How to Get Stinky Smells Out of Clothes

The ultimate guide to tackling odors from sweat, perfume, mildew, and smoke

person smelling laundry

The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 15 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 10 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0-$15

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.

supplies needed for removing tough odors

The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Washable Clothing

  • Washer or large sink
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Clothesline or drying rack
  • Sealable plastic tub
  • Mixing bowl (optional)

Dry-Clean-Only Clothing

  • Sealable plastic tub or bag
  • Clothesline


Washable Clothing

  • Baking soda
  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Scented dryer sheets
  • Enzyme-based stain remover
  • Household ammonia (for gasoline)
  • Borax (for cooking odor)

Dry-Clean-Only Clothes

  • Baking soda


How to Remove Perfume Scent From Clothing

  1. 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.

    making a baking soda soak

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

  2. Soak the Garment

    Completely submerge the garment and allow it to soak for at least four hours. Overnight is fine.

    Soaking the garment

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

  3. Wash Normally

    Wash as directed using a heavy-duty unscented laundry detergent.

    Adding the garment to the washer

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

  4. Repeat as Needed

    Check the garment for odor. If you can still smell the fragrance, repeat the steps.

    Checking the garment for odor

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

  5. 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.

    Drying the garment on a clothesline

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu


    For at-home odor removal from non-washable fabrics, hang them outside on a breezy day. Or just sprinkle some baking soda all over the garment, let it sit in the tub overnight, then shake it out the next day.

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.

  1. 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.

    Scrubbing the armpits of a sweat-stained shirt

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

  2. Make a Vinegar Solution

    Fill a washing machine, large bucket, or sink with cool water and add one cup of white distilled vinegar.

    Pouring vinegar into a bowl

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu 

  3. Soak the Shirt(s)

    Add the garment and allow it to soak for at least 30 minutes. Drain the vinegar/water solution.

    Soaking the garment

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

  4. Wash as Usual

    Wash as usual in cool water with a heavy-duty laundry detergent (Persil ProClean or Tide).

    Washing the garment as usual

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

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

  1. 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.

    Adding vinegar to the wash water

    The Spruce / Erica Lang

  2. Air-Dry Garments

    Do not machine-dry fabrics. The high heat can bind any body oil and its bacteria to the fibers. Hang fabrics to air-dry.

    Allowing garments to air dry

    The Spruce / Erica Lang


  • 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.

  1. Pretreat Stains

    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.

    Pretreating the gasoline stains

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytksa

  2. Wash in Hot Water

    Wash the item in the highest-temperature water appropriate for the fabric. Repeat as needed before drying if odor persists.

    Laundering the stained item

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytksa

  3. 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.

    Soaking the garment

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytksa

  4. 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.

  1. 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.

    Washing the garment on the hottest water it will accept

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

  2. 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.

    Soaking the garment

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

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

  1. 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.

    Adding baking soda to the washing machine

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

  2. Add Distilled White Vinegar

    Add 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar to the final rinse to cut through any remaining product residue.

    Adding vinegar to the final rinse

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

  3. Hang to Dry

    Hang the freshly washed clothing on a clothesline outside to dry. Fresh air is perhaps the best refresher of all.

    Hanging the garments outside to dry

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Removing Musty and Mothball Odors From Dry-Clean Only Clothes

  1. 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.

    Red dry clean only shirt with chemical odors in white bucket next to open box of baking soda

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  2. 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. 

    dry-cleaned garment

    The Spruce / Michele Lee

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.

  1. 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.

    Placing clothing in the washing machine

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  2. Add Laundry Detergent and Vinegar

    Add heavy-duty laundry detergent, as recommended on the bottle, along with 1 cup of vinegar.

    Adding detergent and vinegar to the washer

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  3. 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.

    Setting the cycle and washing temperature

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  4. 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.

    Line drying clothing outdoors

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

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.

  1. Load the Washing Machine

    Place your smoke-filled items into the washing machine.

    Person loading the washing machine

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  2. 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.

    Adding detergent and baking soda to the washer

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  3. 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.

    Selecting the washer cycle

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  4. 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.

    Placing the garment into the dryer

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

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.

  1. 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.

    Soaking socks in a vinegar rinse

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  2. Wash as Usual

    Place your socks into the washing machine with your other laundry and wash them, as usual, on the normal cycle.

    Placing socks into the washer

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  3. Machine Dry

    Dry your socks in an automatic dryer using scented dryer sheets for added freshness.

    Drying socks in the dryer

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

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.

  1. Put Clothes in the Washing Machine

    Place the articles of clothing straight into the washing machine by themselves.

    Placing clothes in the washer

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  2. Add Detergent and White Vinegar

    Add laundry detergent per the instructions on the bottle, along with 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar.

    Adding detergent and vinegar to the washer

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  3. Set the Machine Cycle

    Set your washing machine to a normal cycle and run the cycle.

    Setting the wash cycle

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  4. 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.

    Applying stain remover to a garment

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  5. Line Dry

    Line-dry the articles of clothing to assure there are no more stains. Machine drying may set stains and prevent removal in the future.

    Line drying clothing indoors

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

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.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Chlorine: Lung Damaging Agent. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.