Thrifting Tips

Let’s Talk About That Smell (You Know the One)

There’s nothing like finding the perfect thrifted dress. It’s dainty with a string of pearl buttons down the front. It’s floral. Preferably, it has deep pockets to store treasures like a smooth rock from a child, or a tiny bouquet you pulled over to pick from the roadside on your way home.

You bring it back to your house, slip it on and pray that the funky scent wafting from it earlier at the store is gone. You even rolled down the windows on the way home to air it out! It should surely be fresh as new by now, right?


Unfortunately, even after multiple washings with regular detergent, your pre-loved wares can cling to that musty thrift store smell like you wouldn’t believe. The worst part? After years of what I would consider “professional thrifting” I started to become numb to it! You know those air freshener commercials where someone goes “nose blind” to a particularly irritating scent? That was me, until I started giving each and every thrifted item the “sniff test” before putting it on.

So what gives?

Well, that scent’s there because the clothing has likely sat for a while among other items of clothing without being washed. As it does, it takes on the various odors, as well as the odors of the building itself, and those elements combine to give us the lovely “thrift store funk” we can wait to wash off.

Before you throw that pair of perfectly distressed vintage jeans in the wash alongside your normal load, then toss it in the dryer with everything else, know that doing so will likely leave you a little frustrated. Heat from the dryer can exacerbate the smell, and normal detergent usually isn’t enough to cut through the years of stink.

Here are a few alternative methods to try before you shell out hard-earned dollars for dry cleaning:

1. Try distilled white vinegar on the thrift store smell. Is there anything this household superpower can’t do? It’s a natural disinfectant that can work wonders throughout your home, but it’s especially great at getting rid of unwanted odors. Of course, you don’t want to submerge your clothes right into the vinegar, as you’ll end up with another scent you can’t shake. If you have one lying around, find a bowl and fill it about halfway up with the vinegar. Hang your item in a garment bag over the bowl of vinegar, preferably in an airtight space.

Wait about a day or two, and the vinegar should absorb the smell.

In a pinch for time? Fill a spray bottle with vinegar and spray all over the clothing, paying particular attention to smell-grabbing spots like the armpits and collar. Then, open a window for Pete’s sake and air that bad boy out! As it evaporates, the vinegar will help the smell dissolve along with it.

2. Kitty litter. Nope, not a typo. A key ingredient in kitty litter is activated charcoal, known for its odor-absorbing abilities. Especially if you have an item that you don’t want to get wet (think ornately beaded heels), kitty litter’s your best friend. Put your item in a container or bag, throw in a scoop or two of the litter, and seal it airtight. The scent should be gone within 24 hours, though you can leave it like that for around a week.

Side note: If you can get your hands on some actual activated charcoal, that works even better! Look for it in the fish supply aisle. It usually comes loose, though you can also buy it online in a big block form. As an alternative to both litter and charcoal, you can also put a few scoops of baking soda in the bag along with your garment.

3. Vodka. This is a fun one, and it totally works. Just like you would do with the vinegar, fill a spray bottle with vodka and spritz away! Go for the bottom shelf stuff here, as the more expensive bottles don’t clean any better. No judging if a spritz or two makes it into your glass:)

So there you have it! These three methods are super simple and use items you probably already have lying around. Do you have any tips or tricks to suggest to get rid of that thrift store smell? I’d love to learn them and give them a try!