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13 Ways to Get Smell Out of Clothes—No Washing Required

Who hasn't been there? The laundry didn't get done and the shirt you planned to wear smells a little less than fresh or maybe you're on a business trip and had dinner at a smelly restaurant the night before. Follow these tips and you can de-stink your clothes in a pinch.

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Dryer sheets

“The quickest and easiest way to get the musty smell out of clothes is to layer some dryer sheets in between them when folding,” says Matthew Simko, men’s style expert from Boston. “This not only works as a preemptive measure but also works to get that ‘suitcase in the attic’ smell out of your clothes when traveling.” If you’re pressed for time, rub a dryer sheet on the garment before wearing it. Find out more genius uses for dryer sheets.



What soaks up odor better than paper? Simko says to take the previous day’s newspaper and ball it up in the sleeves, underarms, or legs of your clothing and leave overnight (or at least four hours). “The porous paper will eat up most, if not all, the odor,” he says. This trick also works for smelly shoes.


Steam it

You know the old “hang-it-while-you-shower” trick for getting wrinkles out of your clothes? It works for odors too. “The steam causes the fibers in the garment to relax, essentially releasing the odor from the threads,” Simko says. “Hot shower plus clean clothes equals a happy you,” he says.


Kitty litter

It does the trick for the litter box, so why not your closet? “When the seasons change and we’re swapping clothes out of the closet, they can often smell musty,” Simko says. Here’s how to get smell out of clothes with kitty litter: Keep an open bag of kitty litter in the closet to deodorize and remove the moisture from the space. Another tip is to put your clothing item directly inside of a clean container or Ziploc bag with kitty litter inside. Just shake out or brush off and wear. Kitty litter also works to help keep your shoes smelling fresh, too!


Fresh air and sunlight

Nothing gets a foul odor out of clothing quite like fresh air. Even if you don’t have a backyard clothesline, you can hang your item in front of an open window for an hour or so. “The air moving through the clothing along with the sunlight are the perfect natural cleaners,” says Leslie Reichert, The Cleaning Coach. “Sunlight can kill bacteria because of the ultraviolet rays. Hanging your clothes outside on a nice sunny day with a gentle breeze is the easiest way to remove the bacteria that’s making them smell.”

iStock/Andreas Argirakis

Unused coffee grounds

Similar to the kitty litter method, coffee grounds will soak up environmental odors. Here’s how to get smell out of clothes with coffee grounds: Fill a bowl with fresh unused coffee grounds and fold your shirt or item on top and let it sit overnight. In the morning your item will be fresh. Just be careful not to get any of the grounds on your shirt, because they can stain.



Nothing is better than straight, cheap vodka in a spray bottle to remove smells. “When the alcohol in the vodka evaporates it takes the smells with it,” Reichert says. She attributes this tip to Broadway. “Actors are sweating all night in their costumes and they can’t get them dry cleaned every night so they just spray them with vodka.”


Baking soda

Just like it absorbs smells in your fridge or freezer, baking soda removes smells in clothing as well. “The baking soda acts like small sponges that absorb body oils and smells and leaves clothes smelling fresh,” Reichert says. Sprinkle the baking soda over the smelly areas, let it sit as long as you can and then shake off the powder. Check out these additional brilliant uses for baking soda.



The cold temperature kills bacteria that can cause stinky clothing. “You can place your clothing in a plastic bag and set it in the freezer,” Reichert says. This technique is great for jeans, which shouldn’t be washed after every wearing. This is just one of many genius non-food ways to use your freezer.



Just like you can freeze your clothes to kill germs and bacteria that cause smells, you can do the same by using heat. Reichert says to place your already dry clothing in the dryer and turn the temperature to the hottest setting. They only need to stay in the dryer for 10 to 15 minutes to kill allergens, bacteria, and smells. Beware these cleaning tricks that don’t actually work.


Deodorizing spray

Try a fabric refresher spray like Febreze to neutralize odors to leave clothes smelling fresh. You can also try a DIY version: Add 16 ounces of witch hazel to 10 to 14 drops of your favorite essential oil, suggests Reichert. Just shake before using and spray your clothing for a gentle scent that will cover up the smell.



A lot of odor removers use charcoal in their systems because odors actually bind with the charcoal and are removed from the air. Here’s how to get smell out of clothes using charcoal: Place some charcoal briquettes in the bottom of a paper bag and add the clothing on top, then close tightly and let it sit overnight. You can also place briquettes in shoes and boots to get rid of foot odors.


Distilled white vinegar

Are your clothes smelly in a particular spot and you need a quick fix? Reichert says to use distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle mixed with 10 drops of your favorite essential oil for a great spot fix. “Shake the spray bottle to mix up the oils throughout the vinegar and spray on any spots that smell. The vinegar will work to kill 98 percent of the bacteria and the essential oil will work to cover up the vinegar smell,” she says. You can also spray the entire piece of clothing if needed. Don’t miss these other household vinegar uses you never knew about.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Laura Richards
Laura Richards is a Boston-based journalist with a passion for storytelling, reporting, content marketing, and branding. She has written for Reader's Digest, The New York Times, The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, The Boston Globe Magazine, Glamour, Martha Stewart Living, Woman's Day, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, House Beautiful, and more. Her areas of specialty include health and wellness, lifestyle, parenting, and business and entrepreneurship.