getting the detergent reek out of thrift store clothing

It’s been years since I’ve shopped at thrift stores for myself; since October I have become addicted to thrifting for clothes for the baby. I keep saying I’m going to stop; what happens instead is that I just become more selective. Now that I’ve covered the basics, I look for better quality brands and focus on future sizes. Really, the sprout is going to just keep growing and growing so one could make an argument for buying things in all sizes. I’m not making that argument: I’m sticking with “soon I won’t have to shop at all for two years!” I’m not sure it’s any more convincing, but I’m running with it.

My only frustration with clothing from the thrift store (and even more with clothing from large consignment sales) is the smell. Not the musty smell, the “fragrance” smell from the high-octane detergents that people use on items that have been stored away for a season. (I suspect that the thrift store actually sprays one of those “freshener” sprays on everything rather than actually washing it all because the books sometimes have the same stink, but I don’t really know.) I end up having to soak everything I buy overnight in a borax and vinegar bath at least two nights in a row in order to bring the level of odor down enough to not stick to everything. I figure that if the chemicals in detergents give me migraines and itchy skin, they’re not doing anything great for the sprout; if it weren’t the rainy season, I’d take the extra step of airing everything on the drying rack in the sun.

This it’s-not-clean-until-it-reeks-of-something-artificial approach to washing clothes reflects a larger approach to home care that I don’t share. It’s quite the opposite for me (even with my nose reverting to its pre-pregnancy state, it’s still sensitive), and as a result I’ve learned what works without all the extra chemicals. For laundry, we use Seventh Generation’s fragrance-free non-petroleum-based detergent that contains enzymes to break down organic matter (and doesn’t contain optical brighteners). The enzymes are what you need to clean baby stains (and grass and food); stain-treating sprays contain them as do “baby” detergents. Since our detergent lists ingredients, I was able to see that it was basically the same as the baby version and decided not to switch; we also use a stick to spot treat for stains since the spray version is overwhelmingly smelly. In addition to detergent, I use borax in every load to help with odors and dinginess and chlorine-free bleach. Chlorine-free bleach turns out to be hydrogen peroxide (thank you, Seventh Generation labeling practices, for this information) which is the one thing that gets out blood rather than setting the stain (thank you, midwives, for this information).

This is all to say: it’s not necessary to dump a whole bunch of nasty smelling detergent into the wash to get your child’s clothing clean (even clean enough to sell)! Yes, I use three products in each load of laundry, but: the clothing comes out clean and smelling fresh, which for me means really not smelling at all. And, none of us go around sneezing or getting itchy rashes or headaches. It’s a bonus (to me) that the products themselves are non-toxic and made from plants rather than petroleum by-products.

As I said above, this is really the only downside to shopping for children’s clothing this way, as the prices are low and the quality is good. And, soon I won’t have to shop again for at least two years!

getting the detergent reek out of thrift store clothing

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