Skip to main content

Freshen up musty-smelling clothes

Freshen up musty-smelling clothes
Click to enlarge
Operations - Store and Insure

The dank old clothing smell is the curse of anyone wanting to rock a vintage style – here’s how to deal with it

Buying second-hand clothing is a good way to save money and minimise waste. But occasionally, you can end up with clothes that smell a bit funky. Reputable clothing dealers and charity shops will clean their stock and store it in optimal conditions to avoid that musty smell. But some sellers are not as careful. So what can you do if you love the piece, but can’t abide the smell?

A wash and an airing can solve a lot of problems with smelly clothes

Clothes that can go in a normal laundry cycle will in many cases come out as fresh and as clean as you would like. But check the labels; and if you aren’t sure, or there is no label, you may need to get professional help from a dry cleaner or a vintage clothing specialist.

Before you wash your new second-hand purchases, check them over carefully for any stains that might need treating. And repair any damage, too. Washing is hard on clothes, and you don’t want to make a tear or a run worse.

Airing dry-clean only clothes is a time-honoured way of stretching the time between pricy cleans. Hang the garment up in a place with good air flow – outside is best. Having said that, be aware that some fabrics and finishes are very sensitive to sunlight. So a shaded spot is safest.

If washing and airing doesn’t work with your dank-smelling vintage clothing…

Is the smell of tobacco, perfume or BO still lingering on your second-hand clothes even after washing and airing? The next step might be professional dry cleaning. But if you’re averse to that, there are specialist laundry boosters designed to eliminate odours, and this would be the next thing to try.

Other vintage clothing specialists recommend hanging your garment in a small space with an odour absorber. You can buy activated charcoal odour absorbers; or a dish of vinegar or bicarbonate of soda may also work. Or you can try spraying vinegar or cheap vodka on your garment and letting it dry.

One Off Vintage has some more general advice on getting rid of smells in vintage clothing.

Preventing stored clothes from going musty

To keep your stored garments in top condition, always store them clean and dry. Make regular checks on your stored clothes to ensure that all is well. Hanging rails and garment bags will help your clothes to keep their shape so they are ready to wear straight from storage.

Another unwelcome feature of vintage clothing is moth. It’s really important to check your vintage finds over for signs of moth holes. The larvae favour natural animal fibres such as wool and silk, but will also attack cotton, too. There are various ways to treat garments for moth, including freezing – learn more in our post about moth and storage.

A climate-controlled environment, as found in the best self-storage units, is ideal for storing clothes. Most self-storage companies will require you to insure your stored domestic goods, including clothing and household textiles. It’s worth getting a few quotes for self-storage insurance to make sure you’re not overpaying. Get a quote from Store and Insure. It only takes a few minutes, but it could save you cash every month.


Question and Answer


Do I need to have climate-controlled storage if I am storing natural fibres like wool and silk?

Natural fibres may react to sudden changes in temperature and humidity. Climate-controlled storage will keep your stored yarn and fabric in ideal conditions. Climate control also suppresses pests like moth.


Does my self-storage insurance cover me against moth damage?

If the moth infestation that has damaged your craft materials originated in your storage unit, you are covered by your self-storage insurance. But if the moth infestation came into your storage unit with your stored fibres, then you will not be covered by your insurance policy with Store and Insure.


What is the advantage of climate-controlled storage?

Climate-controlled storage protects your stored domestic goods from fluctuations in temperatures and humidity. Some items are more sensitive to environmental changes than others -- for example, natural fibres, wine, antiques, musical instruments and books.