How to Eliminate Foul Odors in Your Closets

May 04, 2022
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Closets have been known to trap foul odors. That’s not surprising considering that they are generally small, dark, enclosed spaces with little ventilation. On top of that, most people keep their dirty laundry and smelly shoes in the closet, which only makes matters worse.

The good news is that you can easily eliminate the odors lurking in your closets by following these simple steps:
  • Identify Odors
  • Clean Your Closets
  • Store Properly
  • Maintain Freshness
Keep reading for tips on how to eliminate nasty odors in your custom closets and keep them smelling fresh.

Identify Odors

Instead of simply trying to mask an odor, it’s important to understand why closets tend to smell in the first place.

According to My Wellness Me, a healthy living website, the number one cause of closet odors is dampness. Clothes that are not completely dry before being put away can lead to mildew and result in a musty scent that quickly permeates the entire space. This is often compounded by the poor ventilation in a closet.

Body odor is another common culprit. Between sweaty gym clothes and smelly shoes, the stench can be overpowering. You might want to consider airing out your workout wear in the garage or other outside space until it is dry. You want to let the sweat scent dissipate a bit before putting your exercise gear into the laundry basket. The same goes for your dirty and sweaty shoes – air them out before putting them away in your closet. If you can find another place to store the laundry basket and smelly shoes, that’s even better.

The experts at caution against trying to salvage one more wearing out of dirty clothes before sending them to the dry cleaners. Lingering perfume or cologne scents can quickly turn sour. Additionally, it’s easy to pick up the scent of cigarette smoke even if you are not a smoker.

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Clean Your Closets

The best way to permanently eliminate odors is to begin by thoroughly cleaning your closets. Start by taking out all of your clothes, shoes, and other belongings. This is a great time to conduct a purge – getting rid of what you don’t want or don’t wear. A cramped and cluttered closet can trap odors. By pairing down what you have, you can prevent smells from reoccurring. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by the sheer volume of this task, relax. You can always do a little at a time. For more tips on giving your closets some serious TLC, check out What’s the Fastest Way to Clean a Closet by Impeccable Closets.

This is also the perfect time to inspect your clothes for stains or lingering smells. Consider letting your clothes air out, ideally outside. Fresh air and sunshine kills odors and bacteria. Wash anything that appears dirty or doesn’t smell fresh.

Shoes are a common cause of closet smells. You will want to make sure all of your shoes are clean before putting them away. You can use a damp rag to wipe off any dirt that may be stuck on the soles. Additionally, you can combat the stench of stinky athletic shoes by placing sachets of baking soda or another natural deodorizer inside your shoes. There are also “sneaker balls” and other commercial products on the market to help eliminate smelly shoe odors. 


With your closet empty, you will want to give it a good scrub from top to bottom. Begin by wiping down the shelves and cabinets with a mixture of water and vinegar. You can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to leave behind a fresh scent. Don’t forget to wipe down the drawer knobs, hanger rods, and even the baseboards.

Finally, complete your thorough cleaning by vacuuming or sweeping the floors. If you have carpet, consider sprinkling some baking soda and letting it sit for a few minutes before vacuuming. It’s a natural deodorizer.

Store Properly

Once you have cleaned your closet and your clothing, it’s time to put everything away. You will want to make sure your clothes have room to breathe. Hopefully you got rid of a lot of unwanted stuff while you were cleaning, so that you don’t have to cram your clothes or stuff your shelves anymore. When reorganizing your closets, strive to maximize air circulation to reduce odors.

Another great storage tip is to use “woven baskets” instead of plastic bins. A Calming Home recommends wicker or linen baskets which allow air to flow so clothing doesn’t get musty smelling. This helpful homemaker also suggests adding a fabric softener sheet to your storage bins to infuse a pleasant scent.

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Maintain Freshness

Now that you’ve cleaned and organized your closet, you want to maintain its freshness and make sure foul odors don’t return. The best way to do this is with a deodorizer, which will absorb unpleasant smells.

While there are certainly many types available at the store, why not use a natural deodorizer or one you can make yourself. Here are a few suggestions:

Cedar – For generations, people have used cedar closets and chests for storage. Cedar is great at absorbing moisture. You might want to consider using cedar hangers or getting a block of cedar wood to prevent stinky smells in your closet. Rubbing a few drops of lavender or lemongrass essential oils into the wood can also help ward off insects.

Activated Charcoal – My Wellness Me declares activated charcoal to be the best closet odor eliminator of all time! It doesn’t just mask odors, it actually eliminates them by cleansing the air. All you need to do is place a block of activated charcoal into a small satchel and let it work its magic, absorbing any odors in the air. Even better, activated charcoal is reusable. Simply put your block in the sun for a few hours and the heat will release any captured odors, making it ready to use again. Each piece should last a couple of years.

Baking Soda – Baking soda is another excellent odor absorber and eliminator. All you need to do is take a box of baking soda and store it somewhere in your closet. notes that you should always remember to replace it as you would the one that is stored in your refrigerator.

Bar Soap – Why not use your favorite scented bar soap as a sachet? To release the scent, take the soap and place it inside an old sock or wrap it around an old rag and place it in your closet. In no time at all your closet will smell fantastic. This trick works great in dresser drawers as well.

Coffee Grounds – Last but not least, the home care experts at Angie’s List recommend using coffee grounds to absorb lingering closet smells. To get rid of odors, fill a spare container with leftover coffee grounds, stick a few holes in the lid, and place it in your closet. Replace it every month for best results.


Even the cleanest homes may suffer from stinky closets. It’s hard to avoid because odors get trapped in these small, enclosed spaces. Fortunately, you can help eliminate odors by identifying the cause of the stench, cleaning out your closets, reorganizing them to improve function and airflow, and adding a natural deodorizer or two.


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