Sunday, March 13, 2011

What is "New Clothes Smell"?

High Heel Trouser by
White House Black Market

Last week I got a new pair of jeans from White House Black Market. I love them, but they STINK! What is this new pants smell that I seem to be encountering more often lately? Why do my jeans stink? Honestly the smell is so bad that I can't wear them. Are companies seriously finishing clothing with formaldehyde?

The pants didn't smell so bad when I bought them. They did have an odor but I was sure that after I washed them they would be fine. I was wrong, really wrong. Now not only do my new jeans smell 10 times worse than before the wash, the rest of my clothes picked up a bit of the stink too.

I was still pretty sure I could fix this problem. I soaked the new pants in the washing machine with Borax and vinegar overnight. In the morning I washed them twice to get all the soap out. Guess what? They still stank just as bad as they did before I soaked them!

So I soaked them overnight again. Same result, smelly pants. Actually there was a significant change to the pants after the first wash, they shrank. They would still fit fine, if I could actually wear them, but they can no longer be accurately called a "High Heel Trouser".

So what's the deal? Why do my new pants smell so bad and is there anything I can do about it? The answers appears to be; formaldehyde and probably not. I can't say for sure that White House Black Market items are finished with formaldehyde but it seems the most likely answer to my current stinky pants situation. The shirt I bought at the same time does not appear to have any odor, but I haven't worn or washed it yet.

Why do clothing manufactures feel the need to add chemicals to our cloths? Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and a potent allergen. Clothing manufactures often use formaldehyde-based resins as a finish to make clothing items more durable, more wrinkle-resistant, color-proof and stain-resistant. In short, they are meeting the demand for convenience. Convenient is not a word I would use to describe the experience I am having.

In researching how to fix my smelly pants I learned that #1: I did the right thing with Borax and vinegar, #2: The formaldehyde smell can be lessened but the chemical can not be completely removed from clothing regardless of time and the numbers of washing.

Bummer, I won't be wearing these pants to any job interviews! Actually I don't think I will be wearing them at all, I can hardly stand within five feet of them. Guess it is time to find out what White House Black Market's return policy is.

Read more about what is used in the manufacturing of clothing and household products in this New York Times article - When Wrinkle-Free Clothing Also Means Formaldehyde Fumes


  1. Ugh!
    I hate stinky new clothes.
    I always wash mine, but thanks for the new tip on vinegar and borax. Aussie clothes don't seem to be as bad as US clothes for the stink factor, but I'm sure they are using the same.
    Hope your niece is doing better.

  2. My husband and daughter have a pair of shoes that smell like gasoline or some chemical. I can smell it when they wear them near me. I had a pair of jeans that smelled that same way. Can't be a good chemical. Maybe it's the dye? Both shoes are dark & my jeans were dark as well. Blech!

  3. Sonya you are right! My jeans are dark. Candice has a dark pair from Forever 21 that stink too. I've never had dark pants that stank before though. I can't imagine that it was something that I just didn't notice in the past.

  4. The worst! Have you considered soaking them overnight in Castile Soap? I did that with some hand-me-downs from my sister-in-law that stank all get-out from fabric softener after 15 washes & a week outside. The Castile soap did the trick -- worth a try :) (I got the idea from someone who uses castile soap to wash out the fire retardant from her kids' pajamas).

  5. I just bought a black pair of Elle jeans from kohl s and they stink so bad! I washed several times and soaked them and the smell has not come out! I don't plan on losing my money, I am taking them back and will now smell all clothing prior to buying them know matter how great they make my butt look!
    I believe that if we just through out our new pants that smell bad and not take them back from where we purchased them the manufacturers will never know how much the American women refuse to ware their smelly expensive pants....

  6. This same thing happened to me with a white terrycloth housecoat from Additionelle (in Canada). I bought the terrycloth since it's supposed to be more natural than the common housecoat fabrics made of plastic. Strange. I tried Castille soap (Dr. Bronner's) but maybe it would work at a more concentrated level. Thanks so much for posting about this, so I know it's not just me! :o)

  7. I just bought several items from Old Navy and spent the weekend trying to remove this odor from one of the skirts. I originally washed all the items together and they all began to smell but it was obvious it was just the one skirt that started it all. The other items are find now but I have to return this skirt it is unwearable! It smells like a cat peed on it!

  8. I bought a pair of Jordache capris and had this problem. They smell like swamp water! We've thrown away a couple of shirts I washed with them that the smell wouldn't come out of. I try not to dry them with anything else, but once in a while I forget! I can't take them back, and I don't want throw them out since they are brand new, but WOW!

    1. You can take them back - in fact you should because if we don't return the clothes, the manufacturers will not get the message. I had a pair from Marshalls and returned them after washing and got store credit. I insisted because it wasn't my fault that the jeans stunk - it was the manufacturer's and why should I have to pay the price?

  9. It's sulfur black dye! Here's an article that includes a fix!

  10. A new denim skirt from Millers still ponged like petrol after a wash & air drying. Don't know what to do. Return it (bought for $10 cheaper than original pricing) or throw it out. Good advice given above to smell all clothing purchases.


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