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How to Use Vinegar to Remove Odors from Vintage Clothing

Updated on June 19, 2013


It has become quite vogue to wear vintage clothing in recent times. Whether you find your vintage clothes in some old boxes in the attic or hunting around your area's second hand clothing stores, one thing is certain. They probably don't smell like brand new clothing! They may even have a musky scent or an outright foul odor. Modern laundry detergents may mask the old smell for a while but it usually comes back because these modern detergents don't really address the most common underlying source of the odor: various types of fungus!

Yes, it is true. Fungus, like mold and mildew, likes to attack and live in old clothing. It you don't kill the fungus, your vintage clothing may continue to have a mysterious smell. In fact, if you aren't careful, you may spread that mold and mildew to your newer clothing too if you store the vintage clothing in the same place. Below, you will find instructions on how to use vinegar to remove odors from vintage clothing.

Using vinegar to remove the odors from vintage clothing is actually quite easy. Plus. there's something quite special when a super cheap method works more effectively than taking your vintage clothing to the dry cleaners for odor removal and paying a small fortune in doing so.

To remove odors from vintage clothing, you need to use plain white vinegar you can buy in any supermarket, including large bottles at very economical prices. Do not use other types of vinegar. While white vinegar is an acid. However, it is a very mild acid and it will not harm your clothing even if you use it at full strength. However, if you do use it at full strength, your clothing may smell like a strong pickle!

Vinegars are good at removing odors, but too much will make your clothes smell like a pickle!
Vinegars are good at removing odors, but too much will make your clothes smell like a pickle! | Source

3 Methods To Removing Odors From Vintage Clothing Using Vinegar

  1. Washing Method

    If your vintage clothing is a material that will stand up to machine washing, you can simply add vinegar to the wash water. If the odor is mild, add 1/4-1/2 cup of vinegar and wash as you would any other clothing. If this does not work, you can try washing the clothing a second time. However, if this still does not remove the odor or the odor is very strong to begin with, you should start with 1-2 cups of vinegar in your wash water. You can then wash the vinegar smell out by washing your clothes again using ordinary laundry detergent. A hot water wash works better than a cold water wash as the hot water helps the vinegar fully penetrate the fibers of the fabric.

    If your vintage clothing is a material that must be hand-washed, you will need to soak the clothing overnight (or for several hours) in a vinegar bath. Just fill the tub part way and add 1/4-1/2 cup of vinegar to the water. If the odor is strong, add more vinegar and/or soak the clothing longer. Make sure to swish the clothing around in the vinegar bath to remove the air pockets that could prevent the vinegar from penetrating all areas of the clothing.

  2. Steaming Method

    Another vinegar based odor removal method that works well with bulky vintage clothing that would be difficult to wash, such as coats and jackets, is steaming. A simple technique for doing this is to hang your clothing above the bathtub and run a hot steamy bath containing a cup or two of vinegar in the water. This will put vinegar in the steam and this steam will penetrate the clothing. Make sure you hang the clothing in such a way as to allow the steam to penetrate the clothing evenly.

  3. Ironing Method

    Put a 50:50 vinegar to water solution in a spray bottle and lightly spray problem areas of your vintage clothing and then iron the clothing with as hot an iron that the fabric will take. The heat from the iron will help the vinegar do its magic!

    The three methods described above won't just temporarily mask the odor. Instead, they will permanently remove the odor because the vinegar will kill the mold and mildew responsible for the odor. Vinegar can also remove old perspiration odors ground into the fibers of the clothing. Vinegar can even get rid odors from old cigarette smoke and old fragrances that have gone rancid.

    Vintage clothing can be a real treasure and now that you know how to use vinegar to remove odors from vintage clothing, you can wear them with pride smelling clean and fresh. Of course, you'll also be "styling" as they used to say!


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    • CarNoobz profile image

      CarNoobz 5 years ago from USA

      OH yeah, we use vinegar for just about everything! For clothes, it really does a good job. We just pour a cup straight into the washer (without clothes) to disinfect and remove odors from the machine itself. People often forget that the washer and hoses get a buildup of gunk and bacteria that causes clothes to become stink.