Tips for Washing and Cleaning Hunting Clothes

Laundry basket with hunting clothes and duffle bag

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

If you've been hunting for a while, you probably know to avoid scented detergents when laundering your hunting clothes. But, that's not enough. Not only can scent give you away to game animals, but your clothes' brightness might be giving animals notice that danger is near.

According to “How Game Animals See and Smell,” a booklet by Kurt von Besser, many finishes on camouflage clothes contain UV brighteners to make the clothing more appealing to our eyes. We then use laundry detergents that contain brighteners to keep clothing looking its best. Unfortunately, wild animals can detect the brighteners in dim light given their keen vision.

To gain an edge in the fields and woods, here is what to look for in a detergent, as well as the best way to launder hunting clothes and game bags.

Picking a Detergent

All types of hunters should use detergents free of UV brighteners and perfumes. You may not look as sharp, but the prey won't mind. Many laundry detergents that are labeled as "natural" or "eco-friendly" do not contain brighteners, but some do. Take time to read labels. 

Or, you can purchase detergents specifically formulated for hunters or military uniforms. Sophisticated night vision equipment can also detect optical brighteners left by detergents leaving troops in danger. Country Save is a detergent approved by the military and given to troops in their go-bags that will also work well for hunters. There are also commercial spray-on scent eliminators for clothing, gear, and skin.

Laundry detergent being poured on hunting clothes

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Laundry Techniques

Along with using the right type of laundry detergent, here are other laundry tips will give you an edge in the wild:

  • Clean the washer and dryer thoroughly to remove any scented detergent, fabric softener, or dryer sheet residue before you wash your hunting gear with an appropriate detergent.
  • Consider hand washing hunting clothes in a large utility sink or tub rather than the family washer. 
  • Add one cup of baking soda to the final rinse water to help eliminate odors.
  • Air-dry clothing on an outdoor drying rack or clothesline. When dry, store in a sealed plastic bag or tub to prevent ambient odors in your home or vehicle from attaching to the fabric.
  • Use the same types of detergents and washing techniques for sleeping bags and other camping gear before you head to the woods.
  • Never use fabric softener or dryer sheets on hunting gear.
  • Wash hunting clothes often to prevent body odor from building up in the fibers.
  • Keep the hunting clothes in a sealed bag or tub until you arrive at your hunting stand or camp. Do not wear while driving, pumping gas, or eating. Wear gloves when handling outer garments to prevent the transfer of scent.
Hand washing hunting clothes in clear bin

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Cleaning Game Bags

An important part of hunting is bringing back the game so that the meat is safe to eat. Learn how to clean game bags so that your meat is as bacteria-free as possible and so the bag can be used again.

Most hunting game bags are made from cotton or a synthetic blend. Discussions abound about which is best for protecting the meat. But whichever you prefer, you must clean them religiously to protect your kill and the safety of those who will be eating the meat.

If you are on an extended hunt and plan to hang game before the hunt ends, rinse the game bags after the meat is hung on a meat pole. Use any water available to get as much dried blood and soil off the bags. Allow them to air dry and then rebag the hanging meat. Cleaning will help preserve the bag's breathability and slow meat spoilage.

As soon as possible after the hunt, thoroughly wash the game bags with unscented heavy-duty detergent (Tide and Persil contain enough stain-removing enzymes to remove stains) and a light solution of chlorine bleach using the hottest water possible. The chlorine bleach should be fresh and added at the correct time in the wash cycle for optimum cleaning. Use the washer's bleach dispenser or add the bleach during the rinse cycle. Allow the hunting bags to air dry. If you are concerned about discoloration from stains, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach and warm water and allow the bags to soak overnight. Then wash again as recommended.

Game bag being placed in storage bin

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald