Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tutorial: How to Get the Smell of Mothballs out of Vintage Clothes (Eco-Friendly/Green Method)

I bought a dress at Ruby Slipper not long ago. Yeah! Right? No. I didn't realize until I got it home that it REEKED of mothballs. By some stroke of luck in all the years of vintage and thrift shopping I have under my belt I have never bought anything that smelled of mothballs.

Here's the dress in question. You might remember it from my outfit-a-day challenge in June. So cute right? I was bummed.

So I set to work researching how to get rid of the stink. I was very determined to find a method to clean the dress without resorting to more stinky chemicals. Green and Eco-Friendly was the word of the day. And so until that time this dress hung in the far corner of my basement so I didn't have to look at its cute stinky self. Sorry dress.

I tried several methods. I'm not sure if it was the last one that actually worked, or the combination of several stratagies that finally un-stinkafied this dress.

Number One: A Wash in White Vinegar

First I tried washing it in white vinegar. Gentle cycle on my front load washer. Now I wouldn't recommend washing all vintage in your washing machine, but this dress felt like cotton or poly cotton blend. And it stunk, so I figured I couldn't hurt it anymore that it already had been.
I actually washed it twice this way. To little effect. It stunk less, but was still rank. So I hung it back up in the corner of the basement and did some more research.

Number Two: Air Dry Outside

I only did this for about an hour. The site I visited recommended that the garment be left out for as long as possible. I am paranoid and was worried about sun-fading as well as someone swiping my dress. Not that that would happen, my neighbourhood is so safe and I have to, on occasion, have to remind myself that not everyone considers vintage clothing to be the equivalent of large diamond necklaces.

Dress: 2. Lisa: 0

Number Three: Soak in White Vinegar

I didn't read this anywhere (at least I think I didn't). I just thought that maybe test number 1 didn't work because the vinegar was too dilluted in the wash to be effective. Vinegar is cheap, so I thought "What the hell! Let's give it a try." I filled up my utility sink with some vinegar, enough to cover and tossed in the 'ole stink dress. And I let it sit. For an hour.

After an hour, I drained the sink and put the dress into my washing machine on the Rinse Cycle. Then hung it to dry.

I am happy to report that the smell had faded a little! But I could still smell mothballs.

Number Four:  Vodka Spray

I'm sure this is the one that worked the most effectively. I will go straight to this method in the future (if such an occasion arises).

It's simple. you'll need: a spray bottle, vodka and the stinky item in question. I also used a funnel because it ensures that all the vodka gets into the sprayer without a mess. (I bought a set of four funnels in different sizes at the dollar store)

Once you've got your vodka in the sprayer you may want to mix yourself a drink. I made a Screwdriver. For this you will need OJ, ice and a glass! :)

Spray your dress (or other stinky item). I sprayed it in and out as this dress has a lining. I also made sure that it was damp. This was no light spritz. It wasn't dripping wet, just saturated.

Then I hung the dress to dry. (now is a good time to drink your cocktail!) The vodka dries without leaving a residual smell. I did not wash the dress afterwards. It has been washed enough I thought.

This seemed to work wonders! The dress no longer smells! I was thrilled! Plus it is a method you could use on Dry Clean Only items.

And couldn't wait to pass on this information to you all!

Here are a few links to the sites I found most helpful while researching: 

How to Get Rid of - this site also explains what mothballs are and how they work



  1. very interesting I might have to try this, I can not get the smell out of a dress I have. I worry about spotting though. My dress is a synthetic possibly acetate but I am not sure.

  2. If the dress has a lining turn it inside out.
    You may have to spray it with the vodka solution then send it for dry cleaning - that will for sure do the trick.

    Good luck!


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