One element that’s often left out of the sustainable fashion conversation is the caring for our clothes part.
Turns out, washing and drying our garments can have a massive impact on energy and water use. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that that washing and drying clothing accounts for 120 million tons of CO2 annually.
Plus, washing and drying our clothes less means they’ll last longer.
And according to WRAP, extending the life of a garment by an extra 9 months reduces its carbon, water, and waste footprints by about 20-30% each.
Okay so maybe you’re convinced that you’re going to wash and dry your clothing less. ‘But what about smelly clothes?’ you might ask!
Well, my friend, there are lots of ways to get smells out without sticking your garment in the washer.
Here are six strategies for getting rid of odors so that you can extend the amount of time in between washes. Of course, you’ll eventually have to wash a garment, but these tips will help you wash less often![For more tips, check out my post + podcast episode on sustainable clothing care!]
1. Leave them hanging
The easiest way to address faint smells is to hang your clothes outside of your closet right after you’ve worn them to air them out. I typically air out my clothes and shoes for a day before hanging them up back inside my closet. Often, faint smells will fade out within a day, though stronger smells may take a few days to air out.
Even better: hang your clothes outside in fresh air — the sunlight and a light breeze can help remove odors. Just be careful though not to hang your colorful garment in direct sunlight too long to avoid color-fading.
2. Spray with vodka
If the smell persists after a few days or it’s an extra-strong odor, spraying the garment with straight clear vodka works surprisingly well.
All you have to do is fill a spray bottle with plain unflavored vodka (you might want to label it so you don’t accidentally use this bottle for something else and get a bad surprise later!) and spray your garment.
This has been a not-so-secret hack the performance world has used to get smells out of costumes that can’t be washed or don’t have time to be washed between shows.
I’ve personally used it to remove some pretty strong odors out (or at least mostly out) of ballet costumes.
I’m talking dancing-for-two-hours-under-hot-lights-sweat-level smells everyone!
In my personal experience, this strategy is usually most effective when used in specific areas (like the underarms).
Though, as I mentioned, I’ve also used it to spray entire costumes.
I will just turn my garment inside out, and spray the vodka directly in the underarm area. I’ll then hang dry it inside-out for a day or so.
Finally, a use for that cheap vodka in your pantry! 😉
3. Spray with white vinegar
Don’t feel comfortable spraying vodka or don’t have any in your pantry? No worries!
You could also spray your garment using a bottle of half white vinegar and half water.
To ensure vinegar won’t impact the fabric, you can turn your garment inside out and spray a small inconspicuous spot to test it out. Once it’s good to go, spray your garment!
If you don’t want any faint vinegary smell, you could drop in a few drops of essential oil to the mix. (Again, test any mixture on the inside of your garment before spraying the outside!)
Similar to the vodka approach, air out the garment inside-out for a day or so before putting it back into your closet or re-wearing it.
4. Spray with lemon juice
No vodka or white vinegar in the house?
Try mixing a tablespoon of lemon juice per cup of water in a spray bottle and spray your garments!
Similar to the approaches above, if the smell is just coming from ONE area (like the underarms) of your garment, try to just spray that part.
And if the smell is coming mostly from the underarms, it’s best to spray the inside of the garment since that’s where the source of the garment is.
If you are spraying the outside of the piece, make sure to test your mixture on the inside of your garment first to ensure it won’t cause any discoloration on the outside of your garment.
5. Steam your garments
You knew a steamer could get rid of wrinkles and make your garment look fresh, but it turns out it can also make your clothing smell fresh, too!
The high heat from the steamed water kills odor-causing bacteria.
No steamer? No problem. Hanging wrinkly garments in your bathroom during a hot shower is an often shared hack that can sometimes do the trick — though, admittedly, usually doesn’t work as well as a steamer.
Note: Certain delicates like suede cannot be steamed and for garments with delicate embellishments, it’s highly recommended to turn them inside out before steaming.
6. Freeze ’em up!
This method takes longer and doesn’t work quite as well as a steamer or some of the other approaches in my experience, but if you don’t have a steamer, try putting a garment, like your denim, in the freezer!
I like to put mine in a bag before putting them in the freezer (perhaps that’s why it doesn’t work as well for me, though.)
Just be sure to remove them in enough time before you plan to wear again — since they will be cold and stiff from their time in the freezing temperature.
You can still wash your clothes while minimizing your costs and impact by:
1) Washing using the cold/cool setting on your washing machine OR hand-washing
3) Skipping the machine dryer and air-drying or hang-drying instead
Hope these tips were useful and can help you save time, money, and your clothes — not to mention resources!