Stinky donated fabric

Regular readers know that I do the Second Time Around for my quilt guild. We take in donations, and preparing it to be resold to guild members at our monthly meetings.  I’m in my 3rd year of this activity, and I have run into a BIG problem!

I want / need ADVICE  —  Backstory – I picked up a giant container of fabric donated to the guild.  A SMOKER donated it to the church, who donated to the guild. Thankfully, the secretary at the church warned me it was smelly.  The container was so big and heavy, it took two of us and a cart to get it to the car, and then we split it into 3 containers, so we could lift them. We got our first whiff while we were standing in the parking lot.  I made sure to close the containers tightly when we put them in the back of the SUV.

When I got home, I had to get it out of my car and out of the garage due to the stench.  I opened the containers outside and further split the piles of fabric to get some fresh air around the fabrics.   It made my eyes water, and started me sneezing and coughing. I let it sit outside my garage for 4 hours in the fresh air.  Those boxes are going outside again this morning for another round of fresh air.

I did a little google research and discovered that VINEGAR is the trick, if the item is washable.  The recommendation was 1 cup of vinegar to a load.  (My hubby has lots of vinegar in the garage because he makes weed spray with it..another Google research project).

I sorted out one color, GREEN, and brought it in the house to wash. I soaked it for 2 hours in the washer with hot water, and 4 cups of vinegar.  I increased the quantity of vinegar because the stench was terrible.  After it soaked, and rinsed, I washed it with hot water and laundry soap, and softener.  I also put in 4 color catchers during the 1st soak. (Good thing too!!).   After the 2nd wash it did not smell, so I put it in the dryer, on the anti-bacterial setting, and added about 4 dryer sheets.  That setting is very hot and runs for about 1 1/2 hours.

I have to report it no longer smells like anything at all!   No smoke smell, and no smell from the liquid fabric softener or the dryer sheets.  I had to do some “fluffing and folding” because some of the really big pieces got twisted up. There were some 3 & 4 yard pieces, and they got a little tangled and the expected strings, but really, not to bad considering I had the washer on heavy duty/deep water wash.   There must have been 25 yards of fabric in just this one load. I considered the method a success, and since there was so much fabric, I think it was worth saving.

Down side to my new washer (Maytag top loader with no agitator) is that it doesn’t “fill up” above the fabric. It “senses” how much water needs to go in.   I cheated the machine, and added 3 “buckets” of extra water, to make sure everything was covered. I’m sure I confused the brain of the washer, but I feel like it needed that extra depth.

Green fabric

I decided to finish this pile up by putting the pieces outside on the porch, in the shade to continue to air.

Airing of the greens

There really were some very pretty pieces!

Pretty greens

I know it doesn’t look like much now, but this is a lovely batik!

3 or more yards of batik

Several yards of that batik, so WORTH the effort I think!

I’ve started the next “SOAK” load.  The pile of reds is in the washer, with the 4 cups of vinegar and a little OXYCLEAN. (I put that it, because 3 or 4 pieces had a bit of “stain” at the fold line.) Not as large a volume of fabric, but some good piece, worth the effort to save from the “stinky smoke”..

Now the question —-  HOW do I get the stench of smoke out of the small pieces??  From what I could see, on the first dig through the bins, there are squares, and blocks and strips .  I’ve got lingerie bags, but I wonder if there is a way to get the stink out WITHOUT washing those small pieces, and without really “touching them”.   I’m afraid that doing the heavy soak and heavy wash that I am doing with the large pieces will just leave me with a bag of strings and fuzz.  I am highly allergic to the smell, and don’t want to over handle the pieces if possible until they are neutralized.  So, share your wisdom and experience, please!!  

My volunteers will be steam pressing, trimming, measuring and folding the first 25 yards or more and getting it ready to sell at the September guild meeting in the next few weeks.

My daughter & I chatted about the Pros & cons of washing all this fabric. It is worth it, IF the ends justify the means.  Well, I think it was worth the washing, in spite of the the wrinkles, the cost of the washing machine wear and tear, hot water, drying, and laundry products.  Our Second Time Around sales at the guild meetings average over $400 at each meeting, so the effort pays off.  The members LOVE to shop our tables, where we are selling fabric for $2/yard.

Looking forward to hearing any and all advice.

ps…I’m sure most smokers don’t even realise how the smoke in the air clings to their fabrics.  I was married to a smoker for nearly 30 years, and he had no idea how bad the smell was, and didn’t believe what it did to his body. His death from Kidney cancer was attributed to smoking at age 53.  If you need help stopping, talk to a medical professional.  For your sake first and foremost, and for the sake of those who love you.

15 thoughts on “Stinky donated fabric

  1. Take your machine out to the patio. Don some latex free gloves. Stitch the smaller pieces end to end (side to side too if nec.) with your largest basting stitch, bag them and launder as above. You will get some fraying and strings, but the fraying will stop at the stitch lines. Hope this helps. ~ L

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just finished up the 2nd load, and got great results. I am going to also hang them out for fresh air tomorrow, just to ensure no residual smells are left. Great weather thankfully!! I am having a wonderful summer, playing grandma as the opportunities present themselves!

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  2. Maybe this seems a bit far fetched, but what about putting the small pieces in a pillowcase well secured with a rubber band or some form of closure into the wash using the same technique you used for the larger pieces? Several pillow cases in one load?

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  3. Not far fetched at all. I have fine & course mesh laundry bags, so considering them. Pillowcase is an interesting idea. Because of the aggressive washing I worry about them getting shredded. Going to ponder for a few days, while some of the stink dissipates in the open containers out in the garage. 🙂

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    • I remembered you had that tip and had this been new or non smelly I might have taken the time. It was all I could do to shake it out and stuff the washer. I’m still pondering the small pieces. I thought I read somewhere about putting coffee grounds in cheese cloth bag and sealing tightly for a few days someplace but can’t remember specifics.

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  4. That’s called “third-hand smoke”–the tobacco vapors that come off furnishings, clothing, carpets, etc., that have been in smoked-filled rooms. It’s as big a health hazard as second-hand smoke. I would think using an enzyme detergent like ERA in a long, hot water wash would be enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for taking time to comment Jo. I am using ALL, free & clear, and along with the vinegar soak the smell is removed and the fabric feels clean. The long “soaks” with the vinegar seems to be doing the trick.

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