When Your Spring Wardrobe Smells Like Last Summer’s Sweat

Photo: Val Thoermer/Getty Images

Spring is here: Time to swap the wool sweaters in your closet with the linen-blend cardigans and viscose blazers under your bed and celebrate. Yet this is a precarious time of year, smellwise. It is the season of the sudden flush. Brought on by a swampy commute, a spontaneous dance party, or the sheer thrill of knowing you’ve escaped a polar vortex, spring body heat can activate something foul and pitlike lying dormant in your wardrobe. It is the ghost of last year’s sweat. It is BIBO.

BIBO — rhymes with Tebow — means “built-in body odor,” and naturally the term was coined at an all-girls school (hat tip, Sally Holmes, formerly of the Cut). You washed the blouse, you put on deodorant, and yet, a half an hour after leaving the house, you’re apologizing to your friends for smelling like a goalie chest protector.

Happily, there is a solution, says Jolie Kerr. The author of My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha told the Cut she was familiar with the springtime scourge of BIBO, both in her capacity as the internet’s cleaning guru and as a “non-expert and human.”

According to Kerr, you’re most likely to find “residual pit smell” in fabrics with a synthetic component — your stretchy cardigan, say, and not your cotton T-shirt — which have been laundered using either liquid fabric softener or fabric-softening dryer sheets. “It’s the devil, and it’s so gross,” Kerr says of fabric softener. “It leaves a coating that renders the fibers more impervious to water and soap.” For machine-washable items with BIBO, she prescribes a one-time treatment using a small amount of regular detergent and a cup of white vinegar (added during the rinse cycle), to break down the coating that’s been left behind and eliminate the odor that’s lingering. Unlike your year-old sweat, the smell of vinegar dissipates quickly, so “you’re not going to smell like salad dressing.”

Another category of clothing with a high risk of BIBO: dry-clean-only items, which never really get washed. “Dry cleaning is actually much more about spot-cleaning and removing dirt than it is about odor removal,” Kerr says. “It cleans but it doesn’t necessarily deodorize.” If dry-clean-only items can handle moisture (i.e., they’re not silk), spritz the armpits with a mixture of vinegar and water, she says, and let them air dry. “Vodka also works in the exact same way.” For non-launderable items you don’t want to get wet, she suggests burying them in unused kitty litter (or putting the garment in a plastic bag with holes poked in it and then submerging that in kitty litter) for 24 to 48 hours. “Most kitty litter contains activated charcoal,” she says, “which is an odor absorber.”

So, there you have it: The solution to this gross springtime affliction is to share toiletries with your cat. Unappetizing? Perhaps. But better than BIBO.

When Your Clothes Smell Like Last Year’s Sweat