You probably know from my blog that I buy a lot of clothing at thrift stores and yard sales. It's pretty rare that I get something that has an actual body odor or cigarette smell to it, but almost everything seems to come with a harsh detergent smell. I'm super allergic to scented laundry products, so that means I need to get that scent out before I can wear my new clothes. You'd think it would be easy - just toss in the wash with some unscented detergent, right? Wrong. I've found that I can wash clothes with lingering smells half a dozen times and still sneeze when I get near them. Super frustrating! I did some pretty thorough internet research and tried a whole bunch of different methods that promised to get rid of smells, including adding vinegar or baking soda to my wash cycle. No luck. Finally, after about a year of laundry experiment woes I found something that works, so I thought I'd share it for anyone else who might be having the same problem.
It turns out that the magical combination involves two of my favorite things:
Vodka and Sunlight
All you really need is a spray bottle, a bit of vodka, some water and some sun. I tend to use flavored vodka because it's what I have on hand but I'm pretty sure that unflavored would work just as well. I use this little travel sized 2 oz spray bottle that I picked up in the travel sized toiletries aisle for about a dollar. The only negative thing about it is that if I'm doing a lot of items at once, my poor finger starts to hurt from hitting that pump so many times. Pretty much any kind of spray bottle will work, though, as long as you can set it to spray a fine mist. (I'm assuming that you can work out where to find water and sunshine on your own.)
In this lovely little bottle, you're going to mix approximately one part vodka with ten parts water and then give it a little shake to make sure everything is mixed nicely. (Resist the urge to taste test it.) I'm not an expert bartender so I often end up with a ratio that's more like one part vodka to five parts water, and that works, too. You can measure if you want to get all fancy but really, just aim for being close.
You'll want to spray down your item of clothing pretty thoroughly, but not to the point where it's actually what you'd consider wet. You just want a nice mist covering the whole thing. On average, I've found that one full bottle gets me through about 10 shirts.
If you don't happen to be the sort of person who keeps a bottle of vodka around (gasp!), don't worry - it's pretty easy to find little airplane sized bottles at liquor or convenience stores for around $1 and since you use so little, one of those should get you through around 100 items of clothing.
Once you've got your clothing sprayed with the vodka-water mixture, it's time to hang it out in the sun. I don't totally understand the science behind it, but rays of sunshine have great deodorizing properties. (Plus, it will help to evaporate the alcohol you just sprayed on so that you don't walk around smelling like a cocktail.) If you live somewhere that doesn't get a lot of sun, just hanging the item outside for fresh air will still help a lot. This step can be tricky if you live in an apartment that doesn't have a balcony. Hanging the item in front of a sunny window still works decently, especially if the window opens, but you're probably much better off bribing a friend who has a house with a yard (and maybe a clothesline!) to let you bring your stuff over.
I've yet to determine an exact science to how long you need to leave the clothes out in the sun. (I'll be honest, I tend to forget about them until it gets dark.) Aim for at least 3-4 hours if possible. Afterwards, just toss the items in with your regular laundry, and they should emerge free from lingering smells! (You may have to repeat the process for really serious offenders, but this is pretty rare.)
Now this probably goes without saying, but you should probably avoid using this method on any kind of delicate fabric that's easily damaged unless you're willing to take the risk of hurting it. I've yet to stumble across anything that can't handle a little spray down with vodka and water (especially since you're barely dampening it) but I wanted to at least throw in a "Hey, don't blame me if this doesn't end well" note here.
That's it! The secret to fresher smelling second hand clothes without a lot of cost or effort. If you have any other tried and true methods that you love, I'd love to hear them!