Whether you spent an evening by a campfire or found a great piece of vintage clothing that still smells like the original owner’s cigars, chances are you’ll need to know how to get smoke smell out of clothes at some point in your life.
To get the smell of smoke out of your clothes or other fabrics, you will need to wash and treat them as soon as possible. Airing fabric out, using odor-absorbing substances, and laundry detergent are the best ways to eliminate the smoke.
The best washing methods for a certain fabric will help dictate what smoke removal method is safest. You can also combine methods for greater effect. This guide will help you understand why the smoke smell clings and how best to banish it for good.
Getting Smoke Smell Out of Clothing: the Basics
Getting smoke smell out of clothing has two basic components: neutralizing the odor and getting rid of the compounds that caused it in the first place.
The reason that clothes smell smokey long after you’ve left the campfire or snuffed out the cigarette is that the fiber in the fabric absorbs the smoke. Smoke is made up of whatever parts of a fuel source that fire can’t burn.
Some of these parts are liquid, some are gas, and some are solid. All of them can soak into your clothes, giving off a smokey odor that will linger for days or even longer. How strong the odor is and how long it lasts depends on what was burning.
Cigarettes, for example, have tar in them that makes the smoke sticky. This means that cigarette smoke can cling longer than other types of smoke. Particularly sappy logs in a campfire can have a similar impact.
No matter how the smoke got in your clothes or what it is made of, the sooner you treat the clothing, the easier it will be to eliminate the odor. Start by treating the garments with an odor-absorbing substance, like baking soda or vinegar. Then launder it to wash away any lingering smoke.
Stubborn smoke smell might need multiple treatments to get all of it out of the clothes. Think of it as a stain; you have to get it out of the fibers if you want it to be gone forever.
What Absorbs Cigarette Smoke?
Lots of things around you can absorb cigarette smoke. Your hair, skin, and nails all absorb it, as well as your clothing. Even if you’re not the one smoking, if you’re near enough to smell the smoke, then it can cling to any part of you.
Furniture and upholstery can absorb it easily too. Curtains, chairs, and even the seats of your car are all good absorbers for cigarette smoke. Any cushioned furniture is particularly susceptible to holding onto the smell as the stuffing or padding can absorb it, which will be trapped beneath the upholstery fabric.
Even the paint on the walls of your home can absorb cigarette smoke. The sticky residue that burning cigarettes emit helps the smoke cling to everything around it. The more porous a surface is, the more smoke it can absorb.
How to Get Smoke Smell Out of Clothes in the Wash
It’s easiest to get smoke smell out of machine-washable clothes. There are several deodorizing items you can use to enhance the wash cycle that will remove the smell, not just mask it. For clothes that go into the dryer, dryer sheets can add a final deodorizing step to restore the clothes to perfect freshness.
When you use these methods, make sure to do a smell test before putting your clothes in the dryer. Once you put the clothes through the dryer, it will get harder to remove the smoke smell, and the smell could even linger in your dryer and impact other loads.
You can always rewash an item or give it a second odor-removing treatment. Once you put it in the dryer, the smoke smell will be more firmly attached to the garment. You want the clothes to smell fresh before then, so you don’t lock in the scent.
1. Laundry Detergent BoostersThe easiest smoke removal method is to use a laundry detergent booster. Some detergents even have the booster already mixed in. Scent boosters can even add in a more pleasant smell to replace the smoke.
Look for detergents or additives that have scent boosters or odor eliminators. Some products are designed for eliminating pet odors or other everyday stinks, but they will work just as well on smokey clothes.
For especially smokey clothes, try soaking them in a detergent and water solution for thirty to sixty minutes before washing them. This will help loosen the compounds that make the smoke smell.
2. Dryer SheetsDryer sheets are not just good for the dryer–they can also work well as a pre-laundry treatment. Put a few dryer sheets in a sealable, air-tight bag with your smokey clothes and let it sit at least overnight.
The sheets should absorb at least some of the smell. Afterward, throw the clothes in the washer—without the dryer sheets—and wash as normal or with a detergent booster. Then, add more dryer sheets when it’s time to dry the clothes.
These three steps should remove campfire and cigarette smoke easily from hardy fabrics like cotton or denim. After using this method on thinner fabrics, you may find that you can wash them normally without a detergent booster. Smell the garments rather than the sealable bag to get a sense of how much smoke is left before tossing them in the wash.
3. VinegarAnother great pre-wash treatment is vinegar. A solution of one cup of vinegar per gallon of warm water can lift even the most stubborn smoke smells from clothing. Make sure you have enough solution to completely submerge your items.
Soak your smokey clothes in the vinegar solution for thirty to sixty minutes before washing them. If the smell is still present after sixty minutes, drain the solution. The water will likely be murky, especially if the smell is old.
You can soak it again in a fresh batch of vinegar as many times as it takes to eliminate the smoke smell. This method is gentle enough to use on most machine-washable fabrics, but make sure to test an inconspicuous area with the vinegar if you’re worried about damage.
4. Lemon JuiceLemon juice is an inexpensive way to boost the odor elimination powers of your washing machine. Squeeze about half a cup’s worth of lemon juice into your washing machine at the start of the cycle. One to three lemons should give you this amount.
The citric acid in lemons is what makes this method effective. It has a chemical reaction with the compounds that create a smokey odor in your clothes. The citric acid binds with these compounds and neutralizes them. Then your washing machine washes it all away.
As a bonus, the lemons will leave behind a naturally fresh scent. So, not only are you removing the smoke, but you’re adding a more pleasant smell instead. Lemon juice is also a great choice because it won’t stain or damage your clothes. The citric acid is mild enough that it won’t harm anything but the smoke smell.
5. Clear Alcohol
Adding clear alcohol to the wash cycle will also remove unpleasant smoke odors. Rubbing alcohol or vodka work best. You don’t want to use alcohol with a color as the colorful ingredients could stain your clothing.
Half a cup of clear alcohol should have a similar effect as half a cup of lemon juice. The laundry detergent in your wash cycle should remove the alcohol smell from the clothing as well. Make sure to do a sniff test before swapping to the dryer to make sure!
You can also pre-soak your clothes in vodka or rubbing alcohol mixture. Use the same proportions as vinegar, a half cup of alcohol per gallon of water. After soaking for thirty to sixty minutes, you can rinse the garment and wash it as normal.
How to Remove Smoke Smell From Clothes Without Washing
It isn’t always possible to throw your smokey clothing in the washing machine. Delicate fabrics, especially vintage clothes or embellished items, may not hold up in a washing machine. That doesn’t mean you have to live with the smell, however!
In extreme cases, you can take your garments to a dry cleaner to get the smell out. They can use solvents and fabric-safe treatments to eliminate smokey odors and any associated staining. It may be an extra fee for this service, however.
Before turning to an expensive dry cleaner to help with your smoke odor problems, try these at-home methods to remove smoke from clothes without washing them.
6. Air It Out
If the weather is clear, then airing your clothing out can work wonders. Fresh air, especially if it is breezy, will help get rid of the smoke.
Make sure the space is well ventilated and that your clothes will not get rained on or sun-damaged. As fresh air circulates the garment, it will carry away the smell of smoke.
How long you need to leave the clothes out depends on how bad the smoke smell is and what the air is like outdoors. If there is a lot of wind, you’ll be able to air out the clothes for a shorter period. Smoke smell that’s been in the clothes for a long time might not all come out this way, however.
7. Baking SodaWhen airing it out isn’t working, baking soda is another non-wash method of taking odor out of clothes. One of baking soda’s primary uses is to eliminate and absorb odors.
For best results, you should put the smelly clothes in a sealable bag or container with at least half a cup of baking soda. Close the container and shake it for several minutes to get the baking soda all over the garments.
Once the garments are covered in baking soda, let them sit for at least overnight. In a closed environment, the baking soda will absorb the smoke smell and trap it. Then, you can take the garments out of the container and shake the baking soda off.
Baking soda won’t stick to the fabric or permanently stain it. You’ll be able to easily brush or shake off the powder and wear your clothes as normal.
8. Upholstery CleanerDry or powdered upholstery cleaner works similarly to baking soda. Some upholstery cleaners even include baking soda in their formulas. They also have scents and other compounds to absorb odors and the compounds that cause them.
Because they contain other ingredients, always test upholstery cleaner on an inconspicuous part of the fabric before you treat it. Read the package directions carefully to make sure you apply the cleaner correctly, too.
For most powdered upholstery cleaners, you will need to sprinkle the powder on the garment. Then rub or brush it in gently. Be careful not to grind or press it into the fabric; you don’t want to permanently stain or damage it.
Let it sit for thirty to sixty minutes. Then you can shake out the garment or even run a vacuum over the surface to suck out the cleaner. This method works best for upholstery fabrics rather than garments, but you can use upholstery cleaners in place of baking soda if you’re in a pinch.
9. Fabric Refresher Sprays
Deodorizing fabric sprays such as Febreze are a good option for clearing up smoke smell when you don’t have access to laundry or your clothes are too delicate for the washing machine.
These sprays have specialty formulas to get rid of odors, not just cover them up. Always test them on delicate fabrics first to make sure there are no negative reactions. If they are safe for your fabric, spray the whole garment in a well-ventilated area and let it dry.
Fabric refresher sprays are also a great choice for treating clothing before you wash it. Bringing some with you when you travel can keep smoke smells from settling into your clothes before you have the chance to launder them.
10. Steam Clean
If your garment can take a little heat and water, then steaming it is a great way to get odors out. You can use a handheld steamer or steam it in your bathroom.
To steam it in your bathroom:
- Turn on the shower to the hottest water possible and shut the shower curtain or door.
- Hang your garment up in the bathroom, away from the water.
- Close the bathroom door and leave it for five to ten minutes.
- Shut off the water. You can leave the garment in the steamy room until the room goes cold.
When you’re using a handheld steamer, hang the garment up and steam it slowly. You can even add a tablespoon or two of rubbing alcohol to the reservoir of the steamer to help absorb the odor.
Steam will help loosen the odor-causing compounds from the fabric fibers. The garment won’t get wet, so it is safe for delicate fabrics like viscose that don’t do well in water.
How Long Does Cigarette Smell Last on Clothes?
The cigarette smoke smell that lingers on clothing or furniture is also known as third-hand smoke. This odor can linger for months, or even years, depending on how much cigarette exposure the item got.
The sooner you treat clothes that smell like cigarettes, the easier it will be to get the smell out. On the flip side, the more a garment is exposed to cigarettes, the longer it will take to get the smell out. This is why some vintage clothing still has a strong cigarette odor decades after it was in the presence of a lit cigarette.
If you don’t ever treat clothing for cigarette smoke, the compounds that cling to the fabric can last for the garment’s life. Especially absorbent fibers, like cotton or linen, will hang on to the scent longer than synthetics like polyester because they are naturally more absorbent.
How to Get Smoke Smell Out of Fabric Furniture
Getting the smoke smell out of upholstered furniture is the same concept as getting it out of garments that aren’t machine-washable. However, it generally takes longer with upholstered furniture because the smoke can penetrate deep into the item.
If you’re able, move the furniture outside to start by airing it out. When you can put the furniture outside, open up any nearby windows and turn on fans if possible. Take any removable cushions or covers off so they can air out from both sides. If you can throw the cover in the washing machine, do so.
Fabric deodorizer sprays and upholstery cleaner are also a great bet. In a pinch, you can rub down upholstered fabric with scented dryer sheets. It isn’t a long-term solution, but it can help pull odor out of the top layers of the furniture.
When the smell is particularly strong or old, you may need to reupholster the furniture. Items exposed to decades of cigarette use or damaged in a house fire will need heavier treatment than a camp chair that you sat in for bonfire night.
If the furniture still smells smokey after trying one method, don’t be afraid to repeat the method or try another. It may take several days, or even a few weeks, to pull up all the odor from the cushions.
Getting smoke on your clothes isn’t the end of the line for those garments. Even the most stubborn smoke odors will fade away with proper treatment. Finding a balance of odor-absorbing treatments and cleansers will leave your smokey fabrics fresh and new in just a few hours.
What’s your favorite laundry hack for getting smoke out of clothing? Tell us all about it below in the comments.