Upcycled clothing: read sustainable fashion, second hand rose, re-used, or ‘thrifted’ clothes – are you a fan? I am, and one of the main reasons for that is my health. (Another reason is this.) Usually upcycled clothes have ‘broken’ the dyes, pesticides and other chemicals used in the manufacturing process. But when the garment has odours from the previous owner, the gain isn’t huge.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m talking about ‘clean’ smells. Sometimes there is perfume on the garment, but often that scent is coming from laundry detergent and fabric softener. They can be difficult to remove even after multiple washing in fragrance-free laundry products.
Ways of getting rid of fragrance residue in upcycled clothing
Depending on the fiber content and how scent-saturated your upcycled clothing is, you may have to try a few of the following suggestions on your upcycled treasures. Keep in mind that if you are dealing with a delicate fabric, none of these options may be suitable and I’d take it to a specialist cleaner. I would also ‘escalate’ as needed, i.e. if sun and fresh air didn’t work, I’d try the soaks.
The scent of clothing hung outside to dry is wonderful, and it can remove odours! The first thing I always try is hanging the garment outside. About as low tech as you can get, UV rays break down the chemicals that coat the fibers. This also works on new clothes that have a strong dye scent. There is a possibility that there may be some sun fading so it is a judgment call.
Soak the garment in vinegar overnight, (or use a mixture of vinegar and borax). Rinse and dry, repeat if needed.
*In a sealed container add charcoal briquettes (plain – not ‘easy-start’ which contain lighter fluid!) and the contents of a box of baking soda. Add the clothing and let it sit for at least a week.
Wash with an additive
*Use a peroxide based laundry detergent to oxidize fragrance residues in the fabric. Or, some people recommend adding about a cup of vinegar in the washing machine along with your regular detergent. However, it appears that vinegar causes rubber hoses in the washing machine to wear out more quickly so I just thought I’d mention this warning.
* I have not tried these so I can’t say how well it works but I really like the dry baking soda and charcoal idea.
* Some people recommend a baking soda soak (I have used about a 1/2 cup baking soda in my washing water) but it could ruin the fabric. Baking soda doesn’t fully dissolve, which you know if you’ve ever cleaned your sink with baking soda paste – and it is abrasive.
The way I see it, perfume-stinky upcycled clothing is unwearable for me. If I ruin it getting the scent out, so be it: it is usually a low investment I am talking about.
But if your upcycle find is something precious or delicate, it might be a good idea to contact a company that removes odours professionally. There is a time for DIY and a time for calling in the experts!