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Banish Persistent Odors From Clothes and Textiles

Bad smells on clothes and textiles are just as annoying and possibly even more persistent than stains. We would argue that knowing how to target specific kinds of funky smells, be it the smell of cigarette smoke, sweat, or pet odors is just as useful and important as learning to remove various stains.
If you’re struggling to remove cooking odors from your kitchen towels or you’re tired of your gym clothes getting musty or sweaty, this article is for you. To make things easy, we collected the best DIY odor removal methods and organized them by the kind of bad smell you could be dealing with.
Scroll down and find out how to banish 8 types of odors from clothes and other fabrics.

1. Sweat

How to Remove Different Odors Stained sweaty T-shirt
Sweaty clothes may look and smell fine when you put them on, but the persistent odor can reappear only after a few hours of wear. It can be annoying and embarrassing to notice the bad smells in the middle of a workout but don’t give up. You will be able to eliminate these odors from your clothes, but it will require a little bit of time than a usual load of laundry.
Removing old sweat stains and odors
For old or persistent sweat smells, soak the garments in a mix of 2 cups of baking soda and water for a full day. If you notice deodorant buildup in the armpit area, you can mix a few tablespoons of baking soda and a few drops of water into a thick paste and scrub the area before soaking. Proceed washing the soaked garments as usual.
Washing clothes to prevent sweat odors
To prevent your gym or work clothes from sweat odors, add 1 cup of white vinegar to the wash. Also, make sure to wash exercise clothes after each wear. This will prevent sweat buildup in the fabric, and it’s good for your skin health too.

2. Cooking Odors

How to Remove Different Odors woman frying bacon
The vast majority of cooking odors occur during frying or grilling. Microscopic drops of oil bind with other food particles, leaving tiny greasy spots on your clothing, apron, or dish towels. These grease particles can get deeply embedded in the fibers and become tough to remove, especially if you don’t clean the affected fabric immediately.
Cooking odors on aprons and kitchen towels
We recommend airing out your aprons and kitchen towels regularly to prevent stale oil odors. Launder these items weekly in hot waters to keep them fresh.
Cooking odors on clothing
With clothing items that got the short end of the stick, it’s important to wash them as soon as possible. It’s helpful to pre-soak the affected item in a mixture of water and either an enzymatic cleaner OR dish soap for at least 20-30 minutes. Then continue to wash in the washing machine, adding either 1 cup of baking soda OR ½ cup borax to the wash for extra cleaning power and odor removal.

3. Cigarette and Bonfire Smoke

How to Remove Different Odors Cigarettes
Outdoor barbecues are always a lot of fun, but the heavy smoky smell they leave behind on your clothes - not so much. The same can be said about lingering cigarette smoke that can permeate any part of your wardrobe, your couch cushions, curtains, and even carpets.
Air out the garment before cleaning
When trying to remove smoky smells from fabrics, the first step should always be airing out the item. Leave smaller items, such as clothes, cushions, and curtains outside to air out overnight. Open up any windows for several hours to air out cigarette smoke from the carpets or upholstered furniture.
You can also spritz fabric refresher spray or just regular old vodka onto the item in question - a trick I personally use all the time to refresh coats and jackets in-between washes. The alcohol will evaporate from the fabric, absorbing most of the smells with it.
Removing smoke odors in the wash
Smoke odors are relatively easy to get out of washable fabrics. Just throw the item into the washing machine and wash on the hottest possible setting with an added splash of vinegar or laundry sanitizer.
Things are tougher with upholstered furniture and carpets - these will need to be cleaned professionally to remove all the bad smells. If that is not possible, you can remove some of the odor by closing all the windows and doors in a room and leaving several bowls of vinegar in the room overnight. In addition, you can sprinkle the problem area with baking soda. In the morning, air out the room and vacuum up the baking soda, and voila, a significant portion of the smoke smells will vanish.

4. Chemicals

How to Remove Different Odors man spraying chemicals on engine
There comes a time in every home owner’s life that we have to use some kind of heavy chemical - be it insecticide, a harsh chemical cleaner, or a concentrated herbicide. During the process, you may end up spilling some of the stuff on your clothes. If that happens, don’t panic but make sure to practice care.
Protection and separation
Protect your hands with gloves and eyes with a set of glasses (ideally, goggles) when handling the stain. Unfortunately, heavily stained clothes must be discarded, but if all you notice is an unpleasant smell or a minor stain, you may be able to salvage the piece. Make sure to separate the item from other fabrics and avoid washing with other garments. Now, onto the washing and odor removal tips.
Cleaning items with lingering chemical smells
First and foremost, absorb as much of the stain as you can by blotting it with a paper towel. Then soak in cold water to further remove the stain and launder on the highest possible temperature setting and 1 cup of baking soda to absorb any odors. Avoid drying the clothes in a tumble dryer, as many chemicals are flammable. Run the washing machine on an empty rinse cycle to avoid the risk of contaminating other clothes.
Many new clothes also have a strong chemical smell, and these tips will also work for them if one wash doesn't remove the unpleasant smell of chemicals. Yes, new clothes are often chemically pretreated to repel pests as they travel and hang in a store, which is why you should definitely wash new garments before wearing them.

5. Perfume and Cologne

How to Remove Different Odors women spritzing Perfume
The scent of perfume may not seem like the worst smell to linger on one’s clothes, but there are cases in which it’s undesirable as well. If you find yourself in a situation like that, keep in mind that getting out perfume smells can be tricky.
The washing method
Perfume and cologne essentially leave behind an oily stain with a very concentrated smell on a garment, so to remove the smell, you’ll need to dissolve the oily stain. And few things are better at dissolving grease and oil than dish soap. Apply a few drops of dish soap on the area of concern and gently rub the fabric. Wait for 5-10 minutes and rinse the dish soap off with warm water. Proceed to wash the item as usual.
The no-wash method
Another trusty tip you can try that doesn’t require washing the item is this - place the garment into a resealable bag and sprinkle plenty of baking soda on the area of concern. Seal the bag and leave it overnight, as baking soda requires some time to absorb the fragrance. Then take out the item, give it a good shake to remove the baking soda, and air it out outside for several more hours.

6. Gasoline or Petrol Smells

How to Remove Different Odors gassing up the car
Gasoline stains and smells are some of the hardest to remove. Not only is the stain oily and sticky, but it is also a potential fire hazard, so it requires extra care. This means keeping it away from any fire source and out of the clothes dryer at all times.
First and foremost, let the stained clothing item air-dry for a full day outdoors, then soak the stain with dish soap for 5 minutes. Continue to launder the item, as usual, adding a splash of enzymatic stain remover on the problem area. If the odor lingers after the wash, soak the item in either baking soda OR household ammonia for 2-3 more hours and wash again. For fire safety reasons, always air-dry gasoline-stained items.

7. Musty Smells

How to Remove Different Odors washing machine
Musty smells are usually caused by mildew or bacteria. What is mildew? It’s a type of fungus that thrives in damp and dark places. Mildew usually develops on items that are left wet for hours on end, such as bath towels, cleaning cloths, and bathroom rugs. But it can also grow inside your washing machine and make an entire load of laundry smell sour, especially if you leave damp clothes in the washing machine after the cycle.
Clean the washing machine
If you suspect that your washer is to blame, add ¼ cup (60 ml) of bleach to your detergent drawer and run the machine empty on the hottest water cycle. If this doesn’t help, check out more tips here - A Quick Guide to Washing Your... Washing Machine. Here are two ways to remove musty smells from clothing items.
1. Bleach
Generally speaking, bleach is the most effective way to eradicate bacteria and mildew on any surface, but it cannot be used to clean all fabrics or colorful and black clothing. Consult the clothing label to see if bleach can be used; an unfilled triangle symbol on the clothing label means the item can be bleached when needed. When using bleach in the washing machine, mix ⅓ cup of bleach with your laundry detergent and run it on a hot water setting.
2. Natural odor absorbents
Removing musty smells from other clothes can be difficult, but using natural odor absorbents and disinfectants like baking soda or white vinegar can help. To do so, add 1 cup of baking soda directly into the drum of the washing machine before placing the clothes. If that doesn’t help get rid of all the bad smells, add ½ cup of vinegar and wash the clothes on an additional rinse cycle.
Lastly, don't forget to take advantage of the sun - air-drying clothes in direct sun can help kill mildew.

8. Farm and Pet Odors

How to Remove Different Odors woman and horse
Pet accidents tend to happen in every house with pets. Likewise, people who work with animals or just happened to spend a day horse riding or visiting a farm can face an unexpected and pungent surprise when they return home - your clothes may smell unpleasant or you could accidentally leave a dirty trail on your carpet. Whatever the case may be, you’ll be left with an organic stain and odor. So how do you get rid of it?
Removing organic odors from clothing and machine-washable items
Whenever possible, leave the smelly item out or in the garage and isolate it from other textiles. In most cases, some kind of soaking is required. Depending on what you have at home, you can soak the item in a container with water and either ½ cup of household ammonia OR 1 cup hydrogen peroxide with 1 cup baking soda. Whichever method you choose, mix the ingredients well and only then submerge the smelly items into the container for at least 30 minutes.
After pre-treating the item, wash it separately in the washing machine. Add 1 cup of white vinegar to the final rinse cycle to further neutralize any odors.
Removing organic odors from carpets and upholstery
If the accident in question happened to a carpet or upholstered furniture, you’ll need to work a bit differently. Mix 1 part household ammonia with 6 parts water OR 1 part white vinegar and 4 parts water in a bucket. Soak a sponge in the mixture and saturate the affected area with the mixture. Leave for 15-30 minutes, and then blot the area thoroughly with an absorbent dry cloth to remove the solution.
To finish up, rinse the area with water and blot again with a new dry cloth. Open up the windows and place a bowl of vinegar next to the affected area overnight to remove any lingering unpleasant smells.
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