How To Get Thrift Store Smell Out Of Clothes
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How To Get Thrift Store Smell Out Of Clothes

Buying Old Clothes
Buying old clothes is such a money-saving way, but how to remove the thrift store smell from them?

Don’t know how to get thrift store smell out of clothes? You go to a second-hand store and purchase some of your favorite stuff, but when you head home, the smell stuck on the garments makes you feel unpleasant. Want to learn how to deal with it?

Congratulations, you have reached the right place! This post will show you how to get rid of that “old lady” smell from the vintage clothes you buy in the thrift store. Stay tuned for the best methods ever!

Where Does That Thrift Store Smell Come From?

Most clothes in a thrift store are second-hand, which means they have already been used before by someone else. So how can you know what happened with those garments? You’ll never know!

Some internal elements such as sweat, body oils, and dead skin produce weird odors on old clothes. External ones like gasoline, cigarette smoke, alcohol, campfire smoke, food, drinks, etc., may also be crucial factors joining in the “old lady” smell.

Sometimes, the previous owner of the clothing item often wore perfume, and that smell keeps clinging to it. Perfume is designed to linger on the user’s skin and clothes; therefore, it’s always complicated when cleaning clothes with old perfume smell on.

Many people store their clothes with mothballs to prevent the invasion of insects. However, using mothballs for a long time may cause a musty smell on the garments. Things get worse when they combine perfume and mothballs together!

When it comes to washing the clothes, laundry detergents and fabric softeners can not be missing. Some old owners may use these products with high chemical content to wash the garments. The smell will build up over time and produce that vintage smell on the old items.

The strong thrift store scent may result in headaches and even heavy allergies! Some scented laundry detergents also bring carcinogens—substances that can cause cancer. That’s why you should eliminate the bad smell on clothes as soon as you can!

Don’t miss these super easy-to-do and helpful methods and tips that can support you in the odor-eliminating process! Stick around for much more fascinating information!

There are some more reasons for the thrift store smell on vintage clothes!

Watch this video: How to Remove Musty Smells from Vintage Clothing

12 Effective Methods To Eliminate The Thrift Store Smell From Clothes

There are more methods to deal with this thrift store odor than you may think. Some of them are really easy to find and can show up in any house. Let’s find out what they are and how you can deal with the old vintage clothes!

1. Sunlight And Fresh Air

Sunligh And Fresh Air
Sunlight and breezy air are always a great treatment for old-smelling clothes!

Sometimes, the most useful way to get rid of those lingering odors on your clothes is hanging them somewhere breezy with the sunlight and fresh air. The UV rays can help eliminate the bacteria clinging to your thrift store clothes and produce that vintage odor.

Just remember not to leave your garments for too long outside since the direct UV rays from sunlight can fade and decolor your clothing items. So be careful and watch out when you air-dry them outside.

If the weather is not ideal for you to dry the laundry outdoors, keep them indoors and in front of the available running fans in your house. It may not be the best way to replace the sunlight and fresh air, but it does help blow away the awful smell on your clothes.

Try this sunlight and fresh air method first, and if it doesn’t work on your vintage garments, scroll down to some other methods below!

2. Distilled White Vinegar

Distilled White Vinegar
White vinegar is used for a wide range of purposes and can be found in any grocery store!

Distilled white vinegar is a colorless detergent that doesn’t leave any stains on your clothes when you use it in washing garments. It is also a classic and highly-recommended product to use when there are some weird smells lingering on fabrics or any other surfaces.

Option 1: Using Vinegar With the Normal Wash.


  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Regular laundry detergent


Step 1: Check the labels.

Observe the tags on every clothing item to check for the appropriate water temperature – the highest temperature that your clothes can withstand.

Step 2: Add the detergents.

Pour the regular detergent and ½ to 1 cup of distilled white vinegar into the washing machine, based on the number of your bad-odor clothes.

Step 3: Run a usual basic wash.

Wash the clothes as you would do. If you use the washing machine, you should set it to the hottest water temperature that your clothes can endure.

Warning: You should NOT use apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar since it may leave colored stains on your clothes!

Option 2: Using Vinegar to Absorb the Smell.


  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Container (bowl, small cup, etc.)


Step 1: Prepare the vinegar absorber.

Fill some bowls or small cups with the distilled white vinegar. Adjust the amount of vinegar you use with the number of clothing items.

Step 2: Place the prepared vinegar bowls.

Let the vinegar bowls in your closet, under the hanging garments. The smaller the space is, the more effective this method will be, as long as the vinegar isn’t in contact with your clothes.

Step 3: Wait for the smell to fade away.

All you need to do now is wait. Let them stay there over a night or two. The vinegar can be an excellent odor-absorber that can remove the thrift store odor from your vintage clothing. Check your clothes regularly to see whether the smell is gone or not.

Tip: If the natural sour smell of vinegar stays on your garments after this, open the windows to air dry them or hang them under the sunlight and fresh air.

Option 3: Using vinegar to spray on clothes.

Using Vinegar Spray
Vinegar spray is easy to make at home and can work pretty well in removing old smells!


  • Distilled white vinegar
  • A spray bottle


Step 1: Prepare the vinegar.

Pour the distilled white vinegar into the spray bottle. You don’t need to dilute it with water.

Step 2: Spray it on your smelling garments.

Spray the white vinegar directly onto your clothing items. Make sure that the vinegar covers every corner of your garments.

Step 3: Air the clothing out.

Let them dry naturally with fresh air. You can just open the window or hang them somewhere breezy. When the vinegar evaporates, the bad smell will go with it. Don’t worry; in most cases, the vinegar won’t leave any other smell on your clothes since it’ll dissipate fast.

Reminder: Be careful not to leave the vinegar on your clothes for too long, or else it may leave some bleach stains on the fabrics.

Some more amazing life hacks with vinegar are all in this video!

Watch this video: 5 AMAZING Vinegar HACKS!

3. Scented Detergent

Scented Detergent
Scented detergent is a great substitute for regular laundry detergent when it comes to removing odors.

You can just simply use scented detergent while washing to push away the old smell of vintage items. Choose your favorite scent, which is not too strong since artificial fragrances are unpleasant to some people.


  • Scented detergent
  • Washing machine (optional)


Step 1: Check the labels.

Check the tags on your clothes and note down the highest water temperature that your garments can stand.

Step 2: Do a basic wash.

Pour the scented detergent in place of regular detergent. Wash your bad-smelling clothes as usual with a normal washing cycle.

Step 3: Dry your laundry outdoors.

You should hang your washed clothes outside so that the smell will evaporate better. Machine-drying should be avoided since it is not effective to use in drying bad-odor clothing.


  • Never overload your laundry in the washing machine.
  • If you have no choice but to use a dryer to dry the garments, set the machine to use low to no heat when drying. Try to put your clothes under the lowest temperature. Using the dryer with high heat can make the smell worse.

4. Baking Soda

Another similar detergent that can help you eliminate the smell is baking soda. Honestly, you can purchase baking soda in any grocery store in the world. It can become a great disinfectant or smell-absorber if you use it the right way. (1)

Baking Soda Perfect
Baking soda is a perfect detergent and can be found anywhere in this world!

Option 1: Sprinkling Baking Soda Onto Your Garments.


  • Baking soda
  • Regular detergent


Step 1: Put the baking soda on your clothes.

Directly sprinkle the baking soda on each clothing item. Make sure that you cover every part of the clothes.

Step 2: Wait for it.

Leave your clothes covered in baking soda for about 1 to 2 hours. Don’t leave anything for too long with the direct detergent on.

Step 3: Wash and dry the clothes as you would.

After waiting, bring your garments to wash as normal. If you can, use the hottest water temperature that your items can endure when washing your clothes. Dry them in a cool, breezy place.

Option 2: Pre-soaking the Clothes with Baking Soda Solution.


  • Baking soda
  • A container (bucket, washtub, etc.)
  • Regular laundry detergent


Step 1: Make the solution.

With every gallon of water, pour in one cup of baking soda. Stir it well in the container.

Step 2: Submerge your vintage clothes.

Soak your garments in the container with the solution until they are fully submerged in the liquid. Leave them there overnight.

Step 3: Wash the clothing as usual.

After pre-soaking, move your laundry to the washing machine and wash them as you usually do, with regular detergent. Air dry your clothes somewhere having sunlight and fresh air.

By any method, your clothes will no longer be haunted by the thrift store smell and will consist of a nice, fresh fragrance afterward.

5. Vodka

You can always use vodka to deodorize your garments. Vodka is a classic kind of liquor that can be used in cleaning and absorbing bad smells. It is not only best to drink at parties but also a great detergent too. How amazing is that?

Vodka Wonderful Deodorizer
Vodka is not just used to serve as a drink but also a wonderful deodorizer!


  • Cheap vodka
  • A spray bottle


Step 1: Prepare the vodka spray.

Pour some cheap vodka into a spray bottle. You don’t need to dilute it with anything else. Test the solution by applying a little bit of it to a small corner of your garment.

Step 2: Spray your clothes.

Spray the vodka on your garments and let it sit for a few minutes.

Step 3: Dry the sprayed clothing items.

You can just leave the clothes indoors and open the windows for drying, but it will be better if you hang them outdoors so that both the thrift store and vodka smells will evaporate quickly.

6. Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal has always been an effective odor-absorber that can absorb moisture and eliminate any bad smell on your garments. Use them if you have some around your house, and you may be surprised by what it can do to your musty-smelling clothes. (2)

Activated Charcoal
Using activated charcoal to absorb the smells in clothes is always a great way to start!


  • Activated charcoal
  • A container that is sealable (plastic box with lid, garbage bag, etc.)
  • A sachet or pouch


Step 1: Prepare the charcoal.

Put the activated charcoal in a sachet or pouch that is specifically designed for charcoal.

Step 2: Put your clothes in the container.

Place your garments in a prepared container with charcoal. Make sure that the charcoal doesn’t touch your clothes because it can leave black stains on them.

Step 3: Just leave them there.

Let them sit for as long as possible until the smell is completely gone! It can last for a day to up to a week.


  • You can actually find activated charcoal in some pet supply stores.
  • When you don’t have activated charcoal but kitty litter in your house, you can use kitty litter in place of the charcoal.

7. No-Rinse Cleaner

No Rinse Cleaner
Spraying some no-rinse cleaner mixture on clothes can help you in emergencies!

Some natural cleaners don’t need to rinse with water at the end. Eucalan is one of them. Eucalan is biodegradable, non-toxic which provides your old clothes a fresh odor just like new. How to use it?


  • Eucalan
  • Water
  • A spray bottle


Step 1: Prepare the solution.

Pour 4 liters of water in a spray bottle, then add 1 teaspoon of Eucalan inside the bottle. Shake or stir them well.

Step 2: Spray your clothes.

Spray the prepared solution directly on your bad-smelling garments. Make sure to cover the clothes evenly with the Eucalan mixture.

Step 3: Let it dry.

If you decide to keep them indoors, just open all windows to allow the fresh air to come inside. If you hang them outside, remember not to leave them under the sunlight for too long, or else the clothes will fade out quickly.

8. Newspaper

Outdated Newspaper
Don’t toss away your outdated newspaper! Make them into an odor-absorber!

Make use of yesterday’s newspaper to remove the unpleasant thrift store odor from your vintage clothing! Surprisingly, paper can be a great odor absorber that takes away the bad smell clinging to garments, especially woolen coats.


  • Old newspaper
  • A sealable bag (plastic bag, garbage bag, etc.)


Step 1: Put the paper inside the clothes.

Stuff the old newspaper into the sleeves and pockets of your clothes.

Step 2: Place in the container and wait.

Put all of the prepared stuffed items into plastic bags. Seal them tightly and leave them there for a couple of days until the smell fades away.

By then, the bad odors may be absorbed and disappear for good! Enjoy the result!

9. Freezer

Have you ever heard of the freezing method to get rid of the bad smell on clothes? It may sound weird, but it actually works effectively on your bad-smelling clothes!


  • A freezer/ A fridge that contains a freezing drawer
  • Freezer-safe bag(s)


Step 1: Prepare for the clothes.

Put your garments into freezer-safe bags. Make sure that there’s no air inside. The clothes should be clean and dry before getting into the freezer.

Step 2: Put them in the freezer.

Place the prepared clothing bags in the freezer or freezing drawer of your refrigerator. Leave them there for a day or two.

Step 3: Air-dry them for a while.

After finishing the freezing process, hang your garments outdoors under the sunlight to “thaw” and warm them up. They will turn out to smell fresher and brighter than ever before.

Tip: You can also use the vinegar method if the smell is not gone completely after freezing.

Want to freeze your jeans to remove the bad smell? Here’s how and why you should do it!

Watch this video: How To Freeze Your Jeans

10. Essential Oils

Little Essential Oils
Using just a little bit of essential oils can help you push away that stubborn odor on vintage garments!

You can always use your favorite essential oils to freshen and make your vintage garments smell better. Use the scent you love or consider the lavender, lemon, lemongrass, eucalyptus, and grapefruit scents for a better result.


  • A few drops of essential oils
  • A spray bottle
  • Water


Step 1: Make the solution.

Fill the spray bottle with water, then add some drops of your essential oils into the bottle and gently stir the mixture.

Step 2: Spray the clothes.

Carefully spray the solution onto your garments. The scent in essential oils tends to invade and replace the thrift store smell on the clothes.

This can be considered as a dry-cleaning method so that you don’t have to get your clothes washed to eliminate the bad odors. However, you can combine essential oils and natural detergent to wash your laundry as usual, which is also an efficient way to achieve the goal!

11. Lemon Juice

Lemon Juice Great
Lemon juice can be a great liquid detergent like vinegar to get rid of any stubborn smell on clothes!

Lemon is another acidic source that helps freshen your old clothes! It can eliminate those bacteria that stay in the fabric and cause a bad smell; thereby giving the garment a fresh and like-new smell.


  • Lemon juice
  • Water
  • A container (tub or bucket)


Step 1: Blend the water and lemon juice in a container.

Step 2: Soak your clothing items or some smelly parts of them into the solution.

Step 3: Take them out and air-dry outdoors.

12. Coffee Grounds

Coffee Smell Clothing
Coffee smell on your clothing? Why not?!

If you are a coffeeholic, why not get some coffee smell on your clothes? Using coffee grounds is also an awesome way to push away the unpleasant musty odor on your bargain items.


  • Coffee grounds
  • Plastic bag(s)/ Garbage bag(s)


Step 1: Put your clothes inside a bag and pour some coffee grounds in.

Step 2: Seal the bag tightly and let it sit there overnight.

Step 3: In the next morning, take your garments out and hang them on to air out for a while for the remaining odors to fade away.

The outcome will surely please you with an aromatic smell from coffee! Try this method now and tell me what you think about it!

3 Best Ways To Rescue Leather Garments From Thrift Store Odor

If you are into the washing thing, you may be aware of clothes, especially jackets, that are made of leather and suede. They are complicated to clean thoroughly since they’re non-washable and easy to be scratched.

Saddle Soap

Saddle soap is a professional cleaner specifically designed to clean leather products such as jackets, belts, shoes, bags, etc. It can treat the light-colored leather pretty well without bleach stains.


  • Saddle soap
  • Rag(s)
  • Water


Step 1: Damp a rag.

Slightly damp a rag with some water. Remember to only use a very small amount of water on the cloth piece.

Step 2: Apply the rag to saddle soap.

Apply the damp rag to the saddle soap. Then, rub them in a circular motion to create a lather.

Step 3: Put on the leather items.

Use the rag dipping with saddle soap to apply to the leather products. Wait for a few hours. After that, wipe the leather down with another rag that doesn’t have the soap on.

If you want a better result, just apply the saddle soap twice on your leather items!

Watch this video: Saddle Soap Tutorial

Leather Conditioner

If you think that saddle soap is a little bit strong for your old leather items, consider a leather conditioner product. It is a milder version of saddle soap, which can be used to clean almost anything attached with even a small part of leather.

You can purchase leather conditioners at some home cleaning stores, or you can make it yourself! Here’s how!


  • White vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • A spray bottle
  • A rag


Step 1: Make the solution.

Mix 3 parts of olive oil to 2 parts of white vinegar. You can directly blend the mixture in the spray bottle or stir it in another container and pour the outcome into the bottle.

Step 2: Spray it on the leather.

Spray the homemade leather conditioner onto your leather-attached garments or accessories. With the store-bought leather conditioner, you can also use a rag to scrub the leather product in a circular motion gently.

Step 3: Wipe down the mixture.

After applying, wipe the mixture down with a dry rag until there’s nothing left.

The leather will be well-cleaned and smooth with no blemishes, just like how it looks at the start.

Shoe Polish

Shoe Polish Fascinating
Shoe polish can also be a fascinating product to clean other leather stuff.

Shoe polish is not only used for shoes but also to clean leather garments and accessories. Awesome, right? It is convenient to use shoe polish to bring some leather things – which have been scratched or banged up – to life. Colored shoe polish especially suits this.

In addition to protecting the leather from dust, water, discoloration, and bad odors, shoe polish provides a layer of hydration. Moreover, it helps bring back the original color of the leather garments and disguise flaws.


  • Shoe polish (or colored shoe polish, if possible)
  • A microfiber rag/cloth


Step 1: Make sure that the old leather’s surface is clean.

Use a rag to clean the item gently to get rid of any dust or stains on it.

Step 2: Apply the shoe polish on the surface.

Take the microfiber rag, scrub it on the shoe polish from tin and apply it carefully on the leather in a circular motion.

Step 3: Wipe away the shoe polish.

Wipe away the excess with the dry part of the microfiber piece.

After that, you can use a polishing glove or brush to make the leather shine as it used to. This is also a technique in the shoe polishing process that can revive the shininess and moisture of the leather.

Helpful Hacks To Disinfect Clothes From Thrift Store Before Using

When buying thrift store garments, you may want to disinfect them first before wearing them for safety reasons. But how? Here are some simple but useful sterilizing tips and tricks for you!

  • Don’t let the garments expose your skin when you’re at the store. If you really want to try clothes on before deciding to buy, wear the outfits that fit your body before heading to the store. Try vintage items on without taking your current outfits off.
  • Iron the clothing twice after washing. After applying the methods mentioned above, you can iron your garments out two times. More heat keeps the clothes away from bacteria and destroys pathogens that are still alive after the wash.
  • Use “shadow ironing.” This is a technique in ironing that is used for those garments made of fabric blends that can’t be dry-ironed as normal clothes. It means to iron the damp item out with a piece of cloth or special paper over it to protect the fiber.
Ironing The Clothes Properly
Ironing the clothes properly can support you to disinfect the bargain clothes before you wear them on.

Bonus Information:

For non-clothing items such as curtains, you can set the sanitize cycle wash in the washing machine if it is available. Remember, this is totally not recommended to use for clothes since the over-temperature may damage the textile and color of your clothing items.

Are Thrift Store Garments Safe To Wear?

In a word, yes. You can wear thrift store clothes as regular clothes. The garments that the thrift store sells have to get through a specific selection before showing up on the store’s rack.

However, there’s always a con. You need to avoid some items such as undergarments. Think about it! It’s weird and never safe to wear others’ underwear, right? Regular clothes are fine; just don’t ever buy underwear and something with unidentifiable stains.

One more thing to remember is that you should always clean thrift store clothes right after you bring them home, especially when they smell unpleasant to you. Foul odors come from terrible reasons. Just make sure that you do something to deal with the smell.

If you can guarantee that you’ve cleaned the clothes beforehand and don’t buy anything like underwear, then it’s totally fine to put on thrift store clothes.


Although everything has been revealed, there must be some small questions wandering in your head for quite a while. Don’t worry, I have collected some of them and provided brief answers for you too!

How can I eliminate the thrift store odor from vintage clothes without washing?

You can spray alcohol, vinegar, or essential oils on your clothes and let them dry naturally to take away the bad smell.

How to get thrift store smell out of furniture?

You can use baking soda to sprinkle on the furniture and leave it there for a few days. It will help absorb the bad odor and soak up moisture in your furniture. Wipe down the powder when there’s nothing left on the piece of furniture.

What does Goodwill use to deodorize their clothes?

Some Goodwill employees have revealed that they usually use a generic deodorizer to make the smells on their garments fade away and also to mark them.

How to fix old clothes that have a musty smell even after washing?

Old clothes can consist of the over-time buildup from laundry detergent and fabric softener, which causes a musty smell. You can pour 2 cups of vinegar in the detergent tray before you set a normal washing cycle to solve the problem.

What can I do to eliminate the thrift store smell from suede things?

Suede erasers can be best to deal with suede garments and any stains on them. White art erasers can be a good replacement in case you can’t find any suede eraser products at your place. Gently apply them on your suede stuff and wipe them down after a while.

Be Patient, The Result Will Be There Soon!

In most cases, patience is the key that can help you unlock the door to success. So don’t be frustrated when everything does not work as you wish from the first attempt. You may do the laundry over and over again, but don’t quit! I’m sure that the smell will be gone soon!

Make sure that you’re doing it properly; then everything will be alright! If you think that this article is helpful, don’t forget to like and share these tips and tricks with your friends! Comment under this post if you have any concerns on this topic! See you next time!

How To Get Thrift Store Smell Out Of Clothes


  1. 2021. Sodium bicarbonate – Wikipedia.
  2. 2021. Activated charcoal.

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Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones

Home Cleaning Specialist

Expertise: In-depth Knowledge of Cleaning Agents and Their Uses, Advanced Home Sanitization, Techniques Expertise in Cleaning and Maintaining, Various Floor Types, Innovations in Home Cleaning Tools

School: American College of Home Economics

Kevin Jones is a seasoned home cleaning specialist with over a decade of experience in the industry. A stickler for cleanliness and organization, Kevin brings a systematic and innovative approach to home maintenance. His expertise ranges from traditional methods to modern cleaning technology, ensuring homes are not just clean but healthy environments too.

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