We’ve all been there, you’re milling around a vintage shop and find that perfect pair of jeans: lovingly broken in over the decades and stylish beyond words. There’s just one problem. Once you get them home that telltale odor of age just won’t leave.
This ‘old’ smell can come from multiple sources, among them:
Being stored around mothballs
Being subjected to moisture
Whatever fragrance the previous owner favored
Though it doesn’t ruin the look of a pair of jeans, an unwanted smell can definitely put a damper on that new find. So with that in mind, we’ve assembled some tips and tricks to getting unwanted smells out of your denim. Though these helpful tips can be applied to almost any garment, old or new, for the purposes of this piece we’re going to be focused on vintage jeans.
Some people will tell you that you can simply put a few BBQ briquettes in with your jeans to remove the smell, but this isn’t true. The difference between that charcoal and ‘activated’ charcoal is that the latter has been treated with oxygen to open up million of small odor-absorbing pores in the carbon. Odor molecules are attracted to the charcoal and bond by chemical reaction. The result is a very effective odor-absorbing tool. Just remember to replace the charcoal every now and then, since like a sponge, once it’s saturated it will not absorb any more smells.
Though not at effective as charcoal, your classic broadsheet will absorb smells associated with moisture (most commonly with denim, mildew). Just ball up some newspaper loosely to allow for air to circulate around it. Put some in the pockets and legs and then put the entire pair of jeans into a plastic bag overnight. If the denim contains a lot of moisture and the newspaper is saturated with moisture, repeat the process until the newspaper emerges dry.
Note: Newspaper is also a great way to dry jeans without having to throw them in the dryer and risk shrinking.
Vinegar has long been used as a natural, effective cleaning tool, and this applies to pulling scents from your denim. The key here is to only use distilled white vinegar and nothing else, since it won’t be nearly as effective.
For light smells, hang the denim in an enclosed area like a closet and place a bowl of vinegar in there with it overnight. The vinegar should absorb the smells effectively and efficiently. Alternatively, you can use a spray bottle and lightly mist the jeans. As the vinegar evaporates, so with the odors it absorbs. Don’t worry, your jeans won’t smell like vinegar when you’re done.
The key to baking soda absorbing odors comes from the fact that odors offensive to the human nose typically result in something having an off-balance pH. What baking soda does is neutralize that pH to effectively mask odors. It’s important to note that it will not ‘remove’ the smell, but it will render them undetectable to the human nose.