Have you ever hopped into a car filled with synthetic air fresheners only to exit the car smelling like those terrible air fresheners yourself?
Or have you ever hugged someone and then pulled away only to realize that their strong perfume or cologne transferred to your clothes and skin?
I sometimes like to thrift shop for clothes, and more than once put something amazing back on the rack because it had such a strong, lingering perfume scent.
For a person who is very sensitive to strong fragrances (I personally get terrible migraines), these situations are a huge bummer!
Thankfully, there are ways to reduce and remove strong perfume smells from clothes.
Why Does Perfume Linger on Fabrics?
Do you ever wonder why some perfumes can linger on skin, hair, and fabric for days while others fade away in a few hours?
For decades, perfume manufacturers have been experimenting with ways to make their fragrances “stickier.”
Many brands believe customers will pay a premium for a product with a fragrance that lasts all day. This is particularly true for shampoo and body wash brands where fragrance might easily be removed as a user is toweling off (Source: American Chemical Society).
Fixatives are used in perfumes to reduce scent volatility and increase the longevity of the scent. Often, fixatives have strong, distinct odors and are used as long-lasting base notes (scents) in a perfume (Source: Grand View Research).
Unfortunately, not all scents are formulated in a way that is still pleasing after a day or two of wear.
How to Get Perfume Smell Out of Clothes
While perfumes might be formulated to last for days (weeks, months!) on fabrics, it is possible to rid your favorite garments of perfume fragrance.
- Level of Difficulty: Easy
- Time to Complete: 1-12 hours, depending on soaking time
- Active Time: 30 minutes
What You’ll Need
- Distilled White Vinegar
- Oxygen Bleach (optional)
- Laundry Detergent or Castile Soap
- Clothes Drying Rack
Soak Smelly Fabric Before Washing
Perhaps the most important step in this process is the pre-wash soak in a fabric-safe mixture.
I have had success soaking my smelly fabrics in a large bowl filled with distilled white vinegar and water.
Add 1 cup of vinegar per every 1 gallon of water, then soak your fabric in the mixture for at least 30 minutes (up to overnight).
After soaking, wash your garment regularly.
Oxygen bleach is another option for a long soak. Follow package instructions to dissolve the oxygen bleach powder in water, then add your clothing to soak for 30 minutes up to overnight.
After soaking, wash your garment regularly.
It might surprise you, but pre-soaking in water alone can help release some of the fragrance from the fabric.
Plain water is a good option for extremely delicate fabrics that won’t respond well to conventional detergents.
Machine Wash with Vinegar
After soaking the smelly fabric, it’s time to wash. Load the washing machine as you normally would, but this time add distilled white vinegar to the fabric softener compartment.
The vinegar will continue to help eliminate unwanted fragrances from fabrics in the wash cycle.
Hand Wash with Castile Soap
If the garment is a delicate fabric that can’t handle a machine wash, opt for hand washing instead.
You can hand wash with laundry detergent, but Castile soap works well here too.
Use one teaspoon of detergent mixed in a water basin or sink. Gently agitate the fabric in the detergent.
You can let it soak for a few minutes before rinsing the garment with clean water.
Once washed, hang the garment to dry in a place with plenty of fresh air, such as in front of a breezy window, a fan, or outside.
Sun and fresh air will help eliminate strong smells.
Just be sure not to leave a colorful or dark garment in direct sun for too long, as the sun can bleach fabrics.
How to Get Perfume Smell Out of Clothes Without Washing
If your perfume-y garment is dry clean only or too delicate to wash in water, here are some ideas for removing a clingy perfume smell without washing.
Simply hang the garment outside. Choose a dry, breezy location in indirect sunlight.
Bright sunlight might bleach the colors in your garment, so shadier or indoor locations might be best for colorful items.
If the weather isn’t ideal, consider hanging your garment near a breezy window or indoor fan for maximum airflow.
Leave it to hang for multiple days if necessary, and you will notice the smell will dissipate in time.
Baking soda is one ingredient known to absorb odors in just about every scenario.
Insert the garment in a pillowcase or a plastic bag. Add baking soda to the bag, shake it around, and let it sit for a few days.
The baking soda will absorb most, if not all, of the offensive perfume odors.
Remove your garment from the bag and shake it clean.
A fabric brush might also help to remove baking soda from the fabric without washing.
Use a Steamer
Steam can be another great tool to lift strong odors from fabrics. If possible, hang your garment in an area with good airflow.
Hold your steamer an inch or so away from the fabric and continue to move the steamer over the smelliest parts of your garment.
If the perfume’s smell persists, you might have to let the garment dry, then steam again and repeat until the scent dissipates.
Tumble Dry with a Lint-Free Towel
Don’t have a steamer? If you can access a dryer, you can try this trick instead.
Toss a damp, lint-free towel into your dryer. Now add your perfume-scented clothes.
Run a hot, dry cycle for 10-20 minutes (but always check fabric label instructions first).
You want to run the hot dryer long enough to generate steam from the towel but not long enough to completely dry the towel and overheat your garment.
After “steaming” the garment in the dryer, hang it to air dry thoroughly in a location with good air circulation.
If you’re in a pinch and need to remove the perfume smell from your clothes as quickly as possible, consider trying alcohol.
Spraying your perfume-scented clothes with vodka, isopropyl alcohol, or a similar product can help absorb and minimize some of the smell.
To remove the perfume smell from clothes fast, try using an alcohol spray or a steamer (or both!).
Spraying alcohol on the smelliest part of your garment can help absorb or lift some of the perfume odors.
Steam can also help fabrics release and eliminate strong odors fairly quickly.
For dry-clean only clothing, you can minimize the strong perfume smell from dry-clean only clothes by using a steamer, alcohol spray, or baking soda.
The steamer might be the easiest and most effective option of the three. Steam can relax fabrics and minimize strong odors.
Alcohol spray can absorb and lift strong odors from fabrics.
Lastly, baking soda is a known odor absorber. Add baking soda and your smelly garment to a bag (pillowcase or Ziploc both work well here). Leave the garment for a few days before shaking it clean.
Final Thoughts on Removing Perfume Smells from Clothing
I hope that now you are equipped with all the knowledge you need to remove unwanted perfume smells from your clothing.
With these tricks, you can remove perfume smell from nearly any type of clothing. Don’t let your clothes cause your headaches ever again!