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How to Remove Smoke Smell from Clothes: The Ultimate Guide

How to Remove Smoke Smell from Clothes

Cigarette smoke can be difficult to get out of clothing. The lingering odor seems to cling to fabric and resist normal washing. But don’t despair – with the right techniques and products, you can successfully remove smoke smell from clothes.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain why smoke odor is so stubborn, and provide step-by-step instructions for getting rid of it. We’ll cover home remedies, commercial products, and laundry best practices. With a little time and effort, you’ll have fresh, smoke-free clothes again.

Why Smoke Smell Lingers in Clothes

The Chemical Composition of Cigarette Smoke

Cigarette smoke is an aerosol, which means it contains liquid droplets and gases suspended in air. Some of the major chemicals found in cigarette smoke include:

  • Nicotine: The addictive compound in tobacco. Nicotine has a pungent, nose-wrinkling smell.
  • Tar: A sticky, brown substance that stains teeth and fingernails yellow. Tar has a harsh, acrid odor.
  • Hydrocarbons: Chemical compounds that give smoke a kerosene-like smell.
  • Nitrogen oxides: Give smoke a sharp, biting odor.
  • Hydrogen cyanide: Smells like bitter almonds.
  • Ammonia: Adds a urine-like smell.
  • Acetaldehyde: Smells similarly to rotten apples.

Many of these chemicals have a low boiling point, which allows them to evaporate quickly into vapor. But some components, like tar and nicotine, are less volatile. They can condense onto surfaces like clothing, skin and hair – carrying odors with them.

Why Odors Linger in Fabrics

When cigarette smoke contacts clothing, odor molecules become trapped in fibers and fabric weave. Natural fibers like cotton, wool and silk are especially prone to holding odors because they are more absorbent. Synthetics like polyester are less absorbent, but smoke can still adhere to the surface of the fibers.

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Odors bond strongly to fabrics through a variety of forces, including:

  • Adsorption: Molecules adhere loosely to the surface of fibers, similar to clinging with suction cups.
  • Absorption: Molecules penetrate into the fibers themselves. This creates a stronger, more lasting bond.
  • Chemisorption: Chemical bonding occurs between odor molecules and the textile fibers. This creates the most stubborn type of odor bonding.

The end result is that smoke smell becomes firmly lodged in the clothing fabric. Normal laundry and airing out is often not enough to fully remove the odors. Special treatments are needed.

How to Remove Smoke Smell from Clothes

Remove Smoke Smell from Clothes

Here are the most effective methods for removing cigarette smoke odor from clothing, step-by-step:

1. Air Out the Clothes

Before washing, allow clothes to air out thoroughly. The longer smoke odors are allowed to off-gas from the fabric, the less remains to be removed.


  • Hang or lay clothes outdoors. Direct sun and airflow will help dissipate odors.
  • If needed, use fans to keep air circulating around the clothes. Box fans work well.
  • Allow clothes to air out for at least 6-12 hours before washing. Longer (24-48 hours) is better if possible.

2. Pre-treat With White Vinegar

White vinegar is mildly acidic, which helps break down odor molecules lodged in fabric. The vinegar smell also helps mask lingering smoke odors.


  • Fill a spray bottle with undiluted white vinegar.
  • Lightly mist vinegar over the clothing, focusing on the worst smoke-smelling areas.
  • For heavy smoke odor, consider soaking clothes in a basin of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water. Soak 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Allow clothes to air dry fully before washing.

3. Wash With Detergent and Borax

For the washing machine, use a heavy-duty laundry detergent combined with borax. The surfactants in detergent help lift odor molecules from the fabric. Borax works to inhibit redeposition of odors during washing.


  • Choose a high-efficiency (HE) detergent for optimal cleaning. Look for detergents containing enzymes for extra odor-fighting power.
  • Add 1 2 cup borax along with the normal amount of HE detergent to the wash.
  • Wash clothes on the hottest setting allowed for the fabric. Hot water helps release odors.
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4. Add Laundry Boosters

Laundry boosters are supplements that can enhance the effectiveness of your regular detergent. Two excellent options for smoke odor are:

  • Baking soda: Helps remove acids from fabric that contribute to odors. Add 1 2 cup baking soda in with the wash.
  • Oxygen bleach: Breaks down odor molecules through oxidation. Use according to package directions. Safe for most fabrics.

5. Use an Oxygen Bleach

Oxygen bleach (hydrogen peroxide or sodium percarbonate) can provide extra odor-eliminating power. Follow product instructions to add it to the wash cycle.

Benefits of oxygen bleach:

  • Attacks the chemical bonds of odor molecules, breaking them down.
  • Converts absorbed odors into water and oxygen, helping release them from fabric.
  • Safe for most fabrics aside from silk, wool and spandex.

Alternative option: Hang clothes in direct sunlight to naturally bleach with UV rays. Sunlight also neutralizes odors.

6. Air Dry Thoroughly

The high heat of machine drying can bake leftover smoke odors into fabric. Allow clothes to fully air dry instead. Outside drying is ideal – sunlight and fresh air continue deodorizing.

If air drying inside, use fans to keep plenty of airflow over the clothes. Repeat air drying 2-3 times before wearing to ensure all lingering odors have dissipated.

7. Try Activated Charcoal if Needed

For really stubborn smoke smells, activated charcoal can help absorb the remaining odors.


  • Place charcoal briquettes or odor absorber packs in a sealed bin with the clothing. Use about 1 cup of briquettes per garment.
  • Seal tightly and let sit 1-3 days so charcoal can extract odors.
  • For best results, stir clothes occasionally to expose all sides to charcoal.
  • When odor free, remove packs and store clothes normally.

Actived charcoal can also be added to the wash cycle. Use up to 1 4 cup per load in a tied cloth bag. This prevents charcoal dust from contacting clothes.

Common Questions about Removing Smoke Smell from Clothes

Still have questions about getting cigarette odors out of clothing Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

1. Should clothes be washed before or after airing out

For best results, air clothes out as long as possible before washing. This allows fresh airflow to start releasing trapped smoke odors so less remains in the fabric. Washing too soon can set odors that could have been air dried out.

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2. Does freezing or chilling clothes help remove odors

Freezing is not effective for removing smoke smells. Extreme cold only temporarily masks odors. It does not destroy odor molecules or release them from fabric. Allowing clothes to air out at room temperature is better.

3. How does ozone work for smoke odors

Ozone generators create ozone gas, which reacts with odor molecules. However, ozone can damage rubber, spandex and dyes if not used properly. It also produces a toxic gas. Other methods are safer and just as effective.

4. What temperature water should be used to wash smoke-smelling clothes

Hot water is best – the hottest allowed for the fabric type. Heat helps activate detergents and release ground-in odors. However, cold water can also work if you use sufficient detergent and odor removers like borax and baking soda.

5. Can dry cleaning remove smoke smells from clothes

Dry cleaning uses chemical solvents instead of water. This can effectively eliminate odors, including cigarette smoke. However, chemicals may degrade fabrics more over time compared to home washing. Dry cleaning is also more expensive.


Removing cigarette odors from clothing takes patience and persistence. With the proper techniques, even heavy smoke smells can be conquered. The key steps are to thoroughly air out clothes, pre-treat with products like vinegar and borax, wash in hot water with added laundry boosters, and always line dry. Activated charcoal can aid in absorbing very stubborn lingering odors. With concerted effort, you can restore your clothes to fresh, smoke-free condition.

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