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How to Get Rid of Closet Odor Naturally

by Je
Shirts in a closet.

If fragrance can lift your mood to the skies, a stale smell with a whiff of stench keeps it firmly chained to the ground.

Are you frustrated by that odd smell that you’ve now accepted as part of your wardrobe?

In this post, we will dive into why our seemingly clean clothes smell and also cover eco-friendly and natural ways to get rid of closet odor.

Why our closet smells

That mood-crunching, gag-reflex-inducing, sour smell in closets is often attributed to smelly shoes and socks.

True, they can sneak past the security checkpoint and affect those unsuspecting jackets, shirts and trousers.

But socks and shoes are just two offenders of a gang of many. There are others too.

Dampness is the number one perpetrator. Clothes that are not fully dried before they enter the closet can develop mold which can spread throughout the wardrobe.

Your natural sweat is also no innocent bystander. You put one bacteria-filled piece of clothing in your closet and a riot is not far away.

Overpacking the wardrobe is another cause. This results in lack of air circulation, high humidity and eventually your clothes smelling bad.

Sometimes it’s not the closet but a poorly ventilated room which is the culprit.

And then there is the matter of lingering cigarette smoke and pest urine and droppings.

But problems also have solutions. So, let’s look at ways to tackle these odor demons.

Cleaning your closet

If your closet already smells because of the reasons given above, you might want to empty and clean it before putting your clothes back.

First things first, air your clothes.

While that is being done, you can clean your closet with soapy water, or a solution of two-parts warm water and one-part vinegar. For greasy surfaces, use a mix of equal parts vodka and water.

Or you may want to deodorize your room and closet with a combination of one gallon warm water, a quarter cup of baking soda and half a cup of vinegar.

Even if the smell goes away, there is no harm in using an odor absorber to maintain the freshness of the wardrobe.

And maintaining freshness and keeping odor away is what we’ll focus on in the section below.

How to freshen up a closet using eco-friendly air fresheners

The obvious answer to wardrobe smelling issues is an air freshener. But that comes with its own set of issues. Most of these commercial household air fresheners comprise toxins and organic compounds that can lead to health issues like asthma.

But there are natural alternatives you can use, such as the ones below.

DIY gel air freshener

This recipe is an easy and natural way to add fragrance to your closet.

  • Heat about 1.5 cups of water till it’s just above warm but not hot. Add four packets of flavourless gelatine and stir till it is well combined with the water.
  • To this mixture, add a tablespoon of salt and once again stir well.
  • If you want your gel to match your decor, you may add a food color of your choice. Use about four drops and mix well.
  • It is around this time that you can add half a cup of vodka (does not have to be Russia’s finest) and about 25 drops of your preferred essential oil to give your gel the desired fragrance.
  • Pour the mix in a jar and set it aside for about six hours till it cools to a gel-like consistency.

Then you put it in the closet and let the magic work.


This is the most fun of all the solutions in the list, with all due love and respect to them.

Orange pomander

The best part is that a DIY pomander is no rocket science. Here’s how you can create your own…

  • Start by selecting your choice of fruit. Historically orange has always been favored but you can also use lime, grapefruit or any citrus fruit.
  • Grab a toothpick and puncture the surface, making a pattern of holes. After this, insert cloves into each one of the holes. (To make the smell last longer, try to keep the holes as close to each other as possible.)
  • You can now wipe the entire fruit with about four drops of cinnamon oil.
  • Once that is done, keep the fruit in a dry and cool place for about a month or till the pomander has fully dried.

I know it’s a long time but good things come to those who wait. Right?

How do you know it’s fully dried?

This can be determined by tapping it; a hollow sound means it is ready for action.

Hang this dried fruit in your closet to give your clothes a cool fragrance.

Wooden hangers

Cedar hangers can keep the closet fresh while also absorbing the moisture in the closet.

In fact, you can infuse your wooden hangers with essential oils of your choice, such as lavender or lemongrass which can actually help ward off insects.

Scented blocks of wood

How about getting a little rustic and using a simple block of wood?

The earthy sandalwood is one amazing option, which you can keep in a corner of your closet. Over time, your clothes will absorb the scent.

If you have other wood which does not quite please the olfactory senses the way sandalwood does, simply treat them with essential oils.

Wooden blocks can be coated with lavender, rosemary or lemon, which are some of the more common essential oils for closet use.

And it does not have to be a bland old piece of wood. Add a personal touch by carving a design into the wood or ask your local carpenter to do it for you.

You can save the chippings for a potpourri.

Activated bamboo charcoal

Here’s an odor eliminator and not a mere masker.

If you are looking for odor absorbers the keep your closet from smelling and also purify the air, look no further than activated charcoal. It’s probably the best closet freshener.

This form of charcoal is made by burning bamboo.

Using a block of activated charcoal for your closet is straightforward.

Just put it in a breathable pouch and keep it in your closet. Over time, the charcoal absorbs all the odor from the closet space.

The best part about activated charcoal is that it can be reused. All you need to do is keep it in sunlight and the heat will take away the trapped odor. How simple is that?

Baking soda

Baking soda invariably features in most “natural” lists and it invariably makes an appearance here.

While it is regularly used in DIY cleaning products and to eliminate body odor, baking soda does a bang-up job with clothes too.

The recipe is simple.

  • Take half a cup of baking soda in a jar, add about 10 drops of your favorite essential oil and give it a good stir.
  • You can choose to keep the jar open in the closet or cover it with perforated lid or paper to let the scent circulate.

Feel free to decorate the jar if the sight of baking soda is too bland for your taste.

White vinegar

If the ubiquitous baking soda makes the list, it makes sense to give white vinegar the same privilege.

  • Mix equal parts of white vinegar and water.
  • Put the solution in a spray bottle and spritz your clothes to keep them odor-free.

Do make sure to turn your shirt or pants inside out before spritzing, and use the solution especially for problem areas like the armpit.

Also, first ensure that there are no reactions with the garment. Dab a little on it and wait, just to leave no doubt.

And don’t worry about smelling like salad. The smell of vinegar dissipates pretty quickly.

DIY potpourri sachets

Potpourri can also hold closet odor at bay, and making some is not all that difficult.

DIY potpourri sachets to get rid of closet odor

What you need are dried flowers, essential oils and any other herb or spice you may want to use.

  • Put a few drops of your preferred essential oil to the combination of dried flowers and spices.
  • Set it aside in a bowl for two weeks for the smells to mix.
  • Place them in sachets or nets and keep them in your closet.


Vodka is another go-to solution. Use a combination of water and the alcohol in a ratio of 3:1 and keep the liquid in a spray bottle.

Spritz it in areas giving off musty or damp odor and it will literally lift the smell away when it evaporates.

Bar soaps

Bar soaps also work to get rid of closet odor.

You can wrap your natural soap in breathable fabric and keep in your closet.

When they get warm, bar soaps release their scent which can add fragrance to your wardrobe.

Wool dryer balls

Wool dryer balls are a proven eco-friendly way to keep clothes from crumpling in the dryer.

But they do not have to get relegated to the bin once they’ve done their job.

You can use them in compost or as a natural solution to your wardrobe odor problems.

Simply put an essential oil of your choice on them and keep the dryer balls in your closet to add freshness and fragrance to your clothes.

Coffee grounds

Coffee grounds are another effective alternative to eliminate odor.

To use them in your closet, simply put them in a container that has a few holes in the covering lid. Replace the grounds every four weeks.

Calcium chloride crystals

These do the same effective job of eliminating odor as baking soda, activated charcoal and ground coffee.

Besides, they also absorb moisture.

Things to remember to get rid of closet odor

The air-freshening and odor-solutions listed above should help you get rid of closet odor.

So, you have your clothes in minty-fresh condition. Now what? Will it stay like that forever?

Alas, odor is one stubborn son of a gun and will wait patiently to attack your closet like birds following trawlers.

Keeping your closet and clothes in constant state of mint-freshness requires vigilance on your part.

This is what you must do for best results.

Clean and organize your clothes and every now and then on a sunny day and keep the closet doors open to sunlight. This prevents mildew.

Putting your clothes in a cleaned closet also means that there is no bad odor in the closet that can be transferred to your wardrobe.

Only completely dried clothes should be allowed access into the closet. Sweaty clothes? A strict no-no.

Also, keep clothes at a distance from each other so air can circulate properly.

And say no to plastic bags. Not only do these bags result in your clothes smelling moldy but using cloth bags also means you are reducing your plastic footprint.

This is especially true for leather garments. In fact, if possible keep them out of bags and give them as much space as possible.

And go for natural fibers like cotton or wool. They are less liable to stink than their synthetic counterparts, besides being good options for slow fashion.

What about footwear?

If your closet smells like shoes, it’s most likely damp footwear that is to blame. Before they enter the closet, ensure your shoes are completely dry and put them in boxes after inserting silica packets in them.

And clean your metal hangers regularly, if you are using them. The thing about metal hangers is that they do not emit a metal smell till it’s activated by the oils from dirty fingers.

Finally, go Marie Kondo on your wardrobe. Old clothes, especially those that are not maintained rigorously, emit a musty smell that can spread.

For an even more eco-friendly lifestyle, combine these tips with an eco-friendly laundry routine.

Do you have any favorite tips to get rid of closet odor? Let us know in the comments.

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Adam May 11, 2020 - 3:19 pm

I made a pomander when I was at school, when we were learning about the Tudors. That would be a nice activity for the kids, thanks for reminding me of it ?

Je May 17, 2020 - 6:17 pm

Isn’t it fascinating that something that was popular during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period is still relevant now? 🙂
Glad you found this useful.

Lisa May 11, 2020 - 3:28 pm

To be honest, I’d never even thought about closet odour (luckily I don’t have that problem!) but I love the idea of activated charcoal, homemade pomanders, and essential oil coated pieces of wood. All eco-friendly and all easy to make yourself. Genius! Thank you so much for sharing this 🙂 Lisa

Je May 17, 2020 - 6:16 pm

Activated bamboo charcoal happens to be one of my favorites too. Right now I have a block of sandalwood in one of my closets : )

AK May 11, 2020 - 4:49 pm

I think I know now why my clothes sometimes smell a little off despite me keeping them as clean as humanly possible. Loved all the tips, especially the pomander and gel DIYs. Not the best with making things but I’ll give it a shot.

Je May 17, 2020 - 6:13 pm

Thanks. I’m sure they’ll turn out well. Let me know if you have any questions. : )

Jaya Avendel May 11, 2020 - 9:22 pm

As a lover of incense and block wood, as well as potpourri bags, I never once thought of bar soap! I love the idea, since so many soaps smell too good to use, and I wonder if one could also use scented candles?
Thanks for sharing!

Je May 17, 2020 - 6:11 pm

Scented beeswax bars also do a good job of keeping your clothes smelling good. You can make them on your own as well. : )

Ashley June 30, 2020 - 11:42 am

There are so many great tips! I am going to try the Pomander – I can imagine it smells incredible! Thanks for sharing xxx

Je July 1, 2020 - 5:12 am

Sounds good! It’s an all-natural air freshener and easy to make.
Thanks for your comment. 🙂

Comments are closed.

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