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Posted: September 30, 2008

Caregiver Tip

Getting the Smell of Urine Out of Clothing and Bedding

As much as we'd like to avoid this issue, getting the urine smell out of clothing and bedding is something most of us caregivers will have to deal with at least occasionally. The most important trick is to get to it just as soon as possible and not to let it dry.

Be sure to keep a waterproof mattress cover on the bed and any place where someone with continence problems may sit. It's a lot easier to get urine out of something washable than out of a mattress or upholstered chair.

If your elder has an accident, there's no point in making a fuss. Help them get changed as soon as it's practical and rinse the soiled clothing in cold water. If you don't have time to deal with the soiled items right away, wrap everything tightly in a plastic bag so the urine doesn't dry into the cloth. Then get to them just as soon as you can.

After you've rinsed the clothing or bedding, toss everything into the washer with the usual amount of your detergent and a cup of Borax (a full cup for a full load, half a cup for a short load). Wash on the heavy-duty cycle in COLD water (hot or warm water can intensify the smell). Depending on the size of the load, add a half to a full cup of white vinegar to the cold rinse cycle.

Before drying anything that has been urine-soaked, give it a sniff. If you still smell urine, wash and rinse again with Borax and vinegar before drying.

Don't substitute ammonia for the vinegar; that would be adding ammonia to ammonia. Not useful!

It’s best if you can dry these items in the sun. Sunshine and a brisk breeze will help eliminate any residual odor. If using a dryer, avoid the "hot" setting. The vinegar in the rinse cycle will have had a fabric-softening effect. Avoid adding scented dryer sheets or anything else with fragrance to the dryer -- you're trying to remove odors, not add to or mask what's already there.

While some fabrics that are harder to get clean-smelling, using this method should get the urine smell out of most clothing or bedding.


By Molly Shomer, MSSW, LMSW.
Molly is
a licensed geriatric care manager
and can be reached at

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