How to Remove Fragrance from Clothes & Hand-me-downs

Do you enjoy thrift store shopping for you or your family? Or perhaps, like us, your children often inherit hand-me-downs from cousins or friends. Whether you buy second-hand clothes to save money, support a charity, or for the thrill of the hunt, thrifting has never been more popular (or environmentally friendly) than it is today. There’s just one problem: the smell. Or, more specifically, the synthetic fragrance from laundry products that permeates most used clothes and hand-me-downs.

And while we’re all for buying thoroughly clean clothes, and recognize that brand new clothes have their own outgassing/off-gassing problems, the fragrance used in laundry soaps are of particular concern (especially for babies, children, and those with chronic disease).

Why you should avoid fragrance in laundry products and clothing

As we’ve covered in previous articles, fragrance is one of the most insidious and harmful toxins we are exposed to. Like a wolf in lamb’s clothing, it seduces us with its pleasant, nostalgic, and “clean smelling” aromas; yet the word fragrance on a label represents a fragrance recipe that can contain hundreds of chemicals that have never been tested for safety! Now, think about how many products with synthetic fragrance the average person is exposed to daily: shampoos, conditioners, soap, moisturizer, air fresheners, scented candles, perfumes, laundry products, etc…that adds up to a significant chemical onslaught every single day. 

And they affect our health in ways we are just beginning to document and understand. For example, a new report just surfaced last month finally confirming the link between fragranced laundry products and cancer1. Fragrances have also been linked to many other chronic diseases including: asthma, diabetes, obesity, breast cancer, liver cancer, migraine headaches, neurological disorders, respiratory disease, and hormonal imbalances to name but a few2, 3. So many people suffer from these conditions, yet unknowingly continue using fragranced products. 

Thankfully, you can detoxify your used clothing and hand-me-downs of fragrance fairly easily.

How to get fragrance out of clothing and hand-me-downs

If you already use safe fragrance-free laundry detergents, you can typically smell laundry fragrance from a mile away. Here’s how to get that fragrance out without adding any more harmful toxins to the mix. These steps can also be used to detoxify any clothing that’s been washed in fragranced laundry soap, to remove a musty smell from clothes, or on new clothes to help eliminate factory and textile toxins.

Step 1: Combine fresh air + sunshine

It doesn’t get much simpler than putting clothes out to air. Plus, if you add sunshine to the mix, the sun’s rays and heat will drive out toxic substances, like fragrance and VOCs, from fabrics. If you have a clothesline, that’s perfect. If not, use clothespins to hang them over a fence, lawn chairs, porch railing, etc. and let them air out as long as possible—at least 12-48 hours. To avoid sun bleaching, turn garments inside out. If weather does not permit, you can hang them in your laundry room or basement with the windows open, or in your garage; you won’t get the sunshine but it’s better than nothing. Continue to air and sun until the smell is gone or significantly reduced. The main point is to avoid polluting your indoor air with the laundry fragrance. 

Step 2: Soak your clothes before washing

We recommend soaking your clothes for a few hours in Oxygen Boost and 2 tsp. Concentrate to help remove any lingering scents. You can also add a cup of baking soda or white vinegar for extra deodorizing.

Step 3: Wash with Branch Basics Laundry

After airing and soaking, run your clothes through a heavy-duty wash cycle using a capful of Branch Basics Laundry solution plus a scoop of Oxygen Boost. Add an extra rinse to help remove any lingering smell.


Step 4: Do a fragrance-check before drying

One of the tricky things about laundry products is that the signature fragrances are designed to impregnate the fabrics, which makes some scents very stubborn to remove. Thus, it’s a good idea to do a quick whiff-test before drying. If the fragrance smell is gone or mostly gone, you’re done (the dryer will take care of the rest). Go ahead and dry them and enjoy. 

If it’s still noticeable, don’t give up! Perhaps you need to sun them more or just do a second heavy-duty wash adding 1 cup of vinegar and a scoop of Oxygen Boost to the wash cycle in addition to Branch Basics Laundry solution. 

Step 5: Let your dryer remove the last bits of scent

By using a long dryer cycle to heat up these fragrances, you’ll increase the volatilization of the chemicals so they can be eliminated. The key is to ensure good ventilation, so be sure to open a window or have a vent/air purifier running. 

Start by running the longest cycle you can on the hottest setting appropriate for the fabric. When that cycle is complete, smell the clothes to determine if another cycle is warranted.

Extra deodorizing tips for really stubborn fragrance:

  • Utilize the sun’s heat 
  • No sun?! Use a Lady Bug Dry Steam Heat Cleaner to accelerate fragrance removal. The Lady Bug is used for dust-mite/smoke/mold/chemical/fragrance contamination. 1-800-997-6584 – contact person Randy Zielsdorf
  • Add more air! The longer you air out your clothes, the easier they’ll be to wash.
  • Plain vodka can be sprayed onto the clothes to help absorb some of the smell.
  • Wash, dry in the dryer, and repeat. It takes a bit of patience, but eventually, the smell will come out.

Ready to #TosstheToxins and detoxify your laundry room?


If this post has gotten you fired up about eliminating fragrance from your laundry routine, check out our article: “Detoxifying Your Laundry Room” and “#TossTheToxins” for more helpful tips.


Enjoyed this post? Sign up for our newsletter!

Clean Sweep

We only send great stuff. Twice a month.


  1. I recently purchased the Starter Kit after my granddaughter highly recommended Branch Basics. She was right (and usually is)! Thank you Allison for providing us with an alternative, healthy way to clean and most amazing of all is that it really works!!

  2. Thank you, I needed this article! I buy a lot of secondhand clothes for my toddler and I’m always horrified by the scents that the children who wore the clothes previously were exposed to.

  3. I’m so glad you posted this! I love buying secondhand, but the fragrance and past detergent used is always a struggle to get out.

  4. This article was so helpful! I love how organized it is and gives some valuable tips that people do for free in addition to using your wonderful products. I also appreciate having the references to look at for the harmful effects of fragrance.

  5. Thank SO MUCH for this helpful information! We love hand-me-downs but sometimes
    even after 2-3 washes the lingering fragrance remains and makes me feel a bit nauseous.

    ☀️ Sunshine + soaking seem to be the key!


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *