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Will BBQ Make My Clothes Smell?

There’s nothing better than firing up the BBQ for an outdoor feast, but won’t all that smoke make your clothes and washing smell?

BBQ makes both the clothes you’re wearing smell of smoke, plus any washing that’s drying nearby – including your neighbors’. However, there are many effective ways to get the smoky smell out of your clothes without having to wash or rewash them.

In this blog post we’ll dive down into this subject in more detail, and outline a long-list of useful ways to get that smoke smell out of your clothes and washing.

Yes, BBQ Will Make Your Clothes & Washing Smell of Smoke

BBQ season is coming – or perhaps, in your house, it never left. Wearing a grilling apron – “The Grillfather”, “Every Butt Deserves a Good Rub”, or “May The Forks Be With You” – may help reduce the smoky smell, but it won’t eliminate it. If you have washing on a clothesline near a grill, it will smell smoky. Smoke clings to everything.

Smoke from a BBQ is a mixture of many particles. It may contain: bits of fuel (charcoal or wood), carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and organic compounds from your delicious grilled food. Basically, your grilled meats explode a little in the heat.

Smoke is pervasive. Smoke clings to everything. One reason it is so sticky is that a significant part of BBQ smoke is oil, produced by burning plant polymers. Not only does smoke get trapped in the spaces between fibers, in the weave, it gets absorbed in the fibers themselves.

Some fabrics will smell smokier than others. Fabrics with a loose weave absorb smoke particles the easiest, like cotton, nylon, and fleece.

Smoke gets absorbed by all fabrics that happen to be close to the grill: your shirt, your pants, lawn chair cushions, umbrellas, outdoor pillows, and the washing hanging on the clothesline.

Hanging clothes outside on a clothesline isn’t only about reducing carbon footprints. All that fresh air makes clothes smell – divine. Heavenly.

For clothes on a clothesline downwind of a BBQ grill, clothes just smell – stinky and nasty. You’ve basically wasted all that washing energy. Smoky smells hang out in the weave of fabrics, and a washline full of sheets and clothes has a lot of weave spaces.

We humans are sensitive to the smell of smoke. It’s a defense mechanism. Our noses can detect smoke even if it’s not very strong. The smell of smoke, particularly BBQ grill smoke, is not attractive.

How Long Will The Smell of Smoke Last if I Do Nothing?

Answer: longer than you want it to. Basically, forever.

Smoke is made partly of oil. Oils are sticky. Clingy. Fabric fibers absorb them. Loose weaves trap them. Will they come out by themselves? Probably not. Nope, not ever.

Should I Tell My Neighbors I’m Having a BBQ if Their Washing is Out?

Absolutely yes! It’s the neighborly thing to do.

Have your neighbors’ phone numbers handy on a group text. Text them alerts when you are grilling, smoking, or using fire pits – particularly if you live in areas with drought restrictions.

Smoking BBQ

16 Ways To Get The Smoke Smell Out of Clothes Without Rewashing Them

Check the labels on your clothes before attempting some of these smoky smell solutions. If your tag has gone missing, test first in an inconspicuous area. Another safe tip is to turn your clothes inside out first.

  1. Fresh Air. Hang up your smoky clothes outside in the fresh air. Not only does fresh, blowing air help get rid of the smoke particles but UV rays help neutralize odors. Better still, spend a few minutes brushing the clothes with a soft brush before hanging them out. Remember those Downton Abbey episodes where the valet is always brushing dirt off clothes? Turns out you can dislodge a lot of smoke (and dirt) particles with simple brushing.
  2. Hand Steamer or Iron. Use your handy steamer or your iron on the “steam” setting. Heat helps. Heat causes the weave of your clothes to relax and open up. Before steaming, use a soft brush or lint brush on your clothes. Then steam front and back. Air dry. Repeat as necessary. Steam is OK for “dry clean only” clothes.
  3. The Shower. If you don’t have a steamer or an iron, you can hang your clothes in the bathroom while you have a nice hot shower. Or fill the tub with hot water and hang the clothes over it. Close the bathroom door and leave the clothes in the steam. Brush them down first or spritz them with a white vinegar, vodka or rubbing alcohol solution. Air dry.
  4. White Vinegar. Spray with a solution of white vinegar. Vinegar has many uses. Recipe is: white vinegar with a few drops of an essential oil, like lemon or eucalyptus. Essential oils like lemon or eucalyptus are great to have in the house. Recipe is: equal parts vinegar and water, then as many drops of lemon as you prefer. Lemon essential oils not only masks smoke odors but absorbs them too. Spray the solution onto the clothes, then wait at least half an hour. Air dry. This method also works with other fabrics in the smoky vicinity: umbrellas, patio furniture, tents, and sleeping bags. Don’t worry about the vinegary smell – it won’t last long.
  5. Baking Soda. Put the offending clothes in a large Ziploc bag and sprinkle with baking soda. Shake, then leave overnight. Next day, shake them out outside. A lint roller or a brush attachment on a vacuum will help remove the powder. This method is not recommended for wool or silk.
  6. Lemon Juice. Spray clothes with a lemon juice solution. Recipe is: juice of one lemon or two tablespoons of juice to two cups of warm water. Leave for up to three hours, then air dry.
  7. Witch Hazel. Spray clothes with a homemade solution of witch hazel and lemon essential oils. Recipe is: 2 cups witch hazel with 20 drops of lemon essential oils.
  8. Vodka. Another homemade solution – vodka! Prepare a mix of vodka (the cheapest one in your cabinet – assuming you have more than one, haha). Recipe is: one measure of vodka to four measures of warm water. Leave for an hour, then air dry. Fun Fact: this cleaning tip was supposedly started on Broadway by a bunch of sweaty actors…
  9. Rubbing Alcohol. Spray clothes with a rubbing alcohol solution. Recipe is: one measure of rubbing alcohol for four measures of water. Leave for an hour, then air dry.
  10. Activated Charcoal. Many hardware stores carry a product labeled as a smoke or odor eliminator that is activated charcoal. Most often packaged in small burlap or cheesecloth bags, set a charcoal bag in a Ziploc bag with your smoky clothes. Leave overnight. Fun Fact: you can also use set charcoal briquettes inside your shoes to eliminate odors.
  11. Coffee Grounds. Surprisingly odor-absorbent, unused coffee grounds can be used in a bag with your smoky clothes. Put your smoky clothes in a bag or closed space with a bowl of unused coffee grounds. Leave overnight. Who doesn’t love the smell of coffee grounds? Be careful to keep the clothes and coffee apart, as coffee grounds can stain clothing.
  12. BBQ Wear. Get some fun BBQ wear. Spend agreeable time shopping for BBQ wear and then wear only that clothing when grillmastering. Include a hat if you don’t want your hair to be smoky.
  13. Dryer Sheets. Put the offending clothes in a Ziploc back along with a couple of (delightfully) smelly dryer sheets. Shake, then take out. Dryer sheets will stain clothes if left on too long.
  14. Febreeze. Spray with odor-eliminating clothing Febreeze, then let air dry.
  15. Zep Smoke Odor. Spray, then let air dry.
  16. Enzymatic Pet Spray. Many pet sprays contain odor-reducing enzymes. Skunk spray. Urine eliminators. Spray, then let air dry.


The smell of BBQ smoke will stay on your clothes forever and a day if you don’t take action to remove it.

So if the clothes you’re wearing or your fresh washing gets all smokey, just use one of the great methods outlined above to get rid of the odor without any washing or rewashing needed.

And if you want to be a good neighbor (don’t we all), it’s also worthwhile letting them know when you’re BBQing so they can take their own washing inside or not hang it out in the first place.

Another great idea is to have a set of BBQ clothes you only wear when firing up the grill – that way who cares if they get all smokey? 🙂

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >