Smelly Jeans?

groomingalFebruary 16, 2008

I am totally baffled as to why there are a few pair of jeans in our household that smell after washing and drying. 2 pairs are mine and one is DS- all came from JC Penny at different times within the last year. They almost have a soured smell and I have tried different detergents, baking soda, and vinegar.

They smell bad directly from the wash and if you dry them the smell isn't as bad but if you wear them it "heats" the smell.

I have never left them in the wash or dryer to sour and no other items have that smell.

Does anyone have a solution to help eliminating the odor or had this problem themselves?

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I'm sorry I can't help you with your smelly jeans problem; in my experience, vinegar has always worked for me re: infrequent smelly clothing issues.

However, I do have a suggestion or two.

First off, if you can locate the receipt for those jeans, I'd march them right back to JCP and ask for a refund. You probably don't have the receipt, but I might just take the jeans back w/out the receipt and ask a manager to offer a solution to clearly defective merchandise. I can't believe they would not try to make it right.

Second, I would stop buying jeans from JCP. Nice jeans are able to be found too many places for you to deal with a pair that smell to you while you wear them, for crying out loud!

Last, if JCP won't help, or you don't want to be bothered bringing this issue to their attention, just toss the jeans. I wouldn't even give them to Goodwill if they stink.

Good luck to you, and enjoy buying your family some new, non-smelly jeans not from JCP!

    Bookmark   February 16, 2008 at 9:52PM
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smarge- Thank you for your suggestions. I do have my credit card and they should be able to pull the purchase up on it. It is almost embarrassing to do it though, at least here nobody can personally identify me as the lady with the smelly jeans.
I agree, no more JCP jeans. I really like the way the jeans fit but I can't wear them now due to the odor. They are like fine wine, they ripen with age. It has just gotten worse and no amount of soaking, extra detergents, air drying, or using a dryer will get rid of it.
LOL, I surely wouldn't give them to Goodwill! I guess i'm going shopping for new jeans!!

    Bookmark   February 16, 2008 at 10:57PM
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I know exactly what you are talking about. Last fall I bought two pairs of jeans from a local department store. These jeans are from a very well known manufacturer - one of the biggest. They smell terrible. To me, they have a chemical smell. I have washed and washed them and the smell is more faint, but is still there. My jeans were manufactured in China, which makes me suspicious of perhaps some chemical being sprayed on the cotton or on the finished jeans. I no longer have my receipt for the jeans, but may try to return them anyway. I'm nervous about wearing them, because I can't believe that whatever is causing the smell would be a good thing to have on my skin.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2008 at 7:34AM
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Sour smell sounds like it could be mildew. Have you washed them in hot water with the baking soda? The hot water is key. If you can't wash in hot, then try borax. DH even puts Febreeze in the washer with some of the things that we use outdoors and get pretty mucky.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2008 at 3:03PM
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I saw on another post about Charlie's Soap- so I ordered some and will wait and try that.
stbonner- one pair is Liz Claiborne and they are made in Macau- a peninsula connected to China. Funny you should mention the chemicals- when I would wear this one particular brand I would start itching on my legs and waist- I chalked it up to dry skin/ reaction to detergent. I going to throw that pair away on that note.
Lascatx- the odor is hard to explain. Not quite the sour smell as if you forget the load overnight in the summer. No mildew present. Kind of like the smell of an an old book that is wet- maybe a musty odor I guess. I did try the vinegar in hot water but not borax. I have tried directly febreezing the jeans when they are dry and it makes it worse.
DH and I thought maybe it was the washer itself-it is fairly old but not all of our clothes get that odor- just the three pairs of pants.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2008 at 4:07PM
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It's not mildew. In my jeans it is a chemical smell. Both pairs of my jeans are Levis brand. I use Charlie's Soap for all of my laundry, and I've never had anything else come through the wash with a lingering smell. That is one of the things that I like most about Charlie's, as a matter of fact. No matter how dirty something smells, after washing it smells fresh and clean.

I have washed my jeans multiple times in all water temperatures and the smell is definitely more faint than in the beginning, but it is still there. I've decided not to wear these pants again, whether or not they can be returned. I will be more diligent in the future about buying clothes that smell strange, I'll tell you that.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 7:11AM
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My girls have complained of the same thing -- with Stitches jeans, both pair were darker blue, not blue jean blue.
We hav en't been able to clear the smell either.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 1:11PM
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Have you tried line drying to see if the wind/sun will help? I might also try something like Gain that is loud smelling to see if that would "cut" the smell. I had a shirt once that would smell like a wet dog when you wore it. I wore it 2 times and that was it. Even if no one else could smell it I could and I had enough of the dog scent. I never found anything that would get it out. It would seem fine till you put it on and got it "warmed up" then there was the wet dog once again.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 5:09PM
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I'd definitely try soaking them in Borax for a while. Borax is an excellent deodorizer and has some disinfectant properties too. Another thought is to try cleaning the machine with a couple hot water and bleach runs, with a good vinegar rinse. Then try washing the jeans with the Borax.

I can't quite see myself going to a store and demanding a refund because clothes stink after I wear them! :) If I were a manager with such a customer, well, it gives something to talk about when you get home! I just don't think that clothes that smell after being worn are "clearly defective".

If you like the fit of the product, I don't think I'd dismiss them out of hand. One pair out of however many, assuming there is a defect, and I'm not totally sure there is. You could be cutting off your nose to spite your face. I'd at least try a few other things first.

I'm wondering if there could be a water issue. Is it really only this one pair of jeans that has trouble? And you say you can smell it before going into the dryer? Whenever I've had that, I never dried them, I'd rewash or soak them until the smell goes. I'm not sure if dryers will compound a problem or not. Also the line drying outdoors in the sun is a good idea. Are you washing them inside out? If not, I would. I always do that with my jeans.

Another thought, is it just parts of the jeans that have the smell or throughout? Another thought, are you using fabric softener? Maybe try with or without, as the case may be to see if there's a difference.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 1:15AM
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dunwakin- these are a darker blue as well and have a little stretch to them. All three pair are dark- I wonder if it is something in the dye?

Sparky- I have tried hanging them out to dry but it makes it faint, no sooner than the body heat warms them- they smell again.

Cynic- I did run hot water and bleach on an empty load thinking my washer had the odor. I used to work in retail many years ago- and yes they do talk about people that do that. No, I don't want to be that person. I did go shopping today for more jeans and bought a different brand that fit just as well. I am going to wash them first and keep the receipt just in case. It is just the three pairs of jeans and it is all over. I've tried a few different brands of detergent that we are able to use, softener, no softener, no detergent. I did rewash several times prior to drying and thought it might just be me and I dried them well they smelled better until body heat activated.

I am going to pick up some Borax this week and try them. Hopefully between Borax and the Charlie's soap the odor will go away.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 2:19AM
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You may have picked up some type of bacteria. I experienced a time when just hugging someone was enough to transfer bacteria from their garment to mine (they had a "scent" to them... after washing and drying garment I had worn during hug, it seemed clean, but then during wear and "heating up", it smelled just like that person)... My only saving grace was a detergent called, "Win". Prior to that, I used many detergents and additives w/ no luck. I would highly suggest you try it. Note that in my experience, washing "non-infected" items w/ "infected" items seems to spread smell to non-infected. :-(

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 8:19AM
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You might try soaking them in a water/Odo Ban(sold at Sams and maybe W/Mart)solution. That Win detergent might work also. Also Charlies might help--can't remember if you said you have some ordered or if that was someone else.

Might just be the fabric and no hope for it. You say they have "a little stretch" so maybe it is the stretch fabric weaved in that is causing the smell. I would try that Win. It might just work.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 6:26PM
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Would taking them to a dry cleaner help - or would that make it worse? Just a suggestion.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 6:35PM
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How about an enzimatic cleaner? It gets out pet odors and it's also supposed to be good for oil stains, so if whatever is causing the odor is oil based it might help.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2008 at 1:29AM
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My affected jeans are also a dark wash and have a little stretch to them. I also use Charlie's Soap for all of my laundry, so that option has already been tried. One thing I really like about Charlie's Soap is the ability to get smells out of dirty clothes, but it hasn't worked in this case.

At this point the smell of my jeans is very faint but they smell gets stronger when I wear them. Yech. I'm increasingly concerned about chemical exposure and don't want to do anything to just mask the smell. At this point I'm probably just going to quit wearing them, as I don't think the price of a pair of pants is worth exposing myself to some unknown chemical.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2008 at 6:30AM
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I know you are concerned about exposure to unknown chemicals... I "think" the active ingredient in WIN detergent is Hydrogen Peroxide.. That breaks down into oxygen and water. Might be worth a try. It WORKED for issue I had after all else failed.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2008 at 9:15AM
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Well I have used an enzyme cleaner- it is an industrial product. Works great on pet stains but not the jeans.

I cannot use a dry cleaner due to an allergic reaction.

stbonner- I think it is something in the stretch portion of the jeans. I am definitely not going to be wearing them anymore if the Charlie's didn't work either. I think I am just going to avoid buying those with the stretch to them and stick with regular denim.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2008 at 1:26PM
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If the Charlie's didn't get the smell out, there are a couple of possibilities.

1) the chemical causing the smell is very tiny and slipped inside the fibers for a while. This actually has happened to me. I accidentally burned a piece of laminate wood flooring in the dryer (left it in a pocket) and the smoke permeated everything in that load so that they all smelled like a chemical fire for like 2 washes after. I used a double dose twice to get the smell out.

2) same kind of situation, where you may have melted a synthetic fiber in the jeans in the dryer. I know that I accidentally dried my polypropylene underwear once in the dryer and while they were clean, they never did stop stinking. The plastic just melted and stunk.

3) the most likely problem, however, is slightly hard water. Try using a quarter cup of the borax mentioned earlier in this thread along with a heaping scoop of the Charlie's Powder. All that soda ash should bind up the calcium in the water and allow the Charlie's to work much better at getting the stink out.

If you still have questions, give us a call. I think I'm always here! :)

Taylor from Charlie's
VP Ops, Customer Service, Logistics, etc... :)

    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 5:14PM
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This morning I washed my smelly jeans in Charlie's Soap with the added borax that Taylor suggested. So far, so good. I've been wearing the jeans since they came out of the wash and I'm not smelling any chemical smell, so I'm hopeful that the smell is gone.

Thanks Taylor!

    Bookmark   February 23, 2008 at 3:14PM
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Glad you were successful! Borax is a favorite of mine. Often the "old ways" are still the best ways! Had thought of one other thing if others have issues. Pine Sol is often said to be great deodorizer and booster.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2008 at 8:27PM
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I bought a pair of Levi jeans a few weeks ago at Kohls and they have a funky odor - the tag says made in Macau. Every brand I tried on had that funny odor that imported clothes frequently have.

I washed them before wearing them and my legs smelled just like the pants after I wore them. I've washed them 3 more times and they still stink. Levi said it could be a defect and I could return them to place of purchase or send them to Levi for inspection. I really don't want to pay for shipping to Levi, so I'll probably return them....

but EVERY pair of jeans I tried on had some sort of weird smell about them!

Would ya'll please share what brand of jeans you like that don't smell ?!


    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 6:55PM
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I looked at the website for the Win detergent. It contains hydrogen peroxide and an unnamed antibacterial agent. You can get the same results yourself. Use borax, as suggested by others, for the antibacterial agent. Use an 'OxyClean' type product. These contain an oxygen bleach that turn into hydrogen peroxide in your washing machine. This may get the musty bacterial smell out of your clothes. BTW I use borax in every wash load and have no problems with odor.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 1:25AM
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I bought a pair of Levi jeans at JC Penny a couple weeks ago with, what sounds like, the exact same odor. :/ I've washed them three times now, and just put them on this morning only to detect a bit of the same bizarre odor. I really wasn't expecting to find any common threads when I googled 'smelly jeans bought at JC Penny' so while I'm very sorry that a few of you are experiencing the same problem, I'm very thankful for the solutions given here. Thanks everyone!!!

    Bookmark   February 27, 2011 at 9:07AM
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I too have had this problem with the same odor on 'heat up' with a pair of dark blue Levis the label says cotton and 2% elastine, iv had them a few months now and repeatedly washed them with normal washing powder and conditioner, I don't think we have those brands here in the UK that you mentioned, I'm not sure whether or not to just keep trying or forget about them and swallow the 80 pounds and try a different style

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 3:06AM
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I have recently bought a pair of Levis with the chemical smell problem others are describing here -- honestly I'm glad to hear I am not the only one! - I have washed them numerous times with no change; I will try the suggestions here and maybe they will be worth keeping for picture day! Too bad - great fit but the smell gets onto the washer, and other clothes.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 10:40PM
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