Camping & Hiking

How to Get Campfire Smell Out of Clothes? [7 Simple Ways]

We often go camping to unwind and get away from our hectic lives. But I found something else that lingers from our camping trips, besides the great memories. And that’s the smell of smoke from last night’s campfire being embedded in our clothing

And who knew it was so hard to get rid of!

If you’ve ever had a hard time trying to eliminate this obnoxious smell from your clothes or even your tent, don’t worry. I’m about to show you how to get rid of that campfire smell!

campfire chemistry

Campfire Chemistry 101

Firewood contains many substances, depending on where it comes from and how it is stored. Although its main constituent is cellulose (organic matter that plants are made of), it can also harbor other compounds, like nitrogen, small quantities of heavy metals, and mold.

When you ignite a fire, a combustion reaction takes place, which combines heat, oxygen, and cellulose.

The heat breaks down most firewood into carbon dioxide and water vapor, but not all substances can decompose, and they precipitate in the air.

Therefore, they linger in the vapor and are visible because these molecules reflect sunlight. This is why you can see smoke.

Also, combustion produces a variety of unstable substances, such as aldehydes, polycyclic hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides, and others. These compounds are the cause of the smell emitted by smoke.

Even more, inhaling the fumes can lead to certain health issues, such as difficulty breathing, eye irritation, coughing, and headaches.

However, studies have not shown compelling evidence that exposure to soot can increase the risk of cancer.

Why does Smoke Remain in Clothing?

Some people wonder why the smell of smoke persists on their clothes if they never come into direct contact with the ash or soot.

Many people, like me, are very sensitive to odors and can easily detect smells, even when they aren’t that strong. However, the reason lies in the absorption properties of your garments.

Some fabrics, such as cotton, nylon, and fleece, absorb scent particles easily in their fabrics, which makes them more prone to retain smells, like smoke and fumes.

Nonetheless, certain garments, like merino wool, are designed specifically to retain no odors and smells, are removed easily after a simple wash.

Some clothing also retains wood smoke because they possess large surface areas within the fibers. Although you may not see it since it is practically microscopic, there is space between each thread. These spaces can trap smoke particles, allowing the smell to stay for longer periods.

guy sitting next to campfire

How to Get Wood Smoke Smell Out of Clothes?

Now that you understand the logic behind the presence of wood smoke in your clothing, there are many methods and substances you can employ to remove the nauseating odor.

The approaches are rather simple, and some items range from common household products to store-bought chemicals.

Exposure to Sunlight and Wind

If you don’t want to wait until you are home to wash your clothes, you can use the sun to your advantage. The ultraviolet rays emitted by the sun can break down chemical substances adhered to garments, while the wind can brush off floating smoke particles.

Therefore, you can place your shirt or pants over a clothesline or a tree branch and let Mother Nature works its magic.

This may not be the most effective approach, but it can minimize the odor and make it easier to remove the smell with a simple wash.

Using Hot Water

You can also try to remove the smoke smell at the campsite or at home using hot water and a color-safe detergent. As you may know, hot temperatures allow odors and solid substances to be eliminated from many objects, including clothing.

This is because high temperatures cause the fibers of your clothes to expand and make it easier for the water to rinse away smoke molecules.

The detergent can also break down the smoke smell more efficiently.

Just heat some water and soak your clothes for about 30 minutes before letting it air dry or use the washing mashing with the highest setting. You might be surprised to see that the smoke smell is barely noticeable.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

Vinegar and baking soda are common household items that are known to have deodorizing properties.

Vinegar contains acetic acid, which breaks down scent residue and chemicals and disintegrates them while baking soda neutralizes odors by absorbing them.

Sometimes, they can penetrate deeper into the fabrics than some branded deodorizer. Ideally, you need to carry out the following instructions:

  1. Drench your clothes in a container with hot water
  2. Make a solution using one cup of baking soda and about 250 ml of vinegar.
  3. Incorporate the mix in the container thoroughly and let it sit from 30 minutes to one hour.
  4. Rinse out the excess water from your clothes.
  5. Finishing cleaning your garments in the washing machine.

You can eliminate the smell with just one wash, but you can repeat a couple of times until the smell is no longer present. If your clothes cannot be soaked or placed in a washing machine, you can remove the smell only using the baking soda.

  1. Acquire a sealable plastic bag and incorporate half a cup of baking soda inside of it.
  2. Place your garment and add two dryer sheets.
  3. Seal the bag and shake it to spread the baking soda evenly.
  4. Let the clothes rest inside the bag for a day.
  5. Take your garment out of the bag and shake it to remove the excess baking powder.
  6. Utilize a lint remover or a soft-bristled brush to eliminate the remaining residue.
  7. If possible, you can also use a vacuum cleaner.
  8. If the scent is gone, you can proceed with dry-cleaning.
  9. If not, repeat the process until the odor is eliminated.

Alcohol or Liquor

Believe it or not, alcohol has both disinfecting and deodorizing capabilities. It can unbind the bonds of smoke residue in your clothes’ fibers, making it easier to remove strong odors, such as smoke.

What you need to do is:

  1. Soak your clothes in lukewarm water.
  2. Create a blend with a 1:4 ratio of rubbing alcohol or any liquor available and water.
  3. Place the mixture in a spray bottle.
  4. Spray your clothes generously with the mixture.
  5. Let it sit for around 15 minutes.
  6. Airdry your clothes.
  7. Finish the cleaning process in a washer.

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is another great option to get wood smoke smell out of clothes. The citric acid contained in lemon juice aids in neutralizing odors by creating bonds with scent particles. In the end, they form scentless compounds.

You can also use other citrus fruits, like oranges or limes. Just follow the instructions below:

  1. Cut two to three lemons and squeeze the juices in a sealable bag.
  2. Incorporate some lemon zest and about 100 ml of water inside the bag.
  3. Place your clothes inside the bag and shake it the bag a couple of seconds.
  4. Let it soak from three to four hours.
  5. Take out the clothes and rinse them with warm water.

Sometimes, the smell is removed with the lemon juice, but you can also place your clothes in the washing machine for more thorough cleaning.

odor spray

Fabric Odor Sprays

There are many brands of fabric odor sprays available in the market, and most are of good quality. However, you have to be sure that the sprays have deodorizing properties and do not simply mask the smells.

Other people prefer more potent chemicals and resort to bio-enzymatic cleaners. These products can remove smoke residue, mold spores, and even sap stains.

Each cleaner has different ways of using it so you must read the instructions carefully to avoid any discoloration or damage to the fabrics.

These chemicals can also be used to clean hiking equipment, gears, and tents. Therefore, it could be a smart investment in the future. However, I would advise you to use odor sprays and chemicals if previous methods failed to remove the smoke odor.

Steam

Steam is an alternative approach to remove smoke from unwashable clothes.

Using the same principle as hot water, high temperatures make your clothing’s fabrics more manageable and easier to eliminate odors.

Simply place your clothes in a rack or line and steam it with a solution made with water and rubbing alcohol (use a 3:1 ratio for better results).

You can repeat the process a couple of times to reduce the smoke smell adhered to your clothes. It is best to wait about thirty minutes between each application.

If you follow these methods, the smell of smoke on your clothes will be a thing of the past. Now you can continue to experience the wonders of camping without the inconvenience of smoke residue.

Nathan Barker

My wife and I are huge adventure seekers! We've traveled and explored over 40 countries and want to share what we have learned on our journey. We'll be talking about everything from hiking and camping, to guides, reviews and tips that we're sure will help any avid adventurer no matter what walk of life. So relax, grab a cup of coffee and we hope you enjoy the read!
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