How to Clean & Deodorize Secondhand Thrift Store Clothes

This post is in collaboration with EnviroKlenz. As always, all opinions and experiences are my own.

how to clean & remove odors from secondhand thrift store clothing

For me, there’s nothing more exciting than going on little ‘treasure hunts’ at thrift stores – both local and online – and finding gems that are priced at a steal.  Thrifting also comes with other benefits – for one, it makes the clothing more sustainable by increasing their lifespan, and two, many times the profits go to support charities or local organizations.

But one thing you never want to forget is to wash your new thrift store finds before adding them to your closet.  Here’s a quick run-through on how I clean and deodorize my secondhand clothing finds to remove both germs and odors.

How Sanitary Are Thrift Store Clothes?

Thrift stores all have different storage and sanitary conditions – from well-maintained, upscale consignment stores, to large donation centers like Goodwill or Salvation Army that take boxes upon boxes of clothes daily (many of which sit in warehouses for long periods of time, sometimes collecting dust or mildew).  This is of course going to contribute to the overall cleanliness of a garment, on top of other factors like how long the piece set, who owned it prior, and whether or not the donor washed the clothes before dropping them off (a majority of thrift stores do not wash donations before selling them.)

However, a garment’s questionable past shouldn’t hold you back from shopping secondhand.  Think about when you buy brand new clothes – are they really any cleaner?  Between the chemicals used on new fabrics like cotton, people constantly handling and trying on the garments, and especially return items (which were likely sitting in someone’s house, car, or even their bedroom for a while), you really can’t avoid germs/bugs/other nasty things on clothes – both new and used.  (Not convinced?  Here’s some proof.)

The point is, you’ll never really know how clean your newly purchased clothes are – new or used.  That’s why it’s important to always remember to wash your new finds before wearing them out.  A good wash can get rid of everything from germs and bacteria, odors, and even bugs and their eggs.

how to remove odors from thrift store clothes

How to Clean Thrift Store Clothing

Here are a few easy tips on how to clean your thrift store clothing items:

  • For ‘dry clean only’, do just that to avoid damaging the piece. The chemical used in dry cleaning, called perchloroethylene, is a germ and bacteria-killing machine.
  • For sturdy, machine washable pieces, use hot water and/or dry on the highest heat when possible. You want the temp to reach 140 – 150 F at some point in the cleaning process in order to kill any germs, and bed bugs and their eggs.
  • For delicates (and anything else that can’t handle the high temps), wash with a small amount of baby shampoo or Woolite mixed with anti-bacterial hand soap in your sink.
  • Shoes and accessories need cleaning too! Wipe them with an alcohol or disinfectant wipe (always do a spot test first, just to make the solution doesn’t damage the material).

How to Deodorize Thrift Store Clothing

There are a number of ways to remove strong smells and odors from thrift store clothes.  Here are three of my favorite methods:

1) Baking soda

Sprinkle baking soda over your clothing and let sit for a few hours before washing.  I’ll typically turn my clothes inside-out, lay them on a towel on the floor, and then sprinkle some baking soda on each side.  You can leave the powder on when you go to throw the clothing into the wash.  (This method works great for more sturdy fabrics like cotton and polyester, but I’d recommend doing a patch test with other fabrics).

2) Vinegar

Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle of your laundry, OR, swap out your detergent completely with vinegar and wash as you normally would (on any water temperature).  If you’re using it in place of detergent, 1/2 cup still works fine for small loads, but increase it to 1 cup for larger loads.  Vinegar will not only remove odors and freshen clothes, but also naturally soften them without leaving any kind of residue.  Just make sure to use distilled white vinegar (the clear kind, as opposed to apple cider vinegar which is a light brown and could stain).  (This method works great for both sturdy and delicate fabrics. When washing delicates by hand, use about 1 or 2 tablespoons.)

3) Natural minerals

Use an all-natural mineral powder, such as EnviroKlenz’s Laundry Enhancer.  Their powder in particular is formulated with four earth minerals – soda ash, magnesium oxide, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – all of which work to naturally neutralize chemical odors, sweat and body odors, fragrances and perfumes, mildew smells, storage smells, and more. They’re 100% chemical and fragrance-free, making them perfect for whose with skin sensitivities or allergies.  Simply add a scoop in with your detergent before filling your wash.  They’re safe to use on any fabrics that are marked as machine washable (with the exception of satin, silk, and ‘dry-clean only’ pieces).

EnviroKlenz Laundry Enhancers - how to clean & deodorize thrift store clothing

EnviroKlenz Laundry Enhancers - how to clean & deodorize thrift store clothing

Whenever I come back from the thrift store, my usual routine is to head straight to the laundry room and toss in my machine-washables, followed by hot water, unscented detergent, and a scoop of the Laundry Enhancer powder.  That way, I can get the cleaning and deodorizing done in one wash without having to do any pre-steps or check on my wash half-way through. And a majority of the time, that one wash is all it takes to eliminate odors. However, if the odors happen to be super strong, I’ll do another round using baking soda as my pre-step, and then washing with straight up distilled white vinegar.

So the next time you score some amazing deals at the thrift store, remember to wash your new finds before wearing or storing them.  Have all the essentials stocked and ready to go, so you can always be safe – even after those spontaneous thrifting trips!

how to clean & remove odors from secondhand thrift store clothing


Are you an avid thrift store shopper? Do you give your clothes a good cleaning before adding them to your closet?

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  • Carrie Fargo

    Great tips! I hate that thrift store smell! love thrifting… you. An find such amazing things for so much less.

  • Ashley

    So many cute pieces!! These are great tips for cleaning those thrift store finds!