Old clothes often carry a musty smell, especially if they’ve been stored away for a long time. This smell can be quite unpleasant and may deter you from wearing those garments. Fortunately, there are effective ways to remove the musty smell from old clothes, making them fresh and wearable again. Let’s explore the reasons behind the musty odor and the steps you can take to eliminate it.


Understanding the Musty Smell in Old Clothes

Old clothes can develop a musty smell for several reasons:

  1. Moisture:Clothes stored in damp or humid conditions can absorb moisture, leading to mildew and a musty odor.
  2. Lack of Air Circulation:When clothes are stored in airtight containers or tightly packed spaces, there is no air circulation, which can cause a musty smell.
  3. Prolonged Storage:Clothes that have been stored for a long time without being washed or aired out can develop a stale odor.

Powerful Steps to Eliminate Musty Smell from Old Clothes

Here are some simple and effective steps to remove the musty smell from your old clothes:

1. Air Them Out

The first step to remove the musty smell from old clothes is to air them out. Fresh air and sunlight can do wonders in eliminating odors.

  • Hang Outside:Hang your old clothes outside on a clothesline or a drying rack. The fresh air and sunlight will help kill bacteria and mold that cause the musty smell.
  • Open Windows:If you don’t have outdoor space, hang the clothes near an open window or in a well-ventilated room to air them out.

2. Wash with Vinegar

Vinegar is a natural deodorizer and disinfectant. Adding vinegar to your wash can help remove musty odors from old clothes.

  • Use White Vinegar:Add one cup of white vinegar to your washing machine during the rinse cycle. This helps neutralize odors and soften the fabric.
  • Soak in Vinegar Solution:For extra smelly clothes, soak them in a mixture of one part white vinegar to four parts water for about 30 minutes before washing.

3. Baking Soda Boost

Baking soda is another powerful odor eliminator that can help remove the musty smell from old clothes.

  • Add to Wash:Sprinkle half a cup of baking soda directly into the washing machine drum before adding your clothes. It will help neutralize odors during the wash cycle.
  • Pre-Soak:For stubborn smells, dissolve half a cup of baking soda in warm water and soak your old clothes for an hour before washing.

4. Use Essential Oils

Essential oils not only add a pleasant scent to your clothes but also have natural antibacterial properties.

  • Lavender Oil:Add a few drops of lavender oil to your washing machine or the rinse cycle. Lavender is known for its refreshing and antibacterial properties.
  • Tea Tree Oil:Tea tree oil is another great option. A few drops in the rinse cycle can help eliminate musty odors and disinfect your clothes.

5. Borax Solution

Borax is a natural mineral that works as a cleaning agent and deodorizer.

  • Add to Wash:Add half a cup of borax to your washing machine along with your regular detergent. It helps remove stubborn odors from old clothes.
  • Pre-Soak:Dissolve half a cup of borax in warm water and soak your clothes for an hour before washing them.

6. Dry Properly

Proper drying is crucial to ensure that the musty smell does not return.

  • Air Dry:If possible, air dry your clothes outside in the sun. The sunlight helps kill any remaining bacteria and leaves your clothes smelling fresh.
  • Indoor Drying:If you need to dry indoors, use a well-ventilated space and a drying rack. Avoid drying in damp or closed spaces.

7. Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is excellent at absorbing odors.

  • Charcoal Bags:Place activated charcoal bags or pouches in your storage areas to keep old clothes smelling fresh. They help absorb moisture and odors.
  • Charcoal Sachets:You can also make small sachets of activated charcoal and place them in drawers or closets where your old clothes are stored.

Preventing Musty Smells in Old Clothes

Once you’ve removed the musty smell from your old clothes, you’ll want to prevent it from returning. Here are some tips to keep your clothes smelling fresh:

1. Store Clothes Properly

Proper storage is key to preventing musty smells.

  • Cool, Dry Place:Store your old clothes in a cool, dry place to prevent moisture buildup.
  • Breathable Containers:Use breathable garment bags or cotton storage bins instead of plastic containers. This allows air to circulate and prevents moisture from getting trapped.

2. Use Dehumidifiers

Dehumidifiers can help control the humidity levels in your storage spaces.

  • Small Spaces:For closets and small storage areas, use small dehumidifiers or moisture-absorbing packets to keep the air dry.
  • Larger Areas:In larger spaces like basements, a full-sized dehumidifier can help maintain a dry environment and prevent musty smells.

3. Regular Cleaning

Keeping your storage areas clean can prevent the buildup of dust and mold.

  • Vacuum Regularly:Regularly vacuum storage areas to remove dust and dirt that can contribute to musty smells.
  • Wipe Down Shelves:Use a mild cleaning solution to wipe down shelves and surfaces where old clothes are stored.

4. Rotate Clothes

If you have old clothes stored for different seasons, rotate them regularly.

  • Airing Out:Take out stored clothes periodically to air them out and inspect for any signs of mildew or mold.
  • Fresh Wash:Give stored clothes a fresh wash every few months to keep them smelling clean.

Natural Remedies for Odor Removal

In addition to the methods mentioned above, there are several natural remedies that can help remove musty smells from old clothes.

1. Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is a natural deodorizer with a pleasant citrus scent.

  • Lemon Soak:Mix the juice of one lemon with a gallon of water and soak your old clothes for about an hour before washing. The lemon juice helps neutralize odors and adds a fresh scent.

2. Vodka Spray

Vodka is effective at killing bacteria and removing odors.

  • Spray Solution:Fill a spray bottle with vodka and lightly mist your old clothes. Let them air dry. The vodka will evaporate, taking the musty smell with it.

3. Coffee Grounds

Coffee grounds are great at absorbing odors.

  • Coffee Sachets:Place dry coffee grounds in breathable sachets and tuck them into drawers or storage bins with your old clothes. The coffee grounds will absorb any lingering odors.

Refreshing Old Clothes Without Washing

Sometimes you might want to refresh your old clothes without going through a full wash. Here are some quick tips to do just that:

1. Fabric Freshener Spray

A fabric freshener spray can help neutralize odors quickly.

  • Commercial Sprays:Use a commercial fabric freshener spray to lightly mist your clothes. These sprays are designed to neutralize odors and leave a fresh scent.
  • DIY Spray:Make your own spray by mixing equal parts water and vinegar with a few drops of essential oil. Spray lightly and let air dry.

2. Freezing Method

Freezing can kill bacteria that cause odors.

  • Freezer Bag:Place your old clothes in a sealed plastic bag and put them in the freezer overnight. The cold temperature will kill odor-causing bacteria.

3. Steam Refresh

A garment steamer can help remove odors and freshen up your clothes.

  • Steam Clean:Use a garment steamer to steam your old clothes. The steam helps eliminate odors and wrinkles, leaving your clothes looking and smelling fresh.


Removing the musty smell from old clothes doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With the right techniques and a bit of effort, you can restore your old clothes to their former glory and keep them smelling fresh. Whether you’re airing them out, using natural remedies, or employing proper storage methods, these steps will ensure your old clothes remain wearable and pleasant. By taking the time to care for your old clothes, you can continue to enjoy their comfort and style for many years to come.




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