Thrift store smell
February 24, 2008 8:48 PM   Subscribe

What is that thrift store smell?

What makes thrift stores smell, and why do they all smell the same? Is it just a mix of general funk and b.o., or is there some chemical they are spraying on everything?
posted by bokinney to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I know that smell. I think of it as "old lady" smell. I think it may be mothballs.
posted by Evangeline at 8:55 PM on February 24, 2008

Mothballs and wet basement.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:59 PM on February 24, 2008

I think it's decay. I had two sets of grandparents, one rich and one poor. The rich set didn't keep much old crap. The poor set did. Guess which set smelled like a thrift store?
posted by muzzlecough at 8:59 PM on February 24, 2008

Mildew and dust.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:09 PM on February 24, 2008

There's a myth that thrift stores wash the stuff donated to them, but in fact, unless something is visibly soiled, they hang it out on the racks. So the smells you are smelling are indeed BO, dirty feet, mildew, etc. Textiles absorb odors.

A lot of homeless, desperate, disabled and mentally ill folks shop at thrift stores. One thrift store I used to go to had signs in the dressing rooms that said: "Please do not use the dressing room as a bathroom!" My local thrift stores have recently had a problem with a customer urinating into housewares in the store.

Also, quite a few of the donations at thrift stores may be coming from the homes of elderly people. Cigarettes, dimestore perfumes and even some medications can cause people's stuff to smell funky.

I buy most of my clothes at thrift stores, but I have a good dry cleaner and a fondness for laundry products!
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:30 PM on February 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've heard it was a delousing agent, but I can't remember who told me this.
posted by bunji at 9:37 PM on February 24, 2008

I don't know, but I do think Goodwill smells different from all other thrift stores. I think they do spray the clothes with something, because there is a sickly sweet smell to the clothes that doesn't come off until they've been washed MANY times. It reminds me of that sawdust they use to soak up puke at the fair. Bleh.
posted by peep at 10:12 PM on February 24, 2008

Picture if you will, The Bargain Barn, a facility operated by Goodwill Industries in Santa Cruz. The Bargain Barn features for purchase all the things that don't sell at the Goodwill stores or for some reason, never make it there. These reasons are best left indeterminate. The merchandise is snowshoveled into large, wide bins in the barn in the morning and snowshoveled out to the trash in the afternoon. Clothing is by the pound, everything else they just eyeball. The deals are amazing. The smell moreso. The place smells strongly of Thrift Store, but also rainwater (it's literally a barn, a hangar) and incense. It's run by some freaky people who play lots of reggae. It leaves a residue on your hands to rifle through the piles of clothes, and it makes you sneeze.

So whatever it is, it can go in your nose and make you sneeze. That's all I need to know to wash thrift store clothes before I wear them.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:13 PM on February 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

I would say steamed dust mixed with various random funks and a dash of industrial cleaner from the bins the items are stored in. It is correct that thrift stores do not clean donated clothes, but the bigger ones steam dresses, suits and jackets before pricing them and putting them on the racks. If they use any kind of delousing agent, I never saw it in action - one place I worked used a sonic pest control system. Knick knacks, dishes and electronics sometimes get a perfunctory dusting while being priced. I worked on the floor, but my hands would be black from grime and hanger grease by the end of the day.

I worked at a Goodwill as well - again, I wasn't in processing, so I don't know if they have a proprietary blend of Goodwill pong, but they certainly do smell different. When I left work people could smell it on me.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:01 AM on February 25, 2008

Seattle's Capitol Hill Value Village has a rather unique creosote scent.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:09 AM on February 25, 2008

And you can't forget decades of lingering cigarette odor.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:07 AM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

A new Goodwill opened near me recently. I went in a few days after it opened, and the first thing I noticed was the smell -- or rather, the lack of the expected smell. So, whatever it is, it takes a while to build up.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:16 AM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think of it as layers of smell.

Sweat, dead skin, dirt, dust, perfumes, smoking residue, bodily fluids, food residue, moth balls, faint whiffs of detergent - from the owners or individual

Adding the clothing to the huge bin just combines them into a melting pot of bacteria that creates a stench so overpowering I have to step outside the thrift shop every so often to catch my breath.
posted by janedoe at 8:19 AM on February 25, 2008

I call it "thrift whiff."

It's the sole reason I learned to shop so very quickly in thrift stores (by comparison, my mom takes FOREVER).
posted by at 9:07 AM on February 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

I can't explain the smell, and I agree that Goodwill smells different than others, which is a strange realization now that I read that today.
In addition, I tend to get a very upset stomach after I've been in the Goodwill for more than a few minutes (and only in Goodwills) when I mentioned that to my roommate, she said that she did as well. Odd coincidence?
posted by evalenza at 7:21 PM on February 25, 2008

Response by poster: Carol Anne: That Value Village is precisely the place that prompted this question. My wife and I shop there frequently, and we're always wondering what causes that particularly pungent odor.
posted by bokinney at 7:55 PM on February 25, 2008

They put all the clothes into those metal cabinets and spray them with a chemical to kill bugs. I do know this one, one of my family members was an exec with Goodwill.
posted by chocolatetiara at 7:21 AM on March 5, 2008

I have no idea where that smell comes from. I bought a pillow case and a duvet cover, I washed it and set it up in my room. My entire suite eventually started to smell like value village. I did some research and Vinegar was touted by some to remove this stench. I took it to the laundry place and added 3/4 of a cup of white vinegar and blammo the smell was gone. It doesn't really relate to where the smell comes from, however when I was looking for solutions on how to get rid of this smell this was one of the first things that came up. Just looking out for the others that may be in a similar situation. And no this is not an april fools day joke, Vinegar actually does get the smell out. I'm serious.
posted by karpet at 5:32 PM on April 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

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