How to Get Smoke Smell Out of Clothes: 9 Natural Tips
By Marilee Nelson |
Campfires and firepits are magical things in the fall…until you’re faced with the task of getting that smoke smell out of your clothing.
This becomes even more daunting if you’ve been the victim of a house fire, which affects over 350,000 Americans per year.
The good news is you can remove even stubborn smoke smells from your clothing without using harmful chemicals.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get smoke smells out of your clothing, including:
- Why you should avoid synthetic fragrance (which just masks smoke smell).
- The best products to use with your washing machine to remove smoke smell.
- Techniques for removing or minimizing smoke smell without a washing machine.
- The most effective natural odor-removers.
- And FAQs.
Why Synthetic Fragrance is a Harmful Cleaning Option
We have written often and at length about the harms of synthetic fragrances.
For the sake of time, here’s the cliff notes version on why synthetic fragrance is so harmful:
- Fragrance is one of the world’s top allergens.
- Synthetic fragrances can contain dozens or even hundreds of over 3100 undisclosed fragrance chemicals, many of which have never been tested for safety.
- Companies are not required to disclose ingredients in their signature fragrances, which leaves the consumer in the dark about what they’re buying.
- Fragrance is one of the most common sources of endocrine-disrupting phthalates, a group of chemicals linked to reproductive harm, developmental issues, breast health problems, obesity, neurological issues, asthma, hormonal-driven diseases, and even cancer.
- Synthetic fragrances are dangerous, ubiquitous, and, in our opinion, have no place in a healthy home.
Although it may be tempting to reach for a fragranced product to cover up the smoke smell, fragrances will only mask the smell, not absorb it.
We also recommend against synthetic spray odor absorbers—fragranced and fragrance-free, which contain a cocktail of harmful chemicals in addition to their signature fragrance or fragrance masking chemicals, in the case of fragrance-free.
See: How To Remove Synthetic Fragrance From Your Home for tips on how to go fragrance-free.
How to Get Smoke Smell Out of Clothes With a Washing Machine
A washing machine + non-toxic, odor-removing laundry products are your best defense against smokey clothing.
Don’t have access to a washing machine right now? No problem. We cover other methods in the next section.
Now, let’s look at some of the best odor-removal products to use in your washing machine.
Branch Basics Laundry + Oxygen Boost is the ultimate non-toxic solution for getting smoke smell out of clothes.
Our Laundry dilution, made with all-natural soaps and surfactants, will deep clean your clothing, while the Oxygen Boost, made with sodium percarbonate and baking soda, will naturally remove odors while boosting the effectiveness of Laundry.
If the smoke smell just happened, a warm wash with Laundry and Oxygen Boost should be enough to take care of it.
If your smokey clothes have been sitting for a few days or have a very heavy smell (like after a house fire), several hours of airing out followed by pre-soaking will help ensure smoke smell removal.
To remove tough, set-in smoke smells
- Air out your clothing in the sunshine for several hours or a few days, depending on severity.
- The fresh air sunlight will naturally help evaporate and carry away the smells.
- Note: Sunlight has a natural bleaching effect, so turn colored items inside out.
- Next, soak the clothing in a large basin of hot water (or warmest water the fabric will tolerate) with 1 scoop of Oxygen Boost for at least one hour or up to an entire day.
- Since Oxygen Boost has a natural bleaching effect, soak less time for colors and longer for whites.
- Wash your clothing on the hottest water cycle tolerated by the fabric with a capful of Branch Basics Laundry and 1 scoop of Oxygen Boost.
- Give your clothes a whiff test before transferring them to the dryer or clothesline. No smoke smell or very little smoke smell indicates they can be dried (the heat from the dryer or sun will take care of the rest). If they still smell very smokey, repeat the washing cycle.
Note: Oxygen Boost is not recommended for silk or silk blends or wool or wool blends.
Airing and handwashing with Branch Basics Laundry and a few tablespoons of baking soda are the safest methods to clean, deodorize, and protect these more delicate garments.
2. Vodka Machine Wash
Plain inexpensive uncolored and unflavored vodka is a great odor remover! It is completely odorless when it dries and
To remove smoke from clothing:
- Spray your clothes with straight vodka. (Always test for colorfastness in an inconspicous area)
- Hang them up and let them dry.
- To enhance the smoke lifting and evaporation, turn on an exhaust fan to create air circulation or better yet put outside in the sun to dry.
- After drying, toss clothes in the washer and products of choice on a normal cycle.
- If clothes are extra smoky, add ½ to 1 cup vodka to the wash.
3. Baking Soda Machine Wash
Baking soda is one of nature’s best odor absorbers. It can also be added directly to your washer to help get smoke smell out of your clothing.
- Add half a cup of baking soda to your washing machine along with your favorite non-toxic laundry detergent.
- Run a regular hot water cycle.
- Do a whiff test as described in the previous test, repeat if necessary, and dry clothes.
As previously mentioned, you can also add a few tablespoons of baking soda to your natural hand washing solution for silks and wool.
Learn more about the many ways to use non-toxic baking soda at home in: Cleaning With Baking Soda: 12 Surprising Uses.
4. Vinegar Machine Wash
Plain distilled white vinegar is an excellent natural laundry aid, fabric softener, stain remover, and smokey-smell-remover.
- Add half to 1 cup (depending on load size) of white vinegar to your washer along with your favorite non-toxic laundry soap.
- Launder as usual.
- Do a whiff test as described in the previous test, repeat if necessary, and dry clothes.
Discover why vinegar is so iconic among health- and toxin-conscious DIYers in: 12 Ways to Use Vinegar In Your Home.
How to Get Smoke Smell Out of Clothes Without Washing
If you’re stuck out in the middle of the woods on a camping trip with no washing machine on site, fear not.
These tips will help you remove most, if not all, of the smokey smell from your clothes naturally.
5. Sunshine And Fresh Air
Airing your clothes in natural sunlight is recommended whether you’re near a washing machine or not.
The heat from the sun will naturally evaporate the smells, while the fresh air carries them away.
The amount of time this takes depends on many factors, including the severity of the smell, how long the clothing has smelled like smoke, the type of fabric, the intensity of the sun, and how fresh the air is.
However, even an hour of airing can make a huge difference in the smoke smell, and several hours can remove it completely.
Again, since sunshine acts as a natural bleach, turn colored garments inside out.
We also recommend shaking out your clothing to remove hidden insects, pollens, and other particles or small critters.
Try the vodka machine wash solution mentioned in #2 above minus the washing machine. Many live theaters spray vodka on delicate costumes and vintage clothing to keep them smelling fresh between shows.
7. Baking Soda
This may sound strange, but baking soda and our Branch Basics Travel Kit have become must-pack items for us when camping or for any type of travel.
To use baking soda to get the smoke smell out of your clothes:
- Apply a light dusting of baking soda to your garment and let it dwell for a few hours.
- Dust off the baking soda by shaking and patting the garment; the smell should be gone or vastly improved.
- Combine this baking soda method with airing for best results.
Natural steam effectively removes smokey smells from clothing without a washing machine.
You can use steam from a dry steam cleaner (most powerful option), a shower, a steam room, or a handheld steaming device.
Dry cleaners usually have steaming devices and may do the procedure for you for a small fee (just be sure to ask for no added chemicals or fragrance, just the steam).
Here’s how to do it:
- Dry Steam Steamer: The Ladybug 2350 dry steam cleaner is such a versatile tool for your home! Use it for decontamination, disinfecting (qualifies as a disinfection device for the EPA!), and smoke removal. Hang your garment up and use the triangular brush on low steam over the entire surface. Keep the steamer moving. Turn the garment inside out and repeat. Or pull the sleeves taut and use the tool that can go up the sleeve to get inside the arm of the garment. Repeat if necessary. Not recommended for use on silk. Use the code BRANCHBASICS for 20% off the Ladybug!
- Shower method: Hang your garment in the bathroom while you have a hot shower for at least 10-15 minutes. Allow it to hang there as long as possible in the steam. Air dry in the sunshine for best results.
- Steam room method: Hang your garment in the steam room for 10-30 minutes. Air dry in the sunlight for best results.
9. Spray With Lemon Juice
Lemon juice has the same odor-fighting properties as vinegar and can be sprayed directly onto clothing to remove smokey smells. Test lemon juice on an inconspicous area of the garment.
Learn more in: 23 Sources Of Formaldehyde To Remove From Your Home
Odor Removal FAQs
Now that you have the tools and basic know-how on smokey smell removal, let’s tackle some frequently asked questions.
How long does it take to get a smoke smell out of fabric and clothes?
This depends on many factors, including:
- The severity of the smell
- How long the smoke smell has lingered on the clothes
- The type of fabric (synthetic fabrics retain smells more than natural fabrics)
- Whether or not the clothing has been aired and sunned
- The type of smoke
Basically, freshly-smoked clothing from a natural source, such as woodsmoke, can be removed quickly and easily with airing and washing.
Deeply penetrated smokey smells require more airing and sunning, soaking, washing, and perhaps repeating.
If you have a very smoky-smelling garment and aren’t sure where to start, you can’t go wrong with airing, soaking, washing with Oxygen Boost or Baking Soda, doing a whiff-test, then repeating or drying to get the rest of the smoke out.
Will my dryer make the smoke smell worse?
No. Fortunately, smoke smells aren’t like stains in that drying helps speed the off-gassing process versus locking it in.
As mentioned above, if your clothes still have a smokey smell, you can even use the dryer—or natural sunlight on the clothesline—to evaporate that last bit of smokey smell.
So don’t be afraid of the dryer, it is an ally in smoke removal.
Are natural options effective for smoke odor removal?
Natural options are effective because they eliminate the smokey smell vs. just masking it with synthetic fragrances and chemicals.
Any of these options will work and can be combined for even faster results.
Are these options recommended for all types of fabrics?
These options are safe for most natural and synthetic fabrics (cotton, linen, rayon, polyester, Tencel, denim, hemp, etc.).
Wool and silk and wool and silk blends are the exception.
As noted above, we do not recommend using Oxygen Boost on wool and silks.
Vinegar and lemon juice may also be too harsh for some delicate fabrics, especially if used undiluted and left to dwell for an extended period, so test an inconspicuous area first.
Airing followed by a hand wash and brief soak in Branch Basics Laundry and baking soda are safe for more delicate fabrics.
Steaming is also generally safe for most fabric types, but check the manufacturer’s manual for specific instructions or warnings.
Toss the Toxins With Branch Basics
To recap, smoke smells can be removed from clothing naturally using various non-toxic products and techniques.
Airing the smokey garments for a few hours before washing can make a significant difference.
Interested in trying Branch Basics for non-toxic laundry, household cleaning, stain removal, and more?
Click here to shop our Starter Kits, available in refillable glass or plastic, which have everything you need to clean, launder, and deodorize everything in your home without harmful chemicals.For more non-toxic laundry and cleaning tips, visit our Wellness Center for articles, Podcasts, Guides, and more.
Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.