The Curse of the Stinky Jean

Last year, I bought two pairs of jeans in the States, of slightly different cuts. The most comfortable pair was both flattering and a lovely shade. I wore them on the plane from here to Montreal.

Half way across the country I noted sort of a burnt plastic smell. An odd smell, a complex smell for my over-inquisitive nose: a hint of burnt plastic, a little sulfur; a touch of garlic, cilantro, and a tang of ammonia. Sharp smells. I had Tate on my lap: was this a particularly alarming pee?

Arriving in Montreal, let into the heat, it became clear it was me. My jeans. I didn’t wear them again; the heat and humidity jacked the chemical stink and I didn’t like it. the “I’m wearing burnt plastic stink” paranoia gets to be a bit much.

So, when I came back I tried baking soda, multiple (20+) washes, soaking.


Smelly smelly smelly.

I then learned this is a “known defect” in “random” jeans by that company. Pah! So, the other pair became my go-to jeans, but I don’t like them very much. The waist band hits in the wrong place and by the end of the day they’re not terribly comfortable.

So, now it’s a year later. ‘”Screw it,” thinks I, “I want a pair of jeans I am not afraid to wear and that look good and I want them now.”

So off I take my Whole Family on a Skytrain to The Mall.

And I put on a pair of jeans that challenges me. They’re those Capri Jeans (pedal pushers? clam diggers? floods? I have no idea. above the ankle) that I’ve been avoiding since I was 15 and read in Cosmo that if you’re 5’4″ and under you should avoid these like the plague.

However, I have recently learned (yes, recently), that things you read in Cosmo at 15 are not, actually, gospel bits of wisdom that you should carry around your whole life. I know, I know. The thing is, if you’re me, you forget you learned this in Cosmo. You think you learned it somewhere like… Uh… University? You don’t really think about it.

But the woman SELLING me the jeans was a) shaped like me and b) my height, and they were great on her. And suddenly I was in love with the capri-flood-pedal pushing-clam digging jeans.

Since I loved them, I had to wear them right now. So I changed at the mall, and on the Skytrain home….

With Tate on my lap….

I began to wonder where the smell was coming from. The cilantro/garlic/sulfur/burning plastic smell. See? It’s HEAT activated. You can’t smell them in the store. Wear ’em around awhile and then smell ’em.

Oi vey.

I’m not making it back out to the mall anytime soon, note. Also, I’ve already lost the receipt, and also, *I WANT THESE JEANS*.

So I’ve tried Oxyclean, vinegar, and hand washing.

They still smell. (You gotta catch ’em coming out of the dryer to know before wearing. This is what I’ve learned.)

If you search the internet for “stinky jeans”, you will learn that there are lots of brands of jeans out there suffering this stinky fate, but it appears a fairly new phenomenon.

Jean manufacturers – you’re biting my pie, here.


  1. Okay, I just googled stinky jeans, and now I’m thoroughly traumatized and shall think long and hard about ever shopping at Old Navy again.


  2. That is scary stuff. Heat-activated stink? What kinds of chemicals would even be causing that? I mean, really.

  3. i’ve had that happen, too… isn’t globalisation fun? stinky jeans for everyone!

  4. Amy — did you have a cure?

  5. Which mall?

  6. Do you think the stink could be oil-based? A couple of years ago, I received a shower-sugar-scrub goo as a present and it left me with a perfumed oil slick all over my body. The jeans I wore the day I used the scrub were permeated with the scent of the scrub, and with time the pleasant lavender or whatever stink became just a garden variety STANK. I realized that the oily goo in the scrub had left the residue in my pants, so I washed them with grease-cutting dish soap, and it worked. Might be worth a try, if you’ve tried everything else.

  7. @els – Lougheed.

    @Deb – That is worth a try! I’ll go there next.

  8. I once had minty jeans because I left a tin of Burt’s Bees lip crap in the pocket. And the pants I wore when I worked at the deli never stopped smelling like ham. I don’t know whether I’ve ever had this chemical smell, though, because my nose don’t work so good anymore.

  9. Rachel, if you call me Skunk Lady, I’m calling you Ham Pants!

  10. LOL! Skunk Lady and Ham Pants! The dyspeptic duo! Heroes of a stenchier age! The queens of stank!

  11. We will RULE THE WORLD with our stink!

    Do you think we should wear capes?

  12. I already am.

  13. I recently had the same problem with a pair of black jeans and figured out a fix. If you heat them up in the oven while they are slightly damp you can get the smell to come out. I wrote about my experience here:

  14. This is terrible, I much the same fashion of the story, bought two pairs of jeans from jeans west(popular in Australia), i didn’t really like one pair so I put on my preferred ones and headed out the door to meet my friends at the train station, after about 10 minutes in the sun waiting they began to smell, the smell reminded me of actual human feces, it’s the worst trying to hide the smell all day. I’ve washed them multiple times and soaked them twice the smell jut won’t go, so I’m never shopping there again or buying jeanswest branded jeans ever again, but the other pain smell-less. It’s and odd scenario.

  15. I’ve just purchased a pair of skinny jeans from a brand here in Australia called Cotton On. they were inexpensive, but oddly I can smell burnt plastic on them. Interesting that this is not just me. I’ll be looking into it.

    Thanks for writing about this.

  16. I hate the smell and recently I bought a pair from Kohls that fit great but the smell of plastic toxin moth ball ish smell is awful. I also had some beads for our Christmas tree that smelled the exact same way I soaked them in vinegar and they smelled so bad they now decorate the garbage can. I am going to try the dish soap and hope for the best

  17. Sometimes I can smell the burning chemical smell in the stores when I try on jeans and leggings. When I ask the sales staff about it they seem surprised and act like they have never heard of this. Thank you for all your posts because it is alarming that this is allowed and no one seems to acknowledge it or be concerned about the health risks. Washing has not helped me with these jeans and leggings. (I agree that heat does bring out the chemical aroma).

  18. My jeans also stink and They were brand new when I bought them! This was a couple of months ago and no matter how much I wash them, the stink won’t come out. They smell like burnt plastic and poop at the same time. Nasty. Has anyone ever tried using Kids and Pets? I haven’t tried it yet because I JUST now thought of it so I thought I’d share the idea.

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