Does Dry Cleaning Remove Odors?

Does Dry Cleaning Remove Odors?

Odors: Clothing and Dry Cleaning

When you take your clothing for dry cleaning, you anticipate receiving a pristine pants suit that’s as clean and freshly scented as a machine washed sweater. No one wants to lean in for a smell of their newly dry cleaned blouse and think, “Was this actually cleaned!?” Unfortunately, since dry cleaning doesn’t actually clean in the same way as a regular washing machine, it’s not always as effective at removing odors from clothing. So there may be some additional steps required if your pants suit got extra smelly on that particularly sweaty subway ride!

If your dry clean only clothing still smells of sweat, perfume or smoke then keep reading; we have the tips and tricks to remove those odors for good.


Absorbing Odors in Clothing and Dry Cleaning

Clothing, regardless of the materials used to make a garment, is going to naturally absorb smells. In fact, there are some fabrics that will act as a literal net, catching vapors and odors. Some odors will even stick to clothing, such as sweat. This is why your body odor might cling to fabrics when you’re not wearing any antiperspirant (it’s gross, but it’s true!)

Silk, muslin, cashmere, lace, embroidered shirts, suede, and soft leathers are all common dry clean only materials - and would you believe it, many natural fibers also tend to soak up smells.

Not a great combination - dry clean only AND susceptible to soaking up those nasty scents.

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

a woman loading a professional dry cleaning machine with clothing

Imagine getting your suede skirt back from the dry cleaners only to have it smell like kerosene. That’s not the dry-clean freshness you expected, but it often happens with dry cleaned clothing. It’s true, sometimes dry cleaning even makes clothing smell worse!

Why? The solvent, otherwise known as perchloroethylene (perc).

Normally, those dry cleaning solvents dissolve swiftly on thin materials. On heavier, thicker materials, that solvent might take a long time to work its way through to evaporate. Now, it could just be the fault of the dry cleaner. Sometimes, in an attempt to cut costs, the dry cleaner will reuse dirty fluid or solvent or cut the drying time short on the garments.

Even when the dry cleaner does everything right, odors may still cling to your clothing. So don’t assume they don’t know their craft if you get a smelly garment back - this can happen for a number of reasons.

Does that mean all kinds of dry cleaning fail at removing odors? No. Not exactly. There is the lesser known liquid CO2 process—also called green cleaning or ozone dry cleaning—which is much more successful at removing scents. Within the liquid CO2 dry cleaning machine, liquid CO2 is pressurized into vapors that remove stains, as well as bad odors, like cigarette smoke and sweat.

If you’re struggling with a garment that just seems to be holding onto a smell no matter how many times it’s dry cleaned - try finding a dry cleaner who offers the liquid CO2 process.

There are some instances, however, where not even liquid CO2 dry cleaning is going to work.

How to Remove Dry Cleaning Smell Out of Clothes

woman smelling her fresh top

In the event you get your clothing back from the dry cleaners and it smells of solvent, and you can’t find a dry cleaner who uses the liquid CO2 process, you might think there’s little to be done. The good news is that you can remove that kerosene-like scent (and many others) from your dry clean only clothing with some at-home remedies.

As mentioned earlier, the kerosene smell is from perc, the solvent used in standard dry cleaning.

Since it smells heinous, you want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. Try one of the following methods to get the dry cleaning smell out of your clothes:

  • Vinegar. Run some hot water in a bath 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 kerosene scent should be removed.
  • Kitty litter. Might not sound glamorous or sanitary, but since cat litter is designed to soak up odors, it does a good job and doesn’t require your clothing to be wet. Stick the clothes in a plastic bag with a few tiny ventilation holes then cover with kitty litter. Let it sit 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 is only for thicker fabrics, not silks and other delicate fabrics.
  • 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. Tie the bag closed and let it sit for a couple of days. When you open the bag again, the smell should be gone.

And guess what? These same methods for removing the dry cleaning chemical smell from your clothes works for other scents as well.

You just have to consider the kind of fabric that you are using before choosing a DIY solution. Thinner fabrics should be put in plastic bags with something to absorb odors, since dampness could be damaging. Thicker fabrics, like suede, can get a little damp without getting ruined, so you can spritz off your heavier garments—cashmere, suede, and so on—with either watered down vodka or white vinegar.

Vodka and vinegar work well because both liquids kill bacteria. Gently mist the areas that the smells are concentrated in, like the armpits of a shirt, then hang in a well-ventilated spot.

white linen garments on hangers airing outdoors


What About Mold?

As much as you cross your fingers and pray, the wool or silks you put away for the season could get musty or moldy if stored improperly. And you might wonder, “Does dry cleaning kill mold?”

Yes, the mold spores will be killed by the dry cleaning machine and solvent. The heat within the machine will vaporize the spores. Both standard and ozone dry cleaning will also do away with the smell of mold.

So before you reach for the vodka (to spritz your mold-smelling cashmere) the dry cleaners may actually be the first and best choice.

Putting The Clean Back Into Dry Cleaning

Odors, clothing and dry cleaning: three words no one wants in a sentence AFTER the cleaning has taken place.

The good news is that most of the time, dry cleaning is enough to nix bad smells from your dry clean only garments. Sometimes however, dry cleaning doesn’t combat the smells or can result in exchanging one smell for another.

If you’re in a battle for freshness after dry cleaning, you’re hopefully now filled with hope once again that your beautiful blouse isn’t destined for the trash.

Whether it’s a change of dry cleaning process, or a DIY remedy you can now get that clean and fresh feel back into your wardrobe.

a woman sorting through dry cleaned clothes

About MothPrevention

MothPrevention® speak to customers every day about their clothes moth issues - clothes moths are a species that are ever increasing and that can cause significant damage to clothes, carpets and other home textiles.

To date, we’ve helped over 150,000 customers deal with their moth problems. We have developed professional grade solutions including proprietary pheromones, not available from anybody else in the USA, and engineered in Germany to the highest production standards.

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