8 Easy Tips on How to Keep Clothes Smelling Fresh in Storage

by Alexa
10 Minutes

As much as we try to take good care of our favorite seasonal garments, it’s not easy to keep stored clothes smelling fresh while they’re not in regular circulation in your wardrobe. There’s a chance you may find a slight smell to them!

Understanding how to keep clothes smelling fresh in storage, for the future, requires just a little know-how about why clothes may have that lingering smell in the first place—and what you can do about it going forward.

This guide covers both angles, plus includes tips and DIY hacks for how to prevent clothes from smelling in storage the next time around.

Why do clothes start to smell in storage?

There are three main factors that work against your best efforts to prevent clothes from smelling in storage: Location, climate/humidity, and your storage solutions.

While it may seem counterintuitive, using cardboard boxes for longer-term garment storage is actually not a good idea—even if it is a more eco-friendly option than large plastic bins.

But, unfortunately, cardboard is a very porous material that collects (rather than repeals) moisture, and can be a haven for pests.

While your basement, attic, or garage may seem like an optimal storage location for out-of-season clothes, these locations are generally less ventilated, not well protected against temperature swings, and basements specifically also tend to have extra moisture in the air.

This means there’s a sure bet that moisture will, with time, make its way into your garments. Especially so if those garments aren’t properly packed for seasonal storage in the first place.

Also, when was the last time those winter coats, scarves, hats, snow pants, beach coverups, swimwear, wetsuits, or whatever else you have in storage was properly laundered, really?

Hanging a garment out to dry doesn’t count—nor does skipping the expense of taking woolen winter wear to the dry cleaner.

When you store anything that hasn’t been properly cleaned first, you’re potentially packing away a whole suite of unsavory detritus. Just because you can’t necessarily see them with your own naked eye doesn’t mean that these unsavories aren’t present.

8 tips for how to keep clothes smelling fresh in storage

Keep these tips and hacks in mind for the next time you’re packing garments for seasonal storage.

Laundering garment

1) Always launder garments and accessories before long storage

As mentioned above, packing away (even gently) soiled clothes, coats, beachwear, is creating an ideal habitat for mildew and, potentially, other pests.

Make the extra effort to properly wash or dry clean garments to keep stored clothes smelling fresh. 

Tip: The drying process is as important as washing your garments. Make sure anything you’re packing away is absolutely, 100% dry before storing. Otherwise, that’s potentially another source of moisture where mildew could thrive.  

2) Purchase a dehumidifier

As moisture is a primary reason for why clothes have a little bit of a musty smell after storage, a simple solution is to purchase a dehumidifier.

This will pull moisture from the air in basements, garages, or in any extra storage space and does a lot of the work to prevent clothes from smelling in storage. A dehumidifier is also a necessity in climates with humid summer seasons—or humidity year round.

3) Pack garments for storage with dryer sheets

This is a great DIY hack. Instead of throwing away used dryer sheets after one cycle, save them to tuck into folded sweaters, or winter coats, stuffed into winter hats—anywhere, really. Dryer sheets are naturally moisture-wicking and will help provide that fresh scent. 

Baking soda

4) Keep a box (or two) of baking soda in your storage closet/storage unit

Just as keeping an open box of baking soda does wonders to eliminate fridge odors, baking soda has the same effect in helping to keep stored clothes smelling fresh.

Baking soda absorbs moisture and neutralizes odors. Replace every 10 to 12 weeks for long-term storage. 

5) Purchase the right storage containers

Investing in the right storage solutions for your off-season garments will make all the difference, whether it’s airtight plastic bins or securely zipped fabric storage solutions that are meant to store more gentle garments.

As mentioned in the section above, cardboard really isn’t a viable option!

6) Add pest deterrents

Moth balls are one option—especially if you’ve had issues with the little pests before. The good news is, much more pleasant natural alternatives—including lavender sachets and cedar planks and blocks designed for storage—are extremely effective at deterring clothing pests and have a nice fragrance, too. 

Tip: You can even refresh your cedar storage components with a concentrated cedar spray before storage annually. Just allow all of the cedar pieces to dry thoroughly before placing them into the storage bins or closet area. 

7) Store more delicate garments (suits, evening wear) in breathable garment bags

Some garments simply can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be stored while laying flat. For items such as suits or more formal dresses, make a small investment in hanging garment bags for storage that offer some breathability.. Garment bags come in individual shapes and sizes, or as a wider, multi-garment storage solution that is threaded over a clothing bar in a closet.

Tip: Add a couple of cedar balls or a lavender sachet to the breathable garment bags for an added layer of storage protection and a pleasant scent. 

8) Annually wash your long-term storage bins, containers, etc

It’s always important to pay a little extra attention to the vessels themselves that are doing the bulk of the work of keeping your garments stored and fresh in the off-season. 

It’s such a simple, additional step, but giving your storage containers a cleaning when you’re doing a seasonal wardrobe shift really matters.

Power-wash plastic bins outside with a hose and let air dry, if possible, or else hand-wash with a mix of warm water and dish soap.

A fresh, clean, and dry storage bin is Step One to prevent clothes from smelling in storage.

How to keep clothes smelling fresh in storage

So now you know how to keep your clothes smelling fresh in storage. I hope you found these simple tips and tricks useful.

If so, leave a comment below!

Easy Guide to Master the Art of Washing Your Clothes

If you want more tips on how to wash your beloved garments, then you may want to check out this tutorial on The Art of Washing Your Clothes!

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Join the conversation
2 of 4 comments
  • Doreen Kennedy Doreen Kennedy on Oct 14, 2023

    I use space bags, the type that you suck out the air with a vacuum hose. They are air tight so they are great for storing seasonal cloths

  • Ing10915417 Ing10915417 on Oct 15, 2023

    Love the space bag idea!! I will definitely be trying that one out. ☺️