How To Get The Smell Out Of Vintage Clothing

November 4, 2015

How to Get the Smell Out of Vintage Clothing

Sometimes authenticity can be a little too authentic. A few months ago, I bought a used double-rider off eBay, which was a concession to the fact that I wanted all the ruggedness of the design, but don’t actually live a rugged lifestyle. Buying a new jacket meant that it would take years to break in the leather, and since I don’t actually ride motorcycles (only fashion cycles), getting that natural, rugged look might never happen. So I decided to buy something that already had character, which meant going vintage.

The problem: although the jacket looked like it was worn by a sweaty, tough biker, it smelled like one too. I only wanted to look rugged; not smell rugged.

So, I tried a bunch of things to get the smell out. In order of procedure:

  • Airing It Out: Pretty simple. Just hung it outside for a week, hoping that sunlight and fresh air would naturally take care of the odor. Effectiveness: 3/10. It somewhat worked, but I suspect it mostly just dissipated the stench that had built up from the jacket being inside a small shipping box for a week.
  • Spraying with Vodka: A trick commonly recommended online. Basically, lightly spray the garment with a 50/50 mixture of water and vodka (or distilled white vinegar), then let the garment dry in the sun. Effectiveness: 4/10. Certainly did more than just airing it out, but the smell was still bad enough that I didn’t want to hang the jacket up in my closet.
  • Cleaning: Or in my case, wiping the leather down with Lexol’s leather cleaner and then Peccard’s dressing (the first will clean the surface, while the second will restore the oils). Effectiveness: 1/10. Not sure it really did anything, but it made the leather look better.
  • Coffee Beans: As recommended by StyleForum’s thrifting vets, I put the jacket in a trash bag and threw in a couple handfuls of coffee beans. Sealed the bag up and let it sit for a week. After the smell of coffee went away, so did some of the musty smell (I think). Effectiveness: 5/10. Note: some say you can also do this with activated charcoal.
  • Rave FabriCARE: Far and away, the most effective was sending the jacket to Rave FabriCARE, the best dry cleaner I know of. Rave is one of the few cleaners who will treat odors according to the garment’s material composition (most others use a treatment called ozone for everything, which can be good on some materials, but damage others). Plus, Rave regularly treats clothes damaged by smoke in heavy fires, so I figured this would be an easy job for them. Effectiveness: 9/10. The smell isn’t 100% gone, but it’s damn near close. At this point, you have to put the jacket up to your nose to even faintly detect anything. Compare that to when I sent it in, and you could literally smell it from across the room. Pretty damn impressive.

Of course, most vintage clothes can just be washed, but if you have something like a leather jacket (which can’t be washed), or something that’s just being stubborn, try some of the methods above. The Rave FabriCARE solution is more expensive than home remedies, but at least you know it’s an effective and reliable last resort.