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Does Dry Cleaning Remove Odors

Dry cleaning may be your preference for your clothing, or the only option for some precious garments. However it doesn’t always guarantee removing stubborn smells. Let’s look at some at-home remedies.

a beautiful woman smelling freshly laundered clothing

When you take clothes to the dry cleaner, it’s likely that you expect them to come back cleaner and smelling fresher than they would have if you would have cleaned them at home.

Unfortunately that may not always be the case.

Since dry cleaning doesn’t clean in the same way as a washing machine, it’s not always as effective at removing odors from clothing. So, you may have to take additional steps to remove lingering odors from dry cleaned items.

Absorbing Odors in Clothing and Dry Cleaning

Clothing, regardless of the fabric, naturally absorbs odors. In fact, there are some fabrics that trap in odor.

Natural textiles such as silk, muslin, cashmere, lace, embroidered shirts, suede, and soft leathers are all more likely to absorb odors, and they are all very likely to be dry clean only items.

Does Dry Cleaning Remove Odors, and Can It Cause Odors?

Occasionally, dry cleaning can even make your pieces smell worse because of a solvent used called perchloroethylene (perc), which smells similar to kerosene.

a white shirt with a dry cleaning ticket on a hanger

Dry cleaning solvents typically dissolve swiftly on thin materials. But solvents may take longer to evaporate on heavier, thicker materials.

Some dry cleaning solvents are better at removing odors, such as the liquid CO2 process, also called green cleaning or ozone dry cleaning. During this process, liquid CO2 is pressurized into vapors that remove stains, as well as strong odors like cigarette smoke and sweat.

So if you have a piece that retains an odor no matter how many times it’s dry cleaned, find a dry cleaner who offers the liquid CO2 process.

There are some instances, however, where not even liquid CO2 dry cleaning can remove an odor.

How to Remove Dry Cleaning Smell Out of Clothes

Whether the odor in your clothing is from dry cleaning solvents or a persistent smell that did not come out, there are at-home remedies you can try that may remove the unwanted scent.

a woman at the dry cleaners holding a top that has been dry cleaned
  • Vinegar. Run some hot water in a bathtub, and mix in some vinegar. You should be able to smell the vinegar. Hang the dry clean only item on the curtain rod and let the steam hit it. After a few hours, the odor should be gone.
  • Kitty litter. Though it is not the most glamorous option, cat litter is designed to soak up odors, and it doesn’t require your clothing to be wet. Place the clothes in a plastic bag, poke a few tiny ventilation holes in the bag, and then add kitty litter. Leave the clothes in the bag for 24 hours.
  • Ventilate in a sunny area. Gently spray the garments with a mixture of water and vinegar (or vodka), and let the garment hang in a ventilated space or outdoors in the sun for a few hours. This method should only be used on thicker fabrics, not silks and other delicate fabrics.
freshly cleaned white clothing on wooden hangers being aired outdoors
  • Coffee. Like kitty litter, ground coffee can remove odors from fabrics. Put your clothing in a plastic bag, and add an envelope with a few scoops of coffee sealed inside. Close the bag, and let it sit for a couple of days. When you open the bag again, the smell should be gone.

Before choosing one of these solutions to rid an item of odor, consider the item’s fabric. Thinner fabrics should be put in plastic bags with something to absorb odors, since dampness could be damaging.

Thicker fabrics can get a little damp without being ruined, so you can spritz off your garments like cashmere and suede with either watered down vodka or white vinegar. Vodka and vinegar work well because both liquids kill bacteria. Gently mist areas where the odor is particularly concentrated, then hang in a well-ventilated spot.

What About Mold?

If not stored properly, wool or silk garments can get musty or moldy. Fortunately, the dry cleaning process kills mold spores. The heat within the machine vaporizes the spores, and both standard and ozone dry cleaning removes the smell of mold.

So before trying any DIY solutions, dry cleaning affected items may be the best choice.

Putting The Clean Back into Dry Cleaning

Nothing is more frustrating than paying for an item to be dry cleaned only for it to be returned to you with a bad smell.

The good news is that most of the time, dry cleaning will remove any odors from your dry clean only garments. And if it doesn’t, a different dry cleaning process or these DIY solutions will return your items to clean and fresh smelling condition.

a dry clean only label on a piece of textured silk
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