Removing Soot and Smoke Odors From Clothes, Carpet, and Upholstery

Smoke odor and soot can be incredibly stubborn when they get into clothes, carpet, and upholstery. The smell clings and lingers, and it can be difficult to get rid of completely. With some time and effort though, it is possible to remove smoke and soot smells from fabrics and soft furnishings.

How Soot and Smoke Odors Get Into Fabrics

Smoke odors and residue can get into clothes, carpets, and upholstered furniture in a few different ways:

  • Direct contact with smoke – This includes items that were present during a fire, as well as clothing worn while smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, etc. The smoke gets into the fabric fibers directly.
  • Secondhand smoke residue – If an item is in a smoke-filled environment for an extended period, odor and residue can build up over time, even without direct contact with smoke.
  • Transfer from other objects – Smoke odors can transfer from other items, surfaces or air particles in the environment. For example, upholstery may pick up odors that are lingering in a room.

Soot is made up of very fine black carbon particles that easily spread and settle onto surfaces and fabrics. Both smoke odor and soot residue can be challenging to remove completely once they’ve embedded into fibers and materials.

Why Smoke and Soot Smells Linger

There are a couple reasons why smoke and soot odors persist so stubbornly in fabrics:

Oils in Smoke Residue – The smoke from cigarettes, fires, etc. contains oils that get released when certain materials burn. These oils cling to fabrics and continue releasing odors even after visible signs of soot have been cleaned away.

Absorption Into Fibers – Smoke odors and particles get deeply absorbed by the fibers in fabric, carpet and upholstery. The odors don’t just remain on the surface – they penetrate deep into the materials where they can continue to linger and release smells.

Activated in Humidity – Odor molecules bind to water molecules in the air. So when humidity levels rise, it can activate stubborn smoke smells that have remained dormant in dry conditions.

The combination of these factors is why smoke odors can be so challenging to get out of clothing and household fabrics. Thorough cleaning is required to lift residues from deep within fibers.

How to Remove Smoke & Soot From Fabrics

It takes patience and persistence to fully remove smoke and soot odors from fabrics. The following methods can be very effective when used properly:

Air Out the Item

If possible, hang clothing or upholstered items outdoors where they can air out fully. The fresh air flow will help dissipate some of the stale smoke odor. For carpets, open windows and use fans to circulate fresh air through the room.

Leaving items outdoors for several hours or days allows odors to dissipate. But airing out alone is rarely enough to fully remove stubborn smoke smells. It’s an easy initial step that can be combined with additional methods.

Vacuum and Brush Thoroughly

Use a vacuum attachment to thoroughly suction any surface dirt, debris and loose particles from fabric surfaces. Go over clothing, upholstery and carpeting several times to lift as much residue and soot as possible.

For clothing items, brushing vigorously with a stiff nylon bristle brush can help lift embedded particles from fabric fibers as well. Remove any surface soot and residue that you can prior to using liquid cleaners.

Wash With Strong Detergent

For washable fabric items like clothes, towels and linens, run them through the washing machine using the hottest water recommended for the material. Use an extra strong laundry detergent, and add in borax or baking soda for extra odor-fighting power.

Wash multiple times if needed, and avoid over-crowding the machine so detergents and additives can penetrate fully. Dry thoroughly on high heat, which can help dissipate some remaining odors.

Apply Liquid Cleaners to Upholstery & Carpets

For upholstery and carpeting, use liquid cleaners specifically formulated to cut through greasy residue and lift odors from fabrics:

  • Carpet shampoo – Use an odor-fighting shampoo product and thoroughly shampoo carpets following label instructions. Let carpets dry fully before vacuuming up the residue.
  • Upholstery cleaner – Spot clean upholstered furniture with a fabric cleaner made for smoke odors. Allow to fully dry.
  • Steam cleaners – Use an extractor machine to deep clean carpets and upholstery with hot water and cleaning solution. Thorough steam cleaning can effectively pull odors from deep in fibers.

Always check that any cleaning product is safe for the specific fabric by testing a small hidden area first. Follow instructions carefully.

Absorb Odors With White Vinegar

White vinegar is a powerful deodorizer. The acetic acid in vinegar helps neutralize stubborn smells. Try these techniques:

  • For washable items, add 1 cup vinegar to the rinse cycle.
  • For upholstery and carpets, mist full-strength vinegar over affected areas, let sit briefly, then blot with clean cloths.
  • Place bowls of vinegar around smoky rooms to help absorb lingering odors.

The strong vinegar smell dissipates as it dries. Run a fan to help dry carpets and furniture faster after vinegar application.

Sprinkle Baking Soda Before Vacuuming

Baking soda is a versatile deodorizer for fabrics. For upholstered furniture and carpeting, sprinkle baking soda generously over the entire surface. Let sit for several hours or overnight to allow it time to absorb odors.

Then thoroughly vacuum up the baking soda residue. This is a simple method that can be repeated as often as needed until smoke odors dissipate.

For laundry, add 1 cup baking soda to the wash cycle for extra deodorizing power.

Absorb Odors With Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal has a porous structure that effectively traps odors and removes them from the environment. It can be used in a couple ways:

  • Place charcoal briquettes in bowls around smoky rooms to actively absorb ambient odors over time.
  • For fabrics, put charcoal inserts into the cleaning machine while washing laundry, or shake powdered charcoal over carpets and upholstery before vacuuming.

Charcoal is especially helpful for removing smoke odors from fabric fibers, with continuous use over time.

Rinse With White Distilled Vinegar

For laundry, adding 1 cup of white distilled vinegar to the rinse cycle helps further neutralize and lift odors from fabric fibers. The vinegary smell dissipates as clothes dry.

This works for most washable fabrics. If vinegar could impact dyes, test colorfastness first in an inconspicuous area.

Air Dry Clothing in Sunlight

For clothes and other washable fabrics, let them air dry fully in direct sunlight after washing. The heat and UV rays in sunlight can help dissipate lingering traces of odor.

Line dry laundered items outdoors or spread over indoor surfaces in sunny spot. Avoid rerunning clothes in the dryer, which can reactivate odor molecules.

Use Odor-Neutralizing Additives

There are various commercial additives available that help remove odors from fabrics:

  • Odor-eliminating laundry detergent – Deters like Persil ProClean contain enzymes specifically designed to break down and remove stubborn organic residues and odors from fabric fibers.
  • Odor-control dryer sheets – Dryer sheets with activated carbon or baking soda can help absorb and neutralize odors released in the heat of the dryer.
  • Odor-eating carpet powders – Powders containing peroxide or odor-neutralizing enzymes can be sprinkled onto carpets and vacuumed up after a period of time to actively lift odors.

Follow product label instructions carefully for these specialized odor-removing additives.

Seal In Odors With Vodka

This may sound unusual, but cheap vodka makes an excellent deodorizer for fabrics. The alcohol in vodka kills odor-causing bacteria and helps physically wash residues from fiber surfaces.

For upholstery and carpets, mix equal parts vodka and water in a spray bottle. Lightly mist over affected areas, let dry fully, then vacuum/blot up any moisture. The vodka smell dissipates quickly but leaves fabrics fresh.

For laundry, add 1/2 cup vodka during the wash cycle. Vodka is safe for most colorfast fabrics. It’s a very effective odor remover.

Absorb With Dryer Sheets

Unused dryer sheets can help absorb ambient smoke odors from upholstery, carpets, drapes and other household fabrics when placed in closets, drawers and bins.

Stash extra dryer sheets around smoky rooms to help actively absorb some lingering odors over time. Replace them periodically as they become saturated.

Mask With Scented Sprays

You can temporarily mask smoke odors by misting affected fabrics and upholstery with lightly scented sprays:

  • Fabric refreshers
  • Febreze
  • Essential oil sprays

These won’t remove odors, but can overwhelm them with nicer scents. Be cautious of strong perfumes which could worsen smells. Target odors with other methods first, then use scented sprays lightly to freshen areas as needed.

Seal In Odors With Shellac

For upholstery and carpeting, shellac can effectively seal in stubborn smoke residue and prevent further odor release. It leaves a protective coating while blocking smells.

Hire a professional to apply liquid shellac properly and evenly to furnishings or carpet. Precise technique is needed to achieve good results, so it’s not a DIY method.

Sealing with shellac is one of the most effective ways to trap odors in carpets and upholstery when cleaning methods alone aren’t fully successful.

Ozone Treatment

In extreme cases, ozone generators can be used by professionals to actively treat smoke odors that other methods haven’t resolved completely.

Ozone is an unstable gas made of three oxygen atoms. It reacts aggressively with odor molecules and breaks them down through oxidation. However, ozone is also dangerous to humans in high concentrations.

Ozone treatment involves sealing off the area being treated entirely while the generator runs over a set period of time to remove odors and residues. Proper safety precautions must be followed.

This is an aggressive treatment best left to qualified specialists for dealing with severe smoke damage and extremely persistent odors in fabrics.

Tips for Preventing Smoke & Soot Buildup

Preventing odors and residues from settling into fabrics in the first place is ideal:

  • Avoid smoking indoors around clothing, upholstery and carpeting. Only smoke outdoors.
  • If odors do occur, clean and treat fabrics immediately before smells have a chance to set in.
  • Vacuum carpets, upholstery and car interiors frequently to remove residues before they accumulate.
  • Use air purifiers and deodorizers in frequently smoky rooms. Change filters regularly.
  • Clean window treatments often to prevent odors from embedding in drapes and curtains.
  • Wash and change household linens frequently, especially if they’ve been exposed to smoke.
  • Add deodorizers like baking soda or activated charcoal to storage bins, closets, etc to keep fabrics fresher.

The sooner you can address smoke odors on fabrics, the easier they’ll be to remove. Avoid letting residue build up over time.

With the right techniques and some diligence, even severe smoke and soot odors can be removed from clothes, carpets and upholstery. The key is using the proper cleaning methods for each fabric and persisting through multiple applications or treatments if needed to fully eliminate stubborn smoking smells.

Frequently Asked Questions About Removing Smoke and Soot Odors from Fabrics

How do I get smoke smell out of clothes?

  • Wash clothes multiple times in hot water with strong detergent and odor-fighting additives like baking soda or vinegar. Air dry in sunlight. Repeat as needed until smoke odors are gone.

What’s the best way to get smoke smell out of upholstery?

Use liquid cleaners and deodorizers made specifically for upholstery and fabrics. Spot clean with an upholstery cleaner or shampoo formulated for smoke odors. Mist with white vinegar and let dry fully. Sprinkle baking soda and vacuum thoroughly after several hours.

What gets rid of smoke smell in carpets permanently?

Shampoo carpeting thoroughly with an odor-fighting carpet shampoo. Rinse multiple times with hot water to lift residues from deep in the fibers. Apply deodorizers like baking soda or charcoal powder before vacuuming. Consider using a professional ozone treatment for extreme lingering odors.

How do you get smoke smell out of walls?

Wash walls down with an odor-neutralizing primer specifically made for smoke odors and fire residue. Seal in odors by applying a coat of heavy-duty shellac. Repaint walls with an odor-blocking paint to further encapsulate residues.

Does Febreze get rid of smoke smell?

Febreze can temporarily overwhelm and mask light smoke odors through its scented perfumes. But it doesn’t remove or neutralize odors chemically. To fully get rid of smoke smells from fabrics, use methods that specifically lift and destroy odor residues.

Does baking soda and vinegar remove smoke smell?

Yes, baking soda and vinegar are both very effective at absorbing and neutralizing smoke odors in fabrics. Sprinkle baking soda generously over surfaces, let sit overnight, then vacuum. Mist vinegar over fabrics, let dry, then blot up moisture. Using them together provides a “one-two” punch against stubborn smoking smells.

Does vodka remove smoke smell?

Yes, vodka is surprisingly effective as a DIY remedy for removing smoke odors from fabrics. The alcohol in vodka kills bacteria and helps lift residues. For laundry, add 1/2 cup vodka to the wash. For upholstery, mix vodka and water in a spray bottle and lightly mist fabrics.

Will Lysol get rid of smoke smell?

Lysol is good for disinfecting and reducing bacteria that can contribute to odors. But it doesn’t effectively neutralize or eliminate smoke residues and particles like activated charcoal or other cleaning methods can. Rely on methods that specifically target smoke particles and smells in fabrics.

Does Ozone machine remove smoke smell permanently?

Ozone treatment by a professional service can permanently remove smoke odors that normal cleaning methods cannot eliminate entirely. Ozone oxidizes and destroys odor molecules on a chemical level. However, ozone can be hazardous if not applied properly within Occupational Safety guidelines.


Smoke and soot odors can be frustratingly stubborn to remove from clothing, carpets and furniture. The smelly residues embed deep into fibers where they cling and persist. But with diligent effort and the right odor-fighting techniques, you can successfully rid fabrics of smoke smells and prevent them from returning over time.

A combination of thorough cleaning, deodorizing, odor encapsulation and repeated applications of various methods is key to fully eliminating smoke odors at the source. With a multi-pronged approach, even severe lingering smoke smells can eventually be removed from fabrics permanently.