How to Get Smells out of Clothes Without Washing Them


Noticing a certain smell on your clothes that you can’t seem to wash out can be frustrating. There are many reasons as to why a smell can emanate from your clothes, and many ways in which you’re able to get it out, without washing them. I remember when I rubbed some ink into my favorite shirt. I needed a quick fix since I wanted to wear that shirt that night. I managed to use one of the tactics below to remove the ink.

How to remove smells from clothes without washing them? Baking soda, Vinegar and several other home remedies can get rid of the smell on your clothes without washing them. The most usual form of smells on clothes is Mildew. It is easily removable by home remedies such as baking soda, vinegar, and even steaming.

According to Professor John R. Dean, the breakdown of sweat and other bacterial microorganisms causes malodor found on clothes. A simple wash can sometimes not be enough, and home remedies may have to be used, however, there are plenty of diverse ways to get the smell out of your clothes without having to wash them again. Baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and many other home remedies can give you that quick fix of filing away those smells so you’re able to wear your clothes again. 

Home Remedies that can remove odors (to name a few):

Baking Soda Diesel, Fryer grease odors
DIY Lemon Paste (Lemon juice, Salt)Cigarette, smokey odors
Vinegar and WaterMildew smells
Freezer Sweat, miscellaneous smells on workout clothes
Airing outMinor smells, dampened clothes
Hair SpraySmall Ink spot that was newly added to a garment
Febreze General smells
Essential Oils Cigarette smoke, musty clothing
Using a clothes dryerFreeze in a bag overnight, and then dry in dryer
Vodka Removes a sweaty smell from clothing
Pet Fresh Carpet Odor Eliminator Vomit smell
Lysol Wipes Smoke smell and vomit smell
Hydrogen Peroxide Skunk smell on clothing, temporary fix
Brush Clothing Pet smell due to fur
Scented candleMinor smells
Handwash with Castile SoapChemical
Perfume (just a few drops)Vomit smell
Dryer sheets Place between each piece of clothing that smell
Gym Bag Deodorizer Pouch Sweaty smell
Fabric SprayGeneral smells
This information was found here.

Why Do My Clothes Still Smell After I Wash Them

Your clothes smell after you take them out of the washer because your washer may not be using enough water. This can allow mildew to build up, and while not serious, can still cause side effects on your clothes and you.

It’s recommended for your washer to have a cleaning cycle at least once a month. When you do a load of laundry, your washer uses water mixed with detergent (bleach, etc.) to clean them. If the wash cycle is complete and your clothes still smell, there are assorted reasons as to why. 

  1. Your washer isn’t getting enough water. Your washer’s water supply may not be turned on properly, as well as there being irregularities on the hose. Check for dents, kinks, as well as twists and turns to make sure water is getting into your washer. 
  2. Mildew. Mildew is a type of mold that thrives in damp places, and if you haven’t thoroughly cleaned your washer, mildew can spread onto your clothes and cause them to smell, even if dried properly. 

Why Do My Clean Clothes Smell Bad

Your clothes smell bad due to either mildew, sweat, smokey odors or another substance that has gotten on them, even if you’ve not worn them in a while. 

The proper way to store your clothes is at room temperature, out of sunlight, and in an area that will stay dry. An attic may be the best place for oddities and other antiques and heirlooms your family owns, but it’s the worst place to store clothes due to how hot it gets upstairs. On the worst of summer days, attics can get up to 150° F

This can ruin clothes and cause irreversible damage to the textiles and fabrics. Safely storing clothes is half the battle of maintaining their integrity, it’s possible to get out a bad stain or an awful smell, but having a garment lose its shape and form is a nightmare. 

Never store your clothes in an airtight container as well, it’s okay to have them in there for say, a couple of months or so, but the longer you keep the clothes in storage the more perverse effect it will have on the shape and form (and smell) of them.

What Will Get Smells Out of My Clothes Without Washing Them

There are many distinct types of smells that can be found on your clothes, from mildew to that musty sweat stain stench and it can be infuriating to wash and never get the smell out. I compiled a list of home remedies by ease of access, depending on the types of smells affecting your clothes.  

Types of OdorsCause
Mildew, damp smell Damp clothes, improper washing
Smokey, coarse smell Cigarettes, carcinogen odor
Diesel, greasy smellFrying, greasing, being around food preparation
Sweaty, musty smellWorking out, miscellaneous physical activity
This information was found here.

Each of these can work on their own, but even a meaningful combination of the two can add to getting rid of those awful smelling odors that have made a home on your clothes.

Airing out: Sometimes just letting your clothes air out in the sun, on a clothesline is what they need to get rid of those subtle, vague odors that don’t smell right. Simply hang your clothes up on a clothesline (or tossed over an outdoor seat) and allow the sun and wind to do the work for you. The ultraviolet rays of the sun act as a good natural killer of bacteria, add that with the breeze and after a day in the sun, your clothes could be back to smelling normal. 

Do be warned: If you have a pollen allergy, this can allow pollen to get on the clothes due to the wind blowing.

Vinegar: Vinegar is known for its raw smell, as well as being a good natural deodorizer if you’re not able to wash your clothes; you just need a spray bottle, vinegar, and water. 

  1. Mix both vinegar and water (equal parts) into the spray bottle. 
  2. Lightly spritz and spray the concoction onto your clothes (coat them, but do not dampen)
  3. Allow the garment time to dry, depending on the amount sprayed

Adding Essential oils: If you want to give your clothes a fresher smell, add a couple drops of essential oil into the mix, so when the vinegar evaporates, all that’s left is that sweet smell of your choice. Click here to get a Sweet Orange Scented Essential oil.

Additionally, I’ve included this video that goes a tad more in-depth at how to effectively spritz the vinegar concoction. 

Note: The clothes will smell like vinegar until they dry out, but once the vinegar dissipates, it will take with it the odor of vinegar and the smell affecting your clothes. 

Baking Soda is on hand and found readily in most homes. If not in yours: Click here to order. Specifically, to help with more greasy smelling stains you need: 

  •  2 tbsp Baking Soda
  •  1 tbsp of water
  •  Bowl for mixing
  •  A hard brush
  1. Mix both baking soda and water until it has a pasty consistency.
  2. Apply the paste to the areas most affected by the smell (underarms, collar, armpits)
  3. Allow the paste time to dry (will vary based on amount applied)
  4. Start grating away at the hardened paste, removing as much of it as you can from your clothes.

Note: If there are still fragments of paste left in your clothes, throw the clothes and a wet towel into your dryer. 

DIY Lemon Paste: Working identical to the baking soda method. The DIY lemon paste is good for getting those tough mildew smells and stains out. You will need: 

  • ⅓ cup of lemon juice 
  • ⅓ cup salt
  • Something to scrub it with (think old toothbrush)
  • Washcloth 
  1. Combine both the salt and lemon juice until they’ve completely mixed.
  2. Lightly pour over and slather the garment.
  3. Allow the lemon paste to soak in, this will take several minutes.
  4. Once the paste has dried, get out that old toothbrush and start scrubbing until you start to see improvement.

Note: This works especially well with white clothes, as lemons are a good natural bleach, just be careful not to overdo it!

Freezing out: Sometimes you don’t have enough clothes for a full wash, but they still give off that weird odor. Sticking your clothes in a freezer is a worthwhile way to kill off some of those bacteria, sometimes all of it. All you must do is put your clothes in a gallon bag (Make sure you remove as much air from it as you can) and stick it in the freezer. Make sure they are dry, as wet clothes can freeze in as quick as ten minutes in 0° F, as most Freezers remain at 0° F or lower. 

Can You Steam Smells Out of Your Clothes

A stale smell on your clothes, whether it be from storage or from a faulty washer/dryer, is annoying. A steamer can help with that. Steamers heat up water until they become steam, and due to their design, allow the steam to be precisely spread out onto fabric that can help eliminate wrinkles, smells, and relax its fibers. 

There are several types of steamers, from industrial level ones to mass produced. Each is based on what use you need the steamer for. 

Types of SteamersUses
Upright SteamerComes with a portable rack to hold your clothes as you steam, fitted with a long nozzle to steam every inch of your garment.
Portable SteamerNear interchangeable with the upright Steamer, also comes with a rack to hang your clothes as you steam them. 
Handheld SteamerCan easily fit into your backpack, carry-all, or any other type of bag. The handheld steamer offers the same 

Steamers are inexpensive, and only require running water and an outlet (to charge them.) I’d recommend the Hilife Steamer due to it being cost effective and the ability to have it on the go. Click here to have it delivered right to your front door. 

To Use a Steamer Effectively (And efficiently):

  1. Make sure it has the right amount of water and a full charge.
    1. If a rack to hang your clothes is not included, hang them on a hanger.
  2. Aim the steamer at the article of clothing you wish to steam, this can be any area of the clothing whether it be stained, wrinkled, or even have an annoying smell attached to it.
  3. Press down on the button and wait for the steam to come out.
  4. Slowly move the steamer up in down, across the clothes to allow the steam to spread evenly across an area
  5. Hang the clothes on a clothes hanger away from other clothes, so that it can dry properly. Laying the dampened clothes in an uneven position can cause more wrinkles and for it to not dry as effectively as possible. 

Note: You can lay the clothes on the back of a chair, if it’s clean and doesn’t have any types of particles, wet clothes have a higher chance of absorbing bacteria and other micro particles due to the dampness. 

Additionally, you can spray the garment with fabric refresher after you’re done steaming it, as that will also dry along with the clothes, leaving a refreshing smell. 

Here’s another short video that shows you how to properly steam your clothes, regardless of what type of steamer you have! 

If you plan to use a steamer, make sure you exclusively use distilled water. Distilled water is water that has been boiled into a vapor and then condensed back into a liquid. This allows there to not be any chance of unneeded minerals and impurities. Only using tap water, while fine to drink, can add those unneeded impurities and minerals to your clothes that can be harmful to your fabrics. 

Dryer Topics that make you wonder:

If you are worried about a fire due to dryer lint while you are sleeping, can you leave clothes in dryer overnight that are wet?

What are the weird dust balls in the dryer, and exactly what is lint on clothes made up of?

Some tap water can contain trace amounts of chlorine, and while not harmful to you to drink as the amount is negligible (4mg per liter), tiny amounts of chlorine can add up into the damaging of the fabrics of your clothes. 

Aron Blake

I am the lead copywriter on Homezesty and the Webmaster. I have a lot of experience in home renovations and the creation of style. I enjoy writing and sharing my tips on how to create the best living environment. My Linkedin Profile, My Twitter Account

Recent Posts