How to Clean Burlap
Over the many years that I have been involved with burlap (our relationship is strictly professional) I have encountered individuals who find the natural scent of burlap offensive. This Lens is an effort to advise those individuals on how to get rid of that burlappy smell and make it useable in public. I will offer a few helpful ways to either remove or diminish the strength of the smell and a backup plan in case it still sells too much (make sure there is a decent return policy wherever you purchased it). It is important to keep in mind that whatever it is that your Burlap smells like, it probably isn't a dangerous or toxic smell, so don't worry too much and keep in mind that it is still safe to use.
Despite the intro photo I'm using - you can use febreze - but only as a last resort! Febreze is great, but please try the first 3 methods first.
1) Air the Burlap Out
All you need is a little bit of fresh air...
Burlap is shipped in plastic bags which can often make the natural scent stronger. The simplest way to get rid of that smell is to air it out. The ideal location to air it out is your garage, which gives you a nice open space that is protected from the elements (rain in particular). Try leaving it out in the garage (with the door open if possible) for about a week and see if the smell dissipates at all. For most cases, the smell should start disappearing right away and should be completely gone by the end of the week. You can poke your nose into the garage every morning and take a sniff to see how your airing out is progressing.
Airing out the burlap indoors can take quite a while, so if you are sure it's not going to rain, putting the burlap in the sun can speed up the process. The problem is that you have to schlep it in every day - as opposed to leaving it in your garage where you can forget about it for a week or so. If this does not work, move on to option #2
2) Wipe with a damp cloth
A little bit of soap won't hurt, but not too much...
If you are in a hurry, or don't have the patience to air out your burlap there is a simple process you can follow to clean your burlap. As with anything you are trying to clean, you don't want to overload it with soap or detergents. Burlap is a relatively clean product, so it doesn't have to be thoroughly rinsed to be used or before working with it. Thus, I recommend taking a rag that has some heft to it (you don't want to use a skinny rag since burlap is a rough fabric and will wear through the rag) and get it damp. Roll out the burlap onto a surface such as a workbench or a table so that you can have access to the entire surface area. Take the damp cloth and rub the burlap down. You can get the burlap wet without worrying too much, but then you would have to let it air dry (or manual hand-dry), which can be quite time consuming if you are talking about a long length of burlap.
For burlap that has a stronger smell attached to it, add a touch of laundry detergent to your water that you are using to wet the rag. This will have the dual effect of cleaning off any petrochemicals as well as deodorizing the burlap. If the petrochemical smell is rather strong it may be necessary to use the detergent since oils will only come off with the help of some sort of soap. Be careful to use only the smallest amount of detergent since you don't want your rustic burlap smelling like laundry.
3) Baking Soda
Sprinkle a little baking soda...
An easy way to deodorize the burlap is to sprinkle a minimal amount of baking soda. Baking soda has tremendous air freshening capabilities and is often put in refrigerators to combat bad smells. It is imperative that you don't put too much baking soda on your burlap since you want the burlap to smell like burlap, not arm & hammer. Take out a yard of the burlap and try out the baking soda on it to make sure you are putting a safe amount on.
The Last Resort....
As a last resort, you can always use Febreze. I truly do not recommend this as a first resort since like all de-oderant products, Febreze will merely mask the smell underneath and not necessarily get rid of it. This can be quite an issue since often the combination of Febreze and the natural scent of burlap makes for a uniquely bizarre smell that is sometimes worse than the original.
Febreze can also be used to touch up the fabric just before it is put to public use. If you are worried that there is some smell to the burlap, you can spray a touch (and only a touch) of Febreze to give it a fresh scent. Try to find a scent that matches the theme that you are creating. I'm not sure if Febreze makes a "country air" version, but ostensibly that would work well in this scenario.
As with the detergent, I strongly recommend to only use the smallest amount you can get away with. Burlap should smell like burlap as aroma is often the most basic component of any atmosphere.
Don't fret too much about the smell
The truth is, you want your burlap to have some kind of scent to it, provided that it isn't too powerful. Unlike other (much more boring) fabrics, burlap is unique in that it looks and feels (and most importantly smells!) like a natural fabric that grew out of the ground. As with all natural things, aroma is essential to the atmosphere. If you take food for example, you will not enjoy food that doesn't have any scent to it. That being said, you wouldn't eat anything that has a pungent smell to it. Thus, it is important to subdue the natural smell of burlap, but absolutely do not eliminate it entirely. Your guests will immediately be immersed by the country or rustic theme if it has the natural aroma of burlap.
Burlap on Amazon
Please leave comments - And/or your suggestions...
Lisa Jung on March 26, 2016:
I have purchased some burlap "sleeves" to put your cutlery in at the table setting. The smell is over powering and I don't want our napkins or cutlery to have that odor! But I shall try your suggestions! ;)
RusticWeddingGu1 (author) on April 27, 2012:
@thesuccess2: Added a featured lens with a link to my article on burlap which explains what burlap's all about. Thanks for the SquidLike.
thesuccess2 on April 27, 2012:
You might want to explain what Burlap is and why people use it, I may of course be the only one who doesn't know!
Faye Rutledge from Concord VA on April 24, 2012:
Thanks for the great tips for getting the smell out of burlap. I like the smell of burlap, but if it were too strong, I think the fresh air would be enough for me.
anonymous on April 19, 2012:
I agree sometimes you just want to get rid of the smell and fresh air is best.
Pam Irie from Land of Aloha on April 17, 2012:
If it's a little overpowering, I agree that fresh air usually takes care of it.
Chazz from New York on April 17, 2012:
I actually find the smell of fresh burlap somewhat nostalgic -- only a problem if it gets musty or moldy. I like that you injected some humor into your lens also. Look forward to learning more about the many uses of burlap from your future lenses.