How to Get Campfire Smell Out of Your Clothes for Good (2022)

A fire in the night.
Table of Contents

    Along with gazing at the night stars the most romantic part about camping is listening to the flames cackle around the campfire. Nothing is better than kicking back at your campsite after a long day of pitching your tent and hiking. Cracking open a cold one, eating some desserts, sharing jokes and stories with your friends. It really is the essence of why we love camping with our friends. 

    Then when the sunrises you pack up your tent and head off home. You’ll begin to notice on the drive back that there is a smell of smoke that has clung to your clothes. It’s not a bad smell. Unlike cigarettes, the smell of woodsmoke is a comforting smell. Nonetheless, you still don’t want it to hang onto your clothes over the coming days and you’ll want to get rid of it. Read on to find out how to go about this.


    People around a campfire at night.

    Getting that fire going after a long day is the perfect time to kick-back with friends.


    What causes the smoky scent? 

    Before we look at how to get the campfire smoke smell out of your clothes let’s take a look at what causes this smell to be so strong and why the smell clings. If you’ve made a campfire before you’ll know that fire requires three things to stay alive – oxygen fuel and heat. If you take away one of these then the fire dies. When all three of these combine to form a fire that fire then produces smoke which is a combination of particles and gases that are released from the fuel as it burns. 

    The particles contained within woodsmoke consists of nitrogen, cellulose, aldehydes, and traces of metals. During the combustion process, not all of these chemicals shall completely breakdown into tiny molecules and vanish which is why the smoke is visible. The smoky campfire odor, consisting of organic compounds, will then set itself upon your clothing, resulting in the smell sticking to you. You may have some concerns about all of these particles floating in the atmosphere, but it is harmless unless you are obviously making an effort to constantly breathe it in. 

    There are a couple of ways to try and avoid your campfire producing so much smoke and thus it could save you the hassle of having to thoroughly clean your clothes. The best way to light a campfire is to use dry wood. It burns easier and because it burns easier less energy is required to burn the fuel, resulting in less smoke. If you use wet or green firewood this will produce more smoke as more energy is required to burn this. So if you can, find some dry firewood or take some along with you. 

    The best way to not have to get rid of the smell of smoke from your clothes when camping is to not have a campfire at all. It can be almost a necessity if you’re winter camping but if the winter is warm or mild then it is not always required. Some of us like to cook some delicious campfire meals. This can be done on a camping stove, however. Camping stoves don’t emit huge amounts of fumes like a campfire and are easier to cook on due t being able to have control over the temperature. So if you want to prepare some delicious food and don’t want to worry about the smell of smoke on your clothes, then perhaps a camping stove is the best option for you. 


    Ways to get rid of the smell at the campsite

    If you are on a multi-day camping trip in the backcountry you may want to get rid of the smell whilst you are still on your trip. Maybe you are on a camping trip and still undertaking regular vacation activities. Restaurants, bars, and other leisurely activities are close to or onsite of many camping grounds. If you plan to undertake these then you may not want this smell to follow you around and have opted to get rid of it whilst you are out in the sticks. There are a few techniques on how to go about this. Including using alcohol, lemon juice and plain old hanging them out to dry. Let’s take a closer look at the campsite wash methods.


    1: Using alcohol to get campfire smell out of your clothes

    Alcohol is a multi-use tool. Although it’s best enjoyed in a glass around a campfire you can also put it to use as a cleaner. The way in which this works is that when alcohol is heated up it will release the smell from any fabric or material it has soaked itself into. This is the same way that perfumes work. When you release it into a spray for it sticks to your skin and clothes releasing its odors. 

    To undertake this on your campsite you will need an alcoholic spirit, warm clean water, and a spray bottle. A bottle of vodka that you took on your trip is ideal for this – please don’t waste a nice bottle of scotch! Mix a little bit of the alcoholic spirit with warm water in the spray bottle. Spray a good amount all over your clothes and hang them up to dry in the sunlight. After a few hours, the alcohol spray should have removed the smell and the wind will have blown away any remnants. 


    2. Using lemon juice to get campfire smoke out of your clothes

    If you have a good taste in alcohol then perhaps you don’t have a bottle of vodka at the ready to cleanse your clothes of the smell of campfire smoke. Luckily the citric acid from lemon juice can also get rid of the pungency. You will have probably noticed that many household cleaning sprays are lemon-scented as the acid in the citrus is excellent for clearing out bad odors. Lemon juice is also great to use on the rest of your camping kit such as your tent and sleeping bag. 

    To undertake this method of cleaning you will need a lemon or lime, and just as in the alcohol technique, clean, warm water, and a spray bottle. Squeeze out the juice from the lemon into the bottle and fill the rest with the warm water. Shake the bottle well and fully cover your clothes with the lemon spray. Again hang them out to dry for a few hours and your clothes will be fresh and zingy! 


    3. Leaving them out to dry 

    If neither alcohol or lemon juice is on hand at your campsite then they can still be freshened up in the fresh air. Simply put some water on them and leave them to hang in the wind. Although it won’t rid your clothes from the smoky smell completely, nonetheless airing them out on a clothes hanger shall be a good help.


    Bedding hanging from a clothes line int he woods daytime.

    A makeshift laundry line can always be formed when there are trees around.


    Getting rid of the smell at home

    Not all of us want to be cleaning our clothes when we’re out enjoying our precious time in nature and we’re happy to wait until we’re back home again before cleaning our stuff. Cleaning your clothes at home is more straightforward as you are very likely to have most of the cleaning products in your household cupboards already. Most of us will have a washing machine as well, making the process straightforward. If items such as your jacket are not machine washable then we recommend airing them outside or to take them to the dry cleaners. 


    1. A basic wash

    A lot of the time a basic machine wash in the machine at a high temperature is all it takes to get rid of the smell. We suggest that you try this first and if it does not work then refer to our techniques to carry out this task. Remember to double-check what the maximum temperature for your garments before you wash them at a high heat. Many of us wear woolen garments when camping due to its warmth and its ability to absorb water. However, wool should not be washed at a temperature above 40C as it will shrink it and cause the wool to deteriorate. 


    2. White vinegar

    If a basic wash does not work then our next suggestion is to use vinegar to rid your clothes of the smell of campfire smoke. To do this, add half a cup of white vinegar with your laundry detergent. This mixture shall clean your clothes and remove all of the odors from the garments. This technique is best to be implemented if it’s a mild smell coming from your clothes.

    If the smell is stronger then you can still use white vinegar but with a different technique. Run a bath of hot water and add a cup measurement of white vinegar and laundry detergent. Put your clothes into the tub and make sure that they are submerged. Allow them to soak in the water for a few hours and then put them in the washing machine for a regular wash and dry. If you notice that the smell is still present then give them another spin in the machine and perhaps put half a cup of vinegar in with the detergent. 


    3. Baking soda

    Baking soda is also appropriate for this task. Baking soda is an alkaline, multi-use white powder that you will likely have stored in a cupboard in your kitchen. It’s an extremely useful item to have and is great for getting rid of stains, stickiness and smells from various items in general. Just like with the first white vinegar technique, add half of a cup of baking soda into your washing machine along with the regular detergent. 

    Be careful as to not to clean woolen garments or silk with baking soda as these materials can be deteriorated by baking soda. Instead, use white vinegar on these types of garments.


    4. Enzyme cleaner

    Enzyme cleaner is also a useful product for removing odors. If you have a cat or dog at home then there’s a good chance you have a bottle of this in your cleaning cupboard. Enzyme cleaners are not only designed to get rid of stains and to sanitize but to also get rid of odors. This is why many pet owners use them. When an animal uses the floor for the bathroom then they are likely to return to do it again because their scent is there. By using an enzyme cleaner this can break their young pet’s habit of returning to the same spot over and over again. 

    To clean your smoky clothes run a hot bath and pour in some enzyme cleaner. Place your clothes inside the tub and make sure that they are submerged in the bathwater. After you have left them to soak for a few hours take them out of the tub and put them in your washing machine for a regular wash. Because enzyme detergent is specifically designed to remove odors from your clothes this means that this is almost a sure-fire way to get the campfire smell out of your clothes for good. 


    How to dry clean the campfire smoke out of your clothes

    Most of us will often take clothes to the laundrette if they need to be dry cleaned. If your clothes are not suitable for a washing machine or hot water then there is a dry cleaning method for getting the smell of campfire smoke out of your clothes. The first step is to put the clothes in a zip-close bag or a large plastic bag that can be tied shut. Once you have a bag, put dryer sheets into the bag. These are extremely cheap to buy and 1-2 sheets per clothing item should suffice in getting the smell of campfire smoke out of your clothes. 

    Dryer sheets are a great way to freshen up your clothes weather or not they are full of campfire smoke. These cause your clothes to have fewer wrinkles have less static reactions, stop things clinging to the fabric and keep your clothing soft. Additionally, they give your clothing a fresh, outdoor scenting. Be careful to not leave the dryer sheets in the bag for too long as they


    Can stain your clothing if they are left next to them for too long

    Once you have placed your clothes in the bag then seal the bag so that it is airtight. The clothes should be left in the bag for several days. The longer they are in, the more the smell of the campfire smoke shall disappear. You should check for the smell of campfire smoke every day and replace the dryer sheets every second day.

    As we spoke about before, baking soda is perhaps the most used household item for getting rid of odors. Baking soda can also be used in the dry cleaning process. Bi-carbonate soda can be used either alongside or instead of the dryer sheets. To use baking soda in the dry cleaning process place one tablespoon of the powder into the bag per 1-2 items of clothing.

    Once the clothes are in, shake the bake thoroughly so that the powder is spread throughout it. Again the clothes must be left in the bag for several days. Like with the dryer sheets make sure that you replace any leftover bicarbonate soda every couple of days. Do this by shaking out the excess baking soda outside and putting fresh soda in. 


    Clothes hanging a a dry cleaners.

    Taking your non-machine clothes to the dry cleaners or doing it yourself at home shall also rid your clothes of the smokey scent.


    Final Verdict: 

    All of us love to go camping in the backcountry and all of us love to light campfires. There’s something in our DNA that gives us a thrill when we spark the tinder and get the flames roaring. From then on we’re constantly monitoring it and replenishing it with firewood as to not let it burn out until the time comes that it must be extinguished. This obsession with the licking flames means that the next day you are sometimes left wondering why you let yourself get so enthusiastic about getting the fire as big as possible, causing more smoke to accumulate into the fabric of your clothes. 

    It’s not the end of the world though and the smell of the smoke on your clothes does not result in permanent damage. With a little bit of patience and perseverance, it is very straightforward to remove the smell of campfire smoke. All that is required are household products such as white vinegar and baking soda that you are bound to have in your home. Beyond this, it’s a basic machine wash that you would have to do to your clothes anyway. So, fear not, the smell shall be removed! 


    Bonus tip: Check out the ways in which you can minimize the amount of smoke coming from your campfire! 



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    Riley Draper

    Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.