I store various fabrics (clothing, cloths, linens, etc.) in RubberMaid RoughNeck plastic bins. It seems to work fine for a while, but given enough years, the contents take on a strong chemical smell. These are not stored in a musty or damp area -- they are stored in my living room. I assume, therefore, that the smell is from the plastic. Before using the contents again, I need to wash them. This means competing for machines in the laundry room of a highrise. This entirely defeats the point of keeping the seldomly used items, which was to have them on stand-by for immediate use upon demand (as opposed to going out to re-buy them).

Are there specific types of plastic that I should look for in a bin to avoid this kind of smell from the plastic?

  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, that defnitely doesn't make it convenient. Some linens are accessed more frequently than others. But I guess it's either that or use bureaus and drawers. The closets in my place aren't a good option because they smell funny, and research shows that it might be hidden mold (2 of the 3 closets are adjacent to the washroom, and they are the smelly ones). It would be easier to buy my own place than to convince the landlord to rip up the walls/floors. Did you want to post your comment as the answer? $\endgroup$ Oct 14 '18 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ comment moved to answer, with additional suggestions. $\endgroup$ Oct 14 '18 at 17:14

It is likely a plasticizer in polyethylene bins, rather than polyethylene itself, that has an odor. Storing the garments in clear polyethylene plastic bags (perhaps inside the bins), which have different plasticizers, should reduce the odor -- and some bags are designed to compress clothing with use of a vacuum cleaner, saving space.

Another option is to get an inexpensive wooden (cedar lined?) chest, or a cloth storage bag. Advantage: breathable. Disadvantage: does not protect from moisture.

BTW, some of the plasticizers include polybutylene, dioctyl phthalate, glyceryl tribenzoate, polyethylene glycol, sunflower oil etc. Handbook of Plasticizers Ch. 11, G. Wypych. Perhaps rancid sunflower oil is the odor?

  • $\begingroup$ Polyethylene does not contain plasticisers. The $T_g$ of PE is far below freezing. $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Oct 14 '18 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not a chemist, but the bin is recycling code 4 and has "LDPE" stamped on it. I was prompted by the above comment to do some online searching. According to sciencing.com/difference-between-polyethylene-pvc-8531363.html, LDPE is already soft. According to foodpackagingforum.org/news/…, LDPE typically doesn't have plasticizers. DrMoishe Pippik, I apologize that I may ave prematurely asked you to post your answer. $\endgroup$ Oct 14 '18 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if the residue from the fabric softener or the detergent (for the scent) may degrade over many years and start to smell like chemicals $\endgroup$ Oct 14 '18 at 23:27

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