How to get the smell out of vintage clothes


How to get the smell out of vintage clothes

You know that smell that fills charity shops and vintage warehouses and lingers even after you've taken an item home for well over a week? Yes, the dreaded "vintage smell"—you almost certainly know the one. It's the most common issue with vintage or secondhand clothing and accessories: that oddly specific musty smell. It may also be joined by a heavy perfume smell, mothballs, or the lingering scent of things previous owners have smoked. That odour may be enough to prevent you from buying vintage clothes altogether, especially anything that must be dry cleaned (who wants to spend extra money before you’ve even managed to wear the garment?).

In the case of vintage clothing items that are launderable, the solution to the problem is a pretty easy one: pop it in the washing machine a few times. Maybe add in a half cup of an odour-eliminating laundry booster like Vanish or may be paired with your favourite fabric conditioner if the smell is especially pronounced (unless artificial fragrance gives you headaches). In the case of something like a leather jacket, or a bag, or a silk tie, washing isn't an option. Here are ways that gently and effectively eliminate that "vintage smell."

1. No-rinse detergent

Eucalan No Rinse Detergent

Using a no-rinse, natural cleaner such as Eucalan is an effective way of eliminating odors and stains from vintage clothing. This dinky bottle contains enough concentrated product for 20 hand washes and is completely biodegradable and non-toxic. Eucalan comes in different scents, such as lavender and eucalyptus, contains lanolin, and does not need rinsing from clothes, it helps to keep the soft, fresh texture in wool, and makes clothes feel as good as new.

KnitIQ No Rinse Delicate Wash Liquid Detergent – is also another no-rinse product that can be used to freshen up wool and, like the above product, does not need to be rinsed out. This formula preserves natural fibres and keeps them soft with a very subtle fresh scent.

How to use no rinse detergent

  • Mix about 4 litres of water with 1 teaspoon of Eucalan in a spray bottle
  • Spray and saturate the garment with the solution
  • Open a window or use a fan to air out the garment, The odour will dissipate when the garment is dry

2. Baking soda

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a natural deodorizer. You know how leaving an open box of baking soda in the fridge can eliminate odours from leftover food? The same idea applies here, though the execution is a little different.

Baking soda is a brilliant solution to get rid of smells everywhere. Sprinkle it on your mattress or your rugs to absorb odour and then vacuum off. So you can definitely use it on clothing, too.

The easy way to use baking soda to remove smells on clothes is to sprinkle baking soda evenly all over the clothing (This is obviously okay for cotton and polyester, but you should consider doing a patch test with other fabrics, such as rayon or cashmere sweaters).

How to get the old smell out of clothes with baking soda

  • Sprinkle some dry baking soda into a large plastic bag
  • Put in your vintage garment
  • Close the bag with a knot
  • Gently shake the contents around a bit
  • Let the clothing sit with the baking soda in the bag for a day or two

3. White vinegar

White Vinegar

Vinegar is a great natural household cleaner and a gentle disinfectant. There are two ways you can use distilled white vinegar to get rid of musty smells and body odour on vintage clothing:

  • The overnight method: One way is to pour some vinegar into a small bowl and let it sit in a small room or closet with your vintage garment hanging over it. If you can find a smaller, airtight space where the vinegar doesn't touch the garment, even better. Let it hang there for a night or two. The vinegar should absorb the smell. If the scent of vinegar lingers, air out the garment by opening a window.
  • The spray method: Another way is to directly spray and saturate the garment with vinegar. This is best on more stubborn odours. As the vinegar evaporates, it takes the smell with it. Don't worry your garment won't smell like vinegar either. Afterward, open a window and let the garment air out.

If you're vinegar-averse, the same routine can be performed with vodka. Spray cheap vodka onto your clothes and once completely dry. When the vodka evaporates, so will the odour.

4. Activated charcoal

Activated Charcoal

When it comes to removing smells from items that can't be washed and shouldn't even come in contact with a light spritzing or steaming, activated charcoal is the stuff you need. The power of charcoal is unprecedented in naturally removing odour from clothing. Charcoal wardrobe deodorizers absorb moisture so clothes don’t smell like mildew, keeping your clothes fresh, but proceed with caution and don't let it touch the fabric, as it can also stain clothes.

Activated charcoal also goes by the names activated carbon, active carbon, or active charcoal—they're all the same thing, so don't worry when shopping for it.

To use any of the activated charcoal products, you'll want to seal the vintage item in a lidded container, zipper bag, or plain old bin bag along with the charcoal. Then leave it at least overnight, and up to a week depending on the strength of the smell that you're trying to eliminate. Give it the old sniff test to see how things are moving along. Large pieces of clothing, such as a wool coat, might benefit from stuffing the pockets with charcoal deodorizers. Also, put the clothing on a hanger and hang a charcoal deodorizer from it to absorb nearby smells.

Were these simple tips a lot easier than you thought they would be? We hope you’ll be able to combat that musty smell from your vintage clothing with at least one of these hacks and soon you’ll become a pro! Let us know how you get on.


  • Posted on by Tony
    I like your content.
  • Posted on by Katy

    Hi! I love the ideas here. I am hooked on vintage, and you are right about the smell! I didn’t know about the additive or the charcoal. What works well for me is mixing baking soda and vinegar in the wash with my regular detergent. This works for odors such as moldy as left in wash to long.

  • Posted on by Britney Walters

    This is something I have struggled with. I find that some material is worse than others. Certain kinds could be dealt with using a soak and wash with laundry soap whilst others, I have yet to remove the smell. I am going to give baking soda a go and see if that will work. I did try vinegar with no success for some of my items. The smell is not as strong but it is still there. Thanks for the tips!

  • Posted on by Jasmine Hewitt
    I hate that smell! These are all great suggestions for eliminating smell from vintage clothing

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