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Making clothes fit and look new

How to get weird smells out of…

How to get weird smells out of…

Nobody wants to think about it, but the fact is that with regular wear, clothes start to smell. That’s normally what your washing machine’s for. But there are some funks that laundry can’t shift. That might be because they’re embedded in something like raw denim, which you’re not meant to wash. Or it could be work shirts with an underarm sweat scent that just won’t leave, no matter how hot the laundry cycle.

The good news is, no smell is unshiftable. There are many ways beyond just washing that can get nasty scents out of your clothes. We tapped the experts for their funk-busting secrets.

Sweaty dress shirts

“Before washing the shirts, make a paste out of baking soda and a small amount of water,” says Will Lankston, from premium dry cleaner Jeeves of Belgravia. “Apply the paste to the affected area – normally the underarms – then leave for 20 minutes before washing. This will help to remove any odour and will also help to prevent any staining.”

Sports kit

“Sports kit can retain a musty smell after washing,” says Will. “This can be due to bacteria still being present in the clothes. Dedicated sports wash detergents, like Halo, are available to help with this. They are not as kind on skin as a non-bio detergent, but they will help to kill the bacteria that causes the persistent smell.”

Leather coats

“Leather is incredibly difficult to clean yourself,” says Will. “We recommend keeping it in an airy space, but when it comes to cleaning, this is one we’d recommend having done professionally. The head of our leather and suede department has over 25 years of experience and he is still learning.”

Leather watch straps

“Leather is animal skin, which means it’s full of holes that can get full of grime and bacteria,” says Thread stylist Toby Standing. “That’s why watch straps can smell particularly grim after a while. Again, baking soda’s your friend. Make a paste, rub onto both sides, then wipe off and rinse after an hour.”

Musty knitwear

“It’s best not to wash knitwear too regularly or you can damage it,” says Toby. “If your woollens do smell, start by hanging them outside to air out. If that doesn’t work, try vodka. Fill a spray bottle with cheap spirit – not the flavoured stuff – then spritz on the problem areas. The alcohol breaks down whatever’s causing the stink and, as it evaporates, removes the odour too.”

Vintage finds

“There’s a specific smell that all vintage clothes seem to come with straight from the shop,” says Toby. “If you can wash them, add half a cup of white vinegar or baking powder to the drawer not the drum. It’ll help neutralise the smell. If you can’t wash it, then try vodka.”


“Denim purists keep their jeans out of the laundry because washing machines remove all the dye. It’s not that hygienic, though, so you’ll need to do something about the smell eventually. The trick is to freeze them. Just chuck them in next to the frozen peas and the cold will kill almost all of the bacteria that have built up, and the odours along with them.”

Gym trainers

“This is another one that you can go to the kitchen cupboard for,” says Toby. “If your trainers are really smelling, pour a liberal amount of bicarbonate of soda into each trainer. It’s the stuff they make odour eaters out of, because it absorbs scent molecules. Leave overnight then just tip the bicarb out. Your trainers will smell boxfresh.”


Words: Nadia Balame-Price
Illustrations: Paul Reid