How to Get Rid of the Smell in Vintage Clothes

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Vintage clothes can be classy keepsakes but, if they have been stored improperly (or even simply stored for a long time) they will have an odor. Sometimes the odor is of moth ball chemicals, which can be very unpleasant. Other times the odor is simply a musty smell that can only be described as "old." Whatever the cause or nature of the smell, you can usually get rid of it, although the process may take a day or so if the odor is very strong.

Things You'll Need

  • Baking soda
  • Detergent
  • Hanger
  • Clothesline or rope
  • Plastic tub with a lid
  • Activated charcoal
  • Dryer sheets or fabric deodorizing spray
  • Wash the clothes by hand or in a washing machine on a gentle cycle, if at all possible. This should be okay if they are not wool, silk or other dry-clean only fabrics and they are not too old and fragile. Add one cup of baking soda to the wash water, along with the regular detergent. Rinse the clothes well.

  • Hang the clothes outdoors. This is especially beneficial if the clothes had been stored with moth balls and smell of moth ball chemicals--the fumes can be overwhelming (and are not good for you). Let them hang until they are dry (if you were able to wash them first) or until the smell has dissipated.

  • Place a cloth bag full of activated charcoal in a plastic tub. Put the clothing into the tub with the charcoal and close the lid. Keep the clothing and charcoal in the container at least overnight. Activated charcoal is a very good deodorizer with a high degree of safety.

  • Rub the clothing gently with a scented dryer sheet, or spray with a fabric deodorizer (you can often find these deodorizers in the laundry supplies aisle at supermarkets).

Tips & Warnings

  • Activated charcoal is used medicinally for victims of poisoning. However, it is also a very good deodorizer--you can usually find the deodorizing form (not for ingestion) at home improvement stores in the deodorizer section.
  • If the vintage clothing looks very fragile or is made of delicate material, skip washing it with water entirely and simply hang to air out and then store with the charcoal to deodorize.

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