Most stains are visible when you are ready to treat them before washing, but learning how to get smells out of clothes when you can't see them and they are embedded in fibers is challenging. Whether the fragrance comes from excess perfume or a heavily scented laundry product, these odors can linger, and heavy scents can remain in new clothes, vintage, and used clothes alike, sometimes even after washing them.
How to Get Smells Out of Clothes
Most clothing smells can be removed with applications of baking soda or vinegar, but some tough odors may require extra cleaning steps with heavy-duty liquid detergent or household ammonia. Choose a commercial odor remover like Downy Rinse & Refresh or remove odors from laundry using items straight from the pantry.
Removing Odors Quickly Without Washing
You can quickly remove mild odors from clothing by filling a spray bottle with a 50/50 mixture of water and vinegar, plus a few drops of an essential oil like lavender. Spray it onto your clothing and allow it to air dry. You can also pop your articles in question into the dryer with scented dryer sheets. Or, hang clothing outside in the sunlight and allow the UV rays to kill the microorganisms causing the stench in the first place.
Before You Begin
The first thing to do is to determine if the perfumed or odorous garment is washable by checking the care label. If it says dry clean only, a professional cleaner should be able to remove the odor. You may wish to select a green dry cleaner, which uses fewer harsh chemicals.
If you have the go-ahead to wash items, here are further steps to get the smell out of clothes.
Equipment / Tools
- Washer or large sink
- Soft-bristled brush
- Clothesline or drying rack
- Sealable plastic tub
- Mixing bowl (optional)
- Sealable plastic tub or bag
- Baking soda
- Heavy-duty laundry detergent
- Distilled white vinegar
- Scented dryer sheets
- Enzyme-based stain remover
- Household ammonia (for gasoline)
- Borax (for cooking odor)
- Baking soda
How to Remove Perfume Scent From Clothing
Make a Baking Soda Solution
Fill a large sink or bucket or your washer with cool water. Dissolve one cup of baking soda in four cups of hot water and add the solution to the cool water.
Soak the Garment
Completely submerge the garment and allow it to soak for at least four hours. Overnight is fine.
Wash as directed using a heavy-duty unscented laundry detergent.
Repeat as Needed
Check the garment for odor. If you can still smell the fragrance, repeat the steps.
Dry the Garment
If the odor is gone, dry as directed by the care label or dry the garment on a clothesline in the fresh air.
How to Remove Sweat Odor From Clothing
A shirt may look and smell clean after washing. But an hour or so into wearing it, here comes the sweat odor.
Removing Sweat Odors From Washable Shirts
For shirts that have been washed but still have an odor, mix a solution of two cups of baking soda in a washer tub of lukewarm water. Add the shirts and allow them to soak for at least 24 hours. Then wash as directed.
Scrub the Armpits
If the deodorant build-up has left the fabric stiff and a heavy sweat odor is present, mix a one-to-one solution of white distilled vinegar and water and use a soft-bristled brush or an old toothbrush to scrub the armpits before soaking.
Make a Vinegar Solution
Fill a washing machine, large bucket, or sink with cool water and add one cup of white distilled vinegar.
Soak the Shirt(s)
Add the garment and allow it to soak for at least 30 minutes. Drain the vinegar/water solution.
Wash as Usual
Removing Sweat Odor From Gym Clothes
Working up a sweat can be a good thing, but that sweat (and the smell) can be difficult to remove from today's high-performance fabrics, like those found in workout clothes.
Add White Distilled Vinegar
For daily laundry, add one cup of baking soda or white distilled vinegar to your wash water each time you wash exercise clothes. The baking soda or white distilled vinegar will help neutralize odor and make your detergent work more efficiently.
Do not machine-dry fabrics. The high heat can bind any body oil and its bacteria to the fibers. Hang fabrics to air-dry.
- Do not wear exercise clothes again until they have been washed. Each wearing adds layers of body soil and bacteria.
- If you are not able to wash activewear daily, invest in a "diaper pail" for the gear. Any plastic container with a lid will work. Fill it with cool water and one cup of baking soda. Drop soiled exercise clothes in the pail and let them soak until it is time for laundry. Squeeze out the water and wash as usual. Fill the pail with clean water and baking soda and you are ready for another round of exercise.
How to Remove Gasoline Odor From Clothing
Whether you work with fuels or simply have a gas pump splashing accident, gasoline and diesel oil odors can be difficult to remove.
These steps will work well on small fuel stains. If the fabric is heavily stained with gasoline, it should be discarded. You must take great care because the fuel is flammable, so never place garments that even faintly smell of fuel in a clothes dryer.
If the garment is labeled dry clean only, point out and identify the stain to your professional dry cleaner.
Since fuel is an oil-based stain, use an enzyme-based stain remover or a bit of heavy-duty liquid detergent to pretreat the stains. Work the stain remover into the fabric with your fingers and allow it to work for at least 15 minutes before washing the garment.
Wash in Hot Water
Wash the item in the highest-temperature water appropriate for the fabric. Repeat as needed before drying if odor persists.
Soak Clothes If Necessary
For lingering odors, soak the stained clothes in cool water with one cup baking soda for at least four hours or overnight.
Add Ammonia (Optional)
If the baking soda doesn't remove the heaviest odors, fill the washer with warm water and add one cup of household ammonia. Soak for 2 or 3 hours. Drain the soaking water from the washer and wash as usual.
Do not use any chlorine bleach during the ammonia soaking or washing process, as dangerous fumes can form.
How to Remove Cooking Odor From Clothing
Any home cook who fries food or fast food worker will tell you that fabrics can quickly absorb odors and hold onto them even if there are no stains. There are microscopic grease particles from frying in the air, and they embed in the fibers.
If you've gotten trapped next to the fryer or grill when wearing dry clean only clothes, point out the odors to your dry cleaner. If the odor is light, hang the non-washable garment outside on a breezy day for several hours.
Wash the Clothing
Wash on the normal cycle in the hottest water recommended on the care label for the fabric.
To successfully remove the oily molecules, use a heavy-duty laundry detergent like Tide or Persil. Boost the cleaning power of any detergent by adding one cup of baking soda or one-half cup of borax to the washer.
Presoak If Needed
If washing correctly does not remove the odor, presoak the clothes for at least two hours in a solution of hot water with two cups of baking soda. After presoaking, wash the garments again.
How to Remove Musty and Mothball Odors From Clothes
Musty and mothball odors can be difficult to remove, but several things can be done to speed the process.
Removing Musty and Mothball Odors From Washable Clothes
Wash With Baking Soda
Fill the washer or a large sink with water and detergent and add one cup of baking soda. Mix well and allow the clothing to soak for at least one hour before completing the washing cycle.
Add Distilled White Vinegar
Add 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar to the final rinse to cut through any remaining product residue.
Hang to Dry
Hang the freshly washed clothing on a clothesline outside to dry. Fresh air is perhaps the best refresher of all.
Removing Musty and Mothball Odors From Dry-Clean Only Clothes
Place Clothing and Baking Soda in a Container
Place the smelly garment in a large, sealable plastic tub or bag with an open box of baking soda. Let the container remain sealed for several days as the baking soda absorbs the odors. Repeat the process several times (with a fresh box of baking soda each time) until all of the odors are gone.
Hang to Dry
Dry clean only clothes can be hung outside—away from direct sunlight—to air-dry, but most will require a trip to the dry cleaner to remove the odor.
How to Remove Mildew Odor From Clothing
Clothing stored in a warm, damp area over the winter may develop that infamous mildewy smell. This type of mold is not only smelly, but it also leaves unsightly stains. If left untreated, mildew can decay the fabric that it sits on.
Place Clothing in the Washing Machine
Add items to your washer, but don't overfill it. Overfilling the wash basin may inhibit the removal of mildew odor.
Add Laundry Detergent and Vinegar
Add heavy-duty laundry detergent, as recommended on the bottle, along with 1 cup of vinegar.
Set the Cycle and Water Temperature
Wash your items on a normal cycle using hot water. The heat, combined with the acid from the vinegar, will kill mildew and eliminate the smell.
Line-Dry Your Clothing
Hang your clothing outside in the sun as a final step to combat mildew odor. Once dry, if your items still smell, repeat the process from the beginning.
How to Remove Smoke From Clothing
A late night out on the town may leave your clothes smelling of cigarette smoke from bar hopping. Don't sweat it, though. You can toss your smelly items in the washing machine with baking soda, and then wear them to work the next day smelling fresh.
Load the Washing Machine
Place your smoke-filled items into the washing machine.
Add Detergent and Baking Soda
Use a heavy-duty detergent, along with 1 cup of baking soda, to clean your smoky clothing. Baking soda will neutralize the odor left behind by a smoky night out.
Select the Cycle and Water Temperature
Clean your items on a normal cycle using warm water. Cold water may not fully eliminate the smespotlightll of smoke.
Dry Your Clothing
Place your clothing in your automatic dryer along with a dryer sheet. Run the dryer for a full cycle until the clothes are dry and smell fresh.
How to Remove Foot Odor from Socks
Athletic shoes and socks can take on a stinky smell after a hard workout at the gym. This smell is often due to bacteria growth from sweaty feet. Removing this smell from your socks requires an extra soak before washing.
Soak Your Socks
Fill a sink with a ratio of 1 gallon of water to 2 cups of distilled white vinegar. Place your socks into the solution and allow them to soak for at least half an hour—the longer, the better.
Wash as Usual
Place your socks into the washing machine with your other laundry and wash them, as usual, on the normal cycle.
Dry your socks in an automatic dryer using scented dryer sheets for added freshness.
How to Remove Vomit From Clothing
The unpleasant task of washing clothing covered in vomit can be minimized by first placing everything into the washing machine without coming into contact with the vomit. The initial washing cycle may take care of the problem, but sometimes, additional stains may require further treatment.
Put Clothes in the Washing Machine
Place the articles of clothing straight into the washing machine by themselves.
Add Detergent and White Vinegar
Add laundry detergent per the instructions on the bottle, along with 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar.
Set the Machine Cycle
Set your washing machine to a normal cycle and run the cycle.
Inspect for Stains and Rewash
Check the clothing for additional stains. If stains are present, treat them with a stain remover, and then wash them again.
Line-dry the articles of clothing to assure there are no more stains. Machine drying may set stains and prevent removal in the future.
Additional Body Odors
Most other clothing odors, like those left behind by bodily fluids or sickness, can be neutralized by soaking clothing items in a sink filled with water, plus a mixture of vinegar or baking soda. Both products work to kill the microorganisms that cause the odor, while neutralizing the actual scent itself. If you need to call in the big guns, however, a specialized detergent or laundry booster should do the trick.
Chlorine: Lung Damaging Agent. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.