how to get rid of damp smell on clothes

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Love shopping thrift stores and Goodwill for second hand clothes? Me, too. What I DON’T like, though, is that the clothes from thrift stores and consignment stores often have a smell. So I was determined to find out how to get the smell out of thrift store and consignment clothes (and also hand-me down clothing).

Shopping second hand is a great way to find clothing and fabrics that can be used in your sewing room or to grow your own wardrobe without adding to waste stream. In addition to discovering unique items you are also helping to keep money in our local economy & support the green living movement. But what options do you have when you realize your latest treasure comes with an added surprise? It has a weird smell.

Over the years I’ve found a few trusty ways to remove any vintage musk or unwanted smell from thrift store items- and I can’t wait to share how easy it really is to deodorize any wet basement, old lady like, moth ball, dust encrusted smelling fabrics without harsh chemicals or scented sprays.

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Always prewash your fabrics and clothing before using them.

1. Vinegar & Water mixture there’s a good chance you already knew this- but this is without a doubt the most suggested option for removing pesky smells from fabrics. This is best for items you know you can hand wash like a cotton dress or bedsheet. Use 5 parts water to 1 part white vinegar in a spray bottle. If you’re washing fabrics in a sink, add a few tablespoons into the water and let the fabric sit for 15 minutes. Rinse in cool water and hang outside to dry letting the sunshine and fresh air do their magic. Don’t worry about walking around smelling like kimchi, the vinegar scent will quickly dissipate.  As vinegar is acidic, there are some fabrics that cannot handle the intensity due to age or delicacy and will dissolve in a vinegar wash, so be sure to use with caution.

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2. Oxiclean Odor Blasters just like in the infomercials- OxiClean does the job. This specialty formulated mix was designed with odors in mind and works as both a deodorizer and stain remover in one. You can add it to the laundry or handwash in a bucket.  Soak for up to 8 hours depending on the severity of stain or smell. Follow directions provided on product site/packaging.

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3. Vodka, and you don’t even need to use the good stuff. The cheapest hair curling rot you’ve got on the bottom shelf will do just fine. Add straight vodka to a spray bottle and lightly mist to dampen your fabrics/clothing. Do not over saturate. Let air dry.

4. Dawn Dish Soap know for its grease-cutting power when it comes to the kitchen sink,  Dawn can be used to tackle some of your laundry issues as well. Learn how to make homemade laundry soap using this liquid blue magic right here.

5. Newspaper Perhaps the cheapest and most readily available choice on this list, a newspaper is incredibly useful. Many know that if your shoes become soaked after a sudden downpour, stuffing them to the brim with balled-up newspaper helps draw the moisture out of the leather, suede, etc. In the same way, stuffing the pockets and sleeves of a wool overcoat and then throwing it in a sealed plastic bag for a few days will help remove any moisture associated with mildew.

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Bonus:  Fels Naptha Soap, it’s been used for 100’s of years to spot remove stains. I included this in the list today because it can be used to treat all types of fabrics including delicate lace. It has a light fresh scent that does not linger in clothing. It

Before I scare you off entirely, I have to be honest… the majority of materials I come across don’t smell funky. There are many options to help de-funk any type or size of fabric you may find while thrift store hunting or yard saling. Even with years of “experiments” my best advice is to exercise caution and test a garment in as inconspicuous a place as possible.

SOAK YOUR CLOTHES

Easily remove smell from vintage clothes by allowing them to soak for a few hours before washing them. You can soak small items in a small tub (this is what I use to soak and hand wash my items) or fill a washing machine with water and detergent and allow to pre-soak for an hour or more.

BAKING SODA

Baking soda is a brilliant solution to get rid of smells everywhere. Sprinkle it on your mattress or your rugs to absorb odor and then vacuum off. So you can definitely use it on clothing, too.

The easy way to use baking soda to remove smells on clothes is to sprinkle baking soda evenly all over the clothing (This is obviously okay for cotton and polyester, but you should consider doing a patch test with other fabrics, such as rayon or cashmere sweaters).

Coat the clothing with baking soda by either:

  • Laying the clothes on a towel or sheet, then sprinkling baking soda all over the clothing.
  • Add the piece of clothing to a large zip top plastic bag. Add baking soda to the bag, seal and shake to coat the clothes.

Leave the baking soda on at least an hour. If you want to leave it on for a few hours, that will be great, too.

Wash the clothes afterwards.

SUNLIGHT

The power of the sun not only kills germs and dust mites, but it can help bake out odors and VOCs.

Not all clothing is appropriate to put out in the sun. If your clothing can handle fresh air and sunlight, though, hang it on a clothesline all day in the hot sun. The smell will diminish, if not totally disappear.

You might want to consider turning your clothing inside out if you worry about the sunlight bleaching out colors.

Fresh Air to Get the Smells Out

While fresh air outdoors is best, there have been many times when I can’t put clothing outside because it has been raining or too cloudy. In those cases, I hang clothing on an outside porch, in my garage, on the front porch or anywhere else I can have fresh air from open windows or doors. I always make sure to put the clothing in a place where I won’t need to go for a day or two so that I don’t smell that thrift store smell. Sometimes I let it air out for a week if the smell is bad.

SCENTED DETERGENT

If you are not chemically sensitive to the smells on the thrift store clothes, but you just don’t like them, consider a scented detergent to mask the smell until it disappears.

Lots of natural detergents and fabric softeners are scented with plant-based aromas, and could hide the smell.

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CHARCOAL DEODORIZERS

The power of charcoal is unprecedented in naturally removing odor from clothing. Charcoal closet deodorizers are awesome at keeping your clothes fresh. Check out my favorite charcoal closet deodorizers for some ideas.

Love thrift store shopping, but hate the funky smells on the clothes? Me, too. If you like saving money on clothing by buying sustainable fashion via consignment stores, garage sales and thrifting sites, then you MUST know these tips to get the odor out of clothes. Bye-bye nasty fabric softener smells and musty odors. Hello fresh budget-friendly wardrobe!


For clothes from the thrift store or consignment store, put the piece of clothing in a bag with a charcoal deodorizer for it to absorb the smell. Large pieces of clothing, such as a wool coat, might benefit from stuffing the pockets with charcoal deodorizers. Also, put the clothing on a hanger and hang a charcoal deodorizer from it to absorb nearby smells.

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