How To Remove Dry Cleaning Smells and Odors

by Reader Contributors
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Our frugal readers share their most effective tips for removing dry cleaning smells and odors when your clothes return from the dry cleaners smelling bad.
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
After receiving my suede jacket back from its annual cleaning at the dry cleaners, I noticed it smelled horrible. The odor is similar to kerosene.

How do I get this odor out? I’ve tried airing the jacket outside and I’ve tried hanging it with perfume sachets, but the odor is still present. Any ideas on what will work without damaging the jacket further?

Removing Dry Cleaning Smell: Odor Advice From Chemist

The kerosene-like smell is from the solvents used in the dry cleaning process. In normal, thin material, it usually evaporates quite fast, but in a thick and dense material like suede, it is going to take a lot longer for the solvent to work its way to the surface to evaporate.

I can think of two ways to speed up the process. First, you could put the jacket into a vacuum chamber and suck out the solvent vapors (assuming you have a big vacuum chamber available.) Or put the jacket in a warm place so the solvent soaked into the leather will want to evaporate faster. The warmer the better. It may still take days though. I can’t think of any harm to the leather from any reasonably “warm” temp.

I’m a chemist and I can think of no other way to rid the material of the solvent.

Baking Soda Removes Cleaning Smells

Take the plastic bag that came with your dry cleaning and tie the top tight around the hanger so no air can escape. Fill a sock with baking soda and tie the end. Then place this sock in the bottom of the bag and tie a knot tight at the bottom of the dry cleaning bag. Let it sit this way for about five days. It will absorb the odor and usually neutralizes the odor in the clothes.

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Return Dry Cleaned Clothes

The odor you are experiencing is from the solvent they used to clean your coat, which is commonly known as “perc.” I believe it’s short for perchloroethylene. When the establishment’s dry cleaning machine is not working properly, the clothes have that musty odor to them.

When it is working properly, the clothes don’t smell like anything. You should take the coat back to the cleaners, tell them that you received the coat smelling bad and did try to air it out, and ask if they can re-clean it for no charge.

Remove Dry Cleaning Smells With Coffee

I had an old house trailer that I had stored all of my belongings in when I sold my home, clothes, furniture, etc. A raccoon got in and raised her babies. The smell was awful and I could not get it out by airing, Febreze, or any other thing I tried. A friend suggested I try coffee.

I put my things into a plastic bag with an envelope containing two tablespoons of fresh coffee grounds (right from the can). Within a few days, the odor was gone. If you have larger items, you will need more coffee envelopes.

Cleaner Can Remove Smell

If you will return the jacket to the cleaners, they will be able to remove the odor easily. The dry cleaning process uses chemicals that leave the “kerosene” odor. In fact, that’s what was used when dry cleaning was first invented! The problem is that your jacket wasn’t properly subjected to the drying process and some of the chemical has remained. Let them finish the job and you should have no more difficulty with it.

Vinegar Removes Odors

Run a bath of hot water and pour a bit of vinegar into the bath, enough that you can really smell it. Hang your jacket on the shower curtain rod and leave it for about an hour or two.

While I’ve never done this with suede smelling of kerosene, it did remove a very musty odor from an old blanket that sat in a very damp basement for months. It’s worth a try.

Evaporation Will Remove Odor

The jacket was probably cleaned in petroleum, or perk, dry cleaning solvents. You could take it back to the cleaners and complain. They will put it back in the dryer on very low heat and let the rest evaporate out of the suede.

You could also put it in your dryer and put it on air and let it go for awhile. Hanging it in the sun will work eventually. The petroleum or perk will evaporate in time if you don’t do anything but let it hang without anything close to it. Never keep it covered with plastic. That makes the smell stronger and it will take longer to air out. By the way, I worked in a dry cleaning plant for over 25 years.

Reviewed June 2023

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