how to remove musty smell from clothes without washing

Fresh-Smelling Clothes Without Washing

Have you ever worn clothes that have a musty kind of smell? It’s not uncommon at certain times of year for clothes to develop an odor that is not altogether pleasant.

Sometimes this is because the washing machine isn’t cleaned. Other times, it’s because the clothes are damp and not properly stored. It can also be because other strong smells in the home, such as cooking or pet smells, seep into the fibers of your clothes.

What Causes the Smells?

There are any number of causes of bad smells in clothing. The fibers of clothing tend to pick up strong scents such as cigarette smoke and cooking. If you’re stored your clothing improperly, these smells can easily get into the clothing fibers.

Damp clothing is also a good home for the growth of mold. As the tiny mold spores grow within the fibers of the clothing, they can stink up the clothing and the drawer they are packed in. Even clothing that is hanging up in a closet can become musty and smelly, especially if it is damp or absorbing strong smells.

Here are six strategies for getting rid of odors so that you can extend the amount of time in between washes. (Of course, you’ll eventually have to wash a garment, but these tips will help you wash less often!)

1. Leave them hanging

The easiest way to address faint smells is to hang your clothes outside of your closet right after you’ve worn them to air them out. I typically air out my clothes and shoes for a day before hanging them up back inside my closet. Often, faint smells will fade out within a day, though stronger smells may take a few days to air out.

Even better: hang your clothes outside in fresh air — the sunlight and a light breeze can help remove odors. Just be careful though not to hang your colorful garment in direct sunlight too long to avoid color-fading.

2. Spray with vodka

If the smell persists after a few days or it’s an extra-strong odor, spraying the garment with straight vodka works surprisingly well. This has been a not-so-secret hack the performance world has used to get smells out of costumes that can’t be washed or don’t have time to be washed between shows. Use any spray carefully, so as not to over soak the garment.

Finally, a use for that gross cheap vodka in your pantry!

3. Spray with white vinegar

Don’t feel comfortable spraying vodka? You could also spray your garment using a bottle of half white vinegar and half water. To ensure vinegar won’t impact the fabric, you can turn your garment inside out and spray a small inconspicuous spot to test it out. Once it’s good to go, spray your garment!

If you don’t want any faint vinegary smell, you could drop in a few drops of essential oil to the mix. (Again, test any mixture on the inside of your garment before spraying the outside!)

4. Spray with lemon juice

No vodka or white vinegar in the house? Try mixing a tablespoon of lemon juice per cup of water in a spray bottle and spray your garments! Test the spray out on the inside of your garment before spraying the outside to ensure it won’t cause any discoloration.

5. Steam your garments

You knew a steamer could get rid of wrinkles and make your garment look fresh, but it turns out it can also make your clothing smell fresh, too! The high heat from the steamed water kills odor-causing bacteria.

No steamer? No problem. Hanging wrinkly garments in your bathroom during a hot shower is an often shared hack that can sometimes do the trick — though, admittedly, usually doesn’t work as well as a steamer.

Note: Certain delicates like suede cannot be steamed and for garments with delicate embellishments, it’s highly recommended to turn them inside out before steaming.


6. Freeze ’em up!

This method takes longer and doesn’t work quite as well as a steamer in my experience, but if you don’t have a steamer, try putting a garment, like your denim, in the freezer! Just be sure to remove them in enough time before you plan to wear again — since they will be cold and stiff from their time in the freezing temperature.

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