How to Get Smells Out of Yarn

kool aid yarn

Do you know how to get smells out of yarn? If you’re a knitter or a crocheter, it’s valuable knowledge, because sometimes yarn stinks.

Sometimes it’s our fault (yarn was left too long in a supply closet and it got musty, a spilled beverage leaves behind its scent, or a cat got territorial). Sometimes you can pass the blame to someone else (they smoke, and gifted you their stash of nicotine-flavored strands). Stinky yarn makes for an unpleasant experience for the knitter and the wearer. If the smell of the yarn isn’t overly offensive, you can always knit your project and then wash it, which can be a little gentler on the strands. However, you’re going to spend hours knitting with yarn that reeks of cigarettes or mothballs, you’re going to want to eliminate that odor.

In short, stink happens. Here are some of our favorite ways to get the smell out of yarn.

Sunlight & Grass

Do you have a lawn? Is the sun shining? Unravel your skein across your lawn (pin or weigh it down in a couple of places) for up to two days. The chlorophyll in the grass and the UV rays from the sun work together to eliminate mothball odor and any residual mildew.


Sunlight & Vinegar

Add equal parts white vinegar and room temperature water to a large bowl. Dunk your yarn until thoroughly dampened. Unravel your yarn and let it dry in the sunlight for 1-2 days.


Activated Charcoal

Put several briquettes of activated charcoal in an airtight container with the loosened yarn for one week. If you have charcoal in powder form, scoop some into an old pair of tights or pantyhose and tie off. Add the charcoal sachet to the container.

Still stinky after seven days? Give the charcoal a few more days to work its magic…or try another method.

activated charcoal

Baking Soda

Put your yarn in a sealable container (like a tupperware or a large ziplock bag) and generously pour baking soda over it. Leave sealed for one week. After seven days give it a smell test. Still got the stank? Give it a few more days for the baking soda to absorb offensive odors.

When finished, just shake the excess baking soda off the yarn. Give the final product a very gentle quick one-over with a vacuum attachment if needed.

baking soda

Kitty Litter

Kitty litter may seem like an odd weapon in your smell-removing arsenal, but it’s ultra-absorbent and deodorizing. We recommend using traditional clay litter, not the clumping kind.

Use the same strategy you would for baking soda and charcoal: Put your yarn in a sealable container or bag and generously add kitty litter. Leave sealed for one week.

kitty litter

Essential Oils

Add a couple drops of lavender or eucalyptus oil to your yarn to mask existing smells. Don’t want to add the scent directly to the yarn? Add a few drops of oil to a cotton ball and place it with the yarn in a sealed bag for a couple of days.

essential oil


Add a stick of spearmint gum (seriously) to your yarn storage, or mist the strands with Listerine. If you use Listerine, allow the yarn to dry completely before using.

spearmint gum

Wash It

Head’s up: The only way to remove the smell of cigarette smoke from yarn is to wash it  thoroughly with detergent…and even that’s no guarantee.

  1. Put your skein into hank form and tie it in a few places to keep it from tangling.
  2. Wash the yarn. Use a warm – not hot – water. Don’t be afraid to use an extra-strong detergent or even dishwashing liquid (like Dawn). Since they’re designed to cut grease, dishwashing liquids are better at removing the nicotine tar soiling your yarn.
  3. You might also try adding Borax or baking soda to the wash to help eliminate odors.
  4. After the wash, gently roll the yarn in a towel to remove excess water, then hang it to dry.

Note: If you can stand the smell, you can also knit your project and wash the finished knit afterwards.

Dryer & Fabric Softener

Tie a tight knot around your hank of yarn – you definitely don’t want it opening up and tangling as it gets tossed around in the dryer. Add 3-4 dryer sheets and put your dryer on the lowest setting. Check your yarn after 15 minutes. If it’s still smelly, give it a fresh dryer sheet or two and another 15 minute cycle.

fabric softener

photo by Artizone

Throw It Away

Yes, this is a difficult decision to make, but weigh the amount of time you’ll spend buying cleaning products, putting your skein into hank form, washing, and drying it…and realize that it may be far less stressful to simply buy a new skein. No judgment here.

Do you have any smell-removal tips to add?