How to Use Baking Soda to Eliminate Laundry Odors

Baking soda attacks odors in or out of the laundry

jar of baking soda

The Spruce / Kori Livingston

Baking soda can help remove pungent odors from laundry even when they linger after repeated washing. Baking soda also works as a laundry booster to help brighten whites and colors and generally freshen laundry by helping to remove odors.

Why Baking Soda Freshens Laundry and Eliminates Odors

While scented detergents and other laundry treatments merely mask odors with artificial scents, baking soda actually removes many odors by neutralizing the acids that produce the odor. Baking soda is alkaline—the opposite of acid—and is most effective at removing acidic odor compounds, such as those in sour milk, smoke, sweat, and vomit. Baking soda also can absorb oils that introduce odors into the laundry.

Freshening Ordinary Laundry

Even an ordinary load of laundry looks and smells fresher when it's treated with baking soda. In a pinch, you can even substitute baking soda for laundry detergent!

Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to the wash load of your top-loader or front-loader machine. You can sprinkle the baking soda directly on the clothes rather than adding it to the detergent cup or compartment. If you're out of laundry detergent and need to do a wash, use 1 cup of baking soda in place of detergent. It won't suds up like most non-laundry soaps, so it's safe to use in front-loaders.

stack of folded laundry
The Spruce / Kori Livingston

Removing Smoky Smells

Smoke tends to cling to the fibers within our laundry. Whether it's smoke from a campfire or second-hand cigarette smoke, the key to removing tough smoke odor is soaking. Try soaking clothes that smell of smoke in a baking-soda-and-water solution before washing in the washing machine.

  1. Mix 1/2 cup of baking soda into a sink or bucket full of water.
  2. Add in the smoky laundry and periodically stir the mixture as the clothing soaks.
  3. When the odor has dissipated, wash the clothing as usual.
campfire clothing ready to be laundered
The Spruce / Kori Livingston

Removing the Smell of Sweat

Washable hats, gloves, scarves, headbands, and other garments can be soaked in baking soda and water to rid them of sweaty odors. A baking soda soak can work wonders on many sweaty smells.

  1. Mix 1/2 cup of baking soda into a sink or bucket full of water.
  2. Allow the sweaty items to soak for several hours or overnight.
  3. Stir periodically.

If the sweat odor is persistent or has been left on the clothing for a long time, try applying a paste of baking soda and water directly to the affected areas and let it sit before soaking the clothing.

placing athletic wear into a sealed plastic bag
The Spruce / Kori Livingston

Removing Gas and Oil Smells

If you have clothing with gasoline, oil, or other mechanical smells, you can use baking soda to effectively remove the odors.

  1. Place smelly clothes in a bag with a baking soda and water mixture.
  2. Leave the bag sealed for a day or two before washing. Be warned it may take a baking soda soak to really remove the smell thoroughly. 
  3. Hand-wash oily or greasy items to prevent spreading the oil or staining other clothes in the washing machine.
adding oil-stained clothing to a sealed plastic bag with baking soda
The Spruce / Kori Livingston

Removing Spit-Up Smells

Dry baking soda rubbed directly on clothing can remove the smell of vomit or baby spit-up. And because it's baking soda, you don't have to worry about any harsh residues being left on your baby's clothes. Baking soda also brightens and whitens. Using baking soda as a stain remover is a great choice for baby clothes.

scooping baking soda onto a soiled baby onesie
The Spruce / Kori Livingston 

Sprinkle Baking Soda on Laundry

If smelly clothes cannot be washed immediately, sprinkle baking soda directly on them and, when you have time, wash them as usual. Remember, though, that the longer the clothes sit, the more likely they are to need a little extra treatment to thoroughly remove smells.

adding baking soda directly to a laundry basket
The Spruce / Kori Livingston