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How to Clean Thrift Store Clothing

There’s nothing I like more than a shopping spree at my local Goodwill or Salvation Army. I never really thought much about how to clean thrift store clothing, until I learned that a fashion editor friend of mine got a nasty infection from wearing secondhand garments without washing them. So, you know, yuck.

Now you might be wondering, do thrift stores clean clothes before selling them? The answer is no.

Admittedly, cleaning protocols in thrift shops are more common than they used to be, what with the pandemic and all. But that level of “cleaning” may be an air wave of Lysol. Because every store is different and you don’t really know how much cleaning goes on, just assume it’s your responsibility. That way, you’re not risking your health for fashion.

Generally, it’s just a good idea to know how to sanitize laundry (with bleach or without). Read on to learn how to clean and disinfect your thrift store shopping finds. You might also want to see: what to buy in thrift stores.

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How to clean thrift store clothing: 5 rules

Two shoppers wearing masks inspect clothes in thrift store.

1. Never, ever, wear a thrift store purchase without first cleaning it first

Why? Well, donations may be kept in warehouses where they gather mold, dust, and insects. Also, some donors use thrift stores as their personal “trash bins” and donate items that aren’t in the best shape.

If you’re not convinced, 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.

2. Dry clean

The dry cleaning process douses your clothes with chemicals and then subjects them to very high heat during steam pressing. The chemicals may do some damage to germs and bacteria, but it’s the heat that’s the true hero. High temperatures can kill bacteria, germs, viruses, and allergens — including the flu and COVID-19.

3. Wash and dry hot

If the garment can’t be dry cleaned or you don’t want to fund the bill, then try this instead. Wash the garment once in the hottest water possible, with a cap full of Pine Sol or other disinfectant. Then wash a second time with a table spoon of baking soda to remove the Pine Sol smell.

Test your 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 setting the clothing can stand.

4. For delicate garments, try antibacterial hand soap

Don’t rely on Woolite. It won’t disinfect your garments. Instead, wash delicates with a capful of baby body wash or shampoo mixed with a capful of anti-bacterial hand soap.

Dry in the machine if you can, at the highest heat possible. You could also use your blow dryer and then iron it once it’s dry.

5. Wipe shoes and accessories with rubbing alcohol

For shoes, jewelry, and other accessories, test a small area with rubbing alcohol or Lysol. If no damage results, wipe the piece down completely. This might not completely disinfect the piece, but it will kill some germs.

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Saturday 14th of September 2013

SUNLIGHT is a fabulous disinfectant.


Thursday 29th of August 2013

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;-)


Tuesday 2nd of July 2013

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.


Thursday 14th of March 2013

how do i keep a clothing store smelling fresh


Saturday 14th of July 2012

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.

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