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How to Remove the Smell of Detergent From Clothes: Step-By-Step

As much as you want to use laundry detergent, you don’t like the smell of it. Maybe the odor is too overpowering for you, or perhaps you have a respiratory ailment that makes you particularly sensitive to strong smells. So how can you remove the smell from your clothes after washing them?

Here’s how to remove the smell of detergent from clothes:

  1. Scented laundry detergents contain VOCs.
  2. Create a baking soda or vinegar solution.
  3. Soak clothes in the baking soda/vinegar solution overnight.
  4. Load the washer correctly.
  5. Use no-scent laundry detergents.
  6. Line dry your clothes.
  7. Repeat the steps above until the odors are gone.
  8. Keep smells from sticking to clothes next time.

Do you want to get rid of that pesky detergent scent once and for all? Let’s walk through these steps.

Scented Laundry Detergents Contain VOCs

Scented laundry detergents contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can be found in common household chemicals like paint, composite wood products, cosmetics, gasoline, and cigarette smoke. 

VOCs aren’t toxic in small doses. 

However, people who have conditions like asthma or are hypersensitive to chemical smells may find VOCs in laundry detergent irritating. Since VOCs are volatile, meaning they convert easily from liquid to gas, they’re more likely to linger in the air and irritate your nose.   

Create a Baking Soda or Vinegar Solution

Baking soda and detergent is a powerful combination.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to remove detergent smells from your clothes, as everything you need is in your kitchen. Specifically, you only need baking soda or vinegar. 

Here’s a quick explanation of how each of these substances works for dispelling odors:

  • Baking soda: Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a cleaning agent and odor neutralizer. Most strong smells come from an excess of acid or base chemicals, and baking soda balances the pH levels for both.  
  • Vinegar: Unlike baking soda, vinegar is an acid, so you shouldn’t pour it directly on your clothes. Nonetheless, it can neutralize odors, and its pungent scent goes away instantly.  

If you prefer to use baking soda, do the following:

  1. Pour cold water into the container where you’ll do the washing. The container can be a large bucket or a washing machine.
  2. Mix one part baking soda with four parts hot water. 
  3. Pour the baking soda solution into the cold water.
  4. Mix the baking soda solution and cold water thoroughly.

If you prefer to use vinegar, here’s what you do:

  1. Choose your vinegar. Distilled white vinegar works best, but you can make do with apple cider vinegar. 
  2. Set aside a half cup or a cup of vinegar.
  3. Pour warm water into the container where you’ll do the washing. 
  4. Mix the vinegar and warm water. As noted earlier, do not pour vinegar directly onto clothes.  
  5. Soak Clothes in the Baking Soda/Vinegar Solution Overnight
Vinegar and baking soda are fantastic to mix with your laundry detergent. But be sure to measure properly.

Ideally, it would be best to soak your clothes overnight in the solution you made earlier. But if you don’t have that much time, you can make do with four hours instead.

If you’re using the vinegar solution, make sure you soak your clothes in a place away from your bedroom and away from any area with high foot traffic. Again, do not pour the baking soda and vinegar directly onto your clothes. The baking soda on its own might leave a white residue, while the vinegar might cause colors to fade. 

The point of mixing baking soda or vinegar with warm water is to neutralize any adverse effects both might have. 

Load the Washer Correctly

This is way too much laundry for one load.

When using a washing machine, you don’t just throw in your clothes, pour in water and detergent, and push a few buttons. Instead, you need to follow specific steps to maximize your washer’s ability to clean.

To properly load a washing machine, follow these steps:

  1. Use the correct load size. According to Kelly’s Dry Cleaners, standard top loaders can have up to 12 lbs (5.44 kg) of laundry, front-load washers can accommodate up to 18 lbs (8.16 kg), and extra-large front load machines have a capacity of up to 22 lbs (9.97 kg). 
  2. Turn your clothes inside out. Over time, repeated washings can make your clothes’ colors fade and the fibers fray. If the inside of your clothes is what gets exposed to the machine’s wear and tear, you can make your outfits last longer. 
  3. Watch out for any items that shouldn’t be in the washing machine. Check all pockets for keys, papers, folded bills, and other objects you don’t intend to wash.
  4. Make your clothes laundry-friendly. Unbutton, unfasten and unzip every piece of clothing. Otherwise, the washer’s rapid movement will damage these extra features. 
  5. Follow your machine’s loading instructions. Your machine’s instruction manual should indicate what order you should load clothes, water, and detergent. 

Did you know you put only one item in the washing machine?

Use No-Scent Laundry Detergents

Once you’ve loaded the machine, it’s time to load the detergent. Since you’re washing to remove strong detergent smells, you want to use no-scent chemicals this time around.

Some of the best no-scent laundry detergents found on Amazon.com includes the following:

Seventh Generation EasyDose Laundry Detergent

This laundry detergent features a unique cap that lets you accurately measure the amount of detergent you need to use. In addition, it’s tagged “Climate Pledge Friendly” owing to its lack of artificial chemicals like fragrances, dyes, and brighteners. 

Even though the bottle seems small, it packs a considerable punch. You can use a single squeeze for an average load, and it will clean your clothes just fine.    

Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder

Like Seventh Generation’s laundry detergent, Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder is “Climate Pledge Friendly.” It only has four ingredients: 

  • Sodium Carbonate
  • C12-16 Pareth 9
  • C10-14 Alcohol Ethoxylate
  • Sodium Metasilicate 

In addition, Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder is hypoallergenic, making it perfect for members of your family who have sensitive skin. You can even use this one to clean your sewage systems and not have to worry about causing pollution in the process.

Nellie’s Laundry Soda

If you have an HE or standard washing machine, you can safely use Nellie’s Laundry Soda. 

One small scoop is enough to wash an average load of laundry. Although it’s laundry powder, Nellie’s Laundry Soda won’t leave residue behind on your clothes. Like the others already featured on this list, this one is “Climate Pledge Friendly.” 

Before you choose any detergent, make sure you check the following:

  • Climate Pledge Friendly: If a detergent is “Climate Pledge Friendly,” you don’t have to worry about harming the environment while using it. 
  • Compatibility with your washer: Some detergents are more compatible with specific washers than others.
  • Maximum load: How many washes can one pack do relative to the price?
  • Hypoallergenic: If you or a family member have sensitive skin, hypoallergenic detergents are your friend.
  • Ingredients list: Even if a detergent claims to be environmentally friendly, it won’t hurt to research the ingredients and check whether they have any adverse effects on you and the environment.
  • Reviews: The detergent might work differently from what’s advertised. Honest, detailed, and credible reviews, whether positive or negative, will go a long way in helping you choose the best detergent for you. 

Line Dry Your Clothes

Line-drying your clothes is great for airing them out, and will also save your wallet.

If you live in an area where line drying is allowed, you’ll have a better chance of removing detergent smell from your clothes than those using the machine-dry method.

Let’s look at some of the tips and tricks to line dry clothes.

Check out my step-by-step guide to line-drying clothes to learn more.

Check Your HOA Rules

Your HOA (Homeowner’s Association) may have rules about hanging your laundry on the balcony. In that case, find a space inside your home with tile floors that’s ideally within direct sunlight.

If you must dry your laundry indoors, when inclement weather hits your area, at least you don’t have to worry about your laundering efforts going to waste.

Clean the Clothesline and Equipment You’ll Use To Hang the Clothes

If your clothesline is in one place, it’s going to accumulate dust over time. To avoid having dust transfer onto your clothes when you hang your laundry, wipe the clothesline with a piece of wet cloth until the latter is clean.

Also, unless you store your clips and hangers in a safe place, they’re bound to accumulate dust like your clothesline. So, again, use a wet cloth to remove the dust from your equipment. 

Hang Your Clothes in a Way That’ll Air Them out Well

There’s an art to line drying specific clothing items as follows:

  • T-Shirts: Hang the shirt upside down, and pin the bottom hem to the clothesline. That way, even if the pins leave marks, they won’t be too obvious.
  • Pants: Like T-shirts, pants should be hung upside down. In addition, the insides of the pockets should hang out.
  • Towels and washcloths: Hang from the width, not the length.
  • Socks: Clip the toes to the clothesline. Make sure each pair is close together. 
  • Underwear: Clip the part that covers your genitals. If you clip by the waistband, the garter might loosen.

When you hang clothes to dry, the general rule is to minimize damage to your clothes. Put the pins in places where you won’t mind them leaving marks, and hang them in such a way that the integrity of the outfit remains intact.

Other Tips

Aside from what I’ve already mentioned above, here are more tips for line dry clothes.

Line-drying clothes outside during winter.
  • Watch the weather. As soon as you notice that inclement weather is coming, put away your clothes. If your clothes are still dripping wet, store them in the bathroom for the time being. If they’re no longer dripping, you can hang makeshift clotheslines around your home and hang them there instead.
  • Put enough space between the clothes. The smaller the distance between the clothes, the less air will circulate, and the more likely your clothes will have an unpleasant smell. 

My guide on how to dry clothes outside during winter might interest you.

Keep Washing and Drying Outside Until the Odors Are Gone

Don’t fret if the detergent smell is still there after the first wash. Sometimes, it’ll take several washes before the detergent smell goes away. You can go through steps 2 to 6 above again if you have enough time until the offending odor is gone. 

Keep Smells From Sticking to Clothes Next Time

You may have used scented laundry detergent in the first place because you believed it’s the only way to remove foul odor from clothes. Luckily, you can minimize bad smells without scented detergents. 

If Possible, Wash Your Clothes ASAP

The longer you wait to wash your clothes, the more the lingering smells of detergent will settle. But, of course, you don’t have to wash everything in one go. 

You can sort your laundry according to the ones you’re most likely to wear in the next few days and wash those first. If washing ASAP isn’t an option, you can always pile your laundry into a hamper with holes on the side so your clothes can “breathe.” 

Alternatively, you can keep your clothes in a breathable bag.

Avoid Odor-Absorbent Fabric Types

Smelly clothes are the worst.

Some fabrics get smellier than others. For example, if your clothes contain polyester and synthetic/blended fibers, they’re more likely to trap scents. 

Here’s how two different fabric blends hold smells:

  • Polyester: Polyester is hydrophobic (water-repellent) and oleophilic (oil-absorbent). Although it repels water from your clothes, it also attracts oily substances that cause your clothes to smell.  
  • Synthetic/Blended: Compared to pure cotton clothes, cotton-synthetic blends trap more sweat and bacteria and smell worse.

Use Warm Water

Cold water is more environmentally-friendly since it releases fewer microfibers into the environment. However, it may not be the best temperature to remove tough stains like detergent smells.

On the other hand, hot water (over 130 °F or 54 °C) works best for removing stains, but it can cause clothes to fade and shrink, though. The best temperature to wash detergent-stained clothes is warm, between 90 to 110 °F (32 °C to 43 °C). 

It’s the best of both worlds because warm water is more environmentally-friendly than hot water, but it is also more effective for removing stains than cold water.

Clean Your Washing Machine

If you haven’t cleaned your washing machine in ages, that might be why your clothes smell even though you just laundered them. 

To clean your washing machine, do the following:

  1. Pour two cups of vinegar, baking soda, OR washing machine cleaning products into your machine.
  2. Pour enough hot water for a full load.
  3. Run the machine through a complete wash cycle.
  4. Leave the cleaning solution in the machine overnight.
  5. Drain the solution the next day.

Here is my complete guide to washing machine care.

For more information on removing odor from laundry, watch the video below:

Why does my laundry smell so bad, even after washing? Learn the Laundry Secret

Conclusion

Laundry detergents can get overpowering sometimes, and there just doesn’t seem to be a great solution to getting the strong scents out of your clothing. 

However, if none of these tips in this guide helps you, let’s look at another solution.

Over time, if you consistently use non-scented laundry detergent and dryer sheets, the smell will eventually fade to the point where you can’t smell it anymore. This solution will only work if it’s not causing you health problems.

Next, you can check out my guide on how to fold your clothes fast and neatly.

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