That Charity Shop Smell

Updated: You can also read my post – 7 tips for removing that charity shop smell which is now live.
Shall we talk about the grim side of second hand clothes and furnishings for a moment? The Eewww Factor, as my friend calls it. You know, the erm, aroma. Let’s face it most charity shops smell.
Charity shops have a certain scent there is no denying it. You know that smell you get when you enter someone else’s home? It doesn’t smell bad (for the most part) but it smells distinctly of them, now imagine thousands of those scents mingled in, meshed together, unaired, sometimes for years, in a black bin bag or plastic bargain bin. De-li-cious.

The smell doesn’t bother me because usually I know how to deal with it (more of that to come tomorrow) and I was brought up with wearing second hand clothes, skip diving and sifting through jumble sales. If I like an item, know how to get the particular scent out and it is in a good state of repair it will becoming home with me.

I do think, however, the smell is a large factor in putting people off second hand shopping. I’ve mentioned my friend with a deep rooted aversion to thrift before, she just can’t bring herself to enter a charity shop without heaving, so reminded is she of a particularly pungent, thick scented shop that her mother used to frequent during her childhood. As much as she loves the looks I can pull together, from charity shops, for my home or wardrobe I do have to promise her that everything I wear when I go out with her, or anything she sits on has been thoroughly de-charity shopped before she can rest easy.

Now that many charity shops have been ‘Mary Portas-ed‘ and become more high street friendly, many seem to have lost the charity shop scent and in my opinion and lot of their charm too. I tend not to use frequent these types of charity shops, the ones without the smell, they tend to be the ones that stock lots of new things, -ugly candles, no thanks – and sell Primark dresses for £15. Avoid at all costs.

Is the smell of charity shops something you can get over or do you just need to be made of hardier stuff?

Handmade green and white dress, St Rocco’s Hospice £3 // Spotty cardigan £2.50 PDSA // Cashmere striped jumper £1.50 St Ann’s Hospice //

Updated: You can read my post – 7 tips for removing that charity shop smell which is now live.


P.S. More to come tomorrow.

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  1. I know to some people it might seem a bit “ewwww….” but I find it strangely comforting. It makes me think of rummaging.
    Besides, it’s normally smell that comes out with washing.

  2. I used to work in a charity shop – about eleven years ago – and got used to the smell. You know they hand all the clothes up upstairs/in the back and steam them and that is where a lot of smell escapes from – as soon as the steamers started up and got to work, the charity shop really intesified and wafted around the shop! Now, when I enter a charity shop and smell that smell, I remember days working in the back, sorting stock (and bagsy-ing a few bargains!). I don’t get much CS browsing time at mo as I spend weekends in wolverhampton where the charity shops are dire, but that’s going to change this summer and I’m looking forward to becoming a regular CS hunter again!

  3. omg, thrift store smell! everything i’ve purchased second hand has always smelled exactly the same way, even from different stores. what is that?!

    ps. i love that dress!

  4. the smelly ones are the best!! there is a store near my apt that just reeks! no AC, the floor is usually wet from some mysterious leak somewhere, and they are usually watching jerry springer or something similar at full blast! i find the best stuff there because few people are willing to enter or stay very long. i’m talking christian dior, diane von furstenberg, and lots of really great vintage! my husband can’t set foot in the place-he tried and immediately had an allergy attack :)

  5. p.s. that polka dot sweater is flippin’ cute!

  6. I have to admit as much as I love thrifting I don’t love the smell. In fact I find it the massive downside to charity shop shopping. I think, however, that I have an abnormally strong sense of smell in fact I do think that if I was a superhero my super power would be my sense of smell (which admittedly is an extremely rubbish super power!)

    However, those bargains and the thrill of finding them outweighs it for me so I grit my teeth go in and try to find something that I know I can remove the smell from or that smells as little as possible!;)

  7. Ha, I’m so glad someone wrote a post about this! I’ve always found the smell of thrift shops kind of comforting and exciting, because I feel like I’m stumbling upon hideaways of old treasures from people’s attics or something like that. It’s a nostalgic thing, I guess. There have been a few thrift stores that I’ve been in that are really very dirty, and that turns me off more than any sort of scent, I think.


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  9. Oh that’s just a brilliant post, I also find it strangely comforting and after washing some gorgeous candy coloured pillow cases the other day they still lingered of that charity shop smell! I don’tlike to super duper Mary Portas CS’s and avoid them as they can have silly prices.
    Once when my daughter was about 4 she loudly exclaimed “Mummy it’s smelly in here” which all the customers hard and all smiled to themselves knowing exactly what she meant but were too socially conditioned not to say… nothing like out o the mouth’s of babes :0)

  10. It’s true – the smellier tha better!! But I can’t say I’m fond of it!

  11. The smell has never bothered me really, i used to work for the council and i have smelt worse! Plus the smell will always come out!

  12. I used to work in one so evidently I can stand the smell! But when it’s especially strong it does put me off. Most of my clothes are charity shop bargains and my wardrobe now smells of charity shop! I’ve washed and washed and febrezed and everything but it’s beyond me how to get rid!

  13. I remember one particularly ‘fragrant’ one that I had to steel myself to enter as a student, but most are fine by me. I call the Mary Portas ones ‘Charity Shop Lite’. They’re like charity shops but without the good stuff…

  14. Speaking of the charity shops that sell Primark dresses for £15. A friend and I were in our local church charity shop and she found exactly that, a Primark dress marked at £15. She told the lady who ran the shop, who took offense and promptly barred us from shopping there.

  15. I al also weirdly fond of that particuar scent au chaz but totally agree that since Mary Portis did her thang teh standard of loads of charity shops has nosedived. they are empty sad little places-a bit like those half empty tables you see at jumble sales where someone has optomistically put out some bath salts and three cd’s but no clothes. Foranything other than clothes I frequently find the tip a better option but then my hubbys nickname for me is “the skip rat” ha ha
    Love the blog-lady we must meet for coffee-Im only on Wirral . Sorry that sounded stalkerish but I like your style lady

  16. I was thinking about the exact same thing last week as I was doing the usual charity shop wander/circuit. I wondered why all charity shops had ‘that’ same smell and where on earth it comes from. I’m liking your views on it’s origin. I find the smell in the category of not particularly pleasant but strangly alluring and needing to occasionally keep smelling it. I suppose it’s becasue it’s that mix of so many different smells my brain keeps making me want to smell it to try and work out what category to put it in! Look forward to finding out tips to get the smell out, especially when it comes to non machine washable items.

  17. Do not come near me with that green stripy dress – or you shall be rugger tackled and in your kecks before you can say “it was £3” *wink* It is LUSH.

    Smell does not bother me one jot. However, over-priced toot does. I love to sift through thrift and do a big ol’ wash when I get home. Sometimes more than once. Or a bath-tub soaking sesh. All for the love of something cheap and individual :)

  18. If i’m honest, I love the smell. I’ve found so many amazing bits in charity shops, that it brings back fond memories!

    Most of the ones I visit on a regular basis have a floral, sweet smell. Old ladies perfume.. in a sense, reminds me of my Great-Nanny.

    I’ve been known to wear items before even washing them. Look at me, sticking my fingers up at the unwritten charity shop rules! Xx

  19. I don’t mind the smell, sure it stinks but I know that smell can lead to a bargain. What I don’t like however is pulling something off a rack to discover its got the previous owners last meal over all it. Smelly I can deal with, fresh stains – yuck!

  20. I must come clean and admit that that is exactly the reason why I avoid charity shops. I wish I could get past it, but I can’t.

  21. I always considered that classic charity shop smell something that sorted the real second-hand fiends from the dabblers and trend chasers who weren’t that committed or brave!

    I can understand the repulsion that some might feel, but I felt the same the last time I ventured into Primark and was overwhelmed by the toxic fumes from the racks of plastic shoes!

    Chemical smells repel me much more than good old honest human ones.

  22. All the charity shops have been ‘Mary Portas-ed’ here! No bargains anymore………
    Julie xxxxx

  23. Generally I don’t mind the smell too much and a bargain is always guaranteed to soothe the nostrils. However there area few marmite & fish smelling shops that do actually make me heave. x

  24. That is the main thing that turns me off charity shops, the smell. I can’t bear it when I’ve stored something myself at home and it gets that musty smell from the attic or whatever. Ewww. If I was talented at digging out bargains and creative enough to know how to put a look together though I could deal with it!
    Nicki xx

  25. I know what you mean – actually the ones round here don’t ALL have the smell, but it is instantly reognisable…..unless it’s just that I go into them so often that I don’t notice it any more!
    Yesterday I bought a BEAUTIFUL ‘NEW’ HAT for £5.00….and would have bought it if the smell had been far more pungent!

  26. I don’t mind the smell really at all. I always wash my charity shop buys first though!

    Some people are funny over libraries because they think that they smell and that the books are unhygienic because so many people read them. Some of them do get a bit yellow & smell of smoke if they’ve been in a smokers house for a while (I try to withdraw smelly, dirty ones, no one wants to borrow them!), but no one has ever died from reading a library book!

  27. Ha Ha I loved this post. I remember once buying a navy blue velvet jacket from the men’s section. I tried it on very briefly and then bought it for £2.
    I got it home and hung it up on my door. Within an hour I could smell fried onions.
    Then I sniffed the armpits of this jacket and wished to god I hadn’t.
    The worst BO ever, yet it didn’t hit me in the charity shop.
    I paid to get it dry cleaned (nearly a tenner) and it still smelt.
    So eventually I re-donated it to another charity shop and realised I’d never even worn it.
    I’d actually totally forgotten about this til I read your post.
    Hope you are well love!
    ADORE the items you bought, very envious!
    Gem xx

  28. I quite like the smell, it is of itself. Expecting it not to be there is like expecting old books not to be a bit musky and dusty smelling, and what sort of world would that be to live in?!

  29. I was in knaresborough today visiting my parents and had a look around the charity shops. One of the oldest, smelliest ones ever had been refurbed since last week. I was about to get quite high and mighty but when I walked in it did smell a lot nicer. Made me wonder just what was in that skanky old carpet. However the laminate floor just didn’t look like a proper charity shop. I don’t think they’ve put the prices up YET!

  30. They do smell. Fact.

    But the goodles they hold, even if it means you do have to hold your nose, is usually worth it I find.

    X x

  31. That green dress is gorgeous! What a find. I’ve always found the smell comes out, if not after one wash then after it’s been worn and then washed again. Bring on the smell as long as there are bargains to be had

  32. I’m such an odd bod I sense a different scent ‘per brand’. Ha! Loke Fara is so different from RSPCA. Mind you out RSPCA has a cat/litter tray in it so the shop, if not the clothes does have it’s own scent! 😉

    I have a friend who, eschewing Primark (rightly) for an OMG-party-tonight-and-£10-in-my-purse dress has a mini spray of febrese in her purse and a draughty work window. I’m not that extreme: I find the more floral ‘special edition’ liquid washes and a delicates cycle suffice!

  33. They do often have a distinct smell but it adds to the spirit of the place. All those bodies thats worn all those clothes adds to the charm.

    Our local charity shop has just been reburbished and I hate it. Its way too tidy, way too spacious (they could fit at least 3 more racks and a few boxes of tat in that space) and since the refurb theyve now got a load of stock like the new candles youve mentioned. Candles, teacher gifts, shiny chatty vases and loads of one type. No old stuff, no treasures anymore :o(

    Im very very tempted to do some voluntary work and try to encourage some new ideas in there!

  34. There’s one charity shop here that everyone knows as “the posh charity shop” as they have scented candles and music! Actually there are some good bargains in there too, but you just have to know where to look… 😉

  35. The thought of possibly finding a bargain in a charity shop far outweighs being bothered by any musty smells. I visited a CS shop yesterday and came home with a boho style skirt and a very bright top for $5. BARGAIN!!
    Anne xx

  36. Interesting points Thrifty, I personally like the ones which are a bit unkempt and smell!
    I like a rummage and the idea that there may be some hidden gem amongst the tat.
    I like to have to work to find my bargain, and I LOVE shelves groaning full of stuff. None of this “three ikea plates to a shelf” crap!

  37. Oh and today I was out browsing the charity shops, and went in one where all of the nice old china – you know the non ikea stuff – was priced like £10.99 with a sticker saying “checked on ebay” I promtly walked out. No bargains to be had there and the ebay thing really pissed me off!

  38. I can get past the smell for sure. Portland Oregon has very few deals to be found anywhere on vintage clothes. A few specialty shops buy it all up and resell it for a small fortune. Bummer really.

  39. I actually dont notice the smell too often I only notice when someone who doesnt use B.O Killer comes in but thats the same in normal shops too.My mum in laaw hated the smell and would never enter and hubby says they smell too so doesnt go either.
    Sadly I think lots of the charm is being lost in many oppies too they are not the same as they used to be and Vinnies is the worst that way.

  40. Our Charity shops don’t smell :0( I wish they did – I may get a bargain or two then !

    I love the polka-dot cardi xx

  41. haha the shops with the smell….they are usually the ones that look awfull too i cant bring myself to go inside half the time. Maybe i should as they are usually the cheaper ones. Thats so funny about the candles i know what you mean. I HATE it when they have a shelf full of overpriced new tat. And yes, some of them will sell a New Look t shirt for 4.00 when you could get it new for 1.00 in the sale.

  42. Ah the smell!

    I can get past the smell as I know, in most cases, it will come out.

    The boyf, on the other hand, doesnt share my view and has a big problem buying secondhand clothes.

    Yesterday, however, he bought his first second hand jeans and I could’nt be more proud. He had a good rummage (got on his knees!) and walked out with a smile on his face. They are in the wash as we speak!

  43. thrift deluxe says:

    I made the huge error of meeting someone for a drink straight after my shift at a charity shop – where I worked processing all the donations. Until then I hadn’t realised how bad I smelled when I’d finished delving in the stinky bags!

    And if you think the stuff that makes it into the shop smell bad, imagine the stuff that’s been in with the nappies, lady items and dead creatures… Yummy!

  44. I don’t particularly mind the charity shop smell. What I find really off putting is the “Ebay” smell. It’s generally really strong smelling wash powders. We use unscented wash powders, and not much of them as I’m allergic to normal wash powder. I’ve bought quite a lot of things from ebay recently but they normally have to be washed before I can even try them on!

  45. I think every charity shop I have ever been in has smelt the same! Usually after a wash everything is as good as new so I am willing to risk ‘the eww smell’!

    Maria xxx

  46. I actually run an Age UK shop and I tell you now…if the shop smells, there’s a problem somewhere. End of.

  47. Anonymous says:

    I have worked in a charity shop before and if clothes smelt particularly bad we sprayed them with febreze, not all of them got sprayed though or we would be spending more on febreze than we did on making money for the charity.

    I think people also think that charity shops have washing machines and can viably afford to pay to wash the clothes. The reality is, we don’t. We’re not a bin so next time you think your doing something good, please be courteous and at least wash the clothes yourself before handing them to us, because we can’t sell dirty clothes.

    We also cant sell clothes with tags missing or cut off so…as grateful as we are for donations, the reality is you could be wasting our time instead of helping us.

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