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Everyday Cheapskate: Don't Rely on Vinegar to Disinfect

Mary Hunt on

Dear Mary: What is a safe disinfectant for colored clothes, such as underwear and bath towels? I can't use chlorine bleach, and since I usually wash my colored clothes in cold water, I do not feel like I am getting them sanitized enough. Thanks. -- Sherri

Dear Sherri: Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tested conventional household disinfectants, hospital disinfectants and natural alternatives to measure each product's ability to kill specific hazardous microbes. Their results show that white vinegar killed 90% of germs without regard to the temperature of the water.

Sounds pretty good until you realize that leaves a 10% chance for Salmonella, Streptococcus and Staphylococcus viruses, Influenza A2 virus and Herpes Simplex Type 1 to live on. A product like Lysol disinfectant, on the other hand, kills 99.9% of those germs.

For fabrics that cannot be washed with bleach, add a liquid disinfectant according to product instructions, such as Lysol, SNiPER or Mr. Clean Antibacterial, to the wash.

Just a reminder that water at 120 F (hot) plus laundry detergent is sufficient to kill ordinary household germs without the need for an added disinfectant.

Dear Mary: I was recently given some fabric that was stored in mothballs. Any advice on how to get the smell out? I tried washing and ended up with a whole load of laundry that smelled of mothballs. Thanks. -- Lucille


Dear Lucille: This a tough problem. So difficult, I called in the pros for advice on how to rescue your fabric and that load of laundry. Here's what I learned:

Mothballs are small balls of chemical pesticide used to protect your clothes from hungry moths and other insects while in storage. The active ingredient, depending on the age of the mothballs used, is either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, which are petroleum-based with fumes that can be toxic to both people and pets.

Typically, one puts clothes, or in your case fabric, in an airtight container so that the fumes are trapped and build up to a level that kills pests. There's no doubt that mothballs work to kill pests, but the unintended consequence of that odor does become counterproductive, as you have learned.

The only way to get rid of that horrid smell is to oxidize it -- transform the odor-causing chemicals into something harmless that has no odor.


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