Why Do Blue T-Shirts Make My Hubby Stink?

It’s an interesting phenomenon. It’s as if blue t-shirts in some day deactivate his deodorant. Black has a lesser effect, but still does something strange to him.

Any other colors don’t seem to cause this problem, but if he wears a blue t-shirt, he’ll smell bad by the end of the evening-- it’s a sweaty stink, with an undertone of something like the smell you get in clothes if you leave them in the washing machine for too long. With black, it’s the same, but a lesser smell.

We’ve experimented with it. I’ve washed two t-shirts of different colors (say, blue and brown). Both shirts are at least a year old, so it’s not a matter of new dye. Both are washed in the same soap. He showers in the morning. If he wears the brown one all day, at the end of the evening, he’ll smell fine, but if he wears the blue, he’ll be stinky that night.

We’re both perplexed. Can it be possible that the dyes cause it, even though the shirts have been washed many times? Is there any I could put in the wash to neutralize the effect?

I can’t say why one color shirt would react differently from another. But what’s going on here is that the shirt has “soured”. This means that at some point or another it’s been left sweaty in the dark or wet in the washer for too long. This gives bacteria time to multiply in it so much that a normal washing cycle will still leave many of them there. Thus, the next time you sweat in it, you’re feeding billions of bacteria that are going to consume that sweat and immediately start manufacturing what is technically called “stink”. If you sweat a lot and wear the shirt for a few hours, they’ll start making ammonia which burns your skin and is called “prickly heat”.

Probably the blue soured at some point in the past, and the brown didn’t. Next time you wash the brown, before drying, leave it wadded up in a soggy wet ball for a day or so before throwing it in the dryer. Then see if you get the same results.

The material would have more effect than the dye, IMO. Are they the same material?

Boil it on the range for 20 minutes, or bleach it if it’s color-fast. What I usually do is throw them away and try to be more diligent about putting the clothes in the dryer promptly.

I notice you’re still using the old shirt. Is it possible there’s something in the shirt, perhaps some kind of bacteria, which becomes dormant when dry but active when exposed to heat and moisture?

Interesting science experiments:

  1. See if hubby has same problem with brand new blue shirt, same brand if possible.

  2. Leave shirt unworn in bathroom, hanging up, to absorb steam from the shower. See if it smells.

On preview, I see I’m irrelevant. Anyway, have you tried Simple Green? That seemed to work pretty good on stinky stuff.

That would make sense if it was only one shirt that did this-- he has problems with all blue t-shirts.

Yes, he does-- I should have pointed this out. He owns three or four blue cotton t-shirts, and they all uniformly produce the same stink, though they’re of different brands. (One is Hanes, two are Fruit of the Loom and another is a brand called “Russel Athletics.”) They’re all labled as being 100% cotton.

So he doesn’t have this problem with any other 100% cotton shirts? That would be my guess, that the material is the culprit. I have a couple of shirts that tend towards making me smellier, and they are the only ones with that particular blend of cotton/rayon/spandex. I’ve washed them many times with extra stain remover on the armpit areas to remove any lingering bacteria, if that was the problem, with no change in the tendency towards stinkiness.

Nope-- he wears white t-shirts under his dress shirts to work every day, and in the evening, lounges in other cotton t-shirts. It’s definitly not the materials at fault, which leads me to suspect it must be the blue dye somehow reacting chemically with his sweat.

Veddy intedesting.

Well, try the steam test — let it soak up a bunch of steam, as from a shower or a steam iron, and see if the stink is activated by moisture (relatively pure water, that is, not sweat).

If not, then you wear the shirt (if possible) to see if it’s activated by your body chemistry. (Have a backup shirt in case it works! :))

Brain Wreck’s idea of boiling the shirt would be an interesting experiment, too.

And it doesn’t do it with his whites… Do you tend to wash these blue shirts together, as separated colors in a laundry load? Could they cross-contaminate the… um… the whatsitz?

Seperating by color? Ha! I’m not very skilled with the whole laundry thing. I tend to toss everything in together, unless I know for sure an item needs to be washed seperately. His whites I do wash seperately, in hot water with bleach, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Well, I’m just trying to elemonade the impractical.

That’s a Sherlock Holmes thing, you see. Once you evaluate the invincible, whatever complains, however imponderable, must be the booth. Well, it’s something like that.

Since you wash the white t-shirts separately in hot water and bleach, that’d probably keep 'em stinkproof. Curious, Watson.

Let us know if you discover any more. Home science is fun!

No matter what color it is, the blue shirts have soured.
Why the blue ones are souring so much more than the others, I can’t really say. Give them a good boiling for 20 minutes and watch the problem go away (for a couple of wash cycles at least). Of course it’s possible that the dye has something to do with it, but I don’t know much about garment dye. You could try to bleach the blue out of the shirt and see what happens after that.

Just my WAG is that there’s something circumstantial that favors the blue shirts. Ever hear the one about the car that was allergic to vanilla ice cream? Maybe hubby is drawn to them for some reason, wears them more, is more likely to wash them himself to make sure they’ll be ready for another wearing, and maybe he’s forgetful and leaves them wet in the hamper or washer for a little too long. Now I’m sure you’ll come back and say none of that is the case, but I’m just talking about something along those lines, not that specific thing.

Just one more question… what is he doing when he wears the blue shirts? A white undershirt worn to the office isn’t going to get the same stink as one that you do other activities like exercise or gardening.

Neither of us are physically active people. He’s naturally a sweaty guy, though.

I know what you mean-- I have tried to discern a pattern, but nothing really comes to mind. (I’ll continue to think on it.)

I’m the one who does all the laundry. I know I have left loads in the wash for too long before, but as I said, I toss all t-shirts into the load together, so if it was residual bacteria from leaving them in the wash too long, all of the colors would do the same thing.

He doesn’t really like blue shirts anymore, so they actually don’t get as much wear as the others-- he’ll wear them if nothing else is clean. He was complaining of this phenomenon for years before I really stared paying attention. I was dismissive thinking there had to be an external fator, but I just can’t think of one.

The only thing I haven’t considered is diet. I’ll have to see if he eats something when he’s wearing blue which might make him more stinky.

I have the same problem with my green shirts and tee-shirts. I have guessed it’s because of the order my wife does wash loads. She tends to leave loads in the washer overnight so they sour, and will often dry them that way anyway.

Whenever I try to do laundry she gets angry. No, I don’t mess things up, in fact I clean all kinds of crud out of there. I think it’s a territory thing. Laundry is the only thing she does exclusively.

I keep fantasizing that, somehow, I’d be able to do my own laundry again, and I’d keep the washer and dryer cleaner, and move wet laundry into the dryer in minutes not hours, and to top it off I’d use about a 1/4 dose of bleach.

Note the following is fictional and nothing to do with the OP’s particular situation.

There was once a guy who had a special friend. The special friend liked him in shirts of a particular color. So on the days when the guy was going to have a meeting with his special friend, he would wear a shirt of that particular color. Now, the meetings with the special friend involved some physical activity and the result would be that the shirts would get stinky as a result. Hence someone else might notice an otherwise puzzling correlation between the guy’s shirt color and the resulting smell.

Do you have a cite for this “fabric souring” phenomenon?

It seems to me that washing in hot water and detergent, and drying in a hot dryer would kill any bacteria living in the shirt.

Offhand I can’t find a direct cite, this was my recollection from an undergrad microbiology class.

Tap water is usually not hot enough to kill bacteria. Contrary to popular belief, soap is not very good at killing bacteria either, it just makes the water more effective at washing it away. The hot air in the dryer would kill probably kill some bacteria, but not really make a dent in the bacterial spores. Laundering is a cleansing process, not a sterilizing process.

Here’s something scary for you if you think laundry is clean… it focuses on mildew but they’ve also plenty to say on salmonella and fecal coliform.


135 degree F water won’t touch it–nor will a hot dryer–but a “laundry sanitizer” will. Boiling clothes is the standard method, but it’s a no-go with rayon, silk, wool, and fine apparel in general. Not sure if dry cleaning is effective.

Seeing as no one has stepped in for the possibility that it is a chemical reaction of some sort, and just to eliminate it; is there any difference in smelliness between the blue shirts. For instance newer ones cause more stink that older, the reverse, or no appreciable difference?

I was a lot happier before I read that. A lot happier.

Well, I suppose I could try steralizing them on the idea that it may be bacteria-related. Don’t really want to bleach them, though, and boiling seems pretty labor-intensive. Would liquid ammonia do the trick? Is there anything else that could be added to the washing machine without damaging the clothes?

No difference between the shirts themselves. Each “stinkifies” him equally. One shirt he has is at leat six years old, and another I bought him for Christmas (before I believed him about blue making him smelly.)

You could wet them, put them in a covered casserole dish and microwave for 10 minutes or so.