How to Clean Thrift Store Clothing

There’s nothing I like more than a shopping spree at my local Salvation Army. I never really paid much attention to disinfecting the garments, until I learned that a fashion editor friend of mine received a nasty infection from not cleaning her thrift store purchases properly. This post gives you tips on cleaning and disinfecting your thrift store purchases.

How to Clean Thrift Store Clothing

Never, ever, wear a thrift store purchase without first cleaning the garment(s).

Why? Well, donations are often kept in warehouses where they can sit for a while and gather mold, dust, and insects. Also, some donors use thrift stores as their personal “trash bins” and donate items that may not be in the best shape.

Don’t believe us? Ask to take a peek at the sorting room of your local thrift store. You will notice most employees/volunteers use latex gloves to sort through the items.

Dry clean if you can.

In most cases it’s best to send the item to the dry cleaners for cleaning. The chemicals used in dry cleaning, called perchloroethylene, aka “perc” kills pretty much every germ imaginable.

Or, use really hot water and Pine Sol.

If the garment can’t be dry cleaned or your just too broke to afford a high cleaning bill, then wash the garment once in the hottest water possible, with a cap full of Pine Sol or other disinfectant and then a second time with a table spoon of baking soda (to remove the Pine Sol smell).

Test the disinfectant on the garment prior to washing to make sure the chemicals don’t stain or otherwise damage the clothing. Dry the garment in your dryer at the highest possible heat.

If the garment is delicate, don’t rely on Woolite.

It won’t disinfect your garments. The best option is to wash the delicate with a capful of baby body wash or shampoo and a small capful of anti-bacterial hand soap in a basin or bathroom sink.

Test then wipe shoes and accessories with rubbing alcohol.

For shoes, jewelry, and other accessories, wipe the piece down with rubbing alcohol (test a small area to make sure it doesn’t damage the piece) or spray with Lysol disinfectant spray. This might not completely disinfect the garment, but it will kill some germs.

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    Catherine Brock

    As a Southern California transplant now living in the Midwest, Catherine has turned layering into an art form and accepted that UGGs actually do have a place in the stylish lady's wardrobe. She's been featured in Woman's World Magazine,, Refinery29, and has made appearances on ABC7 Chicago, FOX2News St. Louis, KCAL9 Los Angeles, Fox19 Cincinnati, WGN TV Chicago and WCPO TV Cincinnati.

    Blog Comments

    i also find that a nice trip through the laundry is sufficient. i like to add white vinegar to the load to rid the clothes of any odors. perfumes, musty smells or most importantly…the multitude of laundry soaps the rest of the world uses that just about kill me!

    I am in the habit of “disinfecting” clothes bought from stores (all undergarments!! packed or not!!) – although I haven’t tried the PineSol/baking soda potion.  So what about trying on the clothes in the dressing room (department, consignment or thrift)??  How do you protect yourself from contaminants?  Is there a “3 second rule” for this as well?

    Does anyone have a cure for musty smelling shoes.
    I am a very thrifty shopper and have just a hair short of 300 pairs of shoes.Unfortunately until I organized them into clear see-through plastic bins, a large portion of them became musty smelling(obviously having that many pairs of shoes had to be stored on basement shelves)…thanks to any tips!

    Bottom line use common sense. If the garment looks well worn, you might be better off just leaving it on the rack. I don’t like to purchase underwear at the thrift store unless it still have the folds of the package and I stll wash it in hot water and bleach,just like I do my own whites every time I wash them. That rids those garment of whatever there might be.  And if you are that phobic you would be better off shopping at the outlet stores or learn to make your own.

    Does anyone know how to clean the rope of “old” espadrilles?

    Wow – thanks for this info! I’ve always been hesitant about buying stuff at thrift stores – but in times like these… It leaves me with no other choice!!


    i will like to buy clothes for my new born born baby from the thrift store but i dont know if the chemical i will use to sanitize the clothes will be too strong for the tender baby,please i need help on this issue.

    how do i keep a clothing store smelling fresh

    I too am a thrifty shopper. I’m always surprised at the bargains I find at thrift stores. I wash my medium to heavy weight clothes in “Goodwins Spring Fresh Ammonia”. It’s pink. It’s a sudsy detergent. It’s been around since 1922. It can be used to wash your clothes. Directions are listed on the 64 fluid ounce bottle.

    Here is a great tip for those musty smells. (And believe me, I know this works because my best friends husband left a gallon of milk (with a leak in the jug-, on the floor of her car in them middle of the summer. A couple of days later, when she got into her car to go to work, she just about DIED from the horrible smell.) Buy some coffee that come in the sealed “filters”. Place one into each shoe (or into closets, storage bins, etc.) and leave for a few days. The filters will absorb the order, almost like magic. My husband leaves them under the seats in our car. Just don’t have them touch clothing that might become stained. CAUTION you might get a sudden craving for eggs and bacon;-)

    SUNLIGHT is a fabulous disinfectant.

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