Ahh, the campfire!
You’re there relaxing, chatting it up with your friends and family. The warm fire is crackling, and marshmallows are roasting for smores.
Your friend is playing campfire songs on the guitar while friendly faces pass by with a smile and a wave. The memories will last a lifetime.
Sure—perfect until you’re wondering the next day why your favorite sweater smells the way it does.
In fact, the smell is particularly musty, and it’s actually giving you a headache.
You start wondering if it has to do with the hours you spent outside at the campfire. But the smell in your sweater is worse than the smell of the actual campfire.
How long will this odor last? Could your sweater be ruined?
Since we are talking about a metal-on-metal connection, a little grease can be a good idea. Though the best type of lubrication, how to apply it, and how often to apply it can be a little bit of a gray area. At the same time, some people are hotly against the idea of greasing the hitch ball as it can lead to other possible complications.
So, before you throw out your beloved sweater because the smell of the campfire is lingering along with the pleasant memories, let’s consider some facts about that distinctive smell.
Then we’ll discuss ways to get rid of the stink—7 ways in the washing machine and 6 ways without washing.
How Long Does Campfire Smell Last In Clothes?
As mentioned before, the campfire smell can permanently affect fabrics if it’s allowed to sit for too long without washing. It even can get to the point that the clothing will never smell the same again.
This is because firewood can include a variety of compounds. Cellulose (the main substance in plant cell walls) is its primary component.
It can also contain other substances such as nitrogen, trace amounts of heavy metals, and mold.
When you start a wood fire, the heat, oxygen, and cellulose combine and cause a reaction.
As a result of the heat, most of the firewood decomposes into carbon dioxide and water vapor. But other compounds don’t dissolve; instead, they float around in the air.
In addition, the burning activates several other chemicals. These chemicals are responsible for the tell-tale scent of a campfire.
The scent can be pleasant and nostalgic while you’re relaxing by the flames, but it can also get trapped in your clothes and last longer than you expected.
Why Is It So Hard To Get That Campfire Smell Out Of Clothing?
If you weren’t sitting too close to the fire and you never came into contact with the ashes, why is the campfire smell so embedded in your clothes?
It has to do with the fabric your clothes are made of.
For example, cotton and fleece are fabrics that easily absorb scent particles, making them more prone to retaining odors like campfire smoke.
Some fabrics also hang on to the smell of wood smoke because they naturally have more space between each thread.
Smoke particles can be trapped in these spaces, causing the odor to linger for longer.
7 Ways To Get The Campfire Smell Out Of Clothes By Washing
Your next laundry trip might be the key to getting those campfire clothes smelling fresh again.
Here are 7 things you can do while washing to get the smoky smell out:
#1 Hot Water
Washing clothes with hot water will make the fibers of the clothing expand. This makes it easier for the detergent to permeate the fabric and release the campfire scent.
So use your regular laundry detergent and the hottest water possible.
Just make sure you check your clothes label to find out if it’s safe to wash with hot water without shrinking the fabric.
Vinegar is known to be an effective household deodorizer. The acetic acid involved serves to break down strong odors that cleaning detergents may not be able to neutralize on their own.
Along with baking soda, vinegar can even knock out some of the toughest odors, even the smell of diesel or propane on clothes.
There are a couple of ways you can use vinegar to get the campfire smell out of clothes: you can do a vinegar pre-soak or use the vinegar in your washing cycle.
To do the pre-soak, place the clothing in a sink and add 1 cup vinegar to some warm water.
You can also try adding a few drops of essential oil like lemon, orange, or lavender to the mixture for fragrance.
Soak your garment for 30-60 minutes before washing according to the clothing manufacturer’s instructions.
To use vinegar in the washing machine, simply add 1 cup along with your regular detergent. Wash as usual, using the hottest water the fabric can stand.
#3 Baking Soda
Do you use a box of baking soda in the fridge to absorb odors? Well, the same principle applies to getting the campfire smell out of clothes.
Science says that since baking soda is a pH neutralizer, it neutralizes the acids that cause bad odors.
To use it in the laundry to clean smoky fabrics, simply add ½ cup of baking soda to the washing machine a little while after the cycle has started.
Later in this post, we’ll talk about how you can also use baking soda to remove campfire odors from clothes without washing them.
#4 Bio-Enzymatic Cleaners
Bio-enzymatic cleaners use good bacteria to digest waste and bad odors. They can be effective for removing smoke smells from clothing.
You can find bio-enzymatic detergent brands made specifically to go in the machine with the laundry to deodorize. Others can be used as a pre-soak or spray.
Remember that each bio-enzymatic product has different application directions, so read the instructions on the packaging carefully.
#5 Lemon Juice
Have you ever noticed how many cleaning products lemons or lemon fragrance are found in?
That’s because lemons are known for their natural cleansing and deodorizing properties. For this, we can thank the citric acid since it neutralizes odors and kills bacteria.
To use lemon juice to get rid of annoying campfire smells, simply add ½ cup to the cycle and wash as usual.
Vodka has more practical uses than just for making martinis. It has been known to disinfect and deodorize fabrics, along with other surfaces.
That’s because it can unbind and neutralize certain odors in clothing fibers, allowing the bad smells to be washed away.
It’s safe on most washable fabrics, but you might want to test it first by spraying it in an inconspicuous spot.
To de-stink smelly campfire clothes, add ½ cup of cheap vodka into the machine and wash normally.
You can also use rubbing alcohol in place of the vodka to deodorize your clothes.
#7 Laundry Scent Boosters
Laundry scent boosters are commercial products designed to be used along with your detergent.
They dissolve in water to add a longer-lasting fragrance to your clothes than what you’d get using only detergent.
To use a scent booster to help get that campfire smell out of your clothes, simply add a scoop to your load of laundry and wash normally.
6 Ways To Get The Smoke Smell Out Of Clothes Without Washing
What if you have a musty campfire odor in clothes that aren’t machine washable? No worries!
Here are 6 ways to help make that lingering smoke smell disappear from your favorite camping attire without washing it:
#1 Give It Some Fresh Air
One of the simplest methods to remove odors from clothing is to let the sun and fresh breeze do the work for you!
Airing out the smoky clothes may not get rid of the smell 100%, but those who line dry their laundry can attest to the fact that sun-dried clothing is the freshest smelling.
This is because the scent molecules that bond to the fabric may deteriorate and loosen when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
These molecules that cause the odor will then be carried away by the breeze.
Let the offending garment hang outside to air out for at least 24 hours. It would be best to do so in a spot away from any area where the campfire smell still lingers.
#2 Use Baking Soda
It’s time for us to revisit the wonderful deodorizing ability of baking soda, this time without the washing machine!
Place the clothes you want to deodorize in an extra-large zipper bag or any bag that can seal and is large enough for the clothing to fit in.
Pour ½ to 1 cup of baking soda in the bag with the clothes, seal or tie it up, and give the bag a good shake.
Allow the mixture to sit overnight to allow the baking soda to absorb the odor.
The next day, take the bag outside and shake off the baking soda. Tumble the clothes in a dryer set to low or no heat to remove all the excess baking soda, along with the smoky smell.
Use a steamer or a steam iron to get odors out. Another way to get rid of embedded campfire odors is to steam it out.
First, double-check the tag to be sure steaming the garment will be okay. You can use a commercial clothes steamer if you have access to one.
Or you can use an iron on the steam setting. Fill the iron with distilled water and slowly pass it over the entire garment until all areas have been steamed.
You can add 1 part rubbing alcohol with 3 parts water to the iron for extra-strength deodorizing.
Another option is to hang the clothing in the bathroom to steam. If you have a bathtub, you can fill it with hot water and vinegar, then let the garment hang in there for at least 10 minutes.
You can also steam the musty campfire odor out of the garment while you run a hot shower.
#4 Dryer Sheets
Here’s a simple fix for the foul smell: simply wipe the garment down with your favorite dryer sheets.
The scented sheets will replace the smoky odors with a fresh fragrance and also fight static.
#5 Odor Eliminating Spray
You can purchase a commercial odor-eliminating spray, or you can make your own.
Just spray it all over the clothes you want to freshen up and let it rest until the spray dries and the odor disappears.
Here are some options and ratios to make the DIY formulas:
#6 Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal is an effective absorbent, from absorbing toxins in the gut after food poisoning to filtering out impurities in water. It also can act to absorb and neutralize odors.
Keep in mind that this is not the same charcoal that you get as briquettes for the barbecue.
Activated charcoal has been treated with heat or chemicals to make it highly porous. This porosity allows it to absorb odor-causing chemicals in the air around it effectively.
You can purchase activated charcoal in loose powder form, in small bags, or in a canister.
To use activated charcoal to freshen your campfire clothes, put the activated charcoal bag or canister in a box along with your stinky clothes.
If you have the charcoal in loose powder form, you can tie it up in a thin cloth or some pantyhose.
Close up the box and let the clothes and charcoal sit for 5-7 days. When you open the box, your favorite campfire clothes should be fresh and good as new!
See You Around The Campfire!
So there you have it! Just like that, you’ve saved your favorite campfire attire from being tossed.
And now you can enjoy that next evening around the campfire without having to worry about ruining your clothes from the smell!
If you decide you totally want to avoid having a campfire smell sticking around, you can still enjoy the warmth and ambiance of a campfire by using a portable propane fire pit.
Do you have any tried and true methods for getting stale campfire odors out of clothes? Let us know in the comments below. In the meantime, see you around the campfire!