Prepare a plan for how to defunk your belongings prior to traveling, since travel should rarely be unpleasant. Following are several simple, effective methods for preventing your luggage from smelling bad.
If you ever have a travel bag full of clothing, you know that a quick jog or a sweaty bus ride can damage a once-fresh wardrobe. How should you proceed when you’re still a few days away from laundry, but you’d like to smell less like a gym bag?
It is critical that you have a plan for how to defunk your luggage before you depart, since traveling should rarely stink. These are a few simple, effective methods for preventing your luggage from smelling foul. It is not as difficult as you might think to smell fresh and clean. In this handy travel guide, you will find everything from laundry hacks to equipment and materials to purchase that will make you feel fresh and clean while on the go. The guide is also TSA-friendly.
Pack Materials That Stink Less
Athleisure is Your Friend
Several of the best fabrics for travel are athletic-inspired, made to resist sweat. They will not absorb unpleasant odors or scents due to their sweat-wicking properties and antimicrobial properties.
There are many companies that claim their clothing is constructed with “anti-odor” fabric and materials. Testing these in advance, before your travels, to determine if their claims are true is recommended since not all technology will work with all body types.
Natural Fibers Fight Stink
The best way to ensure stink-free travel is to wear clothing made out of natural materials such as cotton, bamboo, wool, and linen. While these fibers absorb moisture, they do not harbor bacteria, so they are an effective way to avoid stinky laundry while traveling.
Conversely, polyester and other synthetic materials are known to be the most odorous over time.
Merino wool is the preferred fabric for travel apparel, as it can be reworn multiple times before it begins to smell.
We highly recommend a lightweight merino option if you’re the type to bring along the same top in multiple colors on your travels.
Travelers often have to wait a long time for these materials to dry, which can cause frustration. You should combine quick-drying fabrics with thicker, natural fabrics in your pack.
How to Keep Clothes Smelling Fresh in a Suitcase
Separate Dirty Clothes
- Many travelers have difficulty separating their dirty clothes from their clean ones while traveling, especially if they’re traveling with a carry-on. This one tip is the easiest and most effective way to make sure your clothes smell fresh on the road.
Use Packing Cubes
You might consider segregating your stinkiest clothes into a separate bag if you’ve tried a few of these on-the-road clothes freshening tactics and none are working. When space is tight, even simple plastic bags with zippers (like gallon-sized Ziploc bags) can prevent the stink from affecting your fresh and clean clothes!
When you travel with packing cubes, designate one for clean items and one for dirty items.
That Pocket You Never Use
Every travel suitcase or backpack has a pocket that rarely gets used. You know the one I’m talking about. The side, back, front, etc. pocket. Now you have a great use for it.
Empty, often ignored “extra” pockets in backpacks can be used to store dirty laundry. It’s time to wash the container once it’s full.
Separate Your Shoes
Separating your shoes is the best way to prevent your bag from smelling musty and dusty. If possible, don’t pack a second pair of shoes at all!
Bringing a second or third pair of shoes isn’t a big deal, but if you insist, do it right. You should bring:
- Keeping your clean clothes and shoes clean by wrapping your shoes in a shower cap
- You’ll never know when you need a spare plastic bag if you don’t wrap them in a plastic bag
- The porous properties of paper will absorb most odors in your shoes
- Especially if you prefer to consume your news digitally, sneaker-balls make a great backup.
- If you’re not wearing your shoes, place one of those dashboard odor things in them
while you’re not wearing them. If you have stinky feet (I do), don’t let that smell get into your other clothes. You can stuff your actual shoe with a small Christmas tree shaped scent thingy. If you’re feeling tropical, try the Pina Colada scent. The scent is especially good when it’s raining.
Duffle Bag Travel
Keeping old shoes in a separate compartment will prevent your bag from smelling like old shoes. I can keep my merino wool shirts and sweaty sneakers separate thanks to a dedicated shoe compartment. That’s great.
Using Color to Mark Dirty Clothes
A Netflix documentary on Minimalists taught me this next level travel hack. You pack one set of underwear (or a red shirt, or a black bra, or whatever color you choose). You use the colored item of clothing to indicate what is “clean” and what is “dirty.”
In this case, any underwear that is over the red pair is clean. Underwear below that is dirty. It is not necessary to wear the colored pair last, but you should wear the colored pair first.
It is perfect for people on the go for long stretches (like the Minimalists on their year-long book tour), and it is a simple way to organize your bag. I find it very useful.
Pack More Tops Than Bottoms
Changing your top and reusing your bottoms will result in a completely new look. There is one caveat, however. If you pack bottoms that aren’t light colored, you will avoid wearing unsightly stains between washes as well.
A pair of jeans is the ideal travel garment because they are resistant to odors without needing to be washed.
Reusable laundry bags should be brought
Making the process of laundry-on-the-go a little less stressful and a little more organized is possible with laundry bags. Keep one bag for wet items, one for items that need to be laundered as soon as possible, one for items that can be worn again but have already been worn… you get the picture. For travelers with limited space, packing cubes can double as laundry bags.
How to Make Clothes Smell Good
Despite its age, this packing hack still works. When you open your bag, you’ll smell the aroma of lavender every time you open a new dryer sheet. Especially if you choose lavender scented dryer sheets.
It’s important to be careful when using dryer sheets-I’m not a huge fan of their chemical smell. You might not notice real odors on your clothes until someone points them out to you on the train. Which sucks. Use with caution.
If you’re extra artsy, you can also pack a potpourri sachet or dried flower sachet. It’ll not only smell great, but you’ll gain half a dozen new followers on Pinterest as well.
Pack Cedar Chips
You can use cedar chips instead of scented dryer sheets. Make like a globe-trotting lumberjack by throwing a cedar or pine block into your bag (relax, they’re light).
The problem with travel Febreze is that, like dryer sheets, it masks the problem with chemical scents instead of actually eliminating them. It can be handy in a pinch, but I’d rather just pack enough clean clothes to wear for a while, washing them when they get dirty instead of trying to revive them with fake scents that smell really weird.
The solution to stinky clothing is essential oils, not Febreze. What’s the reason? They smell great, and keep clothing smelling for a long time.
Travelers are packing scented essential oils in their carry on bags (and I mean small, like 2 ounces) because of the pleasant scent and their use as sleeping aids. If you dab a little lavender oil on your temples (I like lavender), you’ll be transported to a sweet smelling dream world. You will also get a subtle, pleasant scent from the bottle itself in your bag.
Hand Wash Underwear in the Sink
No matter how many countries you’ve visited, packing a travel-size bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap is a tried-and-true method for travelers. Underwear, boxers, and bras should be hand washed and hung to dry each night using this castile soap. Ta-da!
How to Freshen Up Clothes Without Washing Them
Hang Up Your Clothes When You Arrive
To get rid of stinky clothes, let them air out (and allow them time to do so). Whenever possible, you should move your belongings from your backpack to hangers while traveling.
Hang Stinky Clothes in the Sun
If you exercise or are highly active while traveling, you should air out your workout clothes in the sun itself. The ultraviolet rays of the sun can kill the bacteria (often odorous) found in sweat produced by your body.
You can hang your shirt in direct sunlight on a sunny day by turning it inside out. Using this method will not completely remove the stench, but it can be a good preventative measure.
Vodka: It’s Not Just for Happy Hour
Vodka is known for working wonders for your confidence, but did you know it can also help keep your travel clothes fresh? Fill a mini spray bottle with vodka and spray it on your clothes. Half the bottle should be vodka, half water. You can spray liberally on the affected areas; it will dry odorless, kill bacteria, and remove odors quickly. Let’s toast to that!
Keep Your Bag Smelling Fresh: How to Clean a Backpack
How do you actually clean your backpack after you’ve used packing hacks and dryer sheets?
It might be time to wash your bag if you’ve used it for a while (read: for a few months of sweaty travel). Use these steps to hand wash your backpack:
- To clean seams and crevices, dump out each pocket to remove dirt and crumbs.
- Trim loose threads around zippers.
- Use old toothbrushes to treat any obvious stains with soap, Tide pens, or OxyClean. Rinse and dry after 10 minutes.
- Fill a large sink or tub with cold or room temperature water (hot water may damage your backpack).
- Add some Dr. Bronner’s or another mild detergent.
- Make sure not to soak your backpack!
- Brush any dirty spots with the same toothbrush, paying particular attention to threads, patches, and embroidery, which can get extra dirty
- Use a toothbrush to clean the zipper teeth to remove grit and build up (just like your teeth).
- Rinse the backpack with cool water after draining the tub.
- Ensure the backpack is as dry as possible.
- Allow all the zippers and pockets to dry completely.
If you want to make friends while you travel, you need to keep your bag smelling fresh. You can easily keep your carry-on bag and your clothes fresh while traveling.
- Take an extra packing cube or dry bag with you to separate dirty clothes.
- You can keep your bag smelling fresh for weeks with a cedar chip, lavender sachet, essential oils, or scented dryer sheet.
- Make your travel wardrobe last longer by investing in merino travel clothing.
- Pack more shirts than pants—they get stinkier more quickly.
- Keep your shoes separated with a plastic bag, shower cap, or separate compartment.
- Hang up your clothes when you arrive.
- You should wash your backpack every now and then (steps above).