To the empty washing machine, add however much detergent you normally use for a load of sheets. I usually go for about 2/3 of the cup that comes with the detergent, then throw in the cup so it gets all the soap off while washing.
    2. Use hot water. Set your machine to the hottest setting on a normal or normal/heavy load. I use the hot/cold setting (wash in hot water, rinse in cold).
    3. Add dishwashing soap. Add three good squirts directly into the flow of the water (to ensure that it mixes in real good). My "3 squirts" rule probably works out to about three tablespoons or just under a quarter cup of dish soap.
    4. Add Borax. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup into the water. Once again, I eyeball this right out of the box.
    5. Put in the sheets and make sure they're all completely submerged in the water.
    6. Add 1/4 to 1/3 cup of distilled white vinegar to your washing machine's fabric softener dispenser. I always use a spare laundry detergent cup for this. If your machine doesn't have a fabric softener dispenser, you can either add the vinegar during the rinse cycle or get a Downy ball (see the Amazon link below) and toss that in.
    7. Let it soak for about 30 minutes once the washing machine has filled. This soak is important because it helps to break apart the oils in the sheets. I always leave the lid of my washing machine open for this step to prevent the wash cycle from starting up again.
    8. Let the wash cycle continue as usual after your sheets have soaked. If you do not have a fabric softener dispenser or a Downy ball, be sure to add the vinegar during the rinse.
    9. Dry your sheets as usual. Since you already used vinegar, which is a natural fabric softener, you can skip the dryer sheets. You may also skip the fabric softener because it can make the body oil thing worse. I always prefer to use a dryer sheet because I like my sheets to be as soft as a baby's butt (and they've never caused problems with getting stains/oils out for me).
    10. Enjoy your super clean and super fresh sheets!

  • Andy Andy on Apr 07, 2019

    The long term solution is to treat the cause rather than the symptom. Although perspiring is naturally healthy, body odor isn't, and it is usually due to eating foods that are not good for us. Each person's diet requirements are unique, so you'll have to experiment a bit to discover what foods are causing the B.O., and you'll probably also find that you (or your husband) also feels a lot healthier.

  • George Luther George Luther on Jun 23, 2019

    My Tilley hat has a very persistent Rancid smell, similar to cooking oil gone bad. I have tried all of the above and it works for a few days then the rancid returns full force just with the hat sitting there. I really love this hat and don't want to get rid of it. My next plan is Baking Soda - My plan is to put the hat in a large ziplock bag and load it up with the baking soda and let it sit for a week. I shall return with the results in 3 to 4 weeks.

  • Twyrl Twyrl on Dec 16, 2019

    I read these postings some months ago, and now that my incredible husband figured it out...... and just before i threw away drawer loads of my fav clothing,(and His) Here it is: Dish Soap!!!!! he put dish soap in the laundry..... we tried everything for months, borax, laundry detergent, baking soda etc etc.....i hate toxic laundry soap with the masking agents, so was at my wits end and smelling like funky ducks everywhere we went....we were talking about it, and he said you know dish soap, cuts grease, maybe it would work.....? and it DOES! and not talking dawn or those toxic dish soaps, just simple fragrance free Planet does it......he puts in a laundry detergent cap size and we still do use some baking soda as a brightner.....i also do an extra rinse as the Planet still does have Sodium Laureth Solfate.....but Hallelujah, it friggin works great! i just washed all my favorite pjs that i couldn't wear cause the smell would keep me awake.....he had already done all his clothes a couple weeks t-shirts etc etc....its like santa came of back please.....

  • Lesli Lesli on Jan 19, 2020

    My husband has the same problem though we don’t have the problem with sheets. He always takes a shower in the mornings and before he goes to bed. I would recommend taking at least two showers a days and if possible scrub your body with one of those rough sponges to remove all the grease. Also, soak yourself in the bathtub at least twice a week to remove all the grease and death skin. Thank you for all your suggestions. I will definitely try the dishwasher soap.

  • Julie Julie on Jan 25, 2020

    CHARLIE’S SOAP! I see this is quite old but I came across this because I was trying for a week to get a horrible smell from rancid lotion out of sheets and clothing. I soaked a shirt in dish soap and it did nothing and maybe made it worse. Borax, Tide, vinegar.... did them all. Have any of you tried Charlie’s Soap? It’s on Amazon, at Sprouts, maybe Whole Foods, and in some Target stores. I think it did the trick once and for all for the terrible oil / lotion stench I was dealing with! Also, the window on my front loader is now clear so it cleaned the machine a bit as well. Read the reviews on Amazon, a lot of people use this for cleaning cloth diapers.

  • Jsigmo Jsigmo on Apr 30, 2020

    The thing to understand about this all is what actually makes oils become "rancid". This is not from bacterial action, for the most part.

    Oils go "rancid" simply from oxidation.

    We are all familiar with various cooking fats becoming rancid. And we know that some fats become rancid sooner than others. Alton Brown discusses this in one episode of his "good eats" show where he discusses the chemistry behind this.

    But for this discussion, the key thing to understand is why cloth gets that rancid smell. And why does it appear some time after washing. Or appears after drying.

    The answer is simply that there is residual oil or grease in the cloth. And that oil is oxidizing, thus becoming rancid.

    When you wash a load of laundry, the soap emulsifies the oil and grease. Then the machine drains, and then a rinse cycle happens. But only some of the oil and grease actually leaves the laundry. This comes down to some dilution. As the soap is drained and rinsed away, the remaining oils are distributed evenly throughout the load of laundry.

    So while we may have gotten rid of 90 percent of the oil, the remaining 10 percent is now distributed evenly throughout the load. And the cloth has a huge surface area (on a microscopic level) which allows all of those grease molecules to have great exposure to air. So oxidation happens rather quickly and efficiently to all of that oil that is throughout the cloth.

    That explains why the laundry might smell fine immediately after washing, but then get rancid within a few days. Or get rancid as we dry it. It's exposed to air (and this oxygen) and the rancidification happens rather fast.

    So the only way to prevent the laundry from going rancid is to remove as much of the oil as possible. Just emulsifying it and spreading it around isn't good enough.

    So this means we need a more thorough washing and rinsing regime.

    As someone recommended, dry cleaning (using industrial solvent) is one way.

    But at home, we simply need to do a better job of washing and rinsing in a way that emulsifies and then gets rid of the oils. ALL of the oils.

    This means hot water, not overloading the washer (a half size load max). Good detergent and plenty of it. Using automatic dishwasher soap along with regular laundry soap.

    And running the load several times. Each washing reduces the oil level. But any one washing only gets out, perhaps 90 percent.

    This is like mopping a floor. You're really only dissolving the crud and smearing it around. That's why you have to do it repeatedly with clean water each time to incrementally reduce the concentration of the "dirt".

    I wash oily napkins and the like three times, in hot water, with detergent and automatic dishwasher soap, with no more than a half-size load in the machine, and low water, and then once with full water for that half-load. The idea is to get good reduction of the oil concentration that's left in the laundry.

    We like to imagine that a load of laundry gets clean with one washing. But particularly for oils, the rinse cycles don't do much because the soap is gone, and the oils are just re-deposited into the load. Only what drains away at the end of the soap cycle really leaves the machine. The rinse cycle is only to rinse away soap residue. It can't rinse away any oil.

    Ideally, the machine would have a "grease setting" that uses soap cycles repeatedly with a spin cycle between them. Water-only rinses are mostly useless until you've removed all of the oils. Again, the rinse doesn't remove oils.

    You have to do this by "hand" to get the effect with a typical washing machine. The rinses don't hurt, but they're just a waste. So it's OK to walk away from the machine and just wash the load repeatedly. You'll just waste some water and the energy to heat all but the last of your rinse water.

    In short, a normal wash cycle is leaving some oil behind, spread evenly throughout your load, where it is ready to oxidize very soon after you're done. And that rancid smell is simply the residual oil and grease oxidizing to the smelly rancid state. You have to remove the oil and grease better. Not just spread it around.

    It's a pain, but that's the fact. This isn't a matter of deodorizing. It's a matter of actually getting the grease out more thoroughly. Oxidized oil and grease stinks. It's not harmful or a sign of bacteria. etc. It's just that oxidized oils have a very strong smell.

    • See 3 previous
    • Jsigmo Jsigmo on Sep 29, 2020

      I will definitely try some Dawn. As long as it doesn't foam too much, it should be very good at emulsifying the oils.

      And I agree that a good rinse at the end of it all is probably a very good idea.

      One thing we need to study are the potential interactions between various products that we might want to use to be sure they don't interfere with each other if used together.

      I have used a pre-soak with hydrogen peroxide and vinegar to get rid of some staining. But I don't use anything else in the mix at the same time as that soak.

  • Sherril Labovich Sherril Labovich on May 04, 2020

    On the topic of Body Oil Removal, the previous posting is one of the most sensible I've read.

    Oxidized body oil apparently produces a compound called nonenal. Aging also causes an increase in fatty lipids on the skin.

    At 63, I now wash my hair and change my brand-new pillow cases daily. In order to prevent the contamination of the entire load, I smell-test every item of laundry, removing those that have the odor of nonenal. I now wash my pillow cases separately.

    On contaminated items, I have tried Borax and vinegar without much success. I also washed them with Dawn, after soaking in a product called OxiAll. This may have helped somewhat, but not sure yet. Still working on it.

  • Amy P, Hometalk Editor Amy P, Hometalk Editor on Jan 24, 2024

    You can find recommendations and reviews for specialized laundry detergents here: