Bought several jeans, then to discover they have a really nauseating smell, that is not removed by washing. Reckon it's formaldehyde, from what I can read. Anyway, assuming you have jeans with formaldehyde in the fabric, what may effectively remove/neutralize this?

I ordered $\pu{10 kg}$ sodium bicarbonate for a soak, or I plan to heat them for a long time. But advice from chemists is perhaps more productive. So, any ideas?

  • $\begingroup$ So did the ammonia work? Which brand did you use? I bought jeans that has their weird funky smell to them, I also have soaked them in vinegar and baking soda and washed on cold and air dried for days, and just let them sit outside and it still smells bad. So I’m wondering does the ammonia really work? How long do I let the ammonia sit for before washing? $\endgroup$
    – Dee
    Commented Mar 31, 2021 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Dee See my comments on the answer below. I never tried ammonia. $\endgroup$
    – bretddog
    Commented Apr 3, 2021 at 7:39

1 Answer 1


Formaldehyde is indeed used for disinfection, but usually there is a subsequent procedure involving formaldehyde neutralization with $10\%$ to $25\%$ aqueous ammonia solution introduced (as a spray) at elevated temperatures. Ammonia reacts with formaldehyde producing water-soluble hexamine which, even though also has unpleasant smell of rotten fish, is then easily washed out from the fabric:

$$\ce{6 CH2O + 4 NH3 -> C6H12N4 + 6 H2O}$$

I'd suggest to wash the clothes at higher temperature ($\pu{40 .. 60 ^\circ C}$) as you would normally do, but adding some ammonia; afterwards, soak the clothes in cold water for a while (solubility of hexamine increases in cold water), wring out and air dry.

In some countries there are also ozone-chambers (basically a sealed wardrobe with an $\ce{O3}$ generator inside, offered by dry cleaning companies) where organic pollutants are oxidized; formaldehyde is no exception:

$$\ce{CH2O + 2 O3 -> CO2 + H2O + 2 O2}$$

Both vinegar and soda can also be used, though I'd think their effectiveness is going to be lower.

  • $\begingroup$ I will test it and report the results (..in some time). $\endgroup$
    – bretddog
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ @bretddog - I would love to know how it went! Specifically, how offensive was the ammonia smell? $\endgroup$
    – Tracy
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 0:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Tracy The smell was strong enough that I would certainly have thrown them away or returned them. Forgot exactly what I did with them, but I believe I soaked them in baking soda, or a mix of baking soda and vinegar perhaps. Then I think I froze them. And hang them outside for several days. Maybe it got like at least 50% better, but still the smell was present. So they were just laying around for some time. Then after a while there was surprisingly no smell at all, so I started using them. Perhaps also laying them out in the sun may help. $\endgroup$
    – bretddog
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 1:07
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Tracy It's possible I may have heated them in the oven too, for a few hours, on 75-100C maybe. Thinking chemicals evaporate at different temperatures. $\endgroup$
    – bretddog
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 1:17

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