Battle of garlic smell remover lead image
Credit: photo: Joe Lingeman

We Tried 5 Hacks for Getting Garlic Odors Off Our Fingers and Found a Clear Winner

updated Apr 21, 2020
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A quick poll of Kitchn staffers found that most of the home cooks on the team don’t mind the lingering smell of garlic on their fingertips. (This might help to explain why I love these people so much.) But I know that this is not a scent that everyone loves. Some of you don’t want a whiff of that still-pungent smell when you’re laying in bed at night and go to take off your glasses. I suppose I get it. And so I set out to find the best way to remove that smell, once and for all.

I’ve heard that lathering up with cooking oil before slicing or mincing garlic helps cut down on the intensity of the smell left behind on your hands. I’ve never actually tried it, though, because I don’t personally want to see what happens when you attempt to use a very sharp knife to chop very small things with lubed-up hands. I was however interested in testing various methods to combat the smell post-chop. So I rounded up five promising contenders — some old faithfuls, some new and bizarre — to test against each other to see what works best. Any predictions? 

Credit: photo: Joe Lingeman

How I Tested the Different Methods

I used one large clove of garlic to test each method. Each time, I took the skin off the clove, held the clove in my fingers, squashed it and rubbed it around to be sure the oils left a strong scent behind. I then rinsed my hands in cool water, and tested out one method at a time. I tested each method with enough time in between to make sure the smells from the previous test no longer lingered.

The Ratings

Again, I tested five methods. The most effective method received a 5/5 rating, the least effective received a 1/5, and I filled in the other methods accordingly. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Garlic Removal Method: Raw Potato 

Rating: 1/5 

About the method: Cut a potato in half, rub it all over your hands, then follow up with soap and cold water. The folks at Cook’s Illustrated have tested and recommend using a potato half to de-garlic a wood cutting board, saying foods that brown (like apples and potatoes) have an enzyme (polyphenol oxidase) that “can oxidize sulfurous compounds, including the thiols and thiocyanates that give garlic its pungent odor, turning them into odorless compounds.” If it works on wood, why not human skin? Plus, lots of websites stand behind the hack.

Results: This method did next to nothing. If it did anything at all, it was because I cut the potato in half with a stainless steel-handled knife (more on stainless steel below!). Honestly, I’m being generous by giving this method a 1. I’m curious enough, however, to try this on a wood cutting board.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Garlic Removal Method: Coffee Grounds 

  • Rating: 2/5 

About the method: Pour a scoop of coffee grounds into the palm of your hand, add a few drops of water and rub your hands together, exfoliating your skin for 30 seconds. Follow with soap and cold water. Coffee grounds are a known odor absorber; Food & Wine even recommends drying your used coffee grounds in order to reuse them to soak up smells in the fridge, kitchen cabinets, even in the bathroom.

Results: Exfoliated hands? Check! At first all I could smell was the coffee, but once I actually raised my hand to my nose it was clearly equal parts garlic and coffee. Not a winning combo, but my hands were softer than usual, so that was a plus! 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Garlic Removal Method: Stainless Steel 

  • Rating: 3/5 

About the method: Rub your hands on anything stainless steel under cold water for at least 30 seconds. You can use a stainless steel soap bar, a sink faucet, a pan, a spoon — anything that is stainless steel. Then wash with soap and cold water. This method (supposedly) works because the smelly sulphur compounds in the fresh cut garlic bind with molecules in stainless steel, removing the smell from your hands. This is mostly an old wives’ tale, however, and scientific evidence to back this claim up is lacking.

Results: After rubbing a stainless steel spoon all over my hands for 30 seconds, I noticed that the smell had lessened, but it definitely still lingered. This method is usable in a pinch, or if you’re just trying to get to the dinner table and don’t want to fuss with completely removing the smell from your hands. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Garlic Removal Method: Mouthwash 

Rating: 4/5 

About the method: Pour one capful of mouthwash into cupped hands, rub together, and follow up with soap and cold water. If it works on your breath, why can’t it work on your skin?

Results: This method worked surprisingly well! Mouthwash is what I consider to be an overpowering scent, so it was hard to tell if it masked the garlicky scent or removed it, but I suppose it didn’t matter, because I was only getting the faintest whiff of garlic. I wouldn’t recommend using this method if you have any kind of a cut on your hand, as the alcohol would really sting, but it’s the method that works the quickest and is a solid winner if you’re hiding away in the bathroom trying to get rid of the smell! 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Garlic Removal Method: Salt & Baking Soda 

Rating: 5/5 

About the method: Pour approximately 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of baking soda in your hand. Add a tiny bit of water (enough to make a paste) then rub your hands together for 30 seconds. Follow up with soap and cold water. The baking soda should absorb the odor and the salt acts as an exfoliant.

Results: Baking soda is an amazing deodorizer, so it was no surprise that this method worked best of all. It didn’t get rid of the garlic smell completely, but it minimized it way more than any other method. Treat those dry hands to a scented moisturizer once you’re done washing, and you’ll be good to go. 

Do you have a go-to method for removing the garlic smell from your hands? Share it in the comments below!