Sitting around campfire instantly transports you into a state of nostalgia.
The unique aroma, the dancing flames, the tangible warmth, and that guy who only knows one song on the guitar (you know who I am talking about); a wave of serenity floods over you.
Yet, after time passes, the smell of the smoky, wood-burning fire lingers (I love the scent of campfire as much as the next person, but only when it’s fresh). When the noxious fumes latch on to you for more than a day, it can lead to an obnoxious headache.
That’s why I have compiled a few tips and tricks on how to get campfire smell out of clothes.
Where Does The Smell Come From?
Welcome to Campfire Chemistry 101!
Here we'll look at what actually happens in a burning campfire. We're gonna get mighty technical in this section, so feel free to skip forward if you just want to clean your clothes!
The combustion reaction is created by combining organic fuel (wood), oxygen and heat. The reaction then forms carbon dioxide and water vapor.
Firewood not only contains long-chain organic molecules like cellulose, but also aldehydes (like what they use to embalm bodies), nitrogen, trace amounts of heavy metals, and even mold spores.
When the wood burns, not all of these chemicals completely breakdown into smaller molecules like carbon dioxide and water, which is why you are physically able to see smoke.
When the fumes settle on your clothing, they contain a mixture of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like aldehydes, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and mold.
Which results in smelly clothes and hair.
Some of that sounds scary, yeah. In small doses, the components of the musty aroma are non-carcinogenic, so don't worry. Yet if you are constantly breathing in campfire smoke, then you may be at risk!
7 Ways to Get Rid of The Campfire Smell
Still awake? Good. Now that we got the science out of the way, let's remove that earthy, yet noxious, campfire smell. Since you now know a little bit about the composition of the smoke itself, we'll even take a look at the HOW of each smoke removal-method.
At the Campsite
If you are light-headed and fed up with the scent of campfire, you don’t have to wait until you get home to deodorize your clothes.
1. Alcohol and Liquor
That’s the spirit! What would a campfire party be without a little “juice”? Personally, I’m a whiskey man, but if you want to rid a smoky scent, you’ll have to use vodka.
Heat up some warm water in the campfire, and mix in the hooch at a 1:4 vodka/water ratio. Then soak and rinse your clothes, or spray the mixture with a spray bottle if available. The alcohol itself works to loosen the strong bonds of campfire chemicals, which have adhered to the cloth fabric, while the water rinses them away.
Sure, you may smell like you just got back from the club, but the potent odor should go away once the booze evaporates.
2. Lemon Juice
When life gives you lemons, use them to rid your clothes of campfire smell.
The citric acid in the lemons helps to neutralize the smell by reacting with the smoky chemicals to form non-odorous compounds. This is why so many household cleaners contain a lemon or orange scent.
Science is cool, right?
For the actual application, if you have whole lemons, cut a few of them and squeeze the juices into an airtight bag. Add the rinds, some water, and a your smoky clothes and seal the bag for a few hours for maximal deodorization. If you have lemon juice available, simply follow the liquor-method noted above.
Camper's tip: Many people claim that the acidic properties in Coca-Cola work as well, but be careful not to ruin your clothes!
3. Sunshine Heat
If you don’t have either one of these products available on the campsite, you’re not out of luck. While it’s not the most effective method to rid your clothes of campfire smell, you can wash them with warm water and hang them to dry in the sun (preferable in a breezy area).
The chemical compounds that bind to the fabrics may degrade in the presence of UV light, and and loose molecules will be swept away in the wind.
If you don’t mind a little flame-broiled perfume for a few days at the campsite, you may want to wait until heading home before you fumigate your clothes.
4. Hot, Hot, Hot Water
The hotter the wash, the better the clean. Using the appropriate detergent, put your smelly clothes through the on the hottest setting of your washer, but check the tags first as not all fabrics can withstand high temperatures.
Compared to cooler water, the hot wash will cause fabric fibers to expand, and allow more access for the detergent molecules to attack the pesky smoke residue.
5. A Little Bit o' Vinegar
In addition to cleaning your clothes with hot water, you may want to consider adding a cup of white vinegar to the washing machine. The acetic acid in the vinegar works to break down and neutralize the odor-causing chemicals which the detergent may not reach.
6. Baking Soda De-odorant
My personal favorite multi-use cleaning product, baking soda, is a great way to remove the smoky aroma that has journeyed home with you. Add one-half to one cup of baking soda to the wash after the cycle has started to ensure thorough mixing. The baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) works to neutralize odors like the vinegar, but may be easier to handle since it comes in a powdered form.
7. Bio-Enzymatic Treatment
Finally, when all the other methods fail, it’s time to call in the big guns.
Unlike common products, the specially-designed bio-enzymatic cleaners utilize "good" bacteria to eliminate campfire odors altogether, including mold and mildew.
Remember, every product has a different application, so read the directions carefully. If you’re interested in testing out a bio-enzymatic cleaner, one of the more popular products on the market is the McNett Mirazyme Odor Eliminator.
Camper's Tip: Bio-enzymatic cleaners are great to rid your tent and gear from all outdoor odors. Read more about this method here, in our previous article about cleaning your tent.
BONUS: How to Get Campfire Smell Out of Your Hair
Clothes aren’t the only thing that may be tainted by smoky odors. Luckily, I’m not going to leave you hanging when it comes to your fumigating your luscious locks. Sure, you can try the aforementioned methods, but I don’t think anyone wants to put bio-enzymatic cleaner on their scalp.
Dryer Sheets Aren’t Just For Clothes
Not only do dryer sheets help to rid clothes of static electricity, but they also are a great deodorizer. The chemicals in the sheet react with the campfire residue to both neutralize, and mask the smell.
Now, before you start rubbing dryer sheets all over your head, there is an easier method. Wipe down your comb or brush with one sheet and run it through your hair.
Although, many wellness experts claim that there are toxic chemicals in dryer sheets, but fact-checking experts at Snopes have debunked this myth. Still, take caution if you intend to use this method.
Unsurprisingly, the easiest method to get the smoke smell out of your clothes and hair is to never get it in there in the first place. Check out how our friends over at IntenseAngler build a fire with little to no smoke at all!
The sights and smells of the campfire can evoke positive emotions about the past, but after a while, the smoky odor can take a toll on your senses.
You can either ameliorate the aroma while you’re on the campsite with some interesting homemade methods, or wait until you get home before giving your clothes a thorough wash. On top of that, you can fumigate your frizzy flow with some unusual, but effective techniques.
Now that you have learned the basic to rid yourself of that stale smokey scent, you can head back over to the campfire and roast some marshmallows.
Jay toes the line between hiking enthusiast and vagabond as he treks across the world, soaking in it’s natural wonders. When he’s not exploring the trail, he writes articles to help guide others through their outdoor conquests.