Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Scent Crimes Series: No 20 - Aggressively Laundered Bedding

Different duvet and a working bedside light! ~ Source:
Over the years, I have stayed in a lot of problematic accommodation - much of it cheap(!), with a natural tendency to fall short in some way, but even some relatively pricy business hotels have managed to wrongfoot and disappoint. The business hotels on expenses are very much a thing of the past, as on the rare occasions I have work these days, it is invariably on the phone, but I do still stay in hotels and B & Bs on a leisure basis. And when it comes to London, my modest budget per night used to run to half decent chains fairly close to my familiar stomping ground of King's Cross (er no, not in that way...!). For the money you could also bag a borderline boutique B & B in Paddington or Earls Court - with en suite facilities and the happy surprise of a small packet of biscuits nestling next to the tea bags and UHT milk pots. As time has gone by, however, those places have sadly nearly doubled in price, and I have been forced out to unfamiliar suburbs such as Tottenham and Tufnell Park, Archway, Acton and Penge, depending on what is available in my price range.

And thus it was that I ended up recently spending one night in a district billed variously as 'Camden' and 'West Hampstead', both of which turned out to be creative naming devices for Kilburn. I had booked a single room with shared bathroom, the bathroom in question being a quick scurry away up one flight of stairs, so that was okay, plus I had a small basin in the room. Other plus points were the veritable profusion of accessible plug sockets...I once memorably stayed in a hotel where I had to boil the kettle in the corridor, as the plug sockets in the room itself were largely obstructed by furniture. Moreover, there was the luxury of a full length mirror - something conspicuously absent on last December's band tour, to the point where I almost started to wonder if the hotels concerned were collectively teaching me a lesson in vanity - within easy reach of said plug sockets, making hair drying with bonus sight of own head an uncharacteristically viable feat!

Then the bed was comfortable, and the pillow - though lone and flat - adequately bouncy. The central heating worked (if rather too well!), and the staff couldn't be more helpful, pressing a huge jug of fresh milk on me after I reported the presence of only one milk pot, when as we all know even a strong cup of tea requires two.

But there were downsides...the hotel spanned two houses and the front door banged constantly as people moved from one to the other; the bed sloped; there was no bedside light, no hangers, and only one small towel. But worse, much worse than any of this was the duvet cover, which had evidently been laundered in an entire packet of washing powder. Trying to sleep under it was like spending eight hours straight with your nose pressed in the contents of a box of Surf. I am not even talking an overly strong scent - this was the neat unadulterated smell of detergent of the most aggressive kind, with no discernible trace of fragrance. Strangely, the pillowcase was at a normal register of cleanness, ditto the sheet and towel, but for some reason the duvet cover had been subjected to a much more concentrated wash. As you entered the room, a miasma of chemicals assailed your nostrils. It hung in the air like an ash cloud, and I could feel my skin turning hot and prickly, not helped by the heating being on at full blast.

Source: Appliances Online

I have since googled the main categories of ingredients in washing powder and came up with this list:

Anti-redeposition Agents
Corrosion Inhibitor
Bleach Activator
Lather Control Agents ('Suds Suppressor')
Fragrances (one fragrance may contain a few to hundreds of compounds)

I must say I rather like the sound of a 'Suds Suppressor' and hope that wasn't an element in the mix that was troubling me. I certainly was not aware of any builders, bothersome or otherwise. Why, there would barely have been room to swing a jackhammer.

All night long I clung to the edge of the bed - I was determined not to fall off due to the angle of inclination, whilst also trying to keep my face away from contact with the duvet cover, for fear that it would trigger my eczema / dermatitis. Miraculously it didn't, but the very real possibility kept me awake till about 7am, whereupon the frequent banging of the front door took over until I finally got up about 9am, bleary-eyed and still wrinkling my nose in a state of high alert and trepidation.

So there you have all my years of travelling I have never encountered this particular curved ball of repellently scented bedding, and would be most interested to learn if you have. Or whether you have any theories as to how this laundry fail could have occurred. A powder dosing error? A rinsing malfunction? A lamentable lack of other items in the load?!

Meanwhile, I have chalked it up to experience, left a damning yet balanced review on, and remembered that when I am down in town again next year I have a total steal of a Travelodge to look forward to in Finsbury Park. And it's even paid for already...


  1. Hey Vanessa,
    We lived in Kilburn for a year of my two year London experience 1994/5. It was the place I liked the best by far.
    Sorry to read about your bummer sleep, bet you were glad to be home.
    Portia xx

    1. Hi Portia,

      Oh I say, there's a coincidence! In fairness I didn't really get to see much of the area, except the short walk to the tube station (another plus ;) ). I did clock a Thai street food restaurant that I would have fancied trying had it been open at the time I was passing.

      It did amuse me though that the B & B tried so hard to align itself with more obviously popular areas such as Camden (well, okay, the Borough maybe), and somewhere with 'Hampstead' in the name.

      I have slept a lot better in my own bed, thank you, but I still managed to have a great time! xx

  2. I feared the title of your post was an introduction to a Truffle-sponsored adventure in housecleaning, or that the errant neighborhood cat had made again invaded your home.

    That detergent smell sounds awful. I imagine the duvet needed less soap and an extra rinse. The photo of the bed snugged up to the door frame reminds me of an extremely space-efficient hotel room I once endured in Zurich. I hardly slept that night. The walls were so close to the bed I felt certain they would topple over in the dark!

    1. Hi Tiffanie,

      That is a very reasonable supposition, based on my bad past experiences with cat-related bedding spoiling, but luckily the microchip cat flap is still holding its own. ;)

      Less soap and an extra rinse would have helped for sure.'Space-efficient' is a nice spin to put on such hotel rooms, hehe. I am not surprised you struggled to sleep in Zurich, a pricy place to stay at the best of times.

  3. I'm sorry you had to endure that. Not being a good sleeper myself, I suffer from any inconsistencies in my sleeping arrangements.
    The worst sleep I've ever had was at friends' house: I couldn't understand why the pillow cases smelled that badly... until several years later when I myself switched to the some "less harsh/natural" detergent. As I discovered, their claims about being bio-degradable and safer on environment was all true: that bastard detergent would start biodegrade while I was storing my washed things. So if you constantly wash and use something, you wouldn't notice that but if you laundry something and store it away - say, for winter or guest bedding that you rarely use - 3-4 months later it smells just awful. I had to switch back to Tide (though, an unscented version - I hate the scent of detergent).

    1. Hi Undina,

      I am glad I am not alone in being sensitive to my sleeping environment. I have never used that kind of biodegradable washing powder, but I do have lots of clothes I wear only occasionally - probably most of them in fact! - so that is a timely tip off.

      Oh, your mention of Tide was unwittingly terribly nostalgic for me. As a child, my mother took exception to the name 'Mum' for some reason, and asked me to pick an alternative. She happened to be doing some hand washing at the kitchen sink at the time, and there was a packet of Tide on the windowsill. "I will call you Tide!" I exclaimed. (I was very young at the time.) After a short exchange, we settled on 'Tido' instead, pronounced 'Tiddo', not 'Tydo'. And she was that ever since. Also, sometimes 'Pum', a merging of 'Mum' and 'P' for 'Peggy'. 'Pummy' being a further variant. ;)

  4. Oh my goodness - what a nightmare (if indeed you had been asleep and therefore were able to have a nightmare!).

    Smells stop me sleeping and I have problems with most detergents (I think it's the laundry "musks" added to them) but had been happy with Persil Colour for years until - disaster - they "improved" its scent this year. It's so overwhelming that I had to strip the bed after 10 minutes and washed the linen 3 times before the smell finally dissipated. I wouldn't describe it as perfume, just a ghastly odour - I wonder if your B&B duvet cover had been washed in this (or something like this)? It seems detergent manufacturers think we all want our washing to reek to prove we've washed it!


    1. Hi Jillie,

      Waking nightmare indeed! Ooh, that Persil Colour sounds equally bad as whatever my duvet cover had been washed in. I am similarly talking about a 'ghastly odour' with no discernible fragrance to it. Had there in fact been a scent additionally, that might have finished me off completely! I imagine this duvet would have been washed in whatever is used by commercial laundries - probably some generic catering product along very similar olfactory lines. And I totally agree with you that the manufacturers think that washing must stink to read as 'clean'. Bad thinking!

  5. Oh dear. It’s a shame that we don’t have a spare bedroom, otherwise I’ be more than happy to invite you over whenever you stay in town. I can’t remember a duvet smelling so strong of laundry, but we switched once to a Persil detergent that was so awfully strong that we had to re-wash everything.
    (Trying the anonymous mode, Sabine)

    1. Hi Sabine,

      Hurrah for your successful comment posting!

      It is kind of you to think of putting me up, though I realise it is not practical. I do have friends I could stay with in various suburbs, but I only like to do that when the purpose of my trip is to visit them, rather than use their house as a hotel and go off to meet other people! So I shall continue to take pot luck with the cheaper options on, and the occasional bargain chain. Sounds like Persil may be a brand to avoid these days. I have used Lidl's non-bio own label tablets for years and had no issues with them, I must say. I think they did well in some consumer tests.

  6. I'm really hoping you are exaggerating even slightly for comic effect,V! Very generous of you to leave a balanced review. It sounds like you had a grim old night.

    I'm considering moving to the eco type of cleaning materials. Did you know there is even a warning on the back of washing-up liquid saying it causes long-term damage to sea life? I imagine there is less fragrance in these products too.

    I know about the Kilburn/West Hampstead re-branding. Always amusing. I'm going to a bar in Kilburn on the 22nd Dec where a friend has started DJing. I asked her what people wear and she said those in dresses and heels look decided over-dressed. Jeans it is :)

    1. Hi Tara,

      I only wish I was exaggerating for comic effect, though I think I did flag up all the room's good points too. The mirror and adjacent plug sockets were a real feature!

      The truth was perhaps even worse, arguably, but I felt too foolish to include this detail in the post. Namely that I kept getting out of bed and putting the light on to check that my face hadn't flared up with one of my allergy attacks. Then I splashed cold water on it and lay down again. The cold water stung like crazy, giving you an idea of how hot and bothered my face was thanks to this chemical cloud.

      I like the sound of eco materials, and have a multi-surface wipe product like that, but don't find them as effective as the full chemical versions, sadly. And see Undina's comment above about the dangers of certain biodegradable ones if you don't wash your clothes very often. But they would certainly score well on the fragrance front, as in lack of it.

      Interesting that you are going to Kilburn/West Hampstead in December. ;) I sense it is a jeans kind of area. That is what I wore, more by luck than through wishing to fit in.

    2. Not foolish at all to get up and check/splash your face considering your sensitivity. Thank goodness you were okay and that didn't make matters worse.

    3. Thanks! And yes, that would really have taken the edge off the weekend. ;)

  7. Oh what a horrid night! We can prepare with earplugs and eyemask, but this kind of ordeal requires a new invention alltogether. I use soapnuts these these, they have become quite mainstream here in the Netherlands with a big supermarket chain selling them (besides Persil etc). It is a bit of a hassle and requires nut management as you use them 3 times (they go 4 in a small bag). Sometimes I add some lavender eo. I am happy, planet happy, Nepalese women happy and laundry happy (cashmere and wool included).

    1. Hi Hamamelis,

      Learning about soap nuts and the associated 'nut management' required in their use has made my day! And great to know they also work with delicate fabrics.

  8. Hello V! I always bring my own pillow and sometimes my own blanket on my (rare) travels. As a huge homebody, I need a bit of home with me!

    1. Hello Carol!

      There is a lot to be said for doing that, space permitting. I once did the opposite, and bought my pillow at a Ramada Hotel in San Diego for $15, before proceeding to carry it on 11 flights and eventually get it home. I sleep on it to this day, 13 years later. (I am sure there's probably H & S advice against keeping pillows that long, but I am very attached to it!)

  9. Hi Vanessa,
    That room looks grim! The last London budget hotel I stayed in was run by a Romanian charity near Hyde Park. Despite the room being tiny, oddly arranged and having no bathroom it was rather charming and featured a window that you could sneakily smoke out of and kind of hang your legs out. Falling was a possibility but it was SUCH a good view.
    I haven't encountered aggressive laundry issues but I did once stay in a very posh hotel in Edinburgh, sadly with a friend rather than a lover. We had a giant bed with the most beautifully squishy enveloping mattress. It was New Year and very cold. We spent a lot of time in that bed and it was responsible for us seeing far less sights than we intended to over the weekend!

    1. Hi Odiferess,

      I think it was without question the pokiest room in the joint. The rest of the hotel looks really rather nice in the photos, which would also account for its rave reviews.

      I can see the appeal of a 'smoker's window' at your Romanian Charity hotel. These days windows are often hermetically sealed - to stop people jumping out of them?

      I loved your tale of the posh hotel in Edinburgh. I once did something similar on my own in a Doubletree in Bristol. It was very expensive and not at all what I am used to paying, so I made darn sure I got maximum value out of my stay. ;) Not forgetting their trademark complimentary - and warm! - choc chip cookies.