Scientists Find Out Why Laundry Smells

Posted: May 21 2016, 2:12pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News


Scientists Find Out Why Laundry Smells

Ever wondered why your just-cleaned clothes don't smell as fresh as you had hoped? Researchers from a British university blame it on certain organic compounds which must be removed to make clothes smell good.


However, as consumers attempt to make eco-friendly choices, these compounds can't always be washed out on an eco-friendly 20 degrees Celsius cycle.


The researchers from Northumbria University identified six volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on dirty t-shirts and socks that contribute to the laundry's unpleasant smell.

"The need to conserve the environment by reducing the wash temperature and the use of biodegradable washing products has grown in importance in the new millennium, making this type of research more high profile," corresponding author of the study John Dean said. 

According to the study, published recently in the Journal of Chromatography A, sweat from the underarm is odorless until it comes into contact with bacteria on the skin.

Corynebacterium and some Staphylococcus species produce the VOCs that cause clothes to smell. 

After collecting samples -- t-shirts and socks -- from volunteers and grading them on a scale of 0 (no malodor) to 10 (malodorous) by smelling them, the team identified the six main VOCs contributing to the smell -- butyric acid, dimethyl disulfide, dimethyl trisulfide, 2-heptanone, 2-nonanone and 2-octanone. 

They tested samples for VOCs after washing while they were still wet, and after drying. 

"The work is fascinating as it links an everyday event -- the washing of clothes -- with cutting-edge research," said Dean. 

"In this particular research project we applied a new and innovative analytical technique for the detection of volatile compounds found in laundry items. We hope this provides a way of analyzing the effectiveness of different washing techniques," he added.

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