Attack of the stinky fish shirt

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Dear Home Ec 101,
I recently bought a linen type shirt. I think it is linen. Anyway, it has this scent that smells like fish. The shirt is dry clean only. My mother has bought clothes that have had this scent, and I’ve always been turned off by it. I really like this shirt, but my students tell me I stink, and I’d like to keep the shirt. HELP! How do I get rid of this scent?!
Mr. Stinky Fish Shirt

how to get rid of bad smell on shirt

Ivy says:

I suspect some processing method caused your shirt to smell like a fish. It’s not a specific thing I have faced, but I have faced a somewhat similar problem before, and I’ll tell you what I did.

I used to be a Renaissance Festival actor. One year I played a French princess, and my gown had to be yellow. I searched high and low for a yellow that wouldn’t look terrible with my skin color and finally found one. Difficulty? The fabric was dry clean only. Meh. I hate dry clean only.

Long story short (too late!), I went ahead, bought the fabric, made the dress (with a whole lotta help from my dear mama), and it turned out beautifully. However, after a weekend of mud and heat and general funk you might find at a ren faire, the dress smelled like…well, you can imagine. It was a bad scene.

Now, I’ve never been a huge believer that just because a garment or fabric said “Dry Clean Only”, that it really meant that it was dry clean only. But if I washed the dress and it was ruined mid-season, I wouldn’t have time to make another gown. I used Dryel on the dress.

It worked- sort of. The gown smelled less bad, but I could still smell it a little bit, if I was sniffing the fabric. By the end of the next weekend, it smelled worse than ever. People back during Henry VIII’s time smelled pretty bad, so I was period, but for today’s time, smelling like a horse’s backside isn’t really appropos.

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Finally, I broke down and washed the gown with some Borax. It was a risk- I could have ruined the entire gown. But I couldn’t stand the smell anymore. Luckily, my dress came out of the wash fine, and it smelled clean. Whew!

This very long story for what really comes out to be a short answer. Try using Dryel, and if that doesn’t work and you’re willing to risk ruining the shirt, wash it with some Borax. It’s a very real risk that you could ruin the shirt- I’ve ruined a couple of dry clean only skirts by washing them. However, sometimes the risk pays off. It’s up to you.

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3 thoughts on “Attack of the stinky fish shirt”

  1. Check to see if the shirt has silk in it .. sometimes in the processing of silk, manufacturers skimp and it leaves a smell (doesn’t exactly remind me of fish, but it certainly isn’t pleasant). Unfortunately, the one article I found on this said there wasn’t much that could be done since it had to do with the processing of the fabric.

    If anyone has a suggestion, I’d love to hear it!

  2. I’ve had the stinky silk problem with two shirts I bought for my hubby from a high end manufacturer (not naming names, but his intials are TB and his shirts go for over $100 a piece! You’d think they wouldn’t stink . . . )

    Mr. SF didn’t say whether he’d dry cleaned the shirt yet. We found that dry cleaning seemed to take care of the smell. Tell your dry cleaner that you’re especially interested in removing the odor. They seem fine after the first cleaning.

    If “Stinky Fish”‘s shirt is truly linen, I’m thinking it has to do with the dyeing process used, which might be similar to what TB uses.

    If the shirt is linen, then try handwashing with some detergent that has Febreze in it. Hang to dry, and it should be fine. Linen responds nicely to washing, but it does get softer each time.

  3. Here is an overly simple idea (but just might work). Take the shirt, put it in a sealable (air-tight) plastic bag. Before sealing the bag, place a sock filled with Baking Soda in the bag, seal it, and allow it to sit approximately five days. If the odor is from a processing and residual chemical, it “should” be absorbed by the baking soda, and the shirt fresh smelling.

    If not, you are out, $1 for baking soda. Worth a shot. (worked for one shirt, but not another for me in the past, so obviously your mileage may vary)

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