How to Make Dirty Clothes Smell Good Without Washing Them
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. (For specific tips on helping a teen learn to do their own laundry, read this article.)
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.)
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 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 ten minutes before putting the garment on.
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 causes 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.
Have you ever used unconventional means to 'clean up' smelly clothes?
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."
Which method did you like the best?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2012 Denise Handlon