How To Get Thrift Store Smell Out Of Clothes

How To Get Thrift Store Smell Out Of Clothes – Expert Tricks

Thrift shopping can be a rewarding experience – scoring unique pieces at a fraction of their original cost. 

However, one common challenge many thrift shoppers face is how to get thrift store smell out of clothes.

That distinct, lingering odor can sometimes be stubborn and tough to remove, leaving you unsure whether the bargain was worth it.

To swiftly and effectively eliminate this smell, adding a cup of baking soda during the wash cycle can do wonders. Baking soda is an excellent natural deodorizer that neutralizes bad smells and even acts as a fabric softener.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into why these smells persist in thrifted clothes, the science behind them, and present a step-by-step approach to removing them effectively. 

Additionally, we’ll provide handy tips to prevent such smells in your future thrifted finds.

Removing Thrift Store Odor from Clothing – A Quick Guide

Removing the distinctive thrift store smell of clothes often requires a combination of strategies. 

The use of baking soda has proven highly effective due to its neutralizing properties. Adding it to your washing machine with regular detergent during a cold water wash not only neutralizes odors but also softens the fabric. 

However, if the smell persists, a pre-treatment soak with white vinegar or baking soda may be necessary. 

After washing, clothes should be air-dried and possibly washed again if any odors remain. Prevention is also key, so consider airing out clothes, washing them before wearing, and storing them correctly.

Why does Thrift Store Smell Stay on Clothes?

It’s not uncommon for clothes from thrift stores to carry a distinct odor. Understanding why this smell lingers can help you effectively eliminate it.

The thrift store smell is a collective result of many factors. These stores often house a myriad of items from different households, each carrying their unique scents. 

The odor could be a residue from detergents, fabric softeners, or the personal fragrances of the previous owner. 

In some cases, the smell can be a result of long-term storage in a closed, humid environment, leading to a musty or mildew-like scent.

On a scientific level, the odors cling to the fibers of the clothes due to the nature of the particles that cause these smells. 

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), microscopic substances often responsible for odors, can deeply permeate fabric fibers. 

These VOCs can linger, especially when they haven’t been effectively cleaned or aired out. The complexity of these factors explains why it’s often challenging to completely get rid of these odors.

How to Get Thrift Store Smell Out of Clothes

Understanding how to get thrift store smell out of clothes is essential in making the most of your thrifted items.

Deodorizing thrifted clothes not only makes them more pleasant to wear but it also contributes to the hygiene and longevity of these garments. In addition, a thorough cleaning process can help eliminate any allergens or residual substances left on the clothes from their previous life.

List of Materials Used to Remove Thrift Store Smell Out of Clothes

When it comes to eliminating the distinctive thrift store smell from your garments, a range of materials can come in handy. Here is a compiled list:

  1. Baking Soda: A natural deodorizer, baking soda can help neutralize the pH levels where odor-causing bacteria thrive, thereby effectively reducing odors.
  2. White Vinegar: Vinegar is an acidic substance that can help break down the odor-causing compounds stuck to the fabric of your clothes.
  3. Detergent: Regular laundry detergent, preferably fragrance-free and dye-free, is essential to remove any residual grime and dirt, along with the odors.
  4. Odor-Removing Laundry Additives: These are special products available in the market that specifically target stubborn smells.
  5. Clothesline & Clothespins: For air drying and airing out your clothes, a clothesline and clothespins are very useful. The fresh air can greatly assist in getting rid of lingering smells.
  6. Washing Machine: Obviously, you’ll need a washing machine. A clean one, with no residual detergent or softener, is the most effective.
  7. Lemon Juice: A natural deodorizer and cleaner, lemon juice can also be used to freshen up your clothes.

Step-by-Step Guide to Remove Thrift Store Smell

Here is a comprehensive step-by-step guide to help you eliminate the thrift store smell from your clothes:

Step 1: Air It Out

Before anything else, air out your clothes. If weather conditions allow, hang your thrifted clothes outdoors for a few hours to allow fresh air to circulate through the fibers and naturally reduce odor intensity.

Step 2: Prepare Your Materials

Gather your materials, including baking soda, vinegar, detergent, and any other odor-removing additives you wish to use.

Step 3: Pre-Treatment Soak (Optional)

If the smell is particularly strong, consider pre-soaking the clothes. Fill a basin or sink with warm water and add a cup of baking soda or white vinegar. Let your clothes soak in this solution for about an hour.

Step 4: Machine Wash

Add your clothes, detergent, and a cup of baking soda or vinegar to your washing machine. Don’t overload the machine, as clothes need space to move freely for the baking soda or vinegar to penetrate all the fibers. Run a cycle with cold water. Hot water can set some types of odors instead of removing them.

Step 5: Sniff Test

Once the cycle finishes, give your clothes a sniff test. If the odor persists, repeat the washing process.

Step 6: Air Dry

Once washed, air dry your clothes if possible. The combination of fresh air and sunshine can do wonders for stubborn smells.

Step 7: Repeat If Necessary

If the clothes retain some smell after drying, repeat the washing process. Some odors may require multiple washings to completely remove.

Remember, patience is key when dealing with stubborn thrift store odors. By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to a fresh-smelling, thrifted wardrobe.

Charlotte B. Closet’s Odor-Free Thrifting Experience

At Charlotte B. Closet, thrift shopping is transformed into an exceptional, odor-free experience. Our Founder LadyT Whit’s personal dedication to quality is both humorous and earnest:

“It’s funny; I use 100 bottles of Febreze a week – for real. I keep my clothes clean and never use unclean clothes here.”

LadyT Whit – Founder & CEO of Charlotte B Closet

These aren’t just words; they’re a commitment.

Every piece of apparel – clothes, bags, shoes, purses, jewelry, and luxurious fur coats – is treated with the utmost care. The rigorous cleaning process involves meticulous inspection and, yes, a generous application of Febreze to ensure freshness. It’s about maintaining the integrity and allure of each item while ensuring that no lingering thrift store odors make their way into the boutique.

This hands-on approach by the CEO ensures that shopping at Charlotte B. Closet isn’t just about finding unique pieces; it’s about enjoying a genuinely pleasant and satisfying experience where quality reigns supreme. So step into Charlotte B. Closet, and leave behind the common concerns of thrift store shopping, knowing that what awaits you is an odor-free and invigorating thrifting experience.

Preventing Thrift Store Smell: Tips to Avoid Smelly Clothes

While knowing how to remove thrift store smells from clothes is essential, learning how to prevent these odors can save you a lot of time and effort. Here are some practical tips to avoid ending up with smelly clothes.

1. Be Selective at the Store

Prevention starts right from the moment you’re at the thrift store. It’s crucial to thoroughly check the clothes before you buy them.

  • Perform a Sniff Test: This might seem a little strange, but it can save you a lot of hassle. Some smells are tougher to get rid of than others. If the garment has a particularly strong or unpleasant odor, you might want to reconsider your purchase.
  • Examine the Fabric Type: Some fabrics, such as synthetic materials, tend to hold onto odors more than others. Natural fibers like cotton or wool may be easier to deodorize.

2. Wash Before You Wear

Always, always wash your thrift store clothes before wearing them. This not only helps to eliminate any odors but also ensures that your clothes are clean and hygienic.

3. Proper Storage

How you store your clothes can significantly impact how they smell.

  • Ensure Clothes are Dry: Make sure that your clothes are completely dry before storing them. Dampness can lead to mold and mildew, which can cause a musty smell.
  • Give Clothes Room to Breathe: Avoid packing clothes too tightly in your closet or drawers. Giving them room to breathe can prevent odors from building up.

4. Regular Cleaning and Maintenance

Regularly cleaning and airing out your clothes can greatly improve their freshness and prolong their lifespan.

  • Routine Washing: Even if you haven’t worn them, your clothes can accumulate dust and odors just by sitting in your closet. Make sure to wash them regularly.
  • Air Out: Hang your clothes in a well-ventilated area or outside every once in a while to keep them smelling fresh.

By following these tips, you can largely prevent thrift store smells from permeating your clothes, making your thrift shopping experience even more rewarding.


Thrift shopping can offer incredible finds and great savings, but the persistent thrift store smell on clothes can sometimes be a dampener. 

Luckily, with a systematic approach using household items like baking soda or vinegar, you can effectively eliminate this problem. 

By understanding the source of these odors and taking proactive steps for prevention, you can keep your thrifted garments smelling fresh and clean. So don’t let that thrift store smell deter you from finding your next gem. Happy thrifting!


The distinctive thrift store smell comes from a variety of sources, such as residual detergents, body odors, or storage conditions. The smells can penetrate and linger in the fabric, especially in synthetic materials, leading to the notorious ‘thrift store smell.”

Baking soda, a natural deodorizer, works by neutralizing the pH levels where odor-causing bacteria thrive, which helps in effectively reducing the persistent smells in thrift store clothes.

Yes, airing out thrifted clothes, particularly outdoors, allows fresh air to circulate through the fibers of the clothes, naturally reducing the intensity of the smell and assisting in odor elimination.

To prevent thrift store smells, it’s essential to wash clothes before wearing them, store them properly, ensure they are completely dry, and regularly air them out. Also, being selective while purchasing, especially by performing a quick sniff test, can help avoid intensely smelly garments.

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