RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Keeping your home sealed up all winter can lead to some funky odors developing in your mattresses, curtains, and bedding. And springtime rains don't help much. The added humidity can lead to mildew or musty smells in even the cleanest homes. With near-universal access to automatic washers and dryers, we have slipped into thinking that the only way to remove odors and freshen fabrics is to wash—or worse, dry-clean—but fresh air and sunshine are great fabric fresheners—and they're free and nontoxic!
There are certain items that just won't fit, or will get destroyed, in a washing machine—wool blankets, bulky comforters, curtains, pillows, stuffed animals, and stale-smelling, musty mattresses. But rather than take them to a dry cleaner, who likely uses the toxic cancer-causing chemical perchloroethylene, you can save time, electricity, chemical exposure, and wear and tear by putting the sun to work.
It's simple: Just put items that need freshening outside on a dry, sunny day. Give each item a good shake if you can, and hang it on a clothesline. You can also lean your things against something or place them flat on a surface, but be sure the surface is clean so things don't get dirty. Turn items every couple of hours to air out all sides, and bring them inside before the evening dew starts to settle.
You can crank up the solar power by sealing a musty item in a large, clear plastic bag, and putting the bag in the sun for a day or two to "solarize," which generates enough heat to kill dust mites very effectively. For best results, the bag should be airtight so it can hold the maximum amount of heat to treat all parts of your item. For extra power and to leave a nice aroma when you are finished, add a few drops of eucalyptus, lavender, or rosemary essential oil before sealing the bag.
Large, clear trashcan liners are available at cleaning supply stores, or you can ask retail stores that receive large items in plastic bags, such as computers, office equipment, or furniture, if you can have their cast-offs. If you need a really BIG bag, you can make your own out of contractor's clear plastic (it comes in rolls at hardware and home-improvement stores): Wrap your item in the plastic and seal all the edges with clear plastic packing tape. If you remove the tape carefully, you should be able to use the plastic again and again.
Fight dust mites between solarizations (or in bulky items you can't drag outside) with a little vodka. Add 20 to 30 drops of essential oil to one cup of vodka and use a spray bottle to mist potential mite-motels once a week. This is especially good for heavy curtains, rugs, and upholstered furniture. Just be sure to test the color-fastness in an inconspicuous place first.
If just airing isn't enough to chase odors away, sprinkle the item liberally with dry baking soda, let it sit for 30 minutes to two hours, and shake off or vacuum up the baking soda. You can also do this indoors for things you can't move outside, such as carpets.
Chances are, your clothes don't smell too great after being packed up all season either. Here's an Amazing Food Trick for bringing them back to life, too!