Does freezing your clothes really work to remove bacteria and odours? I gave this intriguing laundry hack a go – here’s what I found.
It’s the laundry hack you won’t find on any clothing care label. What is it? Well, some laundry aficionados recommend freezing your clothes, to avoid having to wash them so much. It’s been touted by Levi Strauss – the jeans brand – and in who knows how many TikTok videos.
In the age of droughts, increasing water consumption, and microplastics being released from washing synthetic clothing, it makes sense to cut down on the laundry that we do. Whether that’s hanging items up to air in between wears, steaming them, or using a fabric refresher spray to prolong the time between washing items. But freezing them? Would that even work?
I’ll admit, my first thought when I heard this laundry hack was one of disbelief. But then I mulled it over. I’ve come to realise that the idea of popping your clothes into your freezer – nestling them next to your leftovers and tubs of ice cream – is actually not as offbeat as it sounds. After all, the NHS has long recommended freezing pillows and soft toys in the case of managing dust mite allergies, scabies infections, bed bug outbreaks, and more.
The reason behind this is that the cold temperatures found in your freezer will help kill any nasties hiding in soft toys and pillows, which aren’t always suitable for machine washing. Suddenly, the idea of popping your jeans in for a deep freeze to refresh them doesn’t sound so out there.
Does Freezing Your Clothes Actually Work?
Of course, I wanted to try this laundry hack out to see if it could take bad smells out of clothes without washing them.
I took a pair of jeans I had been wearing for a few days. The jeans didn’t have any visible dirt or stains on them. However, I had been wearing them for a good few days. Having recently been wearing them when I cooked with onions, they certainly smelled like they could do with a refresh.
I gave my jeans a little shake to remove any dust, and then loosely folded them up. I then placed my dry jeans in a plastic bag to avoid them taking on that freezer smell. You know, the funky smell that your freezer gives off when you defrost it. I certainly didn’t want that permeating into my jeans, no thank you.
I then cleared a space in my freezer so that my jeans weren’t sitting next to my bags of frozen vegetables, and popped them in overnight. It did feel more than a bit odd putting my jeans to bed in the freezer, but all in the name of clothes-freezing research!
The next morning I tentatively took my jeans out of the freezer. I was worried that I’d have to wait hours to be able to put them on without fear of giving my bum cheeks frostbite. I was pleasantly surprised though – they took about 5 minutes to warm up to a wearable temperature.
Once suitably warmed up, next came the all-important sniff test. I can confirm, that there was no hint of onion. In fact, there was no smell at all. My jeans smelled clean and fresh like they had been hanging on a washing line on a breezy day. You wouldn’t know they had spent the night hanging out in the freezer.
My verdict? Freezing your clothes really does freshen up your clothes, and removes any bad odours.
Clothes Freezing FAQ
Since my initial jeans experiment, I’ve popped quite a few items of clothing in the freezer. As such, I’ve put together a little FAQ on everything you might ever need to know about freezing your clothes for freshness:
What Can You Freeze?
So far, I’ve not found any clothing that I can’t freeze. However, I think the main question is not what can you freeze, but what should you freeze.
Your freezer is not going to replace your washing machine. When it comes to visibly dirty clothes, these obviously need to go in the washing machine. The same goes for things that you wear really close to your body, such as knickers, boxer shorts or trunks, and socks. And for clothes you’ve gotten particularly sweaty in – such as gym or sports gear – again, the freezer will not help you. Those sweaty shorts are a job for the washing machine.
The freezer is best for the odd item that isn’t dirty but could do with a little refresh in between washes. Think a pair of jeans, a jumper or a cardigan you’ve been wearing over the top of a T-shirt. Or something you’ve worn that isn’t dirty but has taken on cooking or smoke smells. Basically, anything that is visibly clean and you haven’t gotten particularly sweaty in is a good candidate for the freezer.
Should You Wet Your Clothes First?
I would not recommend wetting your clothes before popping them in the deep freeze. They’ll come out frozen solid, and you would have to defrost and then dry them. Dry clothes come out soft and ready to wear after just a couple of minutes.
How Long Should You Freeze Clothes For?
When it comes to freezing soft toys and pillows to kill nasties, NHS advice varies from freezing for 8-12 hours to as much as 3-4 days in the case of bedbugs. For refreshing clothes, I think overnight is ample in most cases – apart from if you are dealing with moths. See below for an expert’s view on moths.
Does Freezing Do Any Damage To Jeans Or Other Items?
I personally haven’t found that the freezer does damage any items of clothing, and some internet searching hasn’t revealed any potential problems associated with freezing certain types of clothing – including wool, silk, or leather.
Of course, if you have a particularly delicate or sentimental item, or if you are in any doubt then avoid the freezer. Instead, follow the instructions on the manufacturer’s care label for the best results.
Does Using The Freezer Kill Bacteria?
The Smithsonian argue that freezing clothes doesn’t kill bacteria. However, this hasn’t been backed up by any rigorous or peer-reviewed scientific studies.
Bacteria are responsible for causing many of the bad odours on our clothing. However, as these odours do dissipate after a stint in the freezer, I would say there is some weight to the ability of freezing temperatures to kill at least some of the odour-causing bacteria in our clothes.
What About Moths – Does Freezing Clothes Kill Moths?
In a New York Times article, Bruce Walsh, professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, recommended using the freezer for dealing with moths that are munching through your best woollen jumpers. For moths though, your clothes will need to hang out a little longer in the freezer. A whole two weeks should ensure your woollens are moth-free.
What do you think? Would you give the freezer a go?