Denise is a psychiatric nurse. She is passionate about writing, photography, travel, cooking, holistic health, adventure, and family.
How to Take Smell Out of Clothes Without Washing
When my daughters were growing up, there came a time when I returned to work full time. After that, it was everyone for themselves when it came to laundry. I was still responsible for the household laundry, such as linens, but my girls had to learn early how to do their own laundry.
As a result, there were a few times when the problem of clean laundry arose, mornings when it was time for school, but there were no clean clothes to wear. Those mornings became lessons in planning ahead.
My daughters had to learn how to improvise. It is amazing how clever we can become when we have to. There isn't always time to jump into the car, drive to the closest department store, and buy a new outfit. (Sadly, my husband actually did this a few times when his laundry basket was overflowing.)
Laundry Basics: Plan Ahead
It may seem ironic that the best way to plan ahead is to stock up on emergency household supplies. People who are organized enough to think ahead and buy the necessary items aren't usually caught in that dilemma.
Nonetheless, let's assume that you are organized and also want to plan ahead for those "crunch" moments. Here is a list of items to keep on hand. (The best part of this list is the items they are common, and you probably have them already.)
|Product||Purpose||You Will Also Need|
Freshen odorous clothes
White distilled vinegar
PH neutralizes odors
Neutralizes odors, refreshes clothes
Bowl, spoon and stiff brush
Perfume or baby powder
Killing germs on dirty clothing
The Dryer-Sheet Method
If you don't have time to wash an item you are about to wear, and it doesn't smell fresh, one easy trick is to use a dryer sheet. No matter what the dryer sheet brand or fragrance, it is bound to smell better than the unwashed clothing you want to wear. The important thing is to get the clothes mixed up with the fabric sheet.
If you have a dryer, throw the item you want to wear in and let it tumble with three or four dryer sheets. You may end up smelling like "spring flowers" or "mountain air," your garment will be wrinkle-free, and you won't offend anyone with dirty laundry smell!
If you can plan ahead (Of course not! You wouldn't be in this predicament in the first place if you could!), buy "linen-scented" dryer sheets and keep a box around for these emergencies.
Air Freshener to Make Clothes Smell Freshly Laundered
Air fresheners like Febreze don't help rid your dirty clothes of odor, but they do mask it. This is alright as a temporary fix, especially if you are going to an outdoor event.
This method is simple: Just spray the air freshener over the clothing, both front, and back. Let it air out for at least 10 minutes before putting the garment on.
Read More From Dengarden
Using Vinegar to Remove Odors
Vinegar has a low (acidic) pH level, which actually removes odors in clothing. The proportions are 1:1, vinegar to water. Note: Do not use dark vinegar (red wine or balsamic).
Start by turning the garment inside out. Next, mix equal parts of vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Before you spray the entire item, test the vinegar solution on an inconspicuous area, such as a lower seam that is hidden from view. Squirt a small amount on the fabric. If the color does not run or change appearance, it is safe to use throughout the entire piece.
Spritz the vinegar onto the clothing without worrying that you will smell like the vinegar; the vinegar scent will dissipate as it dries. Next, hang the clothing up to dry and air out, preferably outdoors. An open window, bathroom shower, or a spacious closet will also work.
Nature as an Odor Repellant
Take your problem outdoors and hang unwashed clothing in the air and sun. Sometimes this is the simplest solution there is.
Body sweat produces bacteria. When you don't have time to wash a shirt, turn it inside out, hang it up, and leave it in the wind on a sunny day. Sunlight can kill bacteria that cause odors. If this isn't possible, taking a shirt out of the closet to air can also reduce the problem.
The Baking-Soda Solution
The baking soda technique is easy. Simply mix baking soda and water into a nice paste and apply to the smelliest areas of your clothing. Turn the item inside out and work the paste into the area. Then allow it to dry thoroughly.
Once the area has dried, take a stiff brush and vigorously brush away any white residue. Your clothing will have a nice, fresh smell.
Another method is to forego the paste and place the clothing into a plastic garbage bag. Add a half cup of baking soda to the bag and close it up. Vigorously shake the two together. Leave the bag undisturbed for about 10 minutes and then remove the item and shake off the baking soda.
Removing Odors With Vodka
Use vodka—but not to drink! Spritzed onto clothing, vodka is supposed to remove odors. Although I have not used this technique, I have researched it a bit. There is no need to dilute. Just add vodka to a spray bottle and spritz away. Once all odorous areas are covered, hang up the clothing to air out.
When the shirt or other item is dry, there will be no vodka smell present.
Lemon Juice to Neutralize Smell
Lemon juice seems to be the answer to so many problems. Make a solution of one tablespoon of lemon juice to one cup of water. Place in a spray bottle and mist the shirt or garment all over. If this is not possible, then hang it up in an area that has good air circulation. Once dry, your clothes will have a fresh smell.
One precaution: Test the lemon juice on an inconspicuous part of clothing. Lemon juice can discolor certain fabrics.
My Story: Removing Odors With Perfume
I had my first success freshening up a smelly clothing item when I was just ten years old. My sister was eight, and our grandmother Nonie was taking care of us. It was picture day at school, and we came home for lunch and to change into our dresses.
Nonie greeted us with freshly laundered slips to wear under our dresses. Ladies, do you remember those one-piece cotton slips? I felt so grown-up when I was allowed to switch to a silky half-slip as a teen.
After lunch, my sister and I went into the bedroom we shared to change into our Sunday best. Poor Nonie. She was a poorly educated woman from a rural town in Montana, and she didn't know what to do with a stubborn granddaughter like me.
"Ugh! This smells like fish!" An awful smell reeked from the cotton slips.
"What are you talking about?" Nonie asked. "It does not."
"Yes, it does. Danette, smell your slip. Doesn't it smell like fish?" I asked my sister.
My sister, besides being younger than I, was also much more passive. She innocently complied with my urging and looked at us wide-eyed.
"I don't think so," she ventured.
"It does so," I insisted. "You can wear yours like that if you want, but I'm not going to go back to school smelling like a stinky old fish!"
My grandmother was beside herself about what to do with me or about the situation. It wasn't that I didn't want to wear a slip under my dress, which was non-negotiable, it was just that I was not going to be humiliated by classmates who might think I smelled like a fish market.
"Denise," my grandmother began to say. "Just wear the slip. There's nothing you can do about it now."
I looked around the room and knew we would be late for school if we waited much longer. My eyes fell on the perfume bottles on our dresser. I grabbed them all and began spraying perfume and baby powder on both of our slips. My sister didn't have a chance to protest.
"There, that smells much better," I exclaimed.
My grandmother just stood in the doorway, shaking her head as Danette and I walked back to school. We no longer had to worry about smelling like fish. We returned to school smelling, as my grandmother said, "like a French whorehouse."
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Denise Handlon
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on August 20, 2020:
That's the second best us for vodka that I can think of.
Caroline unwin on June 27, 2020:
Can you use brown vinegar
Erin Horan on May 23, 2020:
You could have skipped all the unnessessary parts out? Like who cares about your grandma and your sister or what led up to you using these methods
Thomas joseph on April 12, 2020:
During winter I have been known to wear the same sweat shirt for weeks without washing by turning it inside after walks and putting it on a manger and spraying it with rubbing aohol. I can't speak for other people's reactions because no one has ever said anything. But I would smell it daily up close and personal while putting it on and never noticed anything offensive. I use a laundromat so everyday washing of heavy clothing is a major hassle. Of your choices I like the simplest - the vinegar and lemon solutions.
Priya on October 27, 2019:
I got this leather bag with fabric lining. It smelled like puke and I sprayed old perfume on it. But that perfume smells much sick and m unable to tolerate it. It gives me headache. How am I gonna pack clothes in it? I tried lemon juice spray, but hasnt worked
Jennifer Fredrick on October 11, 2019:
I picked up a pair of beautiful Ann Taylor black trousers from a 2nd hand store and they were just perfect. I had to go to a funeral today and put them on, only to find that they were sour smelling.
Nancy Taylor on September 26, 2019:
I purchased a cashmere coat at an estate sale. It smells strongly of moth balls. I have hung it outside for several days and it got damp when it started to sprinkle. I rushed it in and found that the humidity made the smell worse. Any thoughts?
Roiikka Ta on May 31, 2019:
Thank you for this. Especially helpful to those who travel and are active! Any types of herbal sprays that can be concocted into a spray bottle? Mint, possibly ?
Grayhog on July 30, 2018:
Been around some “Frebreeze” tour bus stinkers in the past. Please stop promoting this vile practice.
GreenLover on January 31, 2018:
I like to take a damp made-for-the-dryer cloth and put Febreeze or essential oil on it and toss it in the dryer for 3 to 10 minutes (depending on the item). It removes some wrinkles and makes the clothing look amazing, too.
unicorn on October 11, 2017:
I love the perfume and powder way! Definetly doing this one!
kayden on February 09, 2017:
i think that we should have ideas like i we were out doing somthing
debnose on October 31, 2016:
Anything mentioned here is better than them nasty harsh smelling dryer sheets and febreeze. First impression I get when I smell someone overloaded with these synthetic fragrances is that they've skipped a washing! Ew! So, I'll take the nature's sunshine and fresh air, vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice AND vodka (I don't need to drink...lol) methods to tackle the mildew on all my stored clothing in an extremely humid environment. Thanks a bundle for the useful information.
Frances a on October 21, 2016:
Doesn't all this take longer than just washing the item?
Sarah on July 27, 2016:
So there are some practical reasons you might need this aside from straight up laziness. My daughter has softball practice 5 days a week and was given one practice shirt (that she HAS to wear to practice). I looked up this article to find out how she'll be able to stay "fresh" without having to wash one clothing item every single day. I would find that high impractical. If some vinegar spray will help it last 2-3 days so it's just two washes a week, I'm all for it!
Al from Australia, Hong Kong, USA on March 25, 2016:
Great Hub, thanks for sharing.
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on January 18, 2015:
Mimi, thank you for your feedback! That's amazing. You are a testimony of remedies that really work!
Mimi214 on November 22, 2014:
I have used the vodka method on a dry clean-only jacket to remove strong perspiration odors that dry cleaning did not get out. It was during a period in which I was trying to use deodorant instead of antiperspirant, which unfortunately did not work for me--at least not with that brand. Anyway, I hanged the garment inside out on the shower rack and sprayed undiluted vodka at the armpits into the lining until it saturated the lining and fabric and allowed it to dry in front of the fan. I kept repeating spray-dry, spray-dry, until all odors had dissipated. Fabric looked perfect, and the result was permanent--no odors sneaking back.
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on November 15, 2014:
Thanks for your input, Namrata. :)
Namrata on October 24, 2014:
the vinegar spray and drying in the sun worked for me
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on April 06, 2014:
Hello Kathy-thanks for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed that story.
Hi CrisSp-I love hanging clothes out on the line in the sunshine-it's the best! Thanks for all of the shares and UP :)
CrisSp from Sky Is The Limit Adventure on March 19, 2014:
The "lemonized water" works well for us FA's and of course nothing beats natural air and some sunshine. :)
Great hub with lots of useful tips. Up +++and sharing.
Kathy on February 24, 2014:
I liked the part about your childhood with grandma, I would read more of those stories!
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on October 13, 2013:
Hi Shyron - thanks for reading and commenting. I can imagine that lemon could discolor clothing...had not considered that. Thanks.
Shyron E Shenko from Texas on October 13, 2013:
Great information, and I have actually used many of these items. Maybe you could add another question when you update. Q. Have you used more than one of these items to get rid of odors.
Lemon will take the color out of some materials. Dryer sheets are great.
Thank you very much for the following.
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on October 13, 2013:
Hello, mr-veg Thanks for your charming email. I enjoyed reading it this morning. :) I'm glad you liked my suggestion here, lol
mr-veg from Colorado United States on October 09, 2013:
That's a great idea :) My little angel is growing as fast as she can, so adorable she is :)
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on October 08, 2013:
Ha ha, mr-veg these are handy little tips, aren't they. So-here is what you do, hang the laundry out in the sunshine and breeze and sit back to watch it clean itself while sipping vodka! lol BTW-how is your little cherub doing? Thanks for reading. :)
mr-veg from Colorado United States on October 08, 2013:
wow I never knew you can work wonders in such easy way :) Denise you are a magician I think :D ... Now you are gonna make a lazy person more lazy :) Btw I like the Nature effect better :) And who could think about Vodka :) Great one Magic Lady !!
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on August 08, 2013:
Thanks for your comments, Kathryn. I was just thinking of this subject today, because my nephew is packing up to go to college. I'm wondering if he'll remember what he's been taught! lol
Kathryn from Windsor, Connecticut on August 05, 2013:
This is a great article, and I like your personal spin to it. I have been in those times when I need something, and it is a little smelly. So this could come in very handy in a pinch!
Voted up and sharing, and bookmarking for my own use.
Thanks for sharing this with us, and have a wonderful day!
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on August 04, 2013:
Hello Au fait-I had to chuckle about your comment. I selected this title from the 'exclusive' list months ago and then ended up discovering the tips from research. I appreciate your votes and pin. BTW, I read your reference to your perfume allergy. I've also written a hub (another exclusive title), about what to do when driving in a car with someone who's used too much perfume. Hope you get a chance to read it.
C E Clark from North Texas on August 03, 2013:
What an interesting article! I guess my preference would be white vinegar since I already use it as a fabric softener and so I usually have plenty of it around. It also disinfects as it softens. I would never have thought of any of these solutions.
I'm allergic to most perfumes and dryer sheets, so that wouldn't work well for me. Bad enough when I get around someone who doused themselves generously with it.
Voted up and UI. Going to pin this to my 'Household Hints & Tips' board. Also sharing.
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on July 21, 2013:
Thanks...actually, as I was writing my response I thought it might make a good hub...:)
Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on July 21, 2013:
That's neat about the booklet for your nephew, Denise!
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on July 21, 2013:
Hi Vicky-oh...I have to laugh about this hub...I stuck a reminder of this in my nephew's 'things to remember' booklet I'm making for him. Thanks for the stop by. :)
Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on July 21, 2013:
I read this again! I still do the dryer sheets and air freshener, too, in a pinch! Great hub!
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on June 25, 2013:
Hi Rafaela Lima-Thank you for leaving a comment. :)
Hi Stessily-all I keep thinking of is my nephew and his laundry in college, lol. I hope he remembers some of the tips I've taught him (except the vodka one, ha ha-I don't want him having access to that just yet). Thanks for your encouraging comments. :)
stessily on June 25, 2013:
Denise, This information is so helpful, so practical, and so necessary to know! I knew about some of these options, such as dryer sheets (my favorite), vinegar, baking soda, etc., and not about others, such as vodka spritz. Not only have you provided useful information, but you've presented it in a wonderfully straightforward style so that it is easily accessible for those who find themselves in the situation of refreshing "dirty" clothes so they sniff good.
Rafaela Lima from US on May 17, 2013:
Those are great Ideas.. But I think I will still doing in the comm way. hahaha.
Thanks a lot for the Hub. It is very nice!
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on March 25, 2013:
Hi EZ Swim-I'm glad you found the hub useful. I learned a lot as well. As for the perfect way to refresh the wool sweater-I'm not sure. If it were mine I would probably hang it outdoors in the sun and air. I think you are onto something re: washing when 'refresh' can do. Of course, we aren't talking underwear here, are we? :)
Hi aykianink, thanks for your comments. I completely relate to the black shirt problem. I'm not exactly sure if they wrinkled on you, (shrunk), or faded. I've had both happen to me at various times. Thank goodness there weren't any candid cameras on me at the end of the wash cycle, lol
aykianink on March 23, 2013:
"I think we "wash" too often when we could simply choose to "refresh"."
That's actually very interesting. I recently bought two really nice long-sleeve black shirts. Put in the wash...and essentially threw them away. Came out looking like I washed 'em a thousand times before. (I dread the thought of having to dry clean all my nice shirts...)
Kelly A Burnett from Southern Wisconsin on March 23, 2013:
I was wondering about the options when I purchased a $4 wool sweater. It is bright Kelly green which is not my color but during the St. Pat's season, this sweater I felt was needed. I dutifully put in the dryer but was wondering what my other options were.
I learned allot. The lemon juice surprises me - would it work on silk?
I think we "wash" too often when we could simply choose to "refresh".
Excellent research. Voted up!
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on February 11, 2013:
Hi Gypsy48-thanks for your input on these 'freshener' ideas. Lots of luck to you if you ever find a need to use them. Thanks for the votes.
Gypsy48 on February 11, 2013:
Informative hub with useful ideas. Dyrer sheets are favorite of mine to use. I like the baking soda tip and will give it a try. Voted up and useful.
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on February 10, 2013:
Thanks, Nell-glad you enjoyed and saw some practical use for the suggestions left here. :) Thanks for the vote and share.
Nell Rose from England on February 10, 2013:
You are a genius! lol! these ideas are great, and even though most of my stuff goes in the wash most days a week it would be great for coats that have got a bit smelly! I always find that coats take so long to wash and dry, so this is mentally bookmarked from now on! voted up and shared! nell
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on January 23, 2013:
Hi acaetnna-the last time I threw a shirt into the dryer with a dryer sheet before wearing it I thought of this hub! :) Thanks for reading, A. I had an exclusive title and this is the result!
acaetnna from Guildford on January 21, 2013:
Ha ha what a great hub, super advice. I do use some of your suggestions when time is short and I really don't have time to wash and dry the garment!
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on January 19, 2013:
Hi Michelle, thanks for sharing this hub. :) I think the dryer sheets is the solution that most people chose. Thanks.
Michelle Liew from Singapore on January 19, 2013:
I like the lemon juice idea, Denise! I would give it a try. Personally, I've tried Febreeze and agree that it is only a temporary solution. Thanks for sharing these tips, which I pass on.
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on January 06, 2013:
Hi Susan-thanks for your comments. I just shut the door to my nephews room when I walk by-most of his clothes are on the floor and then he wears them! Like you, I don't like to overdo laundry. This hub was a great way to investigate alternative methods and the dryer sheets is the one that works for us in a pinch-including for J. Thanks for the votes and share.
Hi collegedad-thanks for sharing that, ha ha.
Hi aykianink, I haven't either, lol Trust me, I'll be keeping my eye out for something similar, ha ha.
aykianink on January 05, 2013:
Never heard of "animal odor formula febreeze" before. Does sound like it would work wonders. Will have to look into it.
collegedad from The Upper Peninsula on January 05, 2013:
I use animal odor formula febreeze on my odiferous clothing. Works wonders.
Susan Holland from Southwest Missouri on January 05, 2013:
Denise, I love this hub! My daughter tries something on then throws it on the floor. When I stopped doing her laundry, she started hanging her clothes up. There are many people who will not wear something twice. NOT ME! I hate laundry... I use the dryer sheet method a lot. I have used Febreeze on clothes that smelled smokey after visiting a smokey relative's home. Actually, a combination of Febreese, fresh air, then the dryer sheet.
The point is that we don't have to do laundry all the time like our mothers did. I am sure my daughter will feel differently about wearing something more than once when she moves out. LOL
Votes and shared!! :-)
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on December 24, 2012:
Hi Leslie-glad to know you are in the majority group this time. I vote for the vodka, myself, lol Merry Christmas and HNYr to you, too. When are you flying the cold weather coop for the sunshine state?
Hi Cyndi10-I think you are right about the dryall sheets...thanks for your comments.
Hi Victoria-thanks for your comments. I appreciate your input.
Aykianink-ha ha. I didn't realize that until I read Leslie's comment. Thanks for the read. Happy Holidays.
aykianink on December 24, 2012:
Dryer sheets for corpses, eh? Hm...never heard of that one.
Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on December 24, 2012:
I have used the dryer sheets to freshen up clothing. Very interesting hub with all these ideas!
Cynthia B Turner from Georgia on December 24, 2012:
No idea there were so many ways to eliminate the odor on dirty clothes. Frankly, I would have moved on to something else to wear, even though it may not have been my first choice. But it seems the marketing folk have taken a page from your book and made those dryall sheets. Now that I think about it they sound like regular fabric softener sheets, don't they?
Fun to read with some good suggestions...I guess. :-)
Karen Silverman on December 24, 2012:
Finally - i'm one of the majority! YeeeHaw! lol..
i absolutely LOVE dryer sheets - they're amazingly flexible!
They're also excellent for covering up the smell of decomposing bodies in vehicles - (ala casey anthony) - AND - they also make for a great mosquito repellant if you rub them on your skin..
On the other hand - the vodka has more than one use also...lol
Great hub, my friend...All the best this holiday season and always!xx
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on December 15, 2012:
Hi Rose-do you know that you are the only person who commented about that little story, ha ha. So, thank you for 'noticing'. I ditto your thoughts about the vodka. Yep, let's throw a little cranberry juice together with it, just not on the shirt! Thanks for your comments and vote.
Rosemary Sadler from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand on December 14, 2012:
Loved your little story, kids can be so innovative when needed. I can think of a better use for the vodka haha. The sunlight is the best way but not always possible. The dryer sheets kills 2 birds with one stone for both freshness and smoothing the creases. Vinigar has a lot of uses and is inexpensive and lets face it most young people /students having to rely on themselves don't have a lot of money to spare.
Great hub with useful tips, thumbs up
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on December 12, 2012:
Ha ha, Audrey--my thoughts? That's a waste of good vodka, lol. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Hi Mary-according to my research the vinegar odor disappears when it dries. Cool huh? Thanks for your comments and votes. :)
Mary Hyatt from Florida on December 12, 2012:
You know I'm a great fan of vinegar for all sorts of purposes. (I wrote a Hub about Vinegar), but I wonder if the clothes would smell of vinegar. I'm still waiting for them to come up with vinegar that doesn't smell like vinegar!
Great Hub. I voted it UP, etc.
Audrey Howitt from California on December 12, 2012:
All useful tips!!! I wonder if I can get my hubby to spray vodka instead of drink it?
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on December 08, 2012:
Yes--three cheers for sunlight! As for the French whorehouse, ha ha. It's all about the heavy perfume. Trust me, the stinky fish smell, that apparently only I could smell, was hidden! (I can't believe that memory stayed with me all these years. I was only ten, but a very ingenious ten, don't you think?) Thanks for reading.
aykianink on December 08, 2012:
Say Denise...what EXACTLY does a "a French whorehouse" smell like?:-)
I vote for sunlight. You don't get much greener than that.
Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on December 08, 2012:
Frank, somehow you always manage to make me chuckle, nasty or not. I am not offended in the least-thanks for the confession that you didn't have to share, :) This was actually a challenge for me. I wanted to do an 'exclusive' hub and that was one that popped up. Naturally, I had to research it because, other than my own personal experience with perfume, I had no idea how to do any of it. Doing laundry is one chore I do not have qualms about. I enjoy having fresh clothes, but can certainly relate to those college kids who may not get it done as quickly as they should. Thank you for your comments. Have a wonderful w/e.
Frank Atanacio from Shelton on December 08, 2012:
you know Denise when I read your title I thought to myself.. that is just nasty! but I see the logic and it all makes sense.. the hub is sound.. and I take back my nasty remark...we cool?