Vintage textile odors (slightly off topic)

Fori is not pleasedJune 16, 2010

This is a little off topic, but not entirely. It's a "collectible".

I recently got an old camping trailer. It's cute, from 1974. And it has a smell that I THINK is coming from the fabrics. It's a clingy acrid chemical stink that attaches to other textiles. I believe the fabrics are synthetic. I machine washed a set of vinyl-backed curtains and while they survived the washing, they still smell. There are also window curtains in a rayonish fabric that are very fragile from age and I'm sort of afraid to wash them. But I have to. They really smell.

Anyway, I guess I'm wondering if synthetic textiles from 1974 are inclined to sublimate or otherwise emit stinky gases. Or foam cushions. And how would one wash delicate curtains that may or may not be emitting the stench but are definitely full of it? I used regular laundry detergent and washing machine on the heavy vinyl-backed curtains because I didn't think I'd ever use them, but the window curtains are important! I could make new ones but darnit the kitsch factor on the originals is tremendous.

Any ideas? It's a folding camper, so everything gets closed up in a tight package with little air circulation, but no sun exposure. So the window drapes being so fragile is due to age, but not UV exposure.


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Various things in there could be decomposing and giving off that smell. Leave it popped up and as open as possible for a few weeks and air it out.

Replace the curtains with washable new fabrics in a similar design. It's a camping trailer, so fragile is not a good thing regardless of the kitsch factor.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2010 at 3:22PM
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Before folding the trailer up, place a plate of charcoal (even BBQ briquets will work) on the floor. This will eliminate many of the "musty" smells.

Yes....if possible, replace the curtains, and if not too expensive, replace any foam pillows and coverings. Smells are easily absorbed by these items.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2010 at 5:23PM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks. I should replace them, but they are sooooooo cheesy. If I can wash them I might try to line them to make them stronger but they have a southern plantation toile pattern in olive and avocado green. It's just terrible and I'd love to keep it. :) The original fabrics are part of the charm of the trailer, but I think one of them (or the foam) is actually creating the smell.

I will try the charcoal, but the smell isn't really mustiness or any kind of organic smell (organic like from living things. It is DEFINITELY organic in the manmade plastic carbon-containing kind of way). It's like an old p-chem lab in the basement of a college. It's not a nice earthy rot but some chemical offgassing. Outgassing?

The kind of smell I'm sure the state of California would have a warning for. Bleh!

    Bookmark   June 16, 2010 at 5:43PM
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There is this amazing stuff called Nilodor. Charcoal's not a bad idea, but you'll need it in there forever. Of course, if whatever you're smelling is mold or toxic...

Old foam crumbles, but I don't know if there's a smell associated.

Or is it a mothball smell?


    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 12:03AM
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Fori is not pleased

I kinda like mothball smell! I wish...but it's a different chemical.

The camper itself doesn't smell strongly, but the curtain I removed and put in a shopping bag is smelling worse and worse. There are so few of these campers left, especially with the original guts, that I hate to do it, but I might have to redo it. And the cushions are still comfy!

It's not mold, although it may be toxic...I'll check out Nilodor. Sounds like the kind of thing my life could use anyway. :)

    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 12:14AM
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Old plastics will start decomposing and give off a pungent chemical odor. Top suspects are foam pads and vinyl flooring.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 12:45PM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks for the suspect lineup LG. I'll ummmmm sniff the floor. I think there's a cutaway spot where I can see if it's vinyl or linoleum.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 3:00PM
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You could wash them in the bathtub in lukewarm water with quilt soap. Lay them on a towel and lower the towel into the water. Let them soak. maybe some baking soda in the rinse? and then rinse out the baking soda. Let the tub drain. gently press the water out of the curtains.Use the towel to lift the curtains out so the weight is not on the fragile fabric.
Place the curtains on dry towel and roll up, and let the towel absorb the water. Let them dry flat.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2010 at 9:31PM
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Fori is not pleased

I'll try that, CB! Thanks for the washing tips. I don't think they're THAT fragile but babying them when wet is probably a good idea.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2010 at 12:14AM
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Open it the windows to it....put a fan in there and let it run for a week...
I'll bet that will make a huge difference!
Linda C

    Bookmark   June 23, 2010 at 1:04PM
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Sad but it may be necessary to get rid of the original materials. Can you find a similar vintage fabric elsewhere to make new curtains out of ?

    Bookmark   June 25, 2010 at 4:44PM
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Fori is not pleased

It does air out quickly when opened, but a slight odor sticks to things. It's tolerable...

    Bookmark   June 26, 2010 at 1:35PM
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our popup camper of the same vintage smelled like that in the 80's. :) Maybe they just always smelled like that...

    Bookmark   June 28, 2010 at 10:13AM
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Fori is not pleased

Welp, the curtains disintegrated in water. Glad I measured them first. Wish I could sew a straight line...


Maybe it'll smell better without them.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2010 at 12:51AM
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oh thats too bad. I bet you can find some vintage fabric on line that yu like to make up a fresh pair. and of course you can sew as straight line- put a piece of masking tape across the bed of your machine where the seam line will be. keep the edge of your fabric lined up with that and sew as slowly as you need- not a race.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2010 at 10:55AM
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There are a lot of online sites that sell repro fabrics. A lot go back to the 70's too. You could google repro fabrics and find something appropriate.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2010 at 10:51AM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks. I had to rush and work with easily obtainable fabric for a trip so I had to go with something more tasteful than I would have preferred. I needed 11 yards which is surprisingly hard to find in the funky patterns without special ordering. I hope I have more time to order good fabric when I have to redo the cushions!

    Bookmark   July 26, 2010 at 4:17PM
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So, Fori, where are the photos? I would love to see the in and outside of your travel trailer. It is cool that it is road worthy! I must see photos.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2010 at 12:11PM
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Hi Fori, I found some old fabric in my basement that were the original draperies in my 1929 home, I think they are called bark cloth..They have Chinese men and woman and lotuses..They had a hideous smell, but I washed them and they came out like new!!!! I made pillows and covered little footstools for myself and had enough left over to make a few more for girlfriends..Anyway, look up vintage bark cloth,its very sturdy , they have many kitchy patterns that may be good for you, use the new curtains until you can afford the retro fabric...Also have had much luck with Natures Miracle(found in pet stores) to remove wierd odors..Its an enzyme and actually removes, not cover smells....You may have beem able to spray the fabric before destroying the curtains..Wish I saw this sooner.....

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 6:35PM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks Dotz. If it makes you feel any better, I'm pretty sure an enzyme-based product wouldn't have helped. It was definitely chemical and not biological. Of course I would have tried it had I had it around and thought of it!

Oh well. It's best that curtains in a camping trailer are washable. It just makes more sense. :)

    Bookmark   August 4, 2010 at 4:26PM
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