Ah, the unmistakable aroma 🥴 of fish! While it might be delightful when it’s on your plate, it’s not so much when it clings to your clothes. I reeled in my wife Doina for this one, to be honest. I usually go out fishing a few times every year and she’s the one who’s keeping me and my clothes in tip-top shape!

Whether you’ve had a day out fishing, cooked a seafood feast, or simply bought fish from the market, that fishy smell can be stubborn. But don’t worry, there are ways to tackle it head-on and leave your clothes smelling fresh and dandy again.

Let’s talk about why fishy odor is so tenacious and, more importantly, how to get rid of it.

Why Do Clothes Smell Like Fish?

Fish smell on clothes is the lingering odor that remains after handling, cooking, or being around fish. This distinct aroma is caused by a compound called trimethylamine, which is released as fish decomposes. While the smell can be pleasant when associated with fresh seafood dishes, it becomes less appealing when it sticks to clothing. The challenge lies in the fact that this odor can be stubborn and may not easily wash out with regular laundry methods. However, with the right techniques, it’s possible to effectively remove the fishy smell from clothes.

  • Causes:
    • Handling or cooking fish
    • Spills from fish-based products
    • Being in a 🐟 fishy environment
  • Challenges:
    • Persistence of trimethylamine
    • Absorption into fabric fibers
    • Ineffective regular washing methods
  1. Immediate Rinse

    As soon as you notice the fishy smell, give your clothes a quick rinse under cold water. This can help remove some of the surface odors before they set into the fabric. If the smell has been on the clothes for a while, a simple rinse might not be enough.
    For persistent smells, you’ll need to follow up with more in-depth cleaning methods.

  2. Baking Soda Pre-soak

    Fill a basin or tub with cold water and add 1 cup of baking soda. Stir until dissolved. Submerge your clothes in the solution and let them soak for at least 2 hours or overnight for best results.
    ⚠️ Baking soda can leave a residue on some fabrics (such as synthetic, densely woven, and textured fabrics like polyester, velvet, and chenille)
    Always rinse thoroughly after soaking and check clothing labels for any specific care instructions.

  3. Vinegar Wash

    Add 1 cup of white vinegar to your washing machine, along with your regular detergent. Wash the clothes on a normal cycle with cold water.
    You might notice a slight vinegar smell after but the vinegar smell will dissipate as the clothes dry, leaving them odor-free.

  4. Lemon Juice Treatment

    Mix equal parts of lemon juice and water in a spray bottle. Spray the solution onto the affected areas of the clothing and let it sit for 30 minutes before washing. ⚠️Watch out as lemon juice can potentially bleach certain fabrics (dark and colored fabrics).
    Always do a patch test on an inconspicuous area of the clothing before applying it to larger areas.

  5. Sun Dry

    After washing, hang your clothes outside to dry in the sun. The sun’s UV rays can help break down odor-causing compounds.
    Weather conditions might not always be suitable for sun drying, so if you can’t sun dry, ensure you dry your clothes in a well-ventilated area to prevent any lingering odors.

  6. Commercial Odor Removers

    There are laundry additives (like OxiClean) specifically designed to tackle stubborn odors. Add one of these to your regular wash cycle as directed. ⚠️Some commercial products might contain harsh chemicals.
    Opt for eco-friendly (Rockin’ Green maybe?) and hypoallergenic options if you have sensitive skin or are environmentally conscious.

  7. Try Ammonia with Caution

    Ammonia can be a powerful ally in the fight against stubborn odors like fish. Add a cup of ammonia along with your non-bleach detergent in the washing machine. This combination can effectively break down oils, waxes, and other odor-causing residues.
    ⚠️However, be cautious when handling ammonia due to its strong smell and potential skin irritants.

  8. Repeat if Necessary

    Sometimes, one wash might not be enough to completely eliminate the odor.
    Tip: If the smell persists, try a combination of the methods above. For instance, pre-soak with baking soda, then wash with vinegar, and finally, sundry.

Let’s dive deeper 👇

The Science Behind Persistent Fish Odors

Fish odors are notoriously stubborn, and there’s a scientific reason behind this. The primary culprit is a compound called trimethylamine. As fish starts to break down, either due to age or cooking, it releases this compound, which has a distinct and strong odor. But why does this smell cling so tenaciously to fabrics, and how can we ensure that the methods we use to remove it are safe for our clothes?

What is Trimethylamine?

Trimethylamine is an organic compound that’s volatile, meaning it can easily turn into vapor at room temperature. This volatility is what makes the fishy smell so pervasive. When it comes into contact with clothing, it gets trapped within the fabric fibers, making it challenging to remove with just a regular wash.

Just be More Careful

While it’s essential to know how to remove fish odors, preventing them from setting in can save a lot of hassle. Proper storage of fish, immediate action after spills, and regular airing of clothes can significantly reduce the chances of persistent fishy smells. And just steady those hands mate. Don’t let that fish all over you 🙂

20 Other Ways to Banish Fish Odors from Clothes

Aside from the already discussed and honestly most effective methods above (my wife swears by the baking soda, lemon, and sun-dry combination) here are more ways to try and remove the smell.

Please take care and do extra reading on some of these methods, because some might cause staining on your clothes (like the tomato juice method for example).

1. Cold Water Rinse

Starting with the basics can often yield the best results.

  • How: Before diving into other treatments, give the garment a quick rinse in cold water.
  • Why: Cold water helps in removing surface residues, making subsequent treatments more effective by reducing the intensity of the smell.

2. Dish Soap

Dish Soap To Remove Fish Smell
Washing the dishes with soap” by peapod labs is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A kitchen staple that’s more versatile than you might think.

  • How: Apply a few drops of dish soap directly to the affected area. Gently scrub the area to ensure the soap penetrates the fabric. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Why: Dish soaps are designed to break down oils and greases, making them particularly effective against residues from oily fish.

3. Alcohol-Based Solutions

Harness the power of alcohol for a quick odor fix.

  • How: Dab a bit of rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer on the smelly spot. Let it sit for a few minutes, allowing the alcohol to break down the oils. Wash the garment as usual.
  • Why: Alcohol can dissolve oils and act as a deodorizer, making it especially useful for mild fishy smells.

4. Hydrogen Peroxide

A common household item with powerful cleaning properties.

  • How: Mix hydrogen peroxide with water in a 1:3 ratio. Soak the affected garment in this solution for about 20 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and wash as usual.
  • Why: Hydrogen peroxide can oxidize and break down odor-causing molecules, making it a potent weapon against stubborn smells.
  • Caution: It’s best suited for light-colored fabrics to avoid potential discoloration.

5. Coffee Grounds

Turn your morning ritual into an odor-fighting tool.

  • How: Place used coffee grounds in a sealed bag with the garment, ensuring they don’t touch the fabric directly. Let it sit for a few hours or overnight.
  • Why: Coffee grounds have natural odor-absorbing properties. As they absorb the fishy smell, they leave the garment smelling fresh and neutral.

6. Tomato Juice

An old-school remedy with proven results.

  • How: Dilute with water, soak the garment for 30 minutes, then rinse.
  • Why: Its acidic properties neutralize alkaline odors.
  • ⚠️Caution: Test on a small area first to avoid potential staining.

7. Borax

Boost your laundry’s cleaning power.

  • How: Add half a cup to your regular laundry cycle.
  • Why: Borax neutralizes various odors, enhancing cleaning.

8. Oats

A breakfast staple with hidden powers.

  • How: Place a bowl of oats near the garment in a confined space for hours.
  • Why: Like coffee grounds, oats absorb and neutralize odors.

9. Essential Oils

A fragrant solution to lingering smells.

  • How: Add a few drops of a preferred essential oil to the wash.
  • Why: They mask any residual fishy smell, leaving a pleasant aroma.

10. Cornstarch

A gentle approach to stubborn odors.

  • How: Sprinkle on the affected area, let it sit, then brush off.
  • Why: Cornstarch absorbs both moisture and odors, reducing the fishy scent.

11. White Clay

White clay, often used in beauty treatments, can also serve as a remedy for fishy odors in clothes. To use this method:

  • How: Mix white clay with a bit of water to form a thick paste. Spread this paste over the affected areas of the garment. Allow it to dry completely. Once dried, gently brush off the clay.
  • Why: White clay has natural absorbing properties. When applied to fabrics, it can pull out the fishy smell, leaving the garment refreshed.

12. Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is a potent odor-neutralizer. Its porous structure allows it to absorb a wide range of smells, including the stubborn fishy odor.

  • How: For this method, place the smelly garment in a sealed bag or container with a few pieces of activated charcoal. Let it sit for several hours or overnight. Remove the garment and air it out.
  • Why: The charcoal works by trapping odor particles, effectively pulling the fishy smell out of the fabric.

13. Vodka Spray

Vodka isn’t just for cocktails! It’s also a handy household deodorizer.

  • How: Create a solution with equal parts water and vodka. Pour it into a spray bottle. Lightly mist the affected garment with this solution and allow it to air dry.
  • Why: As the vodka evaporates, it takes away the fishy odor with it. It’s a quick and easy method, especially useful for delicate fabrics that can’t be washed frequently.

14. Mouthwash

Mouthwash, especially the ones with antiseptic properties, can be a surprising remedy for fish smells.

  • How: Dilute a capful of mouthwash in a bucket of water. Immerse the fishy-smelling garment in this solution and let it soak for about 30 minutes. After soaking, rinse the garment and wash it as usual.
  • Why: The antiseptic properties of the mouthwash help neutralize the bacteria responsible for the fishy odor.

15. Cedar Wood Chips

Crazy, right? Cedar wood chips have a pleasant, natural aroma that can mask unwanted odors.

  • How: Place the garment in a bag or drawer with cedar wood chips. Let it sit for a few hours or overnight. The longer it sits, the more effective it will be.
  • Why: The aromatic compounds in cedar wood can mask the fishy smell, leaving the garment with a fresh, woody scent.

16. Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets are commonly used to add fragrance to clothes during the drying cycle, but they can also mask unwanted odors.

  • How: Place a couple of dryer sheets in storage areas, drawers, or directly with the fishy-smelling clothes. The sheets will release their fragrance over time, masking the unwanted smell.
  • Why: Dryer sheets contain fragrances that can help neutralize and mask any lingering fishy smells on clothes, making them smell fresh and clean.

17. Saltwater Soak

Salt has been used for centuries as a natural cleanser and preservative. It can also help neutralize odors.

  • How: Dissolve a generous amount of salt in a bucket of water. Soak the affected garment in this saltwater solution for a few hours. After soaking, rinse the garment thoroughly and wash as usual.
  • Why: Saltwater helps to break down the proteins responsible for the fishy odor, making it easier to wash them away.

18. UV Light aka Sunlight

Drying Clothes out in the Sun
hang them out” by stillgotnone is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

We discussed this already but it’s worth mentioning again since it provides good, easy results. Sunlight is a natural disinfectant and can help in breaking down odor-causing compounds.

  • How: Spread the garment out in direct sunlight for several hours. Ensure it’s a sunny day and that the garment is exposed to direct UV rays.
  • Why: The UV rays from the sun can break down the compounds causing the fishy smell, leaving the garment smelling fresh.

19. Oxygen Cleaners

Oxygen cleaners are a type of bleach that releases oxygen, which can help in breaking down organic compounds causing the smell.

  • How: Follow the instructions on the product label. Typically, you’ll dissolve the oxygen cleaner in water and soak the affected garment in this solution for a specified duration. After soaking, wash the garment as usual.
  • Why: Oxygen cleaners work by releasing oxygen molecules that break down odor-causing compounds, making them an effective solution for stubborn smells.

20. Herbal Sachets

Low chances here to remove a fishy smell, but herbs have been used for centuries to impart pleasant aromas to clothes and living spaces.

  • How: Create sachets using dried herbs like rosemary, lavender, or thyme. Place these sachets with the garments in drawers or storage boxes.
  • Why: The pleasant aroma of the herbs can mask any residual fishy odors, leaving clothes smelling fresh and delightful.

Additional Tips for Keeping Clothes Fresh

When it comes to keeping your clothes free from fishy odors, a holistic approach that combines prevention, immediate action, and regular maintenance can make all the difference. Let’s explore these aspects in more detail.


Get a Quality Apron
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

The saying “prevention is better than cure” holds true, especially when dealing with persistent odors. If you’re someone who frequently cooks or handles fish, investing in a good-quality apron can be a game-changer.

Not only does it protect your clothes from direct contact with fish, but it also shields them from oils and sauces that can amplify the fishy smell. Additionally, when purchasing fish from a market or store, ensure it’s securely wrapped.

A double layer of plastic or an additional paper wrapping can prevent any residual fish juices from coming into contact with your clothing.

Immediate Action

Accidents happen, and sometimes, despite our best efforts, fishy spills occur. When they do, time is of the essence. Blotting the spill immediately with a damp cloth can prevent the odor from deeply penetrating the fabric.

If you’re out and about, carrying a small pack of wet wipes can be handy for such situations. For more significant spills, a quick rinse under cold water can help wash away the bulk of the odor-causing substances.

Regular Maintenance

After a day of fishing or a seafood feast, resist the urge to toss your clothes into the laundry hamper immediately. Letting them air out, preferably outdoors, allows the open air to neutralize some of the odors.

For those days when you need a quick refresh, fabric fresheners can be a boon. However, if you’re leaning towards a natural solution, activated charcoal sachets are excellent odor absorbers. Placing them in your wardrobe or drawers can help maintain a fresh environment for your clothes.

Essential oils, with their potent aromatic properties, can also serve as natural deodorizers. A few drops of lavender or eucalyptus oil on a piece of cloth can infuse your wardrobe with a pleasant scent, masking any residual odors.

Understanding Your Fabrics

Different fabrics have unique properties, and their ability to retain or release odors varies. Synthetic fabrics, like polyester or nylon, have a tighter weave, which can trap odors more efficiently than natural fabrics like cotton, wool or linen.

Being aware of this can help you choose the right cleaning method. For instance, synthetic clothes might benefit from a longer soak, while natural fabrics might respond better to sun drying.

Incorporating Natural Elements

Plants like lavender or rosemary have natural aromatic properties. Keeping potted versions of these in or near your wardrobe can introduce a pleasant fragrance, countering any unwanted smells.

Did this how-to help you?

Click on a cup to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

💡 Have Suggestions? If you think we got facts wrong in this article, or if you haven’t found the information you were looking for, please send us a quick message so we can improve it!

Categorized in: