How To Get the Funk Out of Old Curtains and Rugs

Learn the best way to get odors caused by smoke, pets, mildew, mothballs, and more out of curtains, rugs, and other household textiles.
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Rugs, curtains, and other fabrics pose special challenges in the quest to keep your home smelling fresh. These textiles accumulate odors over time, negatively impacting the way your home smells. Cigarette smoke, pets, mothballs, and mildew are just a few of the most common smelly offenders that permeate rugs, carpets, and upholstery. Whether you’re tackling your spring cleaning list, pulling a rug out of storage, or trying to remove a stench from that stylish estate sale purchase, you’ll want to find the best way to eliminate these unwanted smells. Note that many of the tips shared below for getting rid of odors on curtains and rugs can also help you keep carpets, upholstery, and other surfaces smelling fresh. Before cleaning curtains, rugs, or any other textiles, be sure to check the care label. If you’re not certain that a specific cleaner or cleaning method is safe to use, try spot cleaning, dry cleaning, or even hanging the smelly item outside to air out.

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1. Smoke

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Cigarette smoke has a strong and distinct odor that can linger for a long time. While it can be difficult to get rid of smoke odors, all is not lost if your rugs or curtains smell like cigarettes. If the curtains or rugs are machine washable, run them through the machine at the highest temperature suggested on the care label, using ½ cup vinegar in place of detergent. Vinegar is acidic and can break down the odor-causing molecules from the smoke more effectively than laundry detergent. After the wash cycle, hang the curtains or rugs outside to dry. Drop off dry-clean-only items at your local cleaners, being sure to mention the smoke problem. If the smell persists after dry cleaning, hang the rugs or curtains outside for a day or so.

If neither machine washing nor dry cleaning is an option, bring out the baking soda. This pantry staple absorbs odors rather than simply covering them up. Spread the smelly curtain or rug out on the floor, sprinkle it with baking soda, and leave it to sit overnight before vacuuming it the following morning.

For especially stubborn odors, try combining or repeating some of these methods. For instance, if the smell remains after a curtain has been washed and air-dried, try applying baking soda. If the baking soda doesn’t do the trick, try airing the item outside for a day or two. You’re more likely to succeed if you use all the options available to you.

RELATED: How Much Does Professional Cigarette Smoke Removal Cost for a House?

2. Mildew

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Mildew is another unpleasant odor that can be tricky to get rid of. Before trying to remove the mildew smell from rugs or curtains, find and treat the source of the smell. If, for instance, you’re dealing with a mildewy rug that had been stored in the basement, track down the mildew and remove it using a diluted bleach solution to prevent the mildew from affecting other items.

Once you’ve treated the source of the problem, move on to treating the mildewy item. If it’s a curtain, rug, or other textile that is machine washable, try soaking it in an all-fabric bleach in the washing machine for 30 minutes or so. Then, drain the water, run a rinse cycle, and wash the load again with your regular detergent. Be sure not to use standard bleach on textiles.

RELATED: What’s the Difference? Mold vs. Mildew

3. Pet Odor

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We love our pets, but we don’t always love the odors that come with them. If you’ve noticed that your rugs or curtains have started smelling like a wet dog or have other unpleasant odors left by your furry friends, try baking soda. As mentioned above, baking soda absorbs odors and can help freshen up your home. Sprinkle baking soda over the affected curtains or rugs, and let it sit overnight. (Keep your pets out of the room.) The next day, vacuum the baking soda off the rug or curtain. If odors are still present on rugs or carpets, consider hiring a professional carpet cleaner.

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4. Cat Urine

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It’s important to get rid of cat urine smells on curtains and rugs promptly, not only to improve the way your home smells, but also to prevent your cat from repeatedly peeing in the same spot. An enzymatic cleaner is the go-to product for removing cat urine smells. These cleaners break down the molecules in the urine and remove the odor. If you don’t use an enzymatic cleaner, your cat will still be able to smell the urine—even if you can’t—and may continue urinating in that same spot.

5. Mustiness

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Vintage rugs and curtains have stories to tell and can add character to your living space. Unfortunately, whether snagged at a flea market or inherited from a family member, these charming finds often also come with a musty smell. Depending on how strong the odor is, baking soda may be effective in removing it. As described before, sprinkle baking soda over rugs or curtains, let it sit overnight, and vacuum it up in the morning.

Some musty odors, particularly in older rugs, are too deeply embedded into the material to be removed with baking soda. In these instances, you may need to use a carpet cleaner in conjunction with a pH-balanced carpet shampoo to give the rug a thorough once-over. For really stubborn musty odors, consult a professional.

RELATED: The Best Odor Eliminators

6. Mothballs

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Mothballs kill moths, their eggs, and larvae so your clothes don’t end up full of holes. Though mothballs are certainly effective, they leave a strong odor behind on items that have been stored with them. If you recently pulled any curtains or rugs out of storage, you may be wondering how to get rid of that unpleasant mothball smell.

Airing out the curtains and rugs can help, but if the items are machine washable, you may find more success with vinegar. Try running a wash cycle using vinegar in place of laundry detergent, and then run an additional cycle with detergent. Before placing the items in the dryer, check to confirm that the mothball smell is gone; you don’t want to inadvertently seal the odor into the rug or curtain with the heat from the dryer.

If your rugs or curtains are not machine washable, you may still be able to use vinegar to minimize the mothball odor. Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle and lightly spritz the entire surface. Always start with a spot test to make sure the vinegar won’t negatively affect the appearance of the fabric.

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