Battling the Parfum* Dragon, or How I Finally Removed Fragrances from New Laundry
May 30th, 2011 by Alice

I bet some of you out there have fragrance and perfume allergies as well. I wanted to share a laundry solution I finally found: Borax.

I just add it to my washer with any load that has a chemical fragrance (like new clothes or “new” clothes from the secondhand store). I wash them twice like this and they come out with no scent!


Now for the epic story of the quest to find a laundry solution that removed “fragrance” and “parfum.” Stop reading if you’re not interested – the whole solution is above.

The Anti-Parfum Quest

I like to shop for clothes secondhand. The selection is more varied, it is waaay cheaper, and sometimes you find treasures. A few years ago Value Village switched detergents, to something that makes me itch and sneeze.

I washed those clothes a dozen times with my detergent, All Free&Clear to no avail. I washed them with a box of baking soda, soaked them for days in vinegar, soaked them for days in baking soda (both wet and dry), and hung them outside in the Sun. (All tried & true methods according to the housewife wisdom on the internet.) Still stinky. One thing did work: wearing the clothes for a day and then washing them. Something about the sweat and skin oils worked into the perfume and it got washed away. But, as this was incredibly uncomfortable, this was not a long-term solution. Strike 1. (On one notable occasion I had a friend wear a shirt for me, and then washed it.)

“There must be an answer,” I thought. “We live in the future.” So I started looking into odor and scent removers. Sadly, they’re mostly about pet smells, and other organic residue. They’re often enzyme-based, so those little enzyme buggers love to eat the organic smell-causing molecules.

This led me on a chase to find out what kind of molecule “parfum” is – probably an alcohol or an oil – not what the enzyme buggies are bred to eat. Strike 2.

“There must be an answer,” I thought. “People have been washing clothes for thousands of years, and washing out perfumes since at least the middle-ages.”

And then I had a baby. First of all – everything is (uhg) baby-scented, which doesn’t smell anything like actual baby. Secondly, thoughtful friends and relatives would pre-wash gifts for us, with their nicely-perfumed detergent or dry it with their softly-scented dryer sheets. Things had gotten desperate, especially if we wanted to enjoy these incredibly useful gifts.

“What’s the oldest form of laundry detergent?” I asked. “What is the unadvertised, no-additives, little non-descript box hiding on the shelves behind all the colorful jars?”

‘Clean-Clean washes cleaner!’
‘Keep you brights brighter with Bright-It-All!’
‘NEW! Organic lavender-lemon-patchouli scent is better for Mother Earth and better for Mother You!’

All of which have fragrance or “parfum” as one of the middle ingredients.

What have people been using for decades, without mentioning it, without bragging, but with so much success the brand doesn’t need to advertise? Like baking soda or baking powder or salt – those boxes and cans have looked identical since at least 1909.

What is the not-so-secret but forgotten laundry fix-all?


I took some home (it only comes in large boxes from the brand 20 Mule Team), followed the suggested directions on the back. My blankets came out bright, clean, and completely “parfum”-free. Finally.

Sometimes with new laundry it takes two borax-washes, because I haven’t already been battling the Parfum Dragon with Sun, baking soda, vinegar, fresh air and wash after wash of free & clear detergent.

Still, it is nice to have clean clothes that don’t make me sneeze, and baby clothes that smell like actual baby when they have a baby in them. Home Run!


*On ingredients labels I repeatedly see “fragrance (parfum)” or the other way around listed. I think it is a funnier word than “perfume” which is why I use it here.

UPDATE: Dial Corporation makes the MSDS of Borax available here. This pdf is the copy of the Borax MSDS I downloaded May 31, 2011. In short, don’t eat it or get it in your eyes and you’ll be fine. A quote from the MSDS: “The use of this product by consumers is safe under normal and reasonable foreseen use.”

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