How Do I Get GREAT Smelling Laundry?

Updated on February 08, 2010
S.S. asks from Troy, MI
19 answers

I have tried many kinds of laudry detergent but my clothes don't smell great. They are clean but I want them to smell awesome too! I already feel like I use too much just to get a fresher scent but it doesn't seem to make a difference. Any ideas?

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So What Happened?

Great smelling laundry is more like smelling the roses than a chore. It makes me want to do the wash!
I;m gonna go with Gain and occasionally use Washing Soda.

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answers from Albuquerque on

Hi S.,
Wash that's been hung out to dry in the fresh air smells best (a friend of mine puts her's in the dryer, then hangs it out for just the final drying so it will get that wonderful smell).


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1 mom found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

I love using either Tide with Downy or All detergent. Also, I put a dryer sheet in each drawer. It helps the clothes stay fresh and so clean smelling.

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answers from Detroit on

Hi S.---I'm not sure I would worry about 'great' smells in your laundry, outside of making sure it is clean. I agree that putting too many clothes in the wash will keep that from happening. I don't have many suggestions except to explore and look for their list of non-toxic household cleaners. Not sure, but I'd be they have a list of laundry detergents.

I will not use products containing chemical additives,for the health of my family. Frangrances are usually chemical additives, most of which are known carcinogens. Dryer sheets are the worst. I no longer use them, but use the dryer balls that can be found at most retail outlets. I got mine at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

I truly believe you must buy food and household cleaning products that do not challenge the health of your family. You can find some great ideas for healthier laundry at Here are some great ideas from that website:


Fabric Softener: Add ¼ cup of baking soda—which also works as a brightener—to the wash. When using liquid detergent, add the baking soda during the wash cycle; when using powder, add the baking soda during the rinse cycle.

Whiten & Brighten: Pour 1 cup of lemon juice in a bucket half full of water and soak clothes overnight. Or add ¼ to 1 cup of washing soda (a more powerful form of baking soda) to each laundry load during the wash cycle.

Fragrance: If you want to add fragrance, do so during the drying cycle. Put a few drops of essential oil on a cotton cloth, and toss it into the dryer with wet clothes.

Treat Grease Stains: For best results, treat stains while they’re fresh. Cover the oily spot with a mixture of Borax and warm water and let it sit—20 minutes for a light, fresh stain, and two hours for a heavy, set stain—then rinse with cold water.

Remove Perspiration Odors and Stains: Spray full-strength distilled white vinegar on underarms and collars of shirts before washing.

Any other questions, feel free to contact me. I am a Personal Wellness Educator and my passion is to help others learn how to optimize their health. Good Luck. D.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

OOOOOOH! I dearly hope you'll keep your mind open on this wish. I'm severely sensitive to the "awesome" scents that come off of other people's clothing. So are many children.

Most are synthetic scents; some are downright toxic. Ditto fabric softeners. Here's a list of the ingredients present in most fabric softeners (some are also in detergents, perfumes and colognes, and air "fresheners"):

Causes CNS (central nervous system) disorders... "highly irritating to mucous membranes" ..."Aspiration into the lungs can produce pneumonitis or even fatal edema." Can also cause "excitement, ataxia (loss of muscular coordination), hypothermia, CNS and respiratory depression, and headache." "Prevent repeated or prolonged skin contact."

Benzyl Acetate
Carconigenic (linked to pancreatic cancer). "From vapors: irritating to eyes and respiratory passages, exciting cough." "In mice: hyperanemia of the lungs." "Can be absorbed through the skin causing systemic effects." "Do not flush to sewer."

Benzyl Alcohol
Causes CNS disorders ..."irritating to the upper respiratory tract" ..."headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, CNS depression, and death in severe cases due to respiratory failure."

Causes CNS disorders. On EPA's Hazardous Waste list. Symptoms: "local irritant and CNS stimulant" ..."readily absorbed through body tissues" ..."irritation of eyes, nose, and throat" ..."dizziness, confusion, nausea, twitching muscles and convulsions". "Avoid inhalation of vapors."

Neurotoxic. Anesthetic. Carcinogenic. on EPA's Hazardous Waste list. "Avoid contact with eyes, skin, clothing. Do not breathe vapors ...Inhalation of vapors may cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of respiratory tract and loss of consciousness." "Inhalation can be fatal." "Chronic effects of overexposure may include kidney and/or liver damage." "Medical conditions generally aggravated by exposure: kidney disorders, liver disorders, heart disorders, skin disorders." "Conditions to avoid: Heat..." Listed on California's Proposition 65.

Ethyl Acetate
Narcotic. On EPA's Hazardous Waste list. "...Irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract" ..."may cause headache and narcosis (stupor)" ..."may cause anemia with leukocytosis and damage to liver and kidneys". "Wash thoroughly after handling."

Carcinogenic. "Prevent its contact with skin or eyes because it is an irritant and sensitizer." "Always wash thoroughly after using this material and before eating, drinking ...applying cosmetics. Do not inhale limonene vapor."

Narcotic. Causes CNS disorders. ..."respiratory disturbances" ..."Attracts bees." "In animal tests: ataxic gait, reduced spontaneous motor activity and depression ...depressed heart activity ...development of respiratory disturbances leading to death."

"Danger - Harmful if inhaled ...Avoid breathing vapor." "Inhalation of vapors may cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of respiratory tract and loss of consciousness. Repeated inhalation of vapors may cause CNS depression. Contact can cause eye irritation. Prolonged exposure may cause dermatitis (skin rash)."

I become very ill (breathing difficulty, headache, nervousness, confusion, sleep disorders) when exposed to these chemicals wafting off people's clothing. This is a huge problem, obviously. For years now, my clothes smell wonderful – just plain clean!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

Wow, I can't respond to all of the super awesome answers you've recieved here, but I would recommend adding VINEGAR to your wash cycle. I pour vinegar into my wash cycle as I'm adding detergent. My Mom adds vinegar as her rinse cycle begins. The vinegar really helps the detergent do it's job, and just leaves our clothes with a especially clean odor.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

My family has skin allergies and we can only use the free and clear detergent. So to get my clothes smelling fresh I use the Super Washing Soda (you can find it in the detergent aisle usually near the Borax and stain pre treaters). It's basically baking soda. It naturally softens my wash and then the clothes come out smelling fresh like outside fresh when I take them out. They don't have any perfuming fragrance to them, they smell almost like they were hung out to dry.

So you may want to try some super washing soda, maybe with your dryer sheets you will get the result you are looking for!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

Hi S.,

The only way to get great smelling laundry is for it to actually be clean. Most dirt that is washed out of clothes redeposits itself back on the clothing in the spin cycle. I use a natural laundry detergent that actually inhibits the dirt from resettling on the clothes. My husband has gotten compliments from ladies about his cologne when all he's wearing is clean clothes.....

The detergent I use is 1/3 the price of Tide you would get at Wal-mart. If you're interested, let me know.


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answers from Detroit on

I cloth diaper and just started using an awesome new laundry soap. It's natural and smells yummy enough to eat! :) It can be used on diapers AND clothes. And it's an excellent soap for hard water, if that's what you have?
The site I bought if from is, (I have cherry vanilla scent), but it's sold elsewhere too.

If that's not for you, I'd try (less) laundry soap, Super Washing Soda & an extra rinse cycle. I've also used vinegar and a hot cycle for stinky towels before.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Tulsa on

I have a friend who stuffs her washer very full and her clothes always have a "dirty" smell to me. No matter what she uses to clean or soften them. I teach people with Developmental Disabilities how to do laundry and I really enjoy it because laundry is my favorite chore.

I sort my clothing according to several differnt factors. I will try to be simple here because my husband still can't figure out how I sort the loads...LOL.

I sort whites/lights, defined as anything I want to use bleach on, use hot water or warm. I use my dispensor for the bleach or add it first as the water is filling the tub. I bleach light grey sweats, light blue dress shirts, anything that won't fade or shrink in hot water. I guess I really use the hot water on towels and underwear and with the other whites/lights I use warm.

Colors, anything not bleachable, and not dark. Sometimes I'll do a whole load of just red things.

Darks, navy, dark browns, blacks, etc...I always think about what I am adding to them, will it leave fuzz on my favorite black pants.

Towels, I always wash my towels seperate. I use very hot water to get the body oils and dead skin cells that sluff off while drying your skin. I think the hot water really makes a difference in how white the towels stay and how clean they are when done. I do have to say I usually buy light colored towels so this works for me. My husband likes dark towels and I think they always stink. Never add fabric softener to towels, it coats the fibers to eliminate static and therefore coats the fibers of the towels and causes them to not be absorbant. You can use a dryer sheet in the dryer.

Bed linens, big bulky items, I wash 2 pillows at a time. I put them in sideways and then fill the washer. They spin equally this way, never add anything to the pillows, it will cause the load to be unbalanced when spinning. I dry them laying down on a rack, like a cake drying rack, with air circulating all around them. Never dry in the dryer, they roll up, it really ruins them at this point

Jeans/denim, deniem is a very heavy fabric, they need extra room and just don't spin well if the load isn't balanced.
Now, I almost always wash in warm water. A lot of soaps add enzymes now to help with cleaning and they just don't work in cold water. Laundry soap sometimes doesn't dissolve in cold either. If you have a newer washing machine then you may have a sensor that adjusts your cold water temp up to 70 degrees automatically, that is the minimum "cold" that is recommended.

I sort the clothes into piles, or bins, or baskets, whatever you do, I start my water and add the detergent. I start adding the clothes and I DON'T OVERLOAD THE WASHER. My clothes actually go around and up and over. Agitating is the important part of washing. If the clothes can't move around then they can't rub each other and water can't circulate through them, then they aren't getting as clean as they could be. When you wash something by hand you rub it between your hands, scrubbing it, the rubbing of the clothes against each other in the washer does the same thing. The water swishing through the fabric helps the dirt and oils to be removed.

Fabric softener:

Fabric softener can leave greasy looking spots on your clothing if it's not done correctly I have a dispensor in the top of the agitator, add the correct amount then add water to fill the dispensor. By adding the water you are thinning it down and when the spin happens and it throws the softener into the tub it won't be sticky goo on your clothes.

For top loaders
1. sort clothes into load by color, how heavy the fabric is, etc
2. start the washer and add the soap and if needed, bleach, add fabric softener to the dispensor
3. start adding the clothes and stop and wait if you thing it's full, wait until it starts agitating and see if there is too much space, just enough, or too many clothes
4. Don't let the clothes sit too long, they can sour at this point
5. Use a dryer sheet that you like, I use dye and perfume free because my fabric softener smell good and that's what I want to smell.

My personal opinion:
You get what you pay for in most items. Laundry soap is one of those you can't go super cheap. Those cheap soaps have so much filler in them. By a good brand that has a good reputation. Doesn't have to be Tide, I can't even afford that. But is should be a good soap that you can trust. I use Gain Original or Arm and Hammer stuff. It's mid priced and I have always felt my clothes looked and felt clean.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

LOVED Peg M.'s answer! I am not sensitive like she is to fragrances, but I often can't stand the smell of perfumes because I haven't used anything with synthetic fragrances for years. As it turns out, fragrance in anything...perfume, lotions, cleaners, detergents...all contain phthalates, which are known carcinogens. After my first babies were born 10 years ago, I learned more and more and therefore simplified and used less and less of common household products. I loved that Peg M pointed out all the ingredients, because the last time I used a Tide/Cheer/Downy type product was several years ago when I decided that if the stuff doesn't come off my fingers with running water (it allways still felt slimy after rinsing), it surely wasn't coming off my clothes and I didn't want all those chemicals touching my family's skin/finding their way into the bloodstream. And 10 years ago, you couldn't find any "ingredients" listed on the cleaners (maybe that has changed). That alone, made me pretty suspicious! Now there are non-toxic alternatives available, but I am still suspicious of brands that claim non-toxic but are very strongly-scented (like the entire Method line). It is hard to get rid of all the carcinogens surrounding us, but if you make even a few small-but-important changes, it can make a difference in your health.
I like the idea of adding vinegar to the wash, and I happen to use the Ecos laundry detergent and Ecover liquid fabric softener. My clothes smell nice when I press my nose into them, but you cannot smell it otherwise. Fragrance is actually not a good thing for your health, and---I suspect---one of the reasons we have so much more breast cancer now compared to 50 years ago. Unless you shop carefully, scents/fragrance are in EVERYTHING now and big companies use it as a marketing tool all its own (think Fbreeze!). It might be worth considering to not care so much about "smells" and instead focus on making choices that are better for your health, and I mean that in a "considerate" way (and not to lecture). This is all coming from someone who once-upon-an-ignorant/trusting-time many years ago used to spray all her clothing with perfume before getting dressed ;)

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answers from Grand Rapids on

It's funny you should ask because I have a friend who is always commenting on how much she loves the smell of my detergent. However I don't think it's my detergent at all. I believe it is my fabric softner. I use the liquid Snuggle with the blue cap. Not sure the name of the sent but I get it at Sam's Club and it's the only one with a blue cap. Hope that helps some.

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answers from Reno on

Gain detergent..sooo yummy especially when paired with same scent fabric softener



answers from Saginaw on

what kind of water do you have well water etc??



answers from Washington DC on

I use costco own powder and snuggle softner , I put the softner in the drum with the clothing rather than in the drawer (i have a front loader) and the smell stays in better.



answers from Tampa on

the green bottle of xtra at walmart and suavatel field of flowers for softener...smells awesome.



answers from Chicago on

I have found that using an unscented laundry detergent & the Snuggle Orchid fabric softener gives a really nice scent. Also use borax in the wash to really boost the soap & take out any unwanted odors that might linger (also great for stains!)




answers from Boston on

I love the smell of Arm and Hammer detergent. I just started using it and every time I put on my clothes, I think "wow, this smells good." Also, I've used scent-free detergents and gain dryer sheets and those smell good too. Good luck!



answers from Kalamazoo on

I have a big problem with this as our well water does not smell good to begin with, then you add husband's stinky gym clothes, dirty kid clothes, musty towels... Ugh. I just recently discovered Gain ( I use the red) and I LOVE it that my clothes come out of the washer smelling good!


answers from Austin on

Do you have hard water?

This website ( says that hard water not only is rough on fabrics, but it can trap dirt and oils in the material--which I assume would then contribute to a less than fresh smelling laundry. It offers some tips on how to do laundry in areas of hard water.

Next question: Is Fabric Softener Used on Infant Clothing Safe?