We’ve all been there – you pull a shirt, sweater, or other beloved piece of clothing out of the laundry basket or dresser drawer only to be hit with the unpleasant stench of dirty socks. That funky foot odor somehow made its way into the fabric and just won’t let go. Don’t despair – with some effort, it is possible to banish that dirty sock smell from your clothes for good.
Identify the Source
First, try to figure out exactly where that smell is coming from. Give all of your laundry a big sniff test. In most cases, the stench likely transferred from an actual pair of stinky socks in the wash. But sometimes that odor can linger in a washing machine too. Run an empty hot water cycle with either vinegar or baking soda to help clean out any leftover grime.
Check the Care Label
Before doing anything, read the garment care label on any smelly items. That will tell you the best way to launder the fabric without risking shrinkage or damage. Stick to cold water for delicates and synthetics so as not to set the stink further. For whites and other durable items, hot water is key to killing bacteria and loosening soils. Note any warnings about bleach too.
Wash Twice with Detergent
Washing smelly clothes twice with a healthy amount of laundry detergent can help a lot. Use an extra rinse cycle too if possible. Detergents with active ingredients and enzymes specifically aimed at removing odors are best. Look for keywords like “Odor Defense” or “Smell Eliminator” on the labels. Powder detergents tend to work slightly better than liquids too. Just be sure to follow dosage instructions carefully.
Add White Vinegar
For most laundry loads, adding 1 to 2 cups of distilled white vinegar directly into the wash cycle along with the detergent can really help remove that dirty sock essence. Vinegar is a natural deodorizer, breaking down the compounds that cause nasty scents. It also works to cut any detergent residue left behind that might trap and magnify smells. Just never mix vinegar and bleach! After the wash cycle, double check that all vinegar smell is rinsed out thoroughly.
Use Oxygen Bleach
If the care labels allow for bleaching, choose an oxygen-based powder bleach over chlorine bleach. Check the ingredients for “sodium percarbonate”. That releases hydrogen peroxide to get out stains and smells. Make a paste with the powder and hot water before adding to the wash to boost effectiveness. This type of bleach is color-safe and won’t damage fabrics. But confirm first on a small hidden area just in case. Rinse extremely well afterwards.
As a laundry booster, borax is another excellent odor eliminator for smelly clothes that can take the place of bleach. It works to directly destroy the bacteria behind malodors instead of just covering them up. For a standard size load, add 1/2 cup borax powder along with detergent. Increase to 1 cup borax for very smelly or extra large loads. This natural mineral solution is safe for most washable fabrics. But skip using borax on silk, wool, or any clothing with spandex or latex.
Air Dry Thoroughly
Regardless of the wash method, be sure to air dry affected items thoroughly in sunlight if possible. The heat and UV rays will further banish bacteria and odor compounds in the fibers. Hang clothes outside on a line or lay flat in direct sunlight. If weather doesn’t permit outdoor drying, use an indoor rack in a room with plenty of ventilation and a fan blowing. Avoid tossing slightly smelly clothes in the dryer before total freshness is restored. The heat can set the stench permanently over time.
Use Activated Charcoal
For clothes that still smell a bit off after washing and drying, activated charcoal can come to the rescue. Simply place a few odor absorber bags full of loose charcoal pellets into a sealed bin or plastic storage tote with the stinky garments for a day or two. The porous material will pull most lingering smells from the fabric. Just be sure to keep charcoal away from food, as it could then absorb and retain new odors. Repeat the charcoal treatment as needed between wears.
When All Else Fails…
For seriously smelly socks and other delicates that resist cleaning, disposal may ultimately be the only solution. But before throwing them away, consider repurposing ratty old t-shirts, underwear, and single socks. Cut them up to use as dusting rags or garage shop towels instead of introducing them back into your laundry room or dresser. No one wants to catch a whiff of eau de dirty sock every time they reach for a “clean” pair!
With some perseverance and the right combination of odor-fighting ingredients, even the stinkiest sock smell doesn’t stand a chance. Say goodbye to that foul foot funk ruining your wardrobe once and for all!