How to Wash Hunting Clothes and Keep Scent Free

The single snap of a twig, and they bolt away into the brush. Raise your head to check a game trail at the wrong second and that trophy buck disappears forever. There is no substitute for stealth when hunting wild game.

We rely heavily on sight and sound in our everyday lives, and the same is true when we’re stalking game. You may have noticed a musty smell in an area where deer or elk bedded down the night before, but our olfactory senses are nothing compared to that of the wild animals around us. 

Bison hunters in the 19th century American west told stories of thousands of buffalo stampeding away when an errant breeze caught a hunter’s scent and warned the herd. Whitetail hunters in the eastern United States and Canada relate similar tales of bucks sprinting off into cover when they caught a whiff of man nearby. 

Animals have a heightened sense of smell that we can’t comprehend. Lessening, or removing your scent can give you an edge out in the field when it comes to remaining invisible to the game you are stalking. Deer, moose, elk, and antelope all have keen senses, far beyond those that we humans possess.

The olfactory abilities of the domestic dog far outweigh anything remotely possible with our own nose, and well beyond the most sophisticated devices, we can dream up. A wild animal has even more attuned senses than your hunting dog.

Reducing, or removing that scent entirely, can give you a big advantage when you’re hunting.

Removing smell involves washing your clothes, the question is, how often should you wash your hunting clothes? What do you wash them in to reduce or prevent smell, and to the nuts and bolts of the question, how do you wash them at all?

Is it bad to wash hunting clothes?

Even the slightest exertion produces sweat. That sweat permeates your clothing, and it always creates an odor, whether you can smell it or not.

Your scent warns animals of your presence long before an errant step can give your position away. Washing your hunting clothes can remove the smell, leaving an inert, odorless fabric, but only if you wash them correctly. 

Simply throwing your hunting clothes into the washing machine with your other laundry can make things worse. Modern detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets all come with added scents.

That “lemon fresh” or “spring breeze” advertisement on the box is a quick indicator that the contents have an added aroma. You might like that lemony smell, but mule deer will bolt when they catch a whiff of it on the wind. 

Washing your hunting clothes in a neutral smelling detergent isn’t bad, it is essential to remain unnoticed in the wild. 

How often should you wash hunting clothes

It might seem impractical but hunting clothes should be washed after every hunt. Your body odor will permeate your clothes after just a few hours in the field.

Any coffee, mustard, or even smoke from a campfire will add to the accumulated aroma, creating a fog of scent spreading downwind each time you venture into the wilderness.

Keeping your odor “signature” at a minimum provides an edge in the wild. You can practice silent, stealthy stalking, taking quiet, calculated steps to avoid making noise.

You can camouflage your presence with clothing, face paint, and non-glaring surfaces on your rifle or bow, but you can’t cover your scent without frequently washing your clothes.

What temperature do you wash hunting clothes

How to wash hunting clothes

Washing your hunting clothes on the highest temperature setting on your washing machine is the best way to reduce bacteria that feed on body oils, skin cells, and other organic material on your clothes when combined with a good detergent. 

This comes with a caveat. You don’t want to destroy your hunting clothes in the process. While most hunting clothes are made of wash and wear fabric, some are not, and require special handling.

Hot water can shrink your favorite hunting shirt, making it too small to wear. As your mother taught you, read the label before washing. 

How do you get the smell out of hunting clothes

There are a couple of methods to keep the smell out of your hunting clothes. One is washing, the other is storing those scent-free clothes in a way that prevents odor contamination.

Washing

Simply tossing your hunting clothes in with your regular laundry won’t work. Even with special, non-scented detergent the odors on your other clothing will not only remain but permeate your hunting clothes.

The washing machine and dryer can both do the opposite of what you want and add scent to your hunting clothes.

It might seem a little overkill, but removing the smell from your washer and dryer before washing your hunting clothes is an important step.

Many hunters consider this an unnecessary step, but it is just one more way for you to get an edge in the field. You’ll spend hours at the range sighting in your rifle, or shooting hundreds of target arrows prior to a hunt.

You’ll buy the best optics, top-notch hunting boots, and study maps of a hunting area for hours, why not take the added step of preventing a scent signature that can ruin all these efforts?

Running the wash cycle a few times with an empty machine, and no detergent or soap added will remove a lot of the odors from the washing machine.

An easy trick is to fill the machine, let it agitate for a few minutes, then shut down the machine overnight. Water is the universal solvent, it will carry away much of the scent embedded in the machine if allowed to sit for a few hours. 

Using a scent-free detergent such as “Dead Down Wind” in the wash cycle devoid of clothing as a final step will remove any lingering odors from the washtub. With this process complete, you’re washing machine is prepared for your hunting clothes.

Drying

How to wash hunting clothes

The best method of drying your hunting clothes is to hang them outside in the sunshine. The ultraviolet light of the sun is the best anti-bacterial agent you can find. Sunshine will kill any remaining bacteria while the ambient air will whisk away even the smallest traces of scent that may remain on your hunting clothes.

If you don’t have the option of hanging your garments on a clothesline, you can still use a clothes dryer. That dryer will continue to hold the scent of the hundreds of previous loads it contained, but you can reduce the odor footprint with special, scent-free dryer sheets. “Dead Down Wind” makes a dryer sheet specifically designed to absorb any aroma from your dryer. 

Boots

A final consideration in scent control is your shoes or boots. They will hold gasoline, diesel, and any other chemical you walk in. The scent emanating from your footwear can be the most concentrated warning wildlife can have of your presence.

Washing leather boots or shoes isn’t an option, but masking their scent should be. Skunk oil, mink oil, and even deer urine spread on footwear are age-old remedies that can help you get the upper hand with wary wildlife. Rubber boots like the Alphaburly Pro are scent-free.

Should I wash brand new hunting clothes

You should always wash your new hunting clothes for three reasons.

The first reason is to remove the scent we’ve discussed earlier. Even though you haven’t worn the clothes yet, so your smell isn’t on them, a smell remains from the manufacturing process.

That new car smell in a recently purchased vehicle is present in newly sewn clothing as well. New clothes have a factory scent attached to them. We can’t always smell it, but wildlife can catch a whiff and disappear with the warning that man is approaching.

The second reason is that new clothes often have a crisp, crinkling surface. This comes from starch at the factory. We might notice they feel a little stiff when we put them on for the first time, but wildlife can detect the light crunching sound these clothes make as you move in them.

It’s not a scent warning, but an attention-grabbing sound they produce. Even a noise as subtle as the rustling of a brand new shirt when you turn your head can be a warning to a potential game animal.

The final reason is the sheen that new clothes often have. They leave the factory in a pristine condition, designed to attract light and reflect it back for our eyes. This is a product enhancement for humans. We find the sheen associated with new clothing pleasing to the eye, and equally attractive to our credit cars.

That sheen has greater visibility to wildlife. The reflective coating in the fabric of your camouflage clothing might be the same as a flashing light to a deer, elk, or moose.

Washing removes the smell, the surface tension, and the reflective coating from your hunting clothes if you wash them prior to taking them to the field. 

What detergent to avoid

The quick answer is anything you can buy on the regular laundry shelf at your local grocery or big box store. Consumer detergents always have scent added. We find it pleasing to the nose, but wildlife view it as a warning that another unwary hunter has just entered their environment.

Only use detergent specifically listed as scent-free. Even a few brands that advertise themselves as “scent blocking” have scent added that wildlife can detect. A completely inert, fragrance-free detergent is the only way to go. No scent, no extra nonsense is a quaint way of thinking about the products to avoid. 

How to keep hunting clothes scent-free

How to wash hunting clothes

Your hunting clothes are scent-free once you remove them from a scent-free washing machine after doing your laundry with a scent-free soap. They remain that way if you hang them on a clothesline in the sunshine, or dry them in an electric or gas dryer with no scent dryer sheets throw into the load.

The second you put those hunting clothes on, your scent will gradually increase on them.

If you hang those carefully cleaned hunting clothes in a closet with your other clothing, it will pick up the scent from the clothes adjacent to them.

Placing your cleaned hunting laundry in a plastic bag is one way to keep away scent, the other is to purchase a hunting clothes-only storage locker, such as a Scent Crusher ozone locker. This device uses an ozone generator, inside a portable, zip up storage locker to keep scent off your hunting clothes.

Ozone blockers are also available in duffle bags, in trunks, and as a standalone device that can be used inside a dedicated hunting clothes closet to prevent smells from attaching to your clothes. 

Once you’ve taken the time to remove all human scent from your hunting clothes, you don’t want to contaminate them again before hitting the fields and forests. A simple method of keeping clothes scent-free is to pack them inside a sealable plastic bag once they’ve been dried.

Store them in a little-used area of your home that doesn’t get much human traffic. Don’t wear your hunting clothes until you’re in the field about to set out in pursuit of game.

The scent we don’t even notice in our daily lives can be a warning smell to wildlife.

Filling up your truck permeates the air with gasoline or diesel vapor. Grabbing a bit to eat at a fast-food restaurant adds the smell of fried food, years and sugar, to the air. These are innocuous scents to us, but a veritable warning siren of scent to wildlife. 

Conclusion

Wildlife have an incredible array of senses that we humans cannot compete with. Careful preparation to prevent our sound, image, and scent from being noticed by the game we are chasing is imperative in a successful hunt.

We can see and hear almost as well as wildlife, but our sense of smell is woefully inadequate in comparison with every other wild species.

The secret is to be aware of these shortcomings and compensate by doing all you can to prevent your scent, or those manmade aromas coming from the world around you, from reaching the game you are pursuing.

Be stealthy in sound prevention, invisibility, and scent detection and you’ll be on the way to a successful hunt every time you take to the field.