Nursing stinks! Literally. The role of a nurse is absolutely heroic — a labor of love and compassion as much as a lucrative and fulfilling career. But being a hero means sometimes getting yourself into sticky situations. And for nurses, that sticky stuff usually has the side effect of causing offensive odors. Exposed to blood, sweat, tears, and the other various fluids of their patients on a daily basis, nurses’ scrubs are sure to get gross every now and again. And odors can be hard to remove. In the article below, you’ll find information gathered from experienced nurses and medical professionals that will help you get the stink out of your scrubs once and for all.

What Causes the Odor in Your Smelly Scrubs?

Smelly laundry, first and foremost, is caused by an odorous chemical compound, which is transferred from body to garment by sweat, blood, vomit, or other substances which are common to encounter if you work with ill or injured patients. The smell itself may come from bacteria, or it may be present in any organic fluid produced by the body.

As in medicine, prevention is the best cure for stinky scrubs, so before you go reaching for the white vinegar (spoiler alert!) here are a few ways to minimize your exposure to smelling-agents.

If it’s you:

  • Make sure you’re wearing breathable scrubs that allows your skin to stay cool and dry. Body odor is actually caused by perspiration-eating bacteria, not the sweat itself. So the faster you can dry off, the less smelly your scrubs will be.
  • Find a deodorant that works for you. But avoid anti-perspirants, as they can ultimately be detrimental to your health.

If it’s your patients:

  • Help educate your patients around proper hygiene. If they’re an inpatient, this can be difficult, but adapting to a new situation (especially when you’re sick) is hard as well, and relearning how to care for your body is especially tough when it isn’t functioning properly.
  • If the odorous culprit is a direct result of your patient’s condition, this may be unavoidable. However you might consider wearing an extra set of paper scrubs over your normal ones if you know you’re heading into a smelly scene.

Cleaning Your Smelly Scrubs

  1. Pre-soak your scrubs. This is one of the most effective ways to do laundry, even if you’re not fighting with odors. Fill a bucket with warm water and add about an ounce of your normal detergent. Put your scrubs in, and agitate with your hands for 30 seconds to make sure the soap is well incorporated. Leave the garments in the solution for about 30 minutes, and then wash as normal.
  2. Use washing soda. Sodium carbonate is different from baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) but just as easily available. To attack offensive odors on your scrubs, measure out a ¼ cup of washing soda and add water a little bit at a time until you have a paste which is approximately the same consistency as toothpaste. Using gloved hands, work the mixture into the garment until it is thoroughly saturated, then wash as normal. (This method works best on isolated area of a garment, such as the armpit of a scrub top.)
  3. Use white vinegar. This common household substance is itself a little smelly, but it works wonders in removing other unwanted scents from fabric. To use, place your clothes in your washing machine allow it to fill with water. Pause the cycle before agitation begins, and then add 1 cup of white vinegar to the machine. Allow your scrubs to soak for 20 minutes before restarting the machine. If you don’t have access to your own washing machine, you can use the first pre-soak method, replacing the detergent with white vinegar, and then bring the soaked garments with you to the laundromat.
  4. Use bleach. Bleach is, of course, one of the most effective methods for removing odors from fabric. Due to its harsh chemical nature, however, it should be used judiciously. Two cleach options exist, and you should decide which will be best for your specific needs before throwing your scrubs in the bath.

    – Chlorine bleach is hard on clothing, and can fade patterned or colored scrubs if too much is used. But if you need to sterilize your scrubs, a chlorine-based bleach is your best bet.
    – Oxygenated bleach is a much gentler chemical that is effective at odor removal on any set of scrubs, but doesn’t have the same sterilizing benefits as its chlorine cousin.

    To use, make a solution of 1 part bleach to 4 parts water and add to the washing machine. Let machine fill with water, and then insert scrubs. (NEVER pour bleach directly on your clothing.) Wash as normal.
  5. Use cold water and enzymatic detergent. For extra-sticky substances such as blood, feces, or vomit, it is important to begin your washing process with COLD water. Hot water can act as a setting agent and may make the offending fluid ultimately more difficult to remove. Before you soak, use a tongue depressor or spoon to remove any solids or excess fluid from the surface of the scrubs, and dispose appropriately. Flush the garment with cold water until the majority of the substance has been removed, and then allow to soak in a basin of clean, cold water. Add washing soda, or a detergent with the appropriate enzymes, which will help remove as much of the muck as possible. Soak for 20 minutes, then wash as normal.

Nursing is a dirty business, but that doesn’t mean you have to take the stink home with you. Use the above cleaning tips to keep your scrubs fresh and ready for another heroic day.

Medely is a platform that works with nurses to make a schedule that fits their busy lives. To sign up today (for free!) visit our website by following this link.

Looking for new, cute, and affordable scrubs? Check out our other article, Cute Scrubs and Where to Find Them.