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How to Get Food Smells Out of Clothes and Fabric

I've cleaned houses and spaces professionally. Here are some of my expert tips.

How to Keep Your Clothes and House Free of Cooking Smells

How to Keep Your Clothes and House Free of Cooking Smells

How to Get Rid of Cooking Smells in Clothes and Furniture

If you’re like me, you may love good food and may also love for your clothes and your house to smell fresh and clean. But sometimes good cooking with fresh herbs and spices and having your house or clothes smell laundry-fresh and clean at the same time feels like a far-off fantasy. Cooking odors permeate everything!

Luckily, there are ways to prevent the smell of foods from getting into fabrics. As someone who can’t stand the smell of fried food or breakfast in my bedding, couch, clothes, and natural fabrics (wool, cotton, etc.), I'd like to share my expert tips for how to smell-proof your home while still living the life of a home-cook foodie.

How to Deodorize Clothes Without Washing

How to Deodorize Clothes Without Washing

10 Ways to Remove Odor in Clothes Without Washing

Some of these tips are obvious—like running a fan, opening a window when appropriate, throwing away things like fish before it stinks up the kitchen, and purchasing a leather or faux-leather coach that won't soak up odors, but some of these tips might also surprise you.

1. Practice Good Kitchen Hygiene (Turn on the Fan Before You Start)

This step is most crucial even though it may seem like common sense. Don’t turn on the exhaust fan above your stove only after the smell is noticed. By then, it's too late. Start the fan before you even turn on the burner to get cooking.

No range-hood, vent, or exhaust fan over your stove? That actually puts your safety at risk. Gas stoves emit carbon monoxide and other dangerous things into the air that you breathe from the off-gasing that takes place when you cook with Teflon pans and similar (we're talking carcinogens and toxic chemicals). Your landlord should have adequate ventilation set up and a carbon monoxide detector if they are truly housing you in a safe space—so get on them. If you don't have either of these, say something.

2. Shut Doors and Vents, Open Windows, Use Towels

This may already seem like common sense to you, but you will want to shut the doors to your bedroom, living room, and even use towels or carpeting to block the inch gap under the doors that lead to these rooms (gaps under the door allow air to flow). Closing vents that interconnect your rooms, too, can help. Opening windows and doors (without screens) and thereby creating a wind tunnel can really help to create a cross-draft to blow the smells out of the home. Surprisingly, vacuuming carpet helps, too, as it creates air flow between carpet fibers.

Close Doors

Close Doors

3. Work With Air Pressure

If your bedroom is warm and you open a cold window near your kitchen, you could very well be blowing your hot kitchen air into your bedroom where it can get trapped and the smells will accumulate. You need to think about how air at different temperatures moves. Cold air will move towards warm air . . . so opening a window in your bedroom will help push the smell out . . . but opening a window in your kitchen may drive the smell into your bedroom.

Does Air Move From Cold to Hot?

Hot air rises and is thinner (lower pressure) and cold air sinks. Air flows from colder areas to warmer areas—so air moves from cold to hot.

4. Get a Good Air Filter

Consider investing in an air purifier that is manufactured using a HEPA filter (HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air). HEPA filters reduce pet dander, tobacco smoke smells, dust mites, and anything over 0.3 micrometers. Unfortunately, these filters can't get rid of VOCs (volatile organic compounds)—only exhaust fans and open windows/fresh air can do this . . . but HEPA filters can drastically help improve air quality and reduce smells in general. They help reduce symptoms in people with asthma and dust-mite allergies, too.

Another Great Air Filter

You might also consider the Winix 5500 True HEPA PlasmaWave—I had one of these for many years and it was also great. It's a bit larger than the product that I currently use as mentioned above. The Winix comes with a remote control which is really helpful when you're ready to turn it off and going to sleep.

Create natural satchels to throw in with your laundry.

Create natural satchels to throw in with your laundry.

5. Combat Odor With Odor

Consider purchasing a scented candle (or several) and let those burn while you cook. You can also boil aromatic water as you cook—think lemon, orange, and mulling spices like cinnamon or nutmeg on the stove top to fill up the house. You can also choose natural fragrance like cedar and eucalyptus essential oils and preemptively put them in a diffuser.

6. Throw Clothes in the Dryer With a Satchel

To quickly refresh/deodorize your clothes and ban odor, toss dryer-safe bedding or clothing in the dryer with a few sheets of fabric softener or natural lavender satchels—the heat will infuse the clothing with a fresh scent.

7. Wear an Apron, Change Clothes, Wash Hair/Shower

Garlic, onion, and curry have sulfuric compounds that can enter your bloodstream and further propagate smells. These ingredients are totally irresistible when it comes to cooking, so if you work with them be sure to practice good kitchen hygiene. Wear an apron, strip your cooking clothes (pop them in the laundry basket—maybe even let them hang outside to deodorize before bringing them in the room), wash your hair or even rinse your body off in the shower, and use good soap on your hands.

Garlic odor can get everywhere and even transfer to objects, leaving behind strong smells. Be careful what you touch! Also, don't take off the clothes you wore cooking and hang them back up in your closet, throw them on your bed, or throw them on your furniture . . . you'll just be transferring the smell.

8. Steam Your Clothes, Hang Them Outside, or Freeze Them

Yep—all three work! Steaming your clothes is a great way to give them a quick refresher and deodorize them, but hanging clothes outside in the sun or in a drafty window can really freshen them up fast. Some people even report success of sticking clothes in the freezer—yes, either in a Ziploc bag or as is, and it will kill off bad odor and bacteria.

Combat smells with pleasant odor like candles and essential oils.

Combat smells with pleasant odor like candles and essential oils.

9. Buy Plastic Bins, Clothes-Covers, and Trunks

Not only will you look organized, but you will smell-proof your clothes. You can buy cute containers and storage bins for things like wool and items you can only dry clean to keep them safe from odors. This will also keep the moth-free. You can also consider buying closet organizers (plastic clothing covers that hang in the closet to moth-proof and odor-proof your belongings).

When it comes to bedding or pillows, consider buying a cute trunk for your living room or for at the foot of your bed. When the heavy cooking happens, toss your blankets and pillows in the trunk and save them from absorbing all odors.

10. Hang Cedar or Lavender Satchels

Hang moth-deterring cedar or DIY cute lavender satchels in your closet. You can use cloth tea bags and some other fun herbs like clove, lavender, and similar . . . simply hang them in the closet from the clothes-hangers. The nice aroma will help infuse your clothing with more appealing scents.

Tips for Washing Odor Out of Clothes Naturally

If you want to wash the odor out, there are a few natural remedies you can try:

1. White Vinegar

White vinegar is great. When my cat was peeing on a bath rug repeatedly, I was able to toss the carpet into the washing machine with 1/2 cup of white vinegar and it totally neutralized the odor. White vinegar is also gentle on fabric and a great natural cleaner.

2. Baking Soda

Baking soda is another great neutralizer—not only is it excellent for removing odors in the refrigerator, it's also gentle enough for people to use and gentle on fabrics; this is why it's used in many natural laundry detergents. Consider adding 1 tablespoon to your next load.

3. Essential Oils

I went with an all-natural laundry detergent recently and I absolutely love it. It's called Zum. It is gentle on my clothing and the essential oils are beyond any other natural detergent soap I've tried. Try laundry soap with real essential oils or make your own. Essential oils permeate deeply into clothes and leave you feeling natural and delightfully fresh.

Share Your Tips and Tricks

I hope you found all of these tips helpful. Do you have any shortcuts to share? Please leave a comment with your tricks and tips below!

In addition to using all of these techniques, always wash dishes right away and clean up cooking surfaces and splatter-spots. Try to leave the fan on even after you have been cooking to keep the air circulating. Best of luck on keeping your household smelling great!

Stovetop Simmer Air Freshener

© 2019 Layne Holmes

What do you use?

Zakia Kaushar from New Delhi on July 07, 2020:

Great Tips, This article solved this problem. Many people face, the clothes Stains and smell issue. It's very helpful for those people.

Layne Holmes (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 22, 2019:

Hi Lora,

Thanks for the read. I definitely make use of baking soda and white vinegar for many things. The vinegar has been great for removing cat pee odor. Thank goodness my kitty is almost 2 years old and her behavior is improving. Yes, I recommend Zum—the essential oil blend far out-performs any other detergent I've used. It's amazing.

Lora Hollings on November 18, 2019:

Great suggestions, Layne. Baking soda and white vinegar are great things to use for neutralizing odors and I will have to try the all-natural laundry detergent Zum. Thanks for this very good info!

Layne Holmes (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 18, 2019:

Thanks for the read, Dora. I found the freezing interesting too . . . I haven't tried it myself but it seems to make sense as it prevents bacterial growth and likely neutralizes odor.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 18, 2019:

Very helpful suggestions. Freezing the clothes is new to me, but why not? Thanks for teaching something new.

Layne Holmes (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 18, 2019:

Hi Liz—thanks for the read. In our tiny apartment, we certainly get a lot of breakfast aromas in the air when the cooking starts. I've been working on these techniques for quite a while. I hope you find them helpful!

Liz Westwood from UK on November 18, 2019:

You give great tips and ideas here. I have just returned from meeting a friend in a cafe for coffee. Now my clothes smell like an English fried breakfast!