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Removing Odors from Vintage Clothing

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Close up of a rack of vintage clothing
This is a guide about removing odors from vintage clothing. Clothes that have been stored for years can have a variety of odd smells.


Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

April 29, 20081 found this helpful

How do I get the ugly smell out of the vintage coats I buy at thrift stores? I've already sent them twice for dry cleaning, used Febreze, and put them outside for a few days.

These coats need to be dry clean, I can't put them in the washing machine. The dry cleaning is getting too expensive and did not help at all. Any suggestions? I love the coats, but I have been able to wear them.


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April 30, 20080 found this helpful
Best Answer

When I sewed for the local theater and the costumes stank to high heaven we used to spray them down with cheap vodka and let them dry. You might try that. Just fill a spray bottle with undiluted vodka and give them a good spraying.

Susan in Omaha

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By guest (Guest Post)
April 30, 20080 found this helpful
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Don't forget the old "unused coffe grounds" trick. Perhaps you could put the item in a plastic bag and put some coffee in the pockets (would brush out later), and in the toe of a nylon and tied like a sausage and hung from the hanger. Then tie the bottom shut and tape the hanger hole shut. Leave it for a while --- a week,(?) and see if that helps. If some but not enough, maybe do it again.

I've not had luck with a dry cleaner getting perspiration odors out of a nice dress I loaned to a friend. It was either wash it or toss it (washing worked fine, but with all the internal things of any kind of a coat--don't try it).

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May 13, 20080 found this helpful
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One thing here I did not see was this, take a bunch of newspapaers wad them up and fill the arms of the coat, get one of those dry cleaning garment bags, and put the coat with the newspaper inside of it, adding more newspaper, close it and seal it with tape to make it air tight. Wait about 3-4 days open it up and remove some of the newspaper, the newspaper should smell like the coats. Newspaper absorbs ordors and I have had wonderful luck with it getting out the vintage smell in clothes. You may have to take out the newspaper and refill the coat a couple times but, works wonders.

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By 0 found this helpful
June 9, 2010

I have received 50 year old baby clothes that have never been used! There are lots of pretty party dresses. The only problem is they have a very vintage smell to them. I have washed them once in Tide and dried them with fabric sheets. That really didn't help much. I'm sure there is a trick out there. Please help.

By Erica from Plainfield, IL

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June 9, 20100 found this helpful
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Add 1 cup of white vinegar along with detergent, will remove musty smell.

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June 9, 20100 found this helpful
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A professional would use orvus.

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June 9, 20100 found this helpful
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Use Ivory Snow or Dreft and rinse a 2nd time nothing other than water. This is baby clothing, maybe going to be worn by a baby again? Wash accordingly. Using strong stuff like Tide or borax is not for baby clothing. If it is for a doll use, then other means is ok.

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By 0 found this helpful
March 27, 2016

Vintage clothing often comes with odors I cannot abide. These include: a musty smell, a perfume smell, perhaps from storage in a drawer with a sachet, a lavender scent put in by certain dealers and thrift shops, and Febreze or other laundry products with 'freshener' scents of one kind or another.

None of these come out with any normal detergents or detergent boosters or washing soda. I have tried vinegar which sometimes works, but not for long. I also tried putting the garment outside for a couple days when the temperature was near zero. That also worked for couple days, but then the odor came back. If anyone has a permanent solution, please let me know!

I do not want anything like Febreze that just masks the offensive odor with another odor, usually as offensive to my sensitive nose as the original odor.

Thanx for any suggestions.

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April 24, 20170 found this helpful

I'll tell you what you do.Take every piece of musty clothing you have in your home and get rid of it quick before it pervades the carpets curtains and every other piece of fabric in your house!If its the same sweet,greasy,sweaty type smell I'm thinking of NOTHING will remove it, you might for a while but it will creep back like the proverbial musty bad penny!Why do you think folk are constantly hunting for the answer to removing this funk?You can't.Bite the bullet and pap the lot out.

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April 25, 20170 found this helpful

I am having success at removing strong, painful odors like febreeze-type odors by soaking garments in a solution of borax. I first dissolve borax powder, about a half cup, in a quart of warm water. Then add a couple of quarts of cold water to a plastic tub and squish the garment in the solution. Let soak overnoght. Put solution and garment in washer and wash. Add 1 cup white vinegar to rinse. Then hang wet garment to dry. Sometimes I do this several times before odor is gone. If this doesn't work, and I really like the garment, I hang it in the attic for about a year. Yes, it works...takes time, but it works.

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