How to prevent / remove "dusty" smell from clothes?
June 29, 2015 1:29 AM   Subscribe

My clothes cupboard is a bit overstuffed – that's not going to change. I find that anything that's not been washed in a month or so develops a cupboard smell – not mouldy thank goodness, but a smell I can only describe as "dusty". This is especially bad with T-shirts that are folded and stacked in a pile, less so (but still a bit) on shirts and trousers that hang from hangers.

Is there some sort of product I can put in the cupboard that will prevent or mask the smell? And is there something that I could spray on a (clean) shirt to freshen it up, rather than just have to wash it again?

I should mention I dislike most commercial domestic perfumes – I don't use air fresheners or bathroom sprays, and I will decline to get into a taxi that uses one of those car air fresheners. I use a roll-on deodorant rather than a spray. I use a laundry soap with as close a smell to "neutral" that I can get.
posted by snarfois to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Cedar blocks?
posted by catspajammies at 2:10 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Do those work?
posted by snarfois at 2:25 AM on June 29, 2015

For a spray freshener, you might try this: Freshen Up Fabrics with a Homemade Vodka Spray.
posted by taz at 2:35 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Mix some fabric softener of choice with water in a spray bottle and use it to spray your clothes. A water + vinegar solution will work too, the vinegar smell will go away and so will any dusty smells.
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 3:08 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mix some fabric softener . . . .

I would not recommend using “fabric softener”. Even if the poster were inclined to (it appears from the question they would not), I have personally seen someone with real, inherited asthma have a hospital-level attack due to someone else wearing artificial fragrances like that.
posted by D.C. at 4:05 AM on June 29, 2015

I use a cup with about an inch of baking soda in it. Baking soda absorbs scents, but doesn't make things smell like perfume. Replace the baking soda every couple of months or once you notice your clothes getting smelly again.
posted by colfax at 4:27 AM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

Regarding fabric softener: sensitive/perfume-free fabric softener does the trick too (it's what I use personally).
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 4:49 AM on June 29, 2015

I share your dislike of commercial perfumes, and I know the dusty smell you're describing: it smells like second-hand clothes or old books. colfax is right that baking soda would help. An alternative is charcoal, which is used a lot in Japan. I have used, and can vouch for, the Chikuno cube and the Moso bag. You put them in the closet and after about a week any existing smells will be gone. Zero Odor odor-eliminating spray also works very well, and instantly. It has a bleach-y tracer scent which some people don't like, but which dissipates in about five minutes. It works best to eradicate smells that are really strong/unpleasant, like in animal bedding or old running shoes.

In my experience cedar blocks absorb odor, but not as well as the products I described above. You can also buy cedar spray -- it's natural and not gag-inducing, but it smells like a forest, and is orange and will stain pale fabric.

What I like about baking soda, charcoal and Zero Odor is what colfax said -- they don't cover up smells with other smells; they absorb them. So your cupboard will end up smelling like nothing, rather than dust or perfume.
posted by Susan PG at 5:14 AM on June 29, 2015 [9 favorites]

Not a spray-on, after-the-fact solution, but a possible preventive - my understanding is that the drawer-funk that cotton stuff (sheets, t-shirts, etc) gets when jammed into a drawer or closet for a while is a result of body oils that aren't completely removed during normal washing. Regular laundry detergents are scented, and when things are in heavy rotation, the scent from recent laundering is the most prominent smell and the oil never has a chance to get funky.

Ammonia has worked for me in clearing this up. Add maybe a cupful to a full (probably cold) washerfull of water and then add the clothes. I wouldn't wash with ammonia with every wash, but then again if your stuff only sees the light of day a few times a year, then maybe?

Most people know that ammonia should not be mixed with bleach, but just in case. (also boy howdy should you not mix bleach and vinegar.)

Someone else on ask has in the past shared some good information about using ammonia for maybe laundry? but a cursory search isn't finding it, sorry.
posted by you must supply a verb at 5:20 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have a clothes drying rack I put in front of the air conditioner just for airing-out reasons. I let stuff sit there overnight and by morning the dusty musty smell is gone. I get this on brand-new never-worn stuff so I think it's really just house dust lingering on my clothes and not body goos acting up. It's the same smell as a seasonal room that's been closed up for the winter.
posted by poffin boffin at 6:24 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

How about putting some DampRid (dehumidifying flakes) in your cupboard? It comes in a hanger version or in a small refillable bucket.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 6:26 AM on June 29, 2015

Will things like the Chikuno cube and Mosu bag work on an open shelf?
posted by gottabefunky at 7:12 AM on June 29, 2015

I really like Fresh Wave, but it's of course more expensive than baking soda.
posted by mmiddle at 8:41 AM on June 29, 2015

There are plenty of anecdotes about using those boxes of arm and hammer baking soda. They even come in "fridge packs" now that has two rip-away side panels that opens two windows for air circulation. :)

Some proclaimed that to get rid of the smell immediately sprinkle baking soda on the cloths, agitate / rub the soda in, then use vacuum cleaner to remove the powder.

I'd imagine you can make less of a mess if you can find some cheese cloth and make little baking soda pouches for your drawers. :) The idea is surface area, better to pack them in flat 'sheets'.
posted by kschang at 9:23 AM on June 29, 2015

Response by poster: Great suggestions - thanks folks! Gives me lots of things to try. I suspect it may take a while to arrive at an answer though.
posted by snarfois at 9:26 AM on June 29, 2015

I think most of the above suggestions are way off track. The best explanation for why your clothes smell dusty is that they *are* dusty. Spraying things or baking soda won't do anything to remove the dust from your clothes (in fact, spraying clothes softener or anything else will likely make the problem worse by encouraging dust to stick).

The solution is to remove or prevent the dust from settling on your clothes. Hanging clothes can be placed in garment bags, and you can purchase a dresser or plastic boxes for your folded garments.

Also, dust your closet. Vacuuming the closet floor can help as can keeping the dust down in your house more generally.
posted by girl flaneur at 11:24 AM on June 29, 2015

Gottabefunky, yes. You can put them anywhere :)
posted by Susan PG at 2:23 PM on July 3, 2015

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