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How to Take Smell Out of Clothes Without Washing

Sometimes it isn’t possible to wash your clothes when they get smelly. When you’re in a rush, for instance. Or your garment is dry clean only. What can you do to banish the stink? How can you take the smell out of clothes without washing them?

Sunlight and fresh air are natural remedies for getting rid of offensive smells. Other solutions include lemon juice, vinegar sprays, and spritzing with vodka. Essential oils like lavender can hide odors to leave garments smelling fresh.

In this article, you’ll discover 16 odor-eating remedies that don’t need a washing machine.

How to Take Smell Out of Clothes Without Washing

Why Do Clothes Get Smelly?

There are lots of different reasons why clothes get smelly. The main one is wearing them. Whatever activity you are doing, your clothes will be right there with you. Fabric is like a sponge when it comes to sucking up aromas.

Whether you’re indoors cooking your favorite treat or outdoors using your barbecue, your clothes will pick up the smells wafting around you. You’ll smell that burger you cooked long after you’ve finished eating it. Not to mention the fragrance of the actual barbecue.

Although the lingering fragrance of a delicate perfume can be a pleasant reminder of a night out, body odor on your activewear will leave your nose curling. So will pollution, diesel smells, smoke, oil, and grease.

Even storing your clothing can create a whiff or two. From the musty stink emanating from those garments, you stored while they were still damp. To the smell of your suitcase permeating your best pants suit after a long business trip.

Why Not Wash the Smell Out of Clothes?

It’s not always possible to wash the smell out of clothes. Lives can be hectic sometimes, leaving no time to put garments in the wash or wait for them to dry. If you have a deadline to meet and need your shirt, washing isn’t an option.

Then there is the question of logistics. If all you need to wash is one blouse or dress, turning the washing machine could prove expensive. Not just for your pocket, but for the environment too!

Washing machines use electricity and water resources. As many machines don’t have a wash cycle for one item, you could use more energy than is environmentally viable. Electricity has to be generated, which consumes natural resources. Depending on how your electricity is produced, this could mean burning coal.

Then there is all the used water. It has to be expelled through the sewer system. Washing detergents can contain chemicals like phosphates. The more you use your machine, the more potential for those phosphates to cause damage to the ecosystem.

Depending on the fiber content of your clothes, you could be causing them to wear out faster if you wash them too much. Denim, for instance, is a fabric that fairs better if you don’t wash it every time you wear it. Your best jeans will stay fresh and look new for longer if you only wash them when they need it. Better still, they have less chance of shrinking or losing their color.

So far, we’ve looked at washable clothing, but what about those items that are dry clean only? Even if you have the time, you can’t wash garments that can only be dry cleaned. Not without risking irreparable damage to your clothing.

How to Take Smell Out of Clothes Without Washing

Why Do Clothes Get Smelly

I’ve put together a list of 16 methods you can use to freshen up your garments. Many of these remedies use everyday household products. Most are tried and tested, probably by your grandparents or great-grandparents.

Historically, people used to wash clothing far less frequently than we do today. Read on to find out how they kept their apparel smelling fresh and odor free.

1. Air Your Clothes

This one takes very little effort on your part. All the odor-removing work is done by sunlight and a nice breeze. Fresh air has the power to blow foul stenches out of fabric, even on the seemingly stillest of days. The sun is a natural bleaching agent and will rid your clothing of the nasty bacteria causing those pesky whiffs.

There are two methods for airing your clothes, and hanging them outdoors, you can also air them inside your home.

You will need:

  • A dry and sunny day
  • External clothesline
  • Pegs
  • Pedestal fan
  • Internal drying rack
  • Coat hangers

Outside Airing Step 1

Check the fiber content of your garment. If it has any polyester, rayon, or nylon content, be careful to keep it out of direct sunlight. Too much exposure to sunlight can damage synthetic and semi-synthetic material.

Hang your clothing on your outside clothesline using pegs. For best results, hang shirts and sweaters upside down, so any peg marks are hidden at the hemline. Hang pants from the waistband to prevent peg marks on the hems.

Outside Airing Step 2

Leave your clothing outside for a couple of hours. When you bring your garment back inside, it will have the fresh, sweet smell of the great outdoors.

Inside Airing Step 1

Fiber content isn’t as much of an issue with internal airing. As long as you keep the garments away from heat, this method works for any type of fabric.

Using a coat hanger, hang your garment so it can flow freely. From a door frame or on a door handle will work. A shower rail is also good for this. If you are using an internal drying rack, fold the clothing over one of the rails. Be sure to move it around occasionally, to prevent the rail from making a crease line on the garment.

Inside Airing Step 2

Leave the garment to hang for a couple of hours. If you want to, you can use a pedestal fan to waft air around your garment for quicker results. The internal method won’t give you the same fresh outdoor aroma, but it will get rid of musty stinks.

2. Absorb With Charcoal

Charcoal is more than just fuel for a barbecue grill. Not only can it help make those mouth-watering barbecue treats smell and taste good, but it can also absorb odors.

You will need:

  • Unused charcoal briquettes
  • Paper bag

Step 1

Put some unused charcoal briquettes into a paper bag and put them on a flat surface. Close the paper bag, so your clothes don’t come into contact with the charcoal.

Step 2

Fold your garment and put it on top of the paper bag. Leave it on top of the charcoal-filled bag for at least 12 hours. Overnight will also work.

Step 3

In the morning, or after the 12 hours, remove the clothing and shake it out. You should find all traces of smell have been absorbed by the charcoal. Next, put the charcoal back with the rest of your charcoal so you can use it for your next barbecue.

3. Baking Soda Deodorizer

Baking sodaA firm kitchen staple and general household cleaner, baking soda is a natural odor-eater. You can use baking soda in one of two ways, as a paste or dry powder. Your choice depends on your garment and how much time you can spare.

You will need:

  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • Brush
  • Plastic bag

Paste Method Step 1

Mix some baking powder with the water to make a paste. Spread the paste onto the areas you want to treat. This method works best on small areas like armpits rather than a whole piece of clothing. As it involves a wet paste, don’t use this option on a dry clean only garment.

Paste Method Step 2

Leave the paste to air dry onto the garment. This could take a couple of hours. Once it has solidified, brush it off and give your garment a shake. This should get rid of any remaining baking soda.

Dry Powder Method Step 1

For this method, you want to work in an area free from moisture. You don’t want the baking soda to get wet. Put your garment on a flat surface and sprinkle baking soda. Leave it to soak up the odors for as long as you can. You should aim for a minimum of two hours.

Another option is to put the garment in a plastic bag with a spoonful of baking soda. Shake the bag to spread the baking soda around the garment. Leave it in the bag overnight.

Dry Powder Method Step 2

Once you are happy all traces of odor have been removed, shake off the dry baking powder. You can add fresh baking soda and repeat the process if there are signs of residual aroma.

4. Ball Up Your Newspaper

What better way to recycle newspaper than to use it for something practical. The paper used in newspapers tends to be porous. So much so that it makes an excellent odor absorber. This method works best on smaller areas like underarms or shoes.

You will need:

  • Newspaper

Step 1

Grab your newspaper and scrunch a page or two into a ball shape. Shove it into the underarm area of your shirt or sweater. You can also screw it up into a sausage shape to go into your shoes. Leave for a minimum of three hours or, better still, overnight.

Step 2

After the allotted time has expired, remove the newspaper and put it back in your recycling pile. Your clothing or shoes should be free from odor, or at least smell fresher.

5. Commercial Air Fresheners

You can eliminate odors from your clothes by using commercial air fresheners. These are products you can buy from big box stores or online outlets.

Specifically designed to eat odors from fabrics, they can neutralize those nasty whiffs leaving your garments smelling fresh. Or rather smelling of the fragrance contained within the air freshener.

One such commercial spray is Febreze. Available as sprays, plug-ins, and even car fresheners, you can banish a foul stench from clothing fabric, carpets, rooms, and your car in seconds.

However, read the label to get the product you want. Some commercial air fresheners and odor solutions are temporary fixes. They may not remove the smell but simply mask it. Always check the product packaging to make sure you’re getting the one that’s right for your needs.

6. Create a Spray With Essential Oils

If you like the idea of a spray to remove smells from clothes without washing but don’t like the fragrances available commercially, why not make your own?

Essential oils like lavender, tee-tree, and eucalyptus can all be used to make a DIY odor-masking spray. You don’t even have to use the ones I’ve listed. Pick your favorite one and make a truly personal temporary deodorizer.

There is a small word of caution, though. If you have cats, be careful with the essential oils. Cats don’t react well to most essential oils. Getting them too close to cats could prove fatal for your pet.

You will need:

  • Your favorite essential oil
  • Spray bottle
  • Water

Step 1

Fill your spray bottle to the halfway point with water. Add two to three drops of your essential oil and replace the lid of the spray bottle. Give it a shake.

Step 2

Spray your clothes and allow them to air dry. The aroma from the essential oils will remain once the water has evaporated. Leaving your clothes smelling fresh. Albeit for a short while. Essential oils only mask odors; they don’t remove them. But, they could last long enough for you to wear your clothing between washes.

7. Give Your Garment a Brushing

An often overlooked yet easy solution to banishing odors is by brushing them out. Giving your garment a quick once-over with a clothes brush can lift the fibers, allowing those pungent aromas chance to escape. Wool, in particular, loves to be brushed. So too do velvet and suede.

A quality garment brush will remove dirt, dust, and debris from your clothing. Able to delve deeper into the fabric fibers, a clothes brush will be more effective at removing pet hairs than a lint roller.

You will need:

  • A good quality clothes brush

Step 1

Put your garment flat on a table and, using long sweeping movements, brush the fabric against the nap. The nap is the raised surface of the material and usually runs up the garment. So your initial brushing should be from the hemline upwards. This will help loosen any ingrained dirt that has been causing the smell.

Step 2

Next, brush with the nap. So, for this step, you brush down from collar area to hem or waistline to hem, depending on the garment. Dislodged dirt will be brushed away, taking any pungent aromas with it.

8. Grab the Coffee

Coffee is a great pick-me-up for humans. It’s also pretty cool at removing odors from fabric. So next time your shirt has a bit of a whiff, why not treat it to some coffee to give it a boost?

However, be careful if you use coffee as an odor eater. Although you might like your coffee wet and hot, your shirt will prefer it dry and cold. Otherwise, you’ll end up with coffee stains on your fabric.

You will need:

  • Unused Coffee grounds
  • Bowl

Step 1

Place some unused coffee grounds into a small bowl. Make sure the coffee stays dry. Fold your garment and place it on top of the bowl. There needs to be a gap between the fabric and the coffee, so don’t overfill the bowl. Otherwise, the grounds might stain the material.

Step 2

Leave the garment on top of the coffee-filled bowl overnight. When you return to it in the morning, the smell will have been absorbed by the coffee.

9. Eat the Grease With Coca Cola

Most of us have heard of Coca-Cola as a refreshing soft drink. But did you know you can also use it to eat away odors caused by grease? This method is best for small splashes of grease on clothing or the odd spot here and there.

You will need:

  • Coca Cola
  • Cotton Wool Ball or Q-Tip

Step 1

Apply the Coca-Cola to the grease stain on your clothing. Gently work it into the area with a cotton wool ball or a q-tip. The acid in the soft drink will start to eat away at the grease, taking the smell with it.

Step 2

Allow the garment to air dry. You should find any trace of grease smell has been eliminated. This method also works on oil.

10. Freshen With Lemon

Lemon is a well-known kitchen cleaner that can clean surfaces, disinfect worktops, and banish smells. Better still, it leaves everything smelling of lemons. You can use it on fabric if you are careful about the fiber content.

This method works on whole garments but is particularly effective when used in the underarm area. Always do a spot test first to make sure your clothing won’t be damaged by the lemon juice. It is both acidic and a natural bleaching agent.

You will need:

  • Lemon Juice
  • Spray bottle
  • Water

Step 1

Put 1 cup of water into your spray bottle. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice and replace the lid on the spray bottle. Shake well to mix the lemon juice into the water.

Step 2

Turn your garment inside out and spray the area to be treated. Allow the clothing to air dry. Once dry, it should smell of lemons rather than pungent aromas.

11. Make Your Own Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets add fragrance to clothing while it is in the dryer. You can buy commercial dryer sheets from where you get your detergent. If you need to freshen your garment quickly, and you can put it in the dryer, these are a great way to eliminate odors.

However, dryer sheets can be problematic. They are meant to be disposable and you can only use them once. A better idea is to make your own dryer sheets. That way, you can save money and recycle those old cotton t-shirts you never wear.

For best results, you need to make sure the fabric you use for the dryer sheets is cotton. Synthetic material is more likely to melt in the dryer rather than add fragrance to your clothes. You also need to make sure you can put your garment in a dryer. Some fabrics can be damaged by heat.

You will need:

  • Old cotton t-shirts or cotton bed sheets
  • Your favorite essential oil
  • Warm water
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Vegetable Glycerin
  • Large bottle
  • Large bowl

Step 1

In a large bottle, mix 2 cups of warm water with 2 cups of distilled white vinegar. Add 1/8 of a cup of vegetable glycerin and 10 drops of your favorite essential oil. Put the lid on the bottle and shake until the contents are blended. This makes a homemade fabric softener.

Step 2

Cut your t-shirts or bed sheets into rectangles measuring around 5 x 8 inches. They don’t have to be exact. You can make them bigger if you want to. Any smaller will make them tricky to use. These are your dryer sheets.

Step 3

Put your dryer sheets into the bowl and pour your homemade fabric softener all over them. Squeeze out the excess water from each sheet. Put both your dryer sheet and your smelly garment in the dryer. Set the dryer on low heat for 5-10 minutes.

Step 4

Take the clothing out of the dryer and remove the dryer sheet. Your garment will have the aromatic scent of your essential oil.

12. Spray With Distilled White Vinegar

VinegarAnother firm favorite for kitchen cleaning and disinfecting is our old friend, distilled white vinegar. It can also be used to banish odors from your fridge and your clothing.

You will need:

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Spray bottle
  • Water

Step 1

Mix 1 cup of distilled white vinegar and 1 cup of water in your spray bottle. Put the top on the spray bottle and give it a shake.

Step 2

Spray the mixture all over your garment. Allow to air dry. As it dries, the vinegar will evaporate, taking the smell from your clothing with it.

13. Steam Your Clothes

Steaming your clothes can get rid of wrinkles, but it can also remove odors. When water turns to steam, it’s incredibly hot. It’s the heat of steam that can lift out creases and kill odor-causing bacteria.

This method is not suitable for suede or other water-sensitive materials. For example, for garments that can be steam-cleaned, always turn them inside out so the steam can get to the heart of the stench.

You will need:

  • Hot shower
  • Steamer
  • Steam Iron
  • Coat hanger

Step 1

Hang your garment inside out on a coat hanger. There are three devices you can use for steaming clothes. Next time you have a hot shower, let the steam in the bathroom build up and hang your clothing in there. By the time you’ve finished your shower, the whiff from your garment will be less intense than it was before.

Step 2

If the shower doesn’t get enough of the smell out of your clothes, you can use a steamer or a steam iron. Whichever one you choose, let them reach steaming temperature and direct the steam towards the garment. Keep steaming until you are happy with the results. Ten minutes should do it.

14. Treat Smells With Vodka

A vodka and tonic can be the perfect way to unwind after a stressful day. But I bet you didn’t expect vodka to be a remedy for getting smells out of clothes without washing them.

Vodka is alcohol. Like most alcohol, you can use it to clean away unwanted smells and kill odor-causing bacteria. You do have to dilute the vodka, though. Treating it with neat vodka could end in disaster.

You will need:

  • Straight, unflavored vodka
  • Water
  • Spray bottle

Step 1

Mix your vodka and water in the spray bottle. You’ll need 1.5 cups of vodka for every half cup of water. Put the top back on the spray bottle and give it a good shake.

Step 2

Spray the vodka all over the garment, both inside and out. Leave it to air dry. As the vodka evaporates, musty smells and body odors will get taken away with it.

15. Tumble Dry With Wool Balls

This is the second method on this list that requires you to use your dryer. Before attempting this one, make sure your garment can be put in a dryer. Some fabrics are easily damaged by dryers because of the heat they create.

For this option, you will need some wool dryer balls. These are reusable and act like a natural fabric softener. Better still, you can add essential oil to the wool balls to add fragrance to the garment.

You will need:

  • Wool dryer balls
  • Dryer
  • Essential oil

Step 1

Add a couple of drops of essential oil to your wool dryer balls. Let the drops soak into the ball for 15-20 minutes. Next, set your dryer to low heat or fluff setting.

Step 2

Put your garment and wool balls in the dryer. Run the machine for 5-10 minutes. When you open the dryer, your garment should smell fresher and look revitalized.

16. Use Your Freezer

I bet when you started reading this article, you didn’t expect to see a freezer listed as a way to banish smells. The thing is, extreme temperatures can kill bacteria. For bacteria to thrive, everything has to be just right. Sounds a bit like Goldilocks, doesn’t it?

Freezers are cold. So cold they can stop bacteria in its tracks. As it’s bacteria that causes most nasty whiffs, this makes the freezer method great at getting smells out of clothes without washing.

Be careful of your garment, though. When Ice melts, it creates water. Water-sensitive garments shouldn’t be put in the freezer.

You will need:

  • A freezer
  • Plastic bag

Step 1

Put your garment inside the plastic bag. The bag needs to be big enough to fully enclose the clothing and still seal properly. Next, put the bag in the freezer.

Step 2

Let it freeze for a couple of hours. When you take it out of the freezer, remove the garment from the bag and let it return to room temperature. Slowly and naturally. Don’t be tempted to thaw it out in your dryer.

Can You Remove Stains From Clothes Without Washing?

Yes, you can remove stains from clothes without washing them. However, it depends on the stain and fiber content of the clothing. Most wash-free remedies do involve the use of water, though. So even if you are not washing your garment, you still need to make sure it can be exposed to moisture.

If you have a stained suede garment or are unsure of the fiber content, play it safe. Take the item to a dry cleaning establishment for professional treatment, particularly if you don’t know if water will damage your clothing.

Once you have identified that water and your garment will get on together, you can use some regular household items to remove stains from clothing without washing. We’ve looked at a few already in this article.

Lemon juice, distilled white vinegar, and alcohol are all great for removing stains from fabric. So is baking soda. You can use these products to remove stains in much the same way as you can for removing odors.

However, be cautious. Some fabrics can be bleached by acidic products like lemon juice. If you are going to use any household item on your clothing, make sure you do a spot test first. Getting stains out of clothing without washing shouldn’t entail damaging your garment.

Remove New Smell From Clothes Without Washing

Removing that chemical smell from your new clothes is straightforward. All you need to do is air the clothing. You can do this by putting the item outside on a clothesline or by hanging it indoors on a coat hanger. Leave it for a couple of hours and you’ll find the new smell has dissipated.

You can also use an air freshener or a fabric freshener like Febreze. Simply spray the garment with the product and the nasty new smell will go away.

A quick tumble in the dryer will also eliminate that annoying chemical smell new clothes suffer from. A word of caution, though. Not all garments can be put in the dryer. Some fabrics will melt, so make sure your garment is dryer-proof.


Taking the smell out of clothes without washing is easier than you think. The easiest way is sunlight and fresh air. Hang your garment on an outside clothesline and the smell will vanish. Lemon juice and vinegar are also adept at beating those pungent aromas.

Let me know in the comments if you liked the article. Has it helped you get rid of some nasty whiffs from your clothes? Which method did you use?