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How to Get Rid of Thrift Store Smell (Naturally)

This post will provide several natural and effective methods for getting rid of thrift store smell on clothing and household items.

orange shirt air drying

How do you get rid of thrift store smell?

In the post, I will explore all of the best methods to get rid of thrift store smell using only natural ingredients and methods.

Thrift stores can be a great way to score vintage clothing and unique household items at a fraction of the cost of buying new. It is a trend that is here to stay (and I’m here for it!)!

However, there’s one downside to thrift shopping that can’t be ignored: the thrift store smell. Whether it’s musty, mothball-y, or just plain funky, the smell of second-hand clothes and household items can be overwhelming and off-putting. But don’t let it discourage you from thrift shopping! There are plenty of ways to get rid of thrift store smell and make your vintage finds smell fresh and clean.

The bottom line is that thrift store smell doesn’t have to be a deal breaker when it comes to thrift shopping. With a little bit of effort and some household items, you can easily get rid of the thrift store smell and enjoy your vintage finds. So next time you’re at a thrift store or flea market, don’t be discouraged by the smell. Just remember that it’s a temporary problem that can be easily solved. Happy thrift shopping!

Methods for How to Get Rid of Thrift Store Smell in Clothing

You should try different methods to get rid of thrift store smell in clothing, as not all methods work for every kind of odor or fabric. Also, always wash the clothes before wearing them, as thrift store clothes may have been tried on by multiple people.

After washing, there is only one final method that has worked for me nearly every time! Scroll through to find out!

Washing Thrift Store Clothes

I am the “crunchy type”, so all of my recommendations below are natural ways to wash clothes, not masking the scent with more faux fragrance.

There are several effective methods for removing bad odors from thrift store clothes:

Clothes Washing Methods for Removing Odors

  1. White vinegar: Add a cup of white vinegar to your washing machine with your regular (hopefully natural) detergent and wash the clothes on a cold water setting. The acetic acid in the vinegar is a natural deodorizer and will help to neutralize bad smells. You can also add a small bowl of white vinegar to your dryer along with your clothes to freshen them up even more. If you’re worried about the vinegar smell, don’t be! The smell will disappear once the clothes are dry.
  2. Baking soda: Add a cup of baking soda to your washing machine with your regular detergent and wash the clothes on a cold water setting. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer and will help to neutralize bad smells. It also works as a softener in case your thrift store clothes are a little crunchy. Avoid using fabric softeners and dryer sheets, as they can damage vintage fabrics.
  3. Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap: This is a handwash only method from “Going Green with Lisa Bronner,” “Add 1 capful (about 1 Tbsp. or 15 mL) Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap OR ½ capful (1/2 Tbsp. or 7.5 mL) Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds to about 1 gallon (4 L) cold water. Swish gently. Let soak 10 minutes. Swish again to release loosened grime. Rinse with clean water. To condition natural fibers like silk and wool, add 1 cup (240 mL) white vinegar to cold water. Swish garment and rinse once more. In a towel, gently press the excess water out of fabric. Lay stretchy or heavy fabrics flat, or hang lightweight fabrics to dry.”
  4. Essential oils: Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to a small bowl of water and then add the solution to your washing machine with your regular detergent. The essential oils will help to neutralize bad smells and leave your clothes smelling fresh and clean. Lemon and pine are good choices for neutralizing odors.

Other Methods for Removing Clothing Odors

  1. Activated charcoal: Place a small amount of activated charcoal in a sealed plastic bag and place it in the same room as the smelly item for a few days. The activated charcoal will absorb the odor molecules and leave the item smelling fresh and clean.
  2. Fabric sprays or deodorizers: specifically made for clothes.
  3. Leather conditioner: A leather conditioner (or even Murphy’s Oil soap if you are feeling risky!) can help remove leather odors and bring the piece back to life.
  4. Sun-bathing: After washing, try airing out in the sun (NOT in the dryer). Keep the item in direct sunlight or in an open window for 30 minutes to 24 hours (until FULLY dry). This allows fresh air to circulate and carry away any lingering scent of things. The UV rays from the sun actually kill the bacteria in the clothes causing the smells!
  5. Dry Cleaner: Ask the cleaner to use special solvents specifically made to remove bad odors from clothes. I don’t love recommending this, as dry cleaning solvents are horrible for the environment and your health, but they work!
  6. The final (and best) method: You have to wear it once! There’s only one answer: You have to wear it. I know, I know! That’s not the response you hoped to find. I have purchased and washed many thrift store clothes, and wearing it once is my tried-and-true method to get rid of thrift store smell.

Methods for How to Get Rid of Thrift Store Smell in Furniture

Removing smells in furniture is similar to clothing, except you can’t use the washing machine (darn it!). Note, the methods below are for normal furniture. I am not an expert in antique and rare furniture, so find a specialist for those needs!

  • Vacuum and Spot Clean: Don’t underestimate what a good deep vacuum can do! After that, spot-clean any stains with a solution with a 1:1 ratio of vinegar and water and allow to air dry.
  • Upholstery/Carpet Cleaner: If the piece is not rare or vintage, you can use a handheld carpet or upholstery cleaner. I just use vinegar and water in mine, sometimes with a small amount of essential oils. Allow to air dry for 24 hours.
  • Sun Bathing: Try placing it in a well-ventilated area with good airflow and direct sunlight. This will help to dissipate any bad odors that may be lingering.
  • Homemade deodorizer: Spray the furniture with this DIY All-Natural Homemade Febreze from Our Oily House. Use both before and after sunbathing for maximum odor removal efforts.

washing wicker basket in sink

Methods for How to Get Rid of Thrift Store Smell in Other Household Items

From wicker baskets to picture frames to art pieces, the thrift store is a vintage gold mine. Unfortunately, even these items can harbor smells.

  • Washing in Sink: If your item has hard surfaces, simply wash it in the sink with your normal dish soap! Yes, even wicker! You just have to make sure to let it fully air dry.
  • Let it Soak: If the item is particularly smelly, you might want to let it soak. Use lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, or Dr. Bronner’s castile soap in a tub of water or plugged sink. Let the item soak for at least 30 minutes, rinse and air dry completely.
  • Power Washing: You can power wash used rugs and any other types of hardy fabrics you find! Don’t underestimate the power of water! You can spray the item first with a vinegar and water solution for extra cleaning power.
  • Charcoal or Kitty Litter: For tough odors like cigarette smoke or car exhaust, a great way to get rid of them is to use activated charcoal or kitty litter. You can place these in a sealed plastic bag or container and leave them near the smelly item overnight. The charcoal or kitty litter will help to absorb the odor molecules and leave your item smelling fresh.
  • Sun-Bathing: Not to sound like a broken record, but the sun is powerful! Set the item in the sun for 24 hours to utilize the cleansing properties of the UV rays.


According to this article from the New York Times, “The source of the remaining compounds that made up that vintage smell were environmental contaminants like car exhaust, gasoline, dry cleaning solvents, food and perfume or, as the team at P & G put it, “the odor molecule peaks form a record of the odors” that the garments were exposed to over its life.”

While this might gross you out, I kind of think that it is just another cool part of the history of each piece (but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to get rid of it!).

If your clothes just have a normal amount of musty thrift store smell, it’s probably not dangerous. It’s just the smell of people! But if it is heavily scented in chemicals or cigarette smoke, then you can absorb that through your skin when wearing the clothes or using the item. I personally don’t even want traditional laundry detergents near me.

The methods below won’t just mask the thrift store scent, they will kill the underlaying causes of the nasty stuff!

Thrift Store Smell Deal Breakers: If the item has a strong body odor smell, lingering perfume smell, or heavy cigarette smell, it is probably best to pass it up. These smells can be difficult to remove and may not be worth the hassle. However, if it is a particularly great piece or killer deal, try these methods anyways! Saving old clothing can help drastically reduce the waste of the fast fashion industry.

Recap of Getting Rid of Thrift Store Smells

If you can’t tell, sun-bathing is the go-to method for pretty much every thrift store item. Just be careful if you have art or a dark item that could be bleached or faded in the sun.

As I mentioned, wearing clothes is the MOST effective way to dissipate smells. The same goes for using your items! Integrate them into your home (after using the above methods) and the smell should lessen over time.

Happy thrift shopping, friends!

I would LOVE for you to try out the methods discussed and share your own tips and tricks for getting rid of thrift store smell. Please tell me your secrets in the comments below or DM me on Instagram so we can share them with The Homestead Challenge community!

Pin it for Later!

rack of clothes at thrift store

About the Author:

I’m Brittany, totally modern and mainstream turned crunchy mama!

Read more here about how I went from a totally incompetent cook and hyper-consumer to striving to live a more meaningful life from scratch.

I can’t wait to share my modern homesteading journey with you and I hope I inspire you to join along!

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  1. Great post! I have one more related method for getting out smells. I like to use wool dryer balls in my dryer and I’ll often add some of my favorite essential oils directly onto the wool dryer balls to give them an extra scent! (Rather than using chemicals from scented dryer sheets.)

  2. This is great! I was literally just having a conversation with 2 friends about thrifting next week! Thank you for this really well outlined blog. I signed up for your feed. Thanks again and best of luck.

  3. Some useful suggestions which I’m going to try. I’m just puzzled why the instructions that come with the Dr. Bronner’s method say to soap to remove grime. There’s no grime on thrift store clothing. It’s all pre-washed.

    1. All thrift stores are different! Some may not be pre-washed. I also don’t like regular detergent so the Dr. Bronners would remove some of that as well, especially any kind that leaves a bit of a residue 🙂

    2. As someone who has volunteered at a thrift store, it is definitely not all pre-washed. Most don’t have the time to do that, and it’s up to those who donate to wash before donating. Many don’t.

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