How to Eliminate Foul Odors in Closets

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 nasty odors in your closets by following these simple steps:

Keep reading for tips on how to get rid of smelling closets and enjoy a fresh and pleasant closet anytime you’re getting ready to go out! 

Foul odors in a closet with a drawer and a lilly flower

Identifying Bad Odors In Your Closet

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.

Generally, the main thing that makes your closet smell is mold and mildew growth. These are the results of a humid environment and can cause not only a bad smell but also serious health issues. Check out our article on how to hinder mold growth in your closet!

Clean Your Closets Thoroughly To Avoid bad Smells

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. 

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.

For more tips on giving your closets some serious TLC and getting rid of bad odors, check out What’s the Fastest Way to Clean a Closet by Impeccable Closets.

Store Clothes Properly To Avoid Bad Odors In Closets

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.

Maintain A Fresh Smell In Your Closet

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:


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.

FAQs about How to Get Rid of Closet Smell

Closet smells can be caused by moisture, mold, mildew, dirty clothes, or even old shoes. Poor ventilation and humidity can also contribute to unpleasant odors in your closet.
Start by removing everything from the closet. Clean the walls and shelves with a mixture of water and white vinegar. Place an open box of baking soda or activated charcoal inside to absorb odors, and ensure good ventilation by leaving the closet door open occasionally.
While air fresheners can mask the smell temporarily, they don’t solve the underlying problem. It’s better to address the root cause by cleaning the closet and using odor absorbers like baking soda or charcoal.
To keep your closet smelling fresh, ensure it stays dry and well-ventilated. Use moisture absorbers like silica gel packs, avoid storing damp clothes, and clean it regularly. Keeping shoes and clothes clean before storing them can also help.
Yes, you can use natural remedies like placing a bowl of white vinegar, coffee grounds, or dried lavender inside the closet. These can help neutralize odors and keep your closet smelling fresh.


Even the cleanest homes may suffer from stinky or foul odors in closets. Considering these nasty smells get trapped inside small, enclosed spaces, there’s no wonder why closets are prone to becoming smelly. 

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.

If the bad smells don’t go away after a thorough clean-up and after using some natural deodorizers, get in touch with us for a consultation, and let’s see what’s the underlying issue with the foul smells in your closet. 

If you want a new closet system, we’ve got you covered. Request a quote by filling out our form or call us at (425) 428-5073 to talk!

If you want a new closet system, we’ve got you covered. Request a quote by filling out our form or call us at (425) 428-5073 to talk!

Natural deodorizer for a closet