If you remember my post about “How to navigate a thrift store,” you know that I am intimately acquainted with the Goodwill/thrift store smell. To me, it represents not just potential, but “choice” and I embrace it.
Yet, I know that it’s not the case for many of you.
After my Frugal Fashionista articles, where I share designer outfits for under $15, I receive many related questions.  I have decided to address some of these in my posts so that everyone can benefit.
I frequently get asked about that peculiar thrift store smell…name it whatever you want, but it’s there – with some stores being much worse than others.
P.J. writes,
“Something I have never seen addressed when you write about your Goodwill finds is dealing with the odor. The clothing I have purchased at my Goodwill store has a strong unpleasant smell. I have to wash the item repeatably to reduce the odor. Sometimes it remains after four washings. Items that must be washed in cold water are especially reluctant to give up their odor. Please share any tips you have discovered.
PJ mentioned something that I often get asked, “How do I get the odors out of my clothes?”
Personally, I have only had one article of clothing that needed repeat washings. I just couldn’t figure it out, but  narrowed down the problem to its synthetic make up. I do think odor is much harder to get out of synthetic fibers.
Here are some general suggestions for what I have done to get any kind of odors out of over the years (and with three boys that play football, we have odor issues. :)) This is by no means an exhaustive list, but things that have worked well for me.

  1. I always do a smell test. Yes, I know it sounds odd, but if for some reason there is a really strong odor beyond your typical “thrift store” find, I don’t buy it. You should see me action, it’s pretty funny. I do the smell test for ALL of my second hand purchases.
  2. Hang it outside in the sun. There’s nothing I love more to get rid of any subtle smells than a wonderful air drying.
  3. I always do a regular wash first and use  bleach and fabric softener for whites. (I use just a bit on my colored loads.)  I then smell the item BEFORE I put it in the dryer. This is great tip for any stain or odor. If you dry something before the stain or odor has been removed, it will set the stain/odor into the garment with the dryer’s heat. If I still smell the odor after a typical washing, I move my washing game up a notch. 🙂
  4. ***(This is what I do if I have to take it to the next level). Try adding white vinegar and baking soda to your next load of clothes. Depending on the size of your load, I would add approximately two cups of white vinegar and one cup of baking soda for a full load and heavily soiled clothes. This is a wonderfully natural and frugal alternative that many use in lieu of regular laundry soap. The vinegar and baking soda neutralize each other and really take out any smell. I add them both at the same time, but if you are an “attention to detail” person, add the baking soda in the wash cycle and then the vinegar to the final rinse cycle.
  5. I have mix and matched numerous varieties with white vinegar, baking soda and Pine Sol for washing and cleaning. If you just have one item, you can always soak it first in white vinegar, and or baking soda and then wash regularly. Again, check odor before drying to see if it needs to be repeated, but I really think this should kill any lingering odor.
  6. Jessica from Life as She Sees It commented, “Tea tree oil works really well for this job. It disinfects and leaves the clothes smelling great! Just a few drops do the trick.”  I haven’t used Tea Tree for clothes, but I have used it for many other things. You can purchase it at any health food store and is a great essential oil/ herbal remedy.
  7. My final, but least favorite option, is to have the item dry cleaned. If it’s a quality item, like my new leather coat, I would be willing to invest the money to have it professionally dry cleaned and pay them to get out the smell.. Our dry cleaner guarantees their work, and if it was a high end designer piece I would weigh the pros/cons of taking it to them.

I would love some help from you Home Managers. I have only addressed those remedies that I have tried personally, but I know there are other options out there.

What do you do to get odors out of clothes or linen items?

Share your wisdom in my comments section below and let’s learn from each other. (There are many great suggestions in the comments.)