woman smells laundry surrounded with laundry products or chemicals

How To Get a Chemical Smell Out of Clothes

Whether it’s the residue of detergents, the lingering scent of a brand-new purchase, or products you’ve been using at work, chemical odours can be both bothersome and persistent.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the steps to restore your clothing to its pristine, odour-free state.

Not only will you ensure a more pleasant wearing experience but also you extend the life of your cherished garments.


Understanding Chemical Smells in Clothes

Understanding the sources and nature of chemical smells in your clothing is the first step in effectively eliminating them. Here are some common causes of chemical smells in clothes.

New clothing items

new clothes

New clothes often come with a distinct chemical smell due to the manufacturing and packaging processes.

The scent can be attributed to dyes, sizing agents, and chemicals used in shipping and storage.


Chemical cleaning agents

laundry detergent powder and fabric softener

The type of laundry detergent and fabric softener you use in your laundry can also contribute to chemical odours.

Some detergents contain fragrances or chemicals that may leave a residue on your clothes, resulting in lingering smells.


Environmental exposure

garage or workshop with working clothes and chemicals

Clothes can absorb odours from their surroundings. If your clothes have been stored in an area with strong chemical scents, such as a garage with paint cans or a room with strong cleaning agents, they may pick up these odours over time.


Why Is It Important to Remove Chemical Smells?

Prolonged exposure to chemical odours can deteriorate the quality of your clothing. Fabrics may lose their vibrancy and softness, or even become damaged over time.

Residues from detergents or other chemicals can lead to skin irritation and discomfort, particularly for individuals with sensitive skin.

Wearing clothes that emit chemical smells can be uncomfortable and affect your overall confidence and well-being.

By understanding the sources and consequences of chemical odours in your clothing, you’ll be better equipped to address the issue effectively.


Preparations Before We Begin

Before diving into the process of eliminating chemical smells from your clothes, a few preparatory steps will set the stage for success.

These initial actions ensure that you’re working with the right clothing items and the optimal conditions for a successful odour removal process.

1. Sort your laundry

laundry sorting basket

Start by sorting your laundry. Group similar items together based on factors like colour, fabric type, and the level of odour present.

Sorting your laundry allows you to tailor your cleaning approach to suit the specific needs of each group of garments.


2. Check care labels

reading care labels on clothes before wash

Every piece of clothing comes with a care label that provides instructions on how to wash and care for the item.

Take a moment to read these labels, as they offer valuable guidance on the appropriate washing methods, water temperature, and any specific care requirements.

Following care label instructions ensures that you don’t inadvertently damage your clothes during the odour removal process.


3. Ventilation and fresh air

open window with air blowing curtains

Before starting the cleaning process, ensure that your laundry area is well-ventilated. Proper ventilation helps disperse chemical odours, improving the overall effectiveness of your efforts.

If possible, open windows and doors to allow fresh air to circulate. Or hang your garments up to dry outside, if the weather permits it.


How to Wash Clothes That Smell of Chemicals

Step 1: Pre-wash inspection

woman checking laundry after wash

Before you toss your clothes into the washing machine, conduct a brief pre-wash inspection to determine the level of odour and identify any potential trouble spots.

  • Sniff test: Smell each item of clothing to pinpoint the source and intensity of the chemical odour. Pay special attention to areas that might have absorbed more odour, such as collars, cuffs, and underarms.
  • Visual inspection: Check for visible stains or residues that could be contributing to the odour issue. Pre-treat these areas if necessary.


Step 2: Laundry detergent selection

eco-friendly fabric softeners

Use your usual laundry detergent for this step. We recommend a gentle laundry detergent, but it is not so important.

For a subtle, fresh scent, consider using a fabric softener during the rinse cycle. However, choose a mild, hypoallergenic option to avoid adding strong chemical fragrances that might counteract your odour removal efforts.


Step 3: Using the appropriate water temperature

hot or cold water for laundry

The water temperature you select can make a significant difference in removing chemical odours:

  • Cold water: Use cold water for delicate fabrics or clothes with vivid colours to prevent fading.
  • Warm water: Most everyday clothing can be washed effectively in warm water.
  • Hot water: Reserve hot water for items that can withstand it, as it can be particularly effective in removing odours.


Optional step: Additional laundry aids

white vinegar and baking soda for limescale removal

In addition to your chosen detergent, consider using some natural laundry aids to enhance the odour removal process:

Adding a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle can help neutralise odours and soften fabrics.

You can also add bicarbonate of soda for a cheap and effective option. Bicarbonate of soda is a natural deodoriser which works by absorbing any smells. A half-cup to a cup of bicarbonate of soda added to the wash cycle can aid in odour removal.


Step 4: Washing machine settings

Bulky setting on washing machine

Select the appropriate washing machine settings based on your clothing items. For heavily smelling clothes, consider using an extra rinse cycle to ensure all residues are thoroughly removed.


Drying and Hanging

Proper drying methods can make a substantial difference in ensuring your garments come out fresh and ready to wear.

You can either use a dryer, or simply hang your garment up to dry on the line.

Line drying

drying laundry on clothes line

Line drying outdoors allows your clothes to benefit from the natural freshness of the air. This can be particularly effective in removing odours.

If possible, choose a sunny spot for the line drying. The combination of fresh air and sunlight can further aid by acting as a natural disinfectant and can help eliminate remaining odours.

Line drying is an environmentally friendly option that reduces your reliance on energy-consuming appliances like tumble dryers.


Tumble drying

clothes in tumble dryer

If you prefer using a tumble dryer, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Low heat setting: Opt for a low heat setting to prevent potential damage to your clothes and to maintain their quality.
  • Dryer sheets: Use fragrance-free dryer sheets to add a subtle fresh scent.
  • Clean your dryer: Regularly clean the lint filter and the dryer’s interior to prevent any odours from transferring onto your clothes.

Whether you choose line drying with the natural freshness of the outdoors or the convenience of a tumble dryer, these tips will help you maintain the cleanliness and freshness of your garments.


Special Care for Delicate Fabrics

Certain fabrics require more delicate handling to preserve their integrity while eliminating chemical odours. Here are some considerations for special care:


Mulberry Silk

Silk is a delicate and luxurious fabric that demands gentle treatment. Here are some basic steps to remove chemical odours from silk garments. If you want a more detailed process, check out this article on washing silk.

  • Hand wash with a mild detergent in cold water.
  • Avoid wringing or twisting the fabric, as this can damage silk.
  • Rinse thoroughly and gently press the water out without twisting.
  • Lay the silk garment flat on a clean, absorbent towel and roll it up to remove excess water.
  • Hang the silk item on a padded hanger or lay it flat to dry, avoiding direct sunlight.



Wool jumpers

Wool can be susceptible to shrinking and distortion, making it essential to handle with care:

  • Use a wool-specific detergent or a mild one with no enzymes or bleach.
  • Gently agitate the water by hand without twisting or rubbing the fabric.
  • Rinse with cool water and avoid sudden temperature changes.
  • Gently press excess water out by rolling the wool garment in a clean towel.
  • Lay it flat on a dry towel or a breathable rack to air dry.



linen fabric

Linen is known for its breathability and comfort but can be prone to wrinkling:

  • Wash linen in cool to lukewarm water with a mild detergent.
  • Avoid excessive agitation and wringing.
  • Hang linen garments while they are still slightly damp to reduce wrinkling.
  • Iron linen on the reverse side while slightly damp for best results.

Remember that special care for delicate fabrics often involves avoiding aggressive washing methods, extreme temperatures, and harsh detergents.


Post-Washing Tips

Once you’ve completed the washing process, a few post-washing tips can help ensure your clothes are not only odour-free but also well-prepared for storage and future wear.

Inspect again after washing

woman checking clothes after laundry

Before folding or hanging your clothes, give them a final sniff test to ensure that the chemical odour has been successfully eliminated.

It’s easier to address any lingering smells at this stage rather than after storing them.


Add fragrance

white cloth with essential oils

To enhance the freshness of your clothes, consider adding a subtle fragrance. However, it’s important to choose a method that won’t reintroduce chemical odours.

Add a few drops of essential oils to an unscented fabric softener or a cloth sachet. Lavender, lemon, or eucalyptus oils are popular choices.

You can also use fragrance-free fabric fresheners to lightly scent your clothes without overpowering them with chemical fragrances.


Store clothes properly

maintain and clean the wardrobe

Proper storage is key to keeping your clothes fresh. Here’s a list of tips to store your clothes in the best manner possible.

  • Clean and dry: Make sure your clothes are completely dry before storing them. Dampness can lead to mould and odour issues.
  • Air-tight containers: Use air-tight storage containers or vacuum-seal bags to prevent environmental odours from affecting your clothes.
  • Cedar blocks: Cedar blocks or sachets can help deter moths and provide a natural, pleasant scent.
  • Hang properly: Use padded hangers to preserve the shape of your clothing, especially delicate items. Avoid overloading your closet, which can lead to compression and odour absorption.
  • Breathable storage: Store clothes in breathable fabric garment bags or cotton storage containers. Avoid plastic bags, as they can trap moisture and odours.
  • Air regularly: Periodically remove clothes from your closet, shake them out, and allow them to air in a well-ventilated area to prevent mustiness.


Reduce exposure to chemicals

Always follow the care instructions on your clothing labels to avoid using harsh chemicals or high heat that may lead to odours or damage.

Use mild, fragrance-free detergents to minimise the risk of chemical odour transfer onto your clothes.

Opt for natural cleaning products that have fewer synthetic chemicals, both for your clothing and in your laundry area. This is also important if being green and environmentally friendly is important to you.

You should also be mindful of overusing perfumes or colognes when wearing your clothes, as the scents can transfer and mingle with existing odours.


Common Questions Our Readers Have

shop for new clothes

Why do new clothes often have a chemical smell?

New clothes can have a chemical smell due to manufacturing processes, dyes, sizing agents, and chemicals used in packaging. Proper washing and airing can help eliminate these odours.


Can you use scented detergents to mask chemical odours?

It’s not recommended, as scented detergents can sometimes add to the problem. Opt for mild, fragrance-free detergents and consider adding natural fragrances during the drying or storage phases.


How can you prevent odours in stored clothing?

Store your clothes in breathable containers or bags, use cedar blocks or sachets, and ensure your closet is well-ventilated. Regularly air out your stored clothes to prevent mustiness.

cedar woodblocks

Are there eco-friendly alternatives for removing chemical odours?

Yes, consider using natural aids like white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda during the washing process. They are eco-friendly and effective at odour removal.


Can you dry clean clothes to remove chemical odours?

Dry cleaning can help, but it’s important to communicate the odour issue to your dry cleaner. Some chemicals used in dry cleaning can also leave a residual smell, so be clear about your expectations.


Is it safe to use essential oils to add fragrance to clothes?

Essential oils can be safe if used in moderation. Be cautious not to overdo it, as excessive oils may stain or irritate your clothes. Dilute them properly, and test on a small, inconspicuous area first.


How can you get rid of stubborn chemical odours from vintage clothing?

Vintage clothing may require more time and attention. Consider professional cleaning or consult an expert in vintage clothing care for tailored advice.

However, in most cases you may just need to give the garment a few washes using the techniques we outlined earlier in this article.

dry cleaning



In summary, banishing chemical smells from your clothes is achievable with the right approach.

By understanding the sources of these odours, employing proper washing and drying techniques, and taking preventive measures, you can enjoy a consistently fresh and odour-free wardrobe.

So, go ahead, follow these steps, and say goodbye to unwanted chemical odours for good.