How to Remove Excessive Fragrance Odors From Clothes

Get rid of that heavy perfume smell

Hanging clothing
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Perfume can enhance or it can overwhelm. Many people are highly sensitive to perfumes and scents and some of us simply don't want to smell like a gardenia, patchouli, or the entire perfume counter. If you need to remove perfume or excessive odors from detergent or fabric softeners, we have a few tips that will help.

Remove Perfume From Washable Clothes

Some scents are much more difficult to remove from laundry than others. Fabric softeners and dryer sheet odors are some of the worst because the product uses a silicone formula that coats every fiber. This is what makes them feel smooth and soft, but it can also be overwhelming.

This method may not remove all of the odor on the first try, but it is the most economical and reliable way to attack unwanted scents. Keep in mind that this is for washable fabrics only.

  1. Air out the clothes. Hang the scented clothing—even newly purchased clothing—in the open air. If you can’t hang things outside, hang it up in a breezy (you can use a fan), warm, and sunlit room filled with lots of green leafy plants. The plants will help absorb the odors. The length of time the clothing needs to air out depends on how saturated it is with scent and the sensitivity of the person wearing it. It may take as little as a few hours or as long as a couple weeks.
  2. Soak the clothes before washing. Soak your clothing in a sink or washing machine filled with warm water and one cup of baking soda before washing. Be sure the soaking vessel is large enough to completely submerge the smelly garment. Overnight is usually a sufficient amount of time, although some people will suggest as long as a few days. Rather than a long soak, it is probably more effective to repeat the airing–soaking–washing–drying cycle several times, if necessary.
  3. Wash the clothes. After soaking, wash the clothing as usual following the care label guidelines, either in a clothes washer or by hand with an unscented laundry detergent. Add one cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle and stop the cycle. Let the laundry soak for an hour before completing the rinse cycle. To ensure that all the detergent has been rinsed from your clothing, select your washing machine’s extra rinse cycle if it has one. Don't add anything—just water—to this extra rinse.
  1. Dry and air out the clothes again. For the best results, dry the freshly washed clothes on a clothesline or clothes rack in the fresh air and sunlight. Sunlight will help remove the odors, but bright sunlight can cause dyes to fade; hang dark colors in the shade. The line drying will also provide a final opportunity for clothes to air out. If you must use a clothes dryer, use a low-temperature setting like the permanent press option. Excessively high temperatures can actually cause any remaining odor molecules to adhere more deeply with the fabric.
  2. Store the clothes properly. If it is time for a change of season, you really should not store clothes away with a strong perfume odor. But, if you must, you can place the fragrant garments in a sealed plastic tub or heavy-duty plastic bag with a box of baking soda. Leave them sealed for a week or so. The baking soda will absorb the odors, just like it does in your refrigerator.
  3. Repeat if necessary. Generally, one pass through this process will effectively remove smells and irritants in most clothing. If your clothes still have bothersome odors or are chemically irritating, you can repeat the process as often as necessary.
    Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018.

    Remove Perfume From Dry Clean Clothes

    If your clothing is labeled as dry clean only, air it out just as you would for washable clothes. If the garment is unstructured and can be hand washed, follow the same steps as above. Be sure to use the right detergent and the correct methods for hand washing. The baking soda and distilled white vinegar will not harm the fabrics.

    You may find that a fabric refresher like Febreze, which is offered in both scented and unscented formulas, may remove odors from dry-clean only garments with great success. Take the clothing to an outside area and spray it lightly and allow it to continue to air out. Febreze will trap odor molecules and keep them suspended until the garment can be cleaned.

    When you take the items to a dry cleaner, tell them about the odors and about any fragrance sensitivity that you may have. Some dry cleaning chemicals can also contain perfumes.