Onions are a tasty, nutritious, and versatile food that can be cooked in a variety of ways and added to many different dishes. But foods like onions and garlic contain sulfur, and this is what causes them to have such pungent odors. The sulfur compounds are released when you cut, bite, or crush an onion, and this is what leaves your hands smelling oniony long after you’ve finished your food preparation. Luckily, there are a few tricks you can use to remove onion (and garlic) smell from your hands, but it’s often easier to take steps before cutting to prevent the smell.

Part 1
Part 1 of 3:

Cleaning Your Hands After Chopping

  1. To remove leftover food particles and the majority of the onion smell, start by washing your hands with an exfoliating scrub. To make the scrub, combine 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of liquid soap and 1 tablespoon (19 g) of salt in a small bowl.
    • You can use any type of liquid soap, including dish soap, laundry detergent, hand and body soap, or shampoo.
    • For the salt, you can use table, Himalayan, sea, kosher, coarse, or any other type of salt.
    • As an alternative to the exfoliating salt, you can also use toothpaste, coffee grounds, or baking soda[1]
  2. Scoop the soap and salt scrub into your hands. Scrub the paste into your hands, including your palms, back of your hands, wrists, in between your fingers, and under your nails. When you’ve thoroughly scrubbed your hands, rinse them under cold water to remove the scrub and the majority of the onion smell.
    • For the most effective cleaning, use a nail brush to scrub the soap and salt into your skin and under your nails.[2]
  3. When your hands are still wet, find something made of stainless steel, such as a pot, colander, utensil, or other metal object in the kitchen or around the house. Hold the item under running water and rub it on your hands the way you would with a bar of soap. Do this for a full minute.
    • Stainless steel may have the power to neutralize the sulfur molecules on your hands that cause the onion smell, so rubbing your hands with stainless steel might remove leftover odors.[3]
    • You can also buy an odor-eliminating stainless steel "soap" bar that’s specifically designed for washing hands and removing onion, garlic, and fish smells. These are available online and at home and bath stores.
    • In a pinch, you can simply rub your hands against a stainless steel basin.
  4. To remove any lingering onion odors, dampen a clean cloth with vinegar or lemon juice and rub it all over your hands. Be sure to get in between your fingers, under your nails, and other areas where onion smell might be hiding. Let the vinegar or juice air dry, and then rinse your hands with clean water. As an alternative to lemon juice and vinegar, you can also try:[4]
    • Peanut butter
    • Tomato juice
    • Celery juice
    • Potato juice
    • Mustard
    • Alcohol
    • Aloe
    • Mint leaves
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Part 2
Part 2 of 3:

Removing Onion Smells Elsewhere

  1. The smell of onions can actually stay on your breath for a few days after eating them. Luckily, there are certain foods you can eat after having onions to get rid of onion breath. For fresh breath after an onion dish, try eating or drinking:[5]
    • Kiwi
    • Fresh parsley
    • Raw mushrooms
    • Eggplant
    • Raw apples
    • Lemon juice
    • Green tea
  2. Cut onions will stay freshest if you store them in an air-tight container, but this often leaves the container smelling of onions as well. To get rid of this smell from plastic containers:[6]
    • Wash the dish with hot, soapy water
    • Rinse the dish with water
    • Wipe the dish with a cloth that’s damp with vinegar or lemon juice, or sprinkle in some baking soda
    • Leave the dish in the sun to air dry
  3. Onions taste great in dishes, but not too many people like when their house keeps smelling like onions for days after cooking them. There are a few ways you can absorb onion cooking smells from your house, and some of the most popular include:[7]
    • Combine equal parts vinegar and water in a saucepan and simmer it over medium heat for at least an hour.
    • Alternatively, you can also fill a bowl with plain vinegar and leave it near the stove overnight.
    • Fill a small saucepan with water and add lemon, orange, and other citrus peels. Bring the water to a boil and simmer it for at least an hour.
    • Pour ¼ cup (55 g) of baking soda into a spray bottle and fill the bottle the rest of the way with water. Shake well and spray liberally around the house, and especially in the kitchen.
  4. When you cook with onions, the smell tends to get into everything, including the clothes you're wearing. To get rid of that onion smell from fabrics, hang the clothes somewhere to air out. Mix equal parts vodka or rubbing alcohol and water in a spray bottle. Shake well and spray the affected garments. Leave the clothes to air dry.
    • You can also use this method to remove cooking smells from furniture, drapes, and other fabrics.
  5. Onion smell even gets into your hair, and this can be difficult to remove sometimes. When your hair does smell like onions, or other cooking smells, get rid of the odor by:[8]
    • Mix ⅛ cup (29 ml) of shampoo with a teaspoon (5 g) of baking soda and a tablespoon (5 ml) of lemon juice.
    • Wash your hair with the mixture, lathering thoroughly and rubbing the mixture into your scalp as well.
    • Rinse your hair with clean water.
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Part 3
Part 3 of 3:

Preventing Onion Smell on Your Hands

  1. Vinegar is great for absorbing smells, and it may even prevent your hands from absorbing onion smell when you're chopping. Before you cut an onion, dip your hands in vinegar, and then pat them dry. Cut the onion as usual.
    • Be very careful when using a knife, especially if your hands are damp.
  2. One of the best ways to prevent onion smell on your hands is to protect your hands when you're chopping, and you can do this with latex or latex-alternative gloves. Before you chop the onion, put on a pair of snug-fitting gloves, and don’t take the gloves off until you're finished with the onion.[9]
    • You can use the same trick to prevent garlic and fish smells on your hands.
  3. Another trick to prevent your hands from smelling like onions is to avoid chopping them! When you do need to use onions in a dish, peel them first, and then use a food processor to cut them up. That way, you get to cut your onions and your hands will stay fresh and clean smelling.
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Community Q&A

  • Question
    My partner works in a kitchen and cuts a lot of onions, so when his fingers touch my bag, the smell of onions hangs on. What can I do?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    Clean your bag with Tide or another strong smelling detergent. If that doesn't work, try using baking soda on the affected area -- rub it in, then toss the bag in the washing machine with some detergent.
  • Question
    Can I wear gloves to prevent my hands smelling like onion?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    Of course, but I'd recommend you don't use wasteful disposable gloves.
  • Question
    How can you get rid of onion smells in your hair?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    Take a good long bath and shampoo well.

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About This Article

Ollie George Cigliano
Co-authored by:
Private Chef & Food Educator
This article was co-authored by Ollie George Cigliano. Ollie George Cigliano is a Private Chef, Food Educator, and Owner of Ollie George Cooks, based in Long Beach, California. With over 20 years of experience, she specializes in utilizing fresh, fun ingredients and mixing traditional and innovative cooking techniques. Ollie George holds a BA in Comparative Literature from The University of California, Berkeley, and a Nutrition and Healthy Living Certificate from eCornell University. This article has been viewed 958,748 times.
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Co-authors: 62
Updated: September 6, 2023
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Article SummaryX

To remove the onion smell from your hands, combine 1 tbsp (15 ml) of liquid soap and 1 tbsp (17 g) of salt in a small bowl. Scoop up some of the mixture and scrub your palms, wrists, the back of your hands, in between your fingers, and under your nails with it, then rinse your hands under cold water. Then, while your hands are still wet, grab a stainless steel item, like a pot or utensil. Hold the item under running water and rub it on your hands for 1 minute to eliminate any lingering onion smell. If you want to learn how to prevent getting an onion smell on your hands, keep reading the article!

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