"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
November 8, 2012
Use Warm Water!
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


I am having trouble with my laundry. Even though I wash our shirts after every wearing — on cold, because they are dark colors — the underarms retain a deodorant residue. On t-shirts it shows up as a visible white film. On dress shirts, it’s not visible, but I can smell it, especially when I iron the underarms. I tried fabric softener, but it just adds another layer of scent.

This doesn’t happen with white shirts.

I hear you really like laundry. So what am I doing wrong?


You heard right. I do like laundry!

And I congratulate you on caring about your laundry! Laundry is a skill that everyone can learn to do well. It is something at which any person can be successful with a little effort and attention. We cannot all be equally beautiful or rich or intelligent. But we can all be equally clean! Laundry is a skill that blesses your life every day as you put on neat, clean, stain-free clothing. It lets you say to the world, “I am a clean person.” The smells of detergent and starch are a gift in any home.

As to your specific problem, I think you have correctly identified the problem as deodorant build-up.

And I know what you are doing wrong. You are washing your shirts in cold water. In general, soaps, cleansers, and detergents work better in warm water. I bet you use warm or hot water on your white shirts, which is why this doesn’t happen to them.

Check the labels of your shirts, and you will find that many of them, especially the dress shirts, call for a warm water wash. You need to forget what you learned about washing colors on cold and start washing these shirts on warm. If the label says warm, then warm water should not fade or shrink them.

Since your shirts already have a lot of build-up, I suggest you spend the next few laundry days doing some triage. Get out a bucket and fill it with warm water and whatever color-safe stain remover you like best: OxyClean or Biz or Borax or something like that. (Not chlorine bleach.) Then soak two or three shirts for a day or two until the odor is gone. As the shirts soak, stick your hands in the bucket from time to time to whip up some suds, and hand-scrub at the underarms.

Make sure to soak like-colored shirts together to avoid any surprise off-label color transfers. In my experience, dress shirts are reliably colorfast while soaking, but t-shirts are not. In fact, to be safe, soak brightly colored t-shirts individually.

Then, when you launder the shirts, spray the underarms and collar with Shout (or similar) and use Clorox 2 or OxyClean (or similar) in addition to your detergent. Then, set your washing machine for a warm water soak, an extended warm wash cycle, and an extra rinse. Yes, this will take longer and use more energy and water than the short cold water cycle, but it’s what you must do for nice-smelling shirts.

For your shirts that require a cold water wash, spray the underarms before laundering and add Clorox 2, OxyClean, or similar to your washing machine. Then add a soak and extra rinse to your wash cycle.

Now let’s talk about fabric softener. It adds scent and softness. It does not clean. So, as you found, if you add it to something smelly, you just end up with unappealing layers of smell. Fabric softener is not recommended for wrinkle-free fabrics, so check the labels of your dress shirts before you add it to the wash. In fact, I don’t use it at all on things that should look crisp after ironing — I think it makes the fabric wilt.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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