13 Things that Can De-Stink Your Clothes—No Washing Required

Updated: May 10, 2023

We've all been there, but here's how you can save your smelly shirt before your dinner plans.

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Dryer sheets

“The quickest and easiest way to get the musty smell out of clothes is to layer some dryer sheets in between them when folding,” says Matthew Simko, men’s style expert from Boston. This not only works as a preemptive measure, but also works to get that ‘suitcase in the attic’ smell out of your clothes when traveling.” If you’re pressed for time, rub a dryer sheet on the garment before wearing. Find out more genius uses for dryer sheets.

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Stack of newspapers on table


What soaks up odor better than paper? Simko says to take the previous day’s newspaper and ball it up in the sleeves, underarms or legs of your clothing and leave overnight (or at least four hours). “The porous paper will eat up most, if not all, the odor,” he says. This trick also works for smelly shoes.

Apple cider vinegar can also do good for your shoes by snuffing out foot fungus.

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Jordi Prat Puig/Shutterstock

Steam it

You know the old “hang-it-while-you-shower” trick for getting wrinkles out of your clothes? It works for odors too. “The steam causes the fibers in the garment to relax, essentially releasing the odor from the threads,” Simko says. “Hot shower plus clean clothes equals a happy you,” he says.

Is it better to steam or iron your clothes?

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Cat litter
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Kitty litter

It does the trick for the litter box, so why not your closet? “When the seasons change and we’re swapping clothes out of the closet, they can often smell musty,” Simko says. Keep an open bag of kitty litter in the closet to deodorize and remove the moisture from the space. Another tip is to put your clothing item directly inside of a clean container or Ziploc bag with kitty litter inside. Just shake out or brush off and wear.

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drying colorful clothes outside
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Fresh air and sunlight

Nothing gets a foul odor out of clothing quite like fresh air. Even if you don’t have a backyard clothesline, you can hang your item in front of an open window for an hour or so. “The air moving through the clothing along with the sunlight are the perfect natural cleaners,” says Leslie Reichert, The Cleaning Coach. “Sunlight can kill bacteria because of the ultraviolet rays. Hanging your clothes outside on a nice sunny day with a gentle breeze is the easiest way to remove the bacteria that’s making them smell.”

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Ground coffee in a metal spoon on a top of glass jar, shallow depth of field

Unused coffee grounds

Similar to the kitty litter method, coffee grounds will soak up environmental odors. Fill a bowl with fresh unused coffee grounds and fold your shirt or item on top and let it sit overnight. In the morning your item will be fresh. Just be careful not to get any of the grounds on your shirt, because they can stain.

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POZNAN, POLAND - MAY 31, 2017: Vodka is the world's largest internationally traded spirit with the estimated sale of about 500 million nine-liter cases a year.; Shutterstock ID 653237011


Nothing is better than straight, cheap vodka in a spray bottle to remove smells. “When the alcohol in the vodka evaporates it takes the smells with it,” Reichert says. She attributes this tip to Broadway. “Actors are sweating all night in their costumes and they can’t get them dry cleaned every night so they just spray them with vodka.”

Here are all the other things you can clean with vodka.

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baking soda on wooden table

Baking soda

Just like it absorbs smells in your fridge or freezer, baking soda removes smells in clothing as well. “The baking soda acts like small sponges that absorb body oils and smells and leaves clothes smelling fresh,” Reichert says. Sprinkle the baking soda over the smelly areas, let it sit as long as you can and then shake off the powder.

Check out these 50 clever ways to clean with baking soda.

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freezer with assorted frozen foods
Taste of Home


The cold temperature kills bacteria that can cause stinky clothing. “You can place your clothing in a plastic bag and set it in the freezer,” Reichert says. This technique is great for jeans, which shouldn’t be washed after every wearing.

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Old style laundry room with modern appliances and wicker baskets


Just like you can freeze your clothes to kill germs and bacteria that cause smells, you can do the same by using heat. Reichert says to place your already dry clothing in the dryer and turn the temperature to the hottest setting. They only need to stay in the dryer for 10 to 15 minutes to kill allergens, bacteria and smells.

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Using a spray bottle
Vladimir Miloserdov/Shutterstock

Deodorizing spray

Try a fabric refresher spray like Febreze to neutralize odors to leave clothes smelling fresh. You can also try a DIY version: Add 16 ounces of witch hazel to 10 to14 drops of your favorite essential oil, suggests Reichert. Just shake before using and spray your clothing for a gentle scent that will cover up the smell. Swiff spray, a chemical-free odor protector, is another great option.

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Jessica Tremaine/Shutterstock


A lot of odor removers use charcoal in their systems because odors actually bind with the charcoal and are removed from the air. Place some charcoal briquettes in the bottom of a paper bag and add the clothing on top, then close tightly and let it sit overnight. You can also place briquettes in shoes and boots to get rid of foot odors.

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white vinegar for pest control
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Distilled white vinegar

Are your clothes smelly in a particular spot and you need a quick fix? Reichert says to use distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle mixed with 10 drops of your favorite essential oil for a great spot fix. “Shake the spray bottle to mix up the oils throughout the vinegar and spray on any spots that smell. The vinegar will work to kill 98 percent of the bacteria and the essential oil will work to cover up the vinegar smell,” she says. You can also spray the entire piece of clothing if needed.

Here’s when and where to use every different type of vinegar.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest