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Bread And Butter: Airing Smelly Laundry

A bunch of onions.

I just finished putting up our food for the winter. Part of that process included chopping and vacuum sealing about ten pounds of onions from the local produce stand for our freezer. It was later in the day when we started, but assumed making it a family affair, we could knock it out quickly. I was on peeling and chopping duty. My son was in charge of loading the bags while my husband sealed them all. We found our rhythm.

As I was chopping, I placed the washed of dirt, peeled and end sliced onions on a towel on our bar, as to not make too big a mess. When I cleaned up while the last bags were being sealed, I noticed some onion juice on the towel. Not thinking twice, I balled the towel and placed it in our open wire basket that holds used napkins and towels under our sink, waiting their turn for the wash. I wiped the counters and we went to bed. 


For the sake of the story, I wish I could remember exactly which day of the week we chopped and loaded, but I don’t. What I do remember is that a couple of day later, coming in from the grocery store, I noticed something smelled. Badly. My husband took the trash to the bin and I ran the disposal and wiped the kitchen down, but the smell lingered. It was then that I opened the cabinet door, the one that had been shut since balling the onion towel up and tossing it into the laundry basket, and was met with a waft so fierce I shrieked in agony. It took me several moments to figure out and source the smell. It took us longer to rid ourselves of the problem.

At first, we took the basket out and washed all of the contents. Three cycles full of vinegar and baking soda and hot water and finally one last cycle through of vinegar and detergent. The unaffected linens were folded and put away, but the offending towel, of which there was little doubt, was sacrificed, after a slight moment of mourning the loss of a favorite and sentimental piece of cloth. However, the kitchen still smelled. And an open box of baking soda for a day did little to combat the stench.  

My son took out the trash and recycling and noticed the new trash liner smelled of onion. Round two was on. I emptied everything from the cupboard and moved it into another room. Sure enough, a faint smell of sour onion lingered on everything. I unboxed what I could, ditched what was too far gone and let everything sit, out, to air.  And then I went to work. On hands and knees, I scrubbed every corner and crevice within an inch of it’s (and possibly my) life. Diluted vinegar became my friend as I scrubbed and wiped and started again. A new box of baking soda replaced the old and I prayed as I waited, hoping this time we’d come out on top.

Except, we didn’t.


When my husband came home, we made a quick trip to a local store for some cheap coffee grounds (we chose maple pumpkin in a fit of ‘we’ll try anything, but ooooh! this smells good’ desperation) and crossed our fingers. We grabbed a small plastic container, sprinkled some grounds in and shut the doors. 

A day later and coffee grounds out, the smell returned. I was beginning to think we’d been soundly beaten by one careless use of a towel. I was stumped, but set out to clean, again. It was around this third round when my son mentioned that the plastic liner we had in the bottom of the cupboard to catch any water drips from warping the wood, smelled. Smelled…how?  I was cautious, but sure enough, the smell was there, thick, in the liner.  It took maybe three seconds for me to decide to get it up and out and gone and three more seconds to start the cycle fresh: clean with vinegar and water. Scrub with a little baking soda and try the pans of baking soda and coffee to sit overnight, again.

This time?  Success!  Well, mostly. The onion towel had been on the bottom of the wire basket, resting on the plastic drip liner which absorbed all of the smell.  After removing it, cleaning and then putting a semi-permanent vented tray of fresh coffee grounds among the soaps and scrubbers, we have a fully utilized cupboard once again, with only the faintest of hints something was amiss, fading more every day.

All of this was on my mind as I grabbed a bag of frozen onions to use in this week’s dishes. As I sauteed the frozen chunk of onion pieces in butter for soup, I could finally say it was all worth it.