A few months ago, I bought a fabulous dresser at our local Salvation Army. Since then, it has sat in my garage, waiting for it’s turn in the redo queue.
This week, it was its turn for a new life. I pulled out the drawers to begin wiping them down and was almost knocked over by the smell. You know – “the” smell. That thrift store smell. That dusty, musty, old combination of aromas that’s both delightful (to the avid thrifter) and scary (to the rest of the world).
So, what do you do if you have a wooden piece, such as a dresser, that has that “smell?” I have experimented with a few different options, and perhaps one of them will work for you.
Sunshine – After wiping down my piece to get off the majority of the dust and the crud, I like to sun it. Mother Nature works in mysterious ways, and direct sunshine often goes a long way in getting rid of the thrift store odor. I generally lay out a painting tarp to protect the wood from any moisture in the grass and leave it there for as long as possible. Separate the drawers from the dresser and turn the dresser on its back so that the sun reaches the inside. I was inpatient with this piece and only left it out for an afternoon, but a few days would have been ideal.
Baking Soda – Another old trick is putting baking soda inside the piece to absorb the odors, just as you would your refrigerator and freezer. I pour a small bowl full of baking soda and put it in each closed drawer. As with the sunshine, the longer you leave it inside the drawers, the better. Again, I’m incredibly impatient, so I only left the baking soda in the drawers overnight.
Pine Sol – The last trick I like to use is cleaning the inside of the piece with Pine Sol. I mix 2 gallons of water with 1/2 cup of Pine Sol and scrub the inside of the drawers and the dresser with a nylon bristled brush. Don’t use too much of the water solution, because you don’t want the wood to get too wet. Once you have it scrubbed down, stick it back out in the sun to dry.
Now, my piece is almost unsmelly (is that a word?). By the time I finish painting it and putting in drawer liners, we should be good to go.
I’ve heard of a few other tricks, such as using fresh coffee grounds in the same way as I used baking soda or placing dryer sheets in the drawers. My concern is that these would only mask the thrift store smell instead of actually getting rid of it. Thoughts?
What techniques do you use to get odors out of thrift store furniture? Please share!
Amanda Eck says
those are the exact things I did! and so far they have worked. I too was like you and only left it outdoors for a day. Mine was FULL of cigarette smoke- I mean BAD. and I STILL have the baking soda in there- its been 4 weeks.
Well, it wasn’t a piece of furniture but an entire mobile home! Mom found it for me but the previous occupant was a heavy duty smoker, and the place was rank. I’m an ex smoker who actually doesn’t mind the smell of cigarette smoke but THIS was extremely disgusting. I figured I’d have to wash all the walls, maybe even paint them and definitely shampoo the carpet. Mom came up with the answer: bananas. She put whole bananas, unpeeled, on plastic plates throughout. About 5 bananas total for a 60 foot mobile home. And as they turned black, they began to absorb the smell. They flattened and blackened, yet didn’t create any odor themselves as they literally sucked the smoke out of the walls, ceilings and carpet. After a few weeks you wouldn’t have known a smoker had been there from the lack of odor. And then we picked up the plates and threw them away. I’ll now try bananas for any stench!
Tammy Hall says
Very cool idea. I keep some rooms closed in the house to keep the pets out. When you open the door the smell of closed off room hits you. I really want to try this in there. I mean what harm can it really do?!?
Rocky Hamilton says
Wow, never heard of using bananas! My husband used to use charcoal; open the package, set it in many rooms, and it absorbed many odors after a few days! I like the bananas idea! Cool!Thanks for the tip!
Any fruit flies though after awhile the bananas start getting fruit flies appear from nowhere!!
It’s amazing how STILL there are many uses for bananas !! Thanks for sharing.?
terry letchuk says
i found that the best way to rid your odor is to use ground coffee spred it in the desk for a few days and you will expell all the smell
I have a piece that I inherited from a friend. It smells like some grandma’s perfume. I am using it on the porch cause I can’t stand the smell in the house!
Barbara aka Pink Overalls says
Thanks for giving some excellent suggestions to a problem many of us thrifters face. I liked your ideas so much I tweeted a link to this post.
Beautiful dresser drawer fronts. I’m sure you will make it lovely.
We actually had rented out a room to a student a couple of months ago and when she finally left the bedroom and every piece of furniture in it stank, we had to us it for our new baby who will be here any day now. A nightmare just to imagine putting a brand new little person in there! So first I used a scented candle for couple of hours just to replace the stink by something more bearable as I had to work in there! Then I cleaned everything as well as I could. I laundered the bed linen 3-4 times in a row to try and get ride of the smell, it worked well for them but the quilt couldn’t be laundered at home so I sent it to my mom who’s got a backyard to put in the sun for a couple of days… Then when all was as clean as I could get it I aired the room. But I mean aired the whole day long every nice day for like 2 month and now finally we seem to be ride of most of the smell!
Another trick I sometimes use is a big bowl of hot milk that I let cool where the bad smell is, works like the baking soda…
Hope it helps!
Wow! I never, ever would have guessed hot milk! Love that.
Works fine actually. You can also use hot vinegar, let it cool in the room like the hot milk. It is even said to purify the air of the room in which you place it. I couldn’t testify to that but i know it works well with smells. And where I live at least it cost vinegar or milk are a lot less costly than baking soda…
Thanks for a nice post and i look very much forward to seeing the “repainted” dresser!
Please help! I purchased a curio cabinet, beautiful but very dirty. I put a little comet in the water and washed it down then rinsed it. I then went over it with olive oil and a little vinegar mixed in it. It has left a perfume smell which causes me headaches. I went over it again with baking powder and water, still smells. I am using baking soda setting in the room, charcoal and used a atomiser with orange oil, smell is still there. Did not have the perfume smell until I washed it. Did I cause some kind of chemical reaction. I can not go in the room without getting a headache and my nose bothers me.
A nightmare when somebody you knew does that. Rented out at a lower cost to an electrician who updated and installed lighting for me. It was so shocking after he left I actually gave him his deposit, couldn’t think clearly at the time so much on mind. Anyways, I threw out mattress and bedding. Not sure I could stand looking at it again! Should have kept and cleaned to save money, …….
Terri Miller says
Tea Tree Oil is a great odor eliminator. If you put a little soap and a capful of tea tree oil in a cup or so of water, it is great for cleaning. I used to use a product from Mellalucae company called Solumel that was absolutely WONDERFUL for odor eliminating (it has the Tea Tree Oil already in it).
I’ve used Murphy’s Oil Soap, too, which does a good job.
Be careful with Tea Tree Oil – it can be toxic to our furry friends.
I used sunshine, several simple cleanings (one every few days or so), and then left a piece airing out in the garage until the smell went away.
Little Lovables says
I air it out in the sun too and have also used baking powder. I have one piece airing out in the garage.. it has smelled like super heavy smoke and now after about a month, the smell is almost gone.
Deanna Rio says
I was fortunate to find a beautiful vintage suitcase with fabric lining the only problem was the smell. I was able to get rid of it by sprinkling carpet powder (the one for pets) inside and keeping it closed for 2 weeks. Then I vacuumed it out. It smells yummy now. I did try the sun trick. Living in Florida, we have plenty of that. But after 2 days (brought in at night of course), the odor was still there. Just putting in my 2 cents : )
I love that carpet powder stuff – it really works! When I was pregnant, I felt like my whole house smelled like dog, and it was killing me. I used that stuff a few times a week, and it was the only thing that helped. I’m one of those people who had a super sensitive pregnant nose, and it was awful.
Similar to your baking soda idea, and like Deanna, I use arm and hammer carpet powder, sprinkle it right into the drawer/cupboard and leave for a couple days.
I tried everything with my wonderful antique find, a few months ago! I googled solutions (one even suggested a spirit is haunting the piece and I could pay “a small fee” to have it cast- out!!! LOL!) The “smell” remains! I currently have this fabulous find in my upstairs hall, she’s been painted up like a beauty, but now has dryer sheets inside each drawer! (and smells like a strange version of musty-Snuggle) I am disappointed, I never tried the Sunshine!
It’s a myth that baking soda seeps up unwanted smells. I suggest activated charcoal found in the pet department.
terry letchuk says
fresh ground coffee grinds work wonders.my friend bought a house that was lived in buy a person with ten cats. so you can amagine the stench, after putting the coffee grinds in every room for a week the house is now cat smell frree
Joanne B. says
We have an old (150 year +) wooden shipping chest used back in the day by immigrants coming to the US from Europe. It stuck that old smell big time ! For the first 5-10 years we had it we tried everything we could think of- sun, baking powder, coffee, fabric softener sheets, washing the inside, painting the inside with sealer, covering the interior with fabric…! Finally, I can say, after all these attempts, the smell is gone! I am not sure what did it, but I think very surely, it is because since we moved to south Florida, our air conditioner is on almost ALL the time and any moisture in the wood has been removed and THAT is what I think did it! Every once and awhile, when we do turn off the a/c in the winter months, I do get a wiff of that ole smell and it certainly brings back memories of the days that we tried E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G! It’s the price you pay for real vintage and since it is the only piece we have that has that much history behind it, we are confident our whole house doesn’t stink like old! So! Go for it and do all you can but in the end let time do it’s work! And keep that a/c on!
Wow, that is an amazing find! I agree that sometimes you just need time.
I am definitely with you on this one, having moved overseas many a time in our lives. The very best item for a smell-free drawer or wardrobe is organic charcoal. Clean the item of dust and debris such as old lining papers. Then place a few briquettes onto a small aluminium foil piece (roll up the edges or use an inexpensive pie tin), and leave this for a week or so. This also works for old pantries, old cupboards, old vanity cupboards in the bath. Charcoal is a natural filter- it also works in boots if you wrap a briquette into an old, but clean, sock. But the organic type must be used, as it is free of harsh chemicals.
Usually that musty smell is caused by mold/mildew in unsealed areas of the wood. If you can kill the mildew and let the wood dry out completely the smell will usually disappear.
I’ve used wadded up newspaper to remove smells from plastic before. A friend of mine allowed milk to curdle in my favorite travel mug. The lid was on tight and the smell was allowed to soak in for a good week before the mug was cleaned out. I tried EVERYTHING to remove that stench and NOTHING worked. I was about to trash my favorite mug when I finally learned the newspaper trick. I filled the mug with wadded up newspaper and screwed the lid back on. I kept replacing the newspaper every day until the smell was gone. Took about a week but now there’s absolutely no lingering odor. Magic I tell ya, pure magic. Might work on a musty old dresser too, especially if combined with a little baking soda.
Okay, this does sound like magic. I’m definitely going to have to try the newspaper quick sometime! Thanks so much for passing that along.
I have a sentimental piece which smelled bad. I left the drawers out in the strong sun for a day to dry out. The next day I painted the interior with oil-based poly. This sealed out the bad smell, and gave a cleaner smell. It worked for me!
I just did a post on this exact same subject the day before you did! http://thesterlingcherub.blogspot.com/2011/06/got-old-musty-furniture-odors-few.html I need to update that post because I have heard that activated charcoal (as one of your commenters mentioned) works, as well as the old-fashioned clay kitty litter (as one of my commenters mentioned). And yes, I have used baking soda, and yes, it has worked, but it’s probably too weak for really bad odors.
Wipe it down with white vinegar and leave it in the sunshine to air out and dry.
I’m definitely going to have to try the vinegar. I have never even considered that!
Vinegar oxidize s wood and whole stain any exposed wood a different color. I’d be careful with that idea
I wipe them down with 1:1 vinegar:water!!!! Works well.
Mary Fryer says
I had a dresser that smelled no matter what I did. Finally I used an odor blocking primer and painted the inside of the drawers and most of the inside of the dresser.It was alot of work but now it smells great.
This is a great solution!
I have used the cat litter trick as well as soaking a cotton ball in vanilla extract and placing in a small plate inside the drawer. All of these ideas sound great too!
Going to have to add cat litter and vanilla extract into my bag of tricks! Thanks for the tips!
Joselyn@The DIY Spot says
What a great post! Never tried using the sun. Saving this post to my favorites for future reference. Until then, I have a vintage suit case to put outside because baking soda, coffee and dryer sheets haven’t been effective. Thanks so much!
A small bowl of vinegar left in the same way as the soda works well, the vinegar smell doesn’t linger once removed – I use it a lot as my dad smokes in our art room and I cannot stand to be in there afterwards. Works wonders in cars too (just don’t leave it in there while you drive!!)
In addition to kitty litter, vinegar, etc mentioned above….I have also had success rehabbing a dresser that had a lovely “musty-nursing home aroma” by thoroughly cleaning it, followed by a round of sunshine, then a round of Murphy’s Oil soaping—> Followed by a 2 week stint in a really dry room with the drawers FULL of cedar chips (can buy cheaply in bulk at pet stores or farm supply stores). If I remember correctly I may have bleached the back & bottom of the piece in the middle of the cleaning to help kill any active mold/mildew.
I didn’t think I would ever get the smell out of that thing…but it was beautiful waterfall piece that I found for $15 at a garage sale. It was a fun project one summer when I was home from college…
Cedar chips! That’s smart!
Condo Blues says
Coffee grounds really work! For some reason, used grounds tend to absorb oders better for me than dry, new grounds. After brewing coffee I dump the grounds into a container and put it in the smelly item. Sometimes I use empty coffee bags. The item will smell like coffee for a bit but once the smell goes away the thrift store stink is gone.
Nice! Maybe there is a good reason for my coffee addiction after all.
Here’s my two cents…Last October I scored a terrific deal on a (large) rustic hutch at a local non-profit’s community yard sale. Unfortunately it had a horrible odor (evidently it was donated by a smoker living in a musty house?!?) I already planned on using it on my covered patio, but even then the smell was too much to handle. I tried Murphy’s Oil Soap, baking soda and charcoal, to no avail. After some “Goggle” research, I headed to the local Home Depot to buy a product called “Natural Magic”. It’s a odor absorbing gel in a vented a plastic jar. I purchased 3 jars of the Brushed Cotton scent and placed them within the hutch. Each jar was approximately $4.00 but it’s long lasting (each jar still has about 1/3 left in it) and I’d say 99.9% of the musty smell is gone!
I’m so glad you mentioned that! I saw Natural Magic at Home Depot over the weekend, and was so tempted to try it. I glad to know it works – I’ll try that next time!
Shell We says
I scored some Thomasville pieces that were stored in musty German basement for years & made the mistake of sticking the nightstands next to my bed. I had wiped them down but didn’t notice the smell at that time. I sprayed the pieces down with a water & white vinegar mix that I use to clean everything, then sat fridge packs of baking soda in each drawer, & finally layered in some cheapo dryer sheets. I may have even raided my neighbors bag of BBQ charcoal & stuck some of that in there. It took about a week or two but the stench finally left. Guess my ghost gave up the fight.
So happy to have stumbled across this post! My grandma gave me an old desk of hers and that thing REEKS. I found out after she arrived at my house with a trailer full of stuff that the wall in front of the desk in her basement had caved in, getting the wood soaking wet and basically allowing “the smell” to really sink in. Sadly my grandma is a hoarder, so “the smell” is about 10 times worse than the regular thrift store scent. I’ll be trying a lot of these tips this weekend!
Carol L says
I have to add my 2 cents as well 🙂 Activated charcoal left in lids will remove almost every smell. Especially smoke. Great suggestions though.
I will definitely have to try the charcoal trick. Thanks for the tip!
The sun’s light has an amazing effect on molecules. It bleaches out stains, kills odors, and sanitizes & disinfects. I love sunshine. :o) Coffee is also an awesome cleaner. Grounds can be used to scrub & clean a lot of different surfaces. (Part of that is due to its highly acidic nature; lemon is a great cleaner for the same reason.)
I’ve used sunshine, baking soda, soap & water, and an enzyme-based odor eliminator called Fresh Ayre. The combination of those four got a funky smell out of a great wicker dresser that we scored from a friend a while back.
Thanks so much for the great post!
Heather - Dollar Store Crafts says
Linking up to this next week at decorhacks.com!
Vodka! Wipe down the furniture with vodka then let it dry. If you want a scent, mix a few drops vanilla extract into the vodka. I have used this trick many times. An antique dealer told me about it years ago.
Wow! I’m going to have to try that one!
I’ve just finished trying this, and it seems to be working! Thanks for the tip. Who knew?
If you drink the Vodka as well the Smell is totally better!
I paint the inside of the drawers – especially if there’s going to be clothes inside of them!
Try sanding the furniture lightly. Of course, do this only on the inside of it or on the outside if you plan to paint or re-varnish. You’d be suprised how taking a layer off wood off helps!
A vinegar and water solution should do the trick as well. I usually wipe my furniture down with tsp and then use a vinegar and water solution to wide down the inside. Then I decoupage the inside of the drawers with fabric or paper.
There is a product called Damp Rid. It’s a small tub you open and place in musty rooms. I find it at a Dollar General Store for cheap and it works great to eliminate moisture and musty odors in rooms. I think it might be worth a try for a closed piece a furniture like a dresser, hutch, or armoire.
Sliced apples also absorbs odors….
A couple months ago I found this adorable commode/dresser sitting on the curb waiting for trash pick up. It was gorgeous though it was certainly in need of some love. Its made of real wood and has fine detail carved into the sides. It simply needed new handles, a deep clean, and a fresh coat of paint.
As for the cleaning I did a few of the things you suggested. I took some cleaner in a spray container and lightly spritzed the inside and the outside. After that I took several disinfectant wipes and wiped it from top to bottom and everywhere in between. Those two things took away most of the smell pretty quickly.
THEN (sorry for the caps) I used dryer sheets which I have found incredibly helpful in many aspects of life. I stuck a few inside each drawer. Then of course I spaced out and forgot them in there for a week or two. Pulled out the sheets, gave it a day or two to sit and did the smell test–it was phenomenally fresh. Now I use the small dresser as a home for my shoes and so I stick dryer sheets in there regularly to keep them smelling so fresh and so clean-clean 😛
I experienced an inceidence several years back where my electricity had been off for a week during a storm while we were out of town. Our cube style freezer was full of meat, ugh!! After cleaning numerous times with everything I could think of & airing it out for days, I could not get rid of the odor. I heard that cat litter worked well, so I put a bowl of litter in the freezer, left it for a day then replaced with fresh litter daily for a week. The smell was gone! If it worked for the freezer, I’m sure it would work for any smell out there:)
Sue Schlabach says
I rescued six cloth covered drawers from a destroyed steamer trunk by the roadside a few weeks ago. They are quite stinky, but really beautiful. I have had dryer sheets in them, but now they just smell like musty mildewy fabric softener. They are going out into the sunshine this very minute and I think I’ll wash them down with vinegar solution too. Then maybe try the vanilla extract idea. That sounds lovely.
Try Borax. That stuff does EVERYTHING. Just sprinkle some in each drawer, and vacuum it out after a few days.
I am so grateful to have found this site with all these tips! After searching for bedroom furniture for 4 months, I purchased a refinished armoire and a dresser. I got them in my room and realized they smelled awfully musty. I immediately turned to google to see what I could do. Here is what worked for me… I did a battery of things simultaneously so I don’t know what actually did the trick.
First, I washed each drawer with a damp cloth & disinfectant (I used Tilex Mildew Remover.) Then I put them out in the sun for 2 days. I put warm vinegar in the dressers along with baking soda since I couldn’t take the dressers outside. I then wiped down the dresser drawers with Murphy’s Oil Soap. (This is when they completely stopped smelling musty.) I put them back out in the sun to dry. I cleaned the dressers themselves from top to bottom with Murphy’s Oil Soap. I also bought Natural Air canisters from Home Depot as some suggested and stuck those in the drawers and let them sit for a few days.
I’d say the Murphy’s Oil Soap & the Natural Air canisters would be the thing I would try first if this happens to me again.
It was a bit of work but… The dressers now smell perfect!
Julie M. ~ The Little Red Shop says
My mom bought an antique dresser last year, unaware that it was replete with stinkiosity. I tried newspaper stuffing, I tried bleach & water misting, I tried sunning. Finally, the other day, I kicked the bottoms out of the drawers…and that just may have done the trick.
Annie Oakly says
I am cracking up!?
Thanks for all the great tips – I just bought a dresser that smells like someone sat in it and smoked for decades. (The mental picture of that makes me laugh) Anyway, I have already wiped it down with pine-sol, sprinkled in some arm and hammer carpet powder and now have every thing sitting in the sun. The good news is that if those “fixes” don’t work, I have a whole list of other things to try, thanks to you and your readers.
Erin @ Expert in Everything says
Thank you so much for the tips! I’ve been trying to get the smell out of my vintage dresser for over a year. I’m going to try the sunshine and the Pine Sol this weekend.
K foltz says
I use ODOBAN on lots of things, in the laundry, musty tennis shoes, bathroom, and on furniture, the car, boat. You name it I tired it. I works at neutralizing odors, kills mold and mildew. Works like a charm. I get it at home depot for $10 a gallon. You dilute it different strength for different applications.
Odaban does remove smells but don’t use it if you don’t like the smell of eucalyptus. It relies on eucalyptus to remove smells. I used it once and then had to get rid of the eucalyptus smell!
I’ve heard a lot about activated charcoal (the kind available in the fish section of most pet stores). Apparently, it works to pull smells out of the air, rather than just masking them. 🙂
Terrie Knoll says
I use vodka in a spray bottle…wipe down the furniture with a damp rag, I like old microfiber clothes. Then I take out the drawers, set everything out on the driveway on an old painters cloth. I fill a spray bottle with 1/3 hot water and 2/3 inexpensive vodka and spray lightly all pieces inside and out and respray the inside of the drawers a second time. A few hours in the warm afternoon sun and the smell is gone. If it’s winter then I do all in the garage and let the piece dry over-night. The smell is from bacteria and vodka is a natural way to kill bacteria. I do the same thing with all of my son’s sports equipment! It REALLY works and very easy! If there is black mold anywhere then you a little bleach on a damp cloth and wipe down the black area only.
Didn’t read all of the posts, so this may be a duplicate. The fail proof method I have used for various projects is kitty litter! I have used it for wood projects and also old papers. For small objects you can put the kitty litter in a garbage bag and close it up for a couple of days. In furniture drawers, I completely cover the area and close them up which helps with the whole piece. So far, this has always worked for me. I never reuse the litter!!
Thank you!!! I just got a vintage dresser today off of Craigslist and the thing STINKS! mix of what smells to me like smoke+must+garage!! ick.
I’m going to try these recommendations. thanks again!
It’s smelly because it is made out of cedar.
JJ Henry says
I have had a lot of success with Room Shocker. It is an odor eliminator that works like a fumigation bomb. It really works, is environmentally friendly, and super easy to use. You definitely have to check it out at http://www.biocidesystems.com/roomshocker1.html
I will check that out. Thanks!
I wonder if the pin about putting wadded up newspapers in a refrigerator would work on dresser drawers?
Anna A. says
Totally behind the times on this one – just found your blog today. But… the best thing, hands down is to use Irish Spring soap on anything that has a lingering scent. Just cut a small slice (like you would with a potato peeler) out of a bar of Irish Spring and then place the whole bar in whatever it is that smells – preferably with it and the item shut or bagged closed. Let it sit for 24-48 hours and the soap absorbs all the smell. My parents heard this trick back in the 70’s when they got a used VW bug that had previously belonged to a smoker. Worked like a charm – and it has worked for everyone I have told since.
Are you kidding? I’m definitely going to be buying some Irish Spring to keep on hand the next time I go to the store. Thanks for the tip!
You can also sand the inside of the drawers. That really helps. My husband got a couple of pieces from his grandmothers stinky smelly smokey-o house and sanded the insides and it was gone. Also a refinisher told my mom sometimes the best thing to do is poly urethane the inside and seal the smell in.
I set all pieces out in the sun as she did on a plastic tarp and soaked it all down with Febreeze and and let the sun dry it (it was a good hot day). It dried in minutes since it was so hot out and I left it in the sun for the rest of the afternoon. The smell was gone !
Heidi smith says
I haven’t tested this yet on wood but my mom used to have us turn my dads fishing cooler and plastic trash cans upside down on the grass. She also was an avid pine sol user and it never removed the smell entirely (ever smelled a cooler with bait left in it for a month during summer? :} ) The only thing that worked was upturning on the grass. I am hoping to try it this summer with a piece of luggage and see if it helps. I have a train case I’ve tried everything on. If the grass doesn’t work it’s getting a full coat inside and out with KILZ.
Spray the inside of the drawers and the dresser with a coat of Zinsser clear Shellac. It will seal in every old odor and remains clear. Or, paint with a shellac based primer before painting, if you plan to paint (Zinsser BIN is my favourite). Apparently, sometimes the “old” odor is actually the Basswood that the drawers used to be made out of as it was cheaper. It naturally smells “musty” as it ages, even if it is spotlessly clean.
I do have one question to pose though … I am wondering what other do to preventatively treat their thrift and curb or garage sale finds so as to avoid accidentally bringing home someone else’s Bedbug problem that may be hiding in the joint & seams or crevices of second-hand wood furniture or picture frames, etc.. The whole idea of “inheriting” creepy-crawlies with that lovely piece of furniture gives me the heebie-jeebies!
Not a whole lot of men posting here, but I will risk myself! Also, I’m French from Quebec, Canada, so sorry if some sentences don’t make sense to you 🙂 .
I bought a nice vintage dresser with a huge mirror for my girlfriend, she totally loves it. However, it looks like some grandma owned this furniture before as all the drawers smell like pot-pourrit or some other perfume and she is afraid her clothes would pick-up the smell ( and I don’t feel like dating a grandma for the time being !). Being a Chemist, I compiled all the ideas cited here and made some testing with all the drawers independently. Ongoing tests so far: bleach (vapors), ground coffee, lemon juice (vapors), dryer sheets, vinegar (vapors), sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) (powder).
I know this is a rather old post, but if there is an interest from some people (or from Lindsay) I will keep updating the results weekly.
If you don’t like science, stop reading now !!! 😛 A little insight on the chemistry of odors. A lot of different smells come frome molecules we call “ester”. Theses molecules are sensible to acid (like vinegar, boric acid, lemon juice) and bases (like baking soda, soaps, ammonia). Acids and bases can chemically modify the esters: acids will transform the esters in another acid (or other ester with different smell), and bases into acid salts (this is what we call saponification, it is what happens when you wash something with a soap). The newlly formed acid can still bear an odor, but often acid salts will not. These molecules are now more soluble in water and can be washed away more easily. Organic solvents (vodka, alcohols in general, oils, paint thinner) will instead try to dissolve the original ester and wash it away. Sun and bleach work in a different manner; they will litterally destroy the odorant molecule, leaving only fragments behind. Be careful though, as they will not make a distinction for the wood molecules or the varnish and paint ! Of course, you can still seal the odor inside the wood with more varnish, shellac or paint, but it is still there !
Oh, Jonathan! You are my new online boyfriend. Please, please, PLEASE update us!!
Haha ! I wasn’t asking for that much ! 😉
Summary for Week 1: For the first week, I went with mild conditions. These were the less likely to hurt the furniture but also the less likely to work since they affected only the surface of the wood.
Dryer sheets: I rubbed the inside of the drawer with some sheets then left them for some time. Only difference now is that I have 2 different smells to get rid off… Although my garbage can kinda smells like “Ocean spring” now !
Vinegar (vapors): I heated a pot of vinegar several times during the week and left in in the drawer overnight. I was kinda hopeful for this one since I thought the vapors would reach every nook and cranny of the furniture and neutralize the smell at large. So far, the drawer since to smell less, but I don’t know if the odor is being masked by the vinegar or is really lessened.
Lemon juice (vapors): Likewise, I bet on the citric acid to reach everywhere inside the furniture. Since citric acid is a lot less volatile than acetic acid (vinegar) no effect was observed. A water solution might be the way to go for this one.
Bleach (vapors): Another airborne agent, although I did not heat this one for obvious reasons, nor will I use it as a solution. These small chlorinated killer molecules seem to have done some good ! Yesterday when I removed the bleach filled jar, the drawer stenched of a bad smell/bleach derivative and my hopes were not high. However, this morning the level was more acceptable, although I noticed some white particles in the drawer, hope the varnish is not being affected.
Ground coffee (powder): Fight fire with fire! I rubbed the inside of the drawer with freshly ground coffee and left it for a week. I now have a moka pot-pourrit drawer! I will wait before giving my final thoughts though as I know coffee can act a little bit like activated charcoal and does have an acidic nature. Once the coffee smell is gone, maybe it will have lessened the other.
Sodium bicarbonate (powder and then paste): The best known anti-odor agent around town (or your kitchen). Hopes were kinda high for this one. I sprinkled some powder all around the drawer and rubbed it everywhere. When I removed it yesterday, the odor was still there, although a lot less intense. While I was at it, I added some water to form a paste and used a brush to clean thoroughly. This drawer definitely smell less then all the others now, but the smell is not totally gone. My nose is not the sharpest one around town so if I can smell it, my girlfriend will undoubtedly.
I might be a while without posting as I will gather some more agents to help get rid of the smell. Next targets are cedar chips, murphy soap, pine sol, Arm and hammer odor remover and I might try once again bicarbonate paste.
Thanks for the update, Jonathan! I can’t wait to see what the big winner is.
Have you tested the vodka/organic solvents independently yet??? What other discoveries (since I don’t see anything more recent than this entry). Yours are the most infomative/comparative/smart contributions…… what have you discovered since March ’12?
Hello there. This post seems active still 🙂
Long time since I posted ! Unfortunately, I had to stop my tests since we moved out and I had other things on my mind. I eventually treated all the drawers with bicarbonate paste and brushed them real good. Smell is less of an issue now, but when you look for it, you find it. Leaving a bar of soap in the drawer kinda helps to cover what’s left.
As for organic solvents, I’d be careful with them; they might hurt the wood. If you try, be sure not to soak the wood too much… but then again it won’t go in deep. Multiple treatment might be needed. You risk damaging the wood though. Only a guess. I’m an organic chemist and we use them to solubilise organic compounds (read here drugs and medications) so in my own opinion they could take away some stuff off of the wood, or not.
I’ll post again when I buy a new smelly something 🙂 Soooo much things to try !
I just purchased a king size canopy bed from a storage unit where it aquired a foul smell looks like from mildew i have wiped it down with febreeze cleaner and it only worked for a few hours.I can’t take it out side its already been assembled in my bedroom I want to try some of the methods described here on your blog but my concern is if i use liquid such as vinegar or bleach solution may cause the wood to be spotty like if you spill water on a coffee table . Was wondering if i could just put a coat of clear laquer or polyurethane to cure the stink.
We got an old dresser out of an old house that was empty for years. This thing wreaked when we opened the drawers. We washed the inside all down and then put crumpled newspaper in the drawers and kept them shut. Keep replacing until the odor is gone. It works great. Remember to recycle the newspapers after or tear them up and put them in your garden.
Frustrated Thrifter says
I have read all the posts here, thank you to all.
I have purchased and old dresser made in Victoriaville Quebec.
It is probably 60-70 years old and stinks of old wood, musty, etc.
I have thus far tried Moldex, Murphys Oil soap, vinegar & water.
Nothing…..now it smells even stronger. I believe I have awoken the beasties from hibernation.
I will try the Vodka, if that fails I am throwing it out. This is a white elephant and stinking up my apartment.
Lori Hall says
Okay, I came across this string looking for a solution to perfume smells. I hope I am not off topic here, but I cannot stand perfume smells. But I’ve got them now because we have a cat with a bladder problem that is solved now but the evidence remained…nuff said. He is now (poor thing) confined to the bathroom until we can get a few other products to help him know where to “go” after the ordeal. We used a powerful commercial urine remover. And it worked. So now that the cat urine smell is gone, it is replaced with a very faint and very sickening slightly rosy and slightly fake vanilla chemical smell. Here are the things I’ve thought of but have not tried yet: 1. Sprinkle/dump the whole carpet with baking soda then spray/douse it with white vinegar, let it fizzle, leave for the weekend to dry and vacuum upon return. 2. Douse the whole thing with murphy’s oil soap and leave for the weekend, then steam with plain water upon return (that even removes cat urine to an extent.) 3. Sprinkle Borax all over the carpet, leave for the weekend and vacuum upon return. Unfortunately I could not find all the smelly spots using a black light so sprayed whole general regions of the carpet, so there’s a lot of stinky perfume to remove now. I would love some other suggestions. 🙂 Thanks!
Sprinkle soda + vinegar will achieve nothing. The bubbles you see forming is carbon dioxide which means that the former is cancelling the later (NaHCO3 + AcOH = AcONa + H2O + CO2). Alone, either soda or vinegar could help. If it stinks of vinegar afterward, but some soda and vacuum after a while.
Might want to try Bleach if the carpet can stand it (is soap did not work). If not, try to soak with alcohols (rubbing alcohol) unless it is clued in any way.
In your case, steam might remove the odor simply by physically extracting the odor rather than destroying it. If you can get your hands on a steam machine, I’d definitely try it.
Came across your post while trying to find solution for cleaning out dresser drawers. I 2 have cats one with a bladder problem have tried every product on the market and nothing seemed to work,until I saw the new T.V. show ” THE CAT FROM HELL.” , it’s on Animal Planet on Saturday nights. Jackson Galaxy, told about a product called FISSION. I found the product at Kroger stores on the bottom shelf in the cleaning section isle , comes with a spray bottle and tablets you mix with warm water and will last for a year. It can also be used in carpet cleaning machine. They have a website, http://www.fizzionclean.com , this product is GREAT!!. Hope these tips will help.
Cat Urine can be removed easily with anti icky poo. Get the unscented version. This works on pet stains and anything organic. Not good for other things. I am a vet and trust me this stuff works!
Sharon @ Elizabeth & Co. says
Wow, so many suggestions in the comments, not sure where to start. But I have a really sweet dresser that smells disgusting, so I’m going to gives some of these a try. Thanks so much for a great post!
I know – it’s a crazy amount of suggestions! Let us know what works for you.
After my Mom passed away, I found an old smaller suitcase which I wanted to use but it smelled really strong of cigarette smoke. I put quite a few dryer sheets in and left it for probably a month or two. I use it all the time now and can’t detect any smokey smell. Someone else thought the odors might just be masked, but this really worked for me. Just don’t rush it.
Now tell me how to get rid of the same odor from a piano. It’s been 11 years and it still smells bad. The outside has been cleaned but I fear that the smoke lingers on the raw wood inside and I’ve no idea how to get rid of it.
Lindsay Ballard says
Have you tried one of those Odoban odor absorbers inside of it? I don’t think it would damage the inner workings of the piano. I wonder if you could lift the lid and stick one in there?
re the piano: I would try using activated charcoal or other suggested odor absorbing product, after first completely enclosing the piano in plastic. Try using large heavy duty plastic drops–the kind painters use–to loosely wrap the piano. Plastic sheeting like that used as a vapor barrior to cover insulated walls in construction may work, too, since it comes in huge eight foot wide sheets. Place odor absorbing product inside. Tape it well to seal. Let it sit that way for a couple of weeks, and see if it makes a difference.
I just cleaned out an old estate sale house,been setting 2 or 3 yrs closed up ,everything had to go. Furniture,books,dolls,etc ,some as old as the 20’s,but mostly 50’s to 70’s era. Beautiful real wood construction. while looking for ways to remove the musty /mouldy smell, I came across your website . Lots of good ideas. I have in my hand a can of Lysol Desinfectant Spray, Antibacterial Action ,says it kills viruses,bacteria,mold and mildew,eliminates odors, thought I would try it. Later
Karen Breen-Oliver says
I found one of these beautifully old “musty dressers”. I have used bleach with water baking soda and fresh sage. No luck yet, but thanks to everyone who responded I have new hope. I cannot wait to try these suggestions! I am now sure I can redeem my lovely find.
Stormy Skies (yes, for real) says
Unfortunately, I have tried most all of these and still have no answer! Jonathan, where have you disappeared to? I have some science background, so could follow very easily. I really thought the enzyme way was the way to go. But to my great surprise it did not work! Have you come up with anything usable yet? Hope your still around!
I recently picked up some wood furniture that someone was throwing out. It has a smell, reminds me of the fingerpaint my kids use. I know, strange comparison.lol.
Because its freezing cold here in Chicago, can I still use the sunshine to eliminate the odor or does it need to be warm?
Lindsay Ballard says
Good question, Jennifer! I really don’t know, but I would think that sun is sun. I might take a little longer, but I think you should still give it a shot.
After a thorough cleaning, a bowl of ammonia in the closed drawers overnight will soak up the smell.
For bad smells, I’ve used activated charcoal that can be purchased at gardening stores I believe. Since it is black in color, you must sprinkle it on the object that has a cloth cover over it so that the object being cleaned isn’t soiled by the charcoal. I used it in the trunk of a car where a milk spill began to smell up the car. It also worked on a wool coat where the previous owner had it in mothballs. I just put the coat on a clean carpet area of my home. then I covered the coat with a thin piece of cloth and sprinkled with the charcoal I let it stay untouched for 2-3 days. After carefully taking up the cloth and hanging up the coat, I found the smelly problem was solved.
Lindsay Ballard says
I’m going to have to remember this!
Carolyn Kavarnos says
I have to reiterate what another poster already said. Sol-U-Mel from Melaleuca works great and it kills mold, mildew, eliminates stains will even remove ink, permanent market and other yucky stuff while it neutralizes odors with tea tree oil, the best pharmaceutical grade is in these products. I always use their tough and tender first which is similar to a Murphy’s but with tea tree oil and it works and smells great, you can spray the drawer with Sol-U-Mel and scrub it in once and then just spray it on and let it sit in the son and it should eliminate it all and with a lot less time and energy, let the products do the work. For total disinfecting I use Sol-U-Guard too which is a hospital grade disinfectant but not toxic like Lysol is. These products are as important as my refinishing paints and supplies because I have to totally clean everything as I am a germophobe. LOL Great job on some of your stuff, just found your blog. Wonderful!!!
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Kim O. says
I have some bedroom furniture that was stored in a storage building for 2 yrs. It has a musty odor. My clothes always smell like this odor. I read that you can dilute hydrogen peroxide and spray the inside and of the furniture and drawers and this will eliminate the odor completely. I have used charcoal based deodorizers that work temporarily. You will have to replace these containers after the charcoal has shrunk up. I definitely want a permanent solution to the odor problem and I plan to use the hydrogen peroxide formula. I will post the results after I have tried this solution…..
Victorian under stair pine lined closet smells mouldy. Can i steam clean it with one of those hand held cleaners?
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After trying to clean a dresser with several different cleaning products to eliminate the bad smell and failing, I lightly sanded the surfaces with an electric sander. This made the drawers and frame look like new and eliminated every bit of the bad smell.
White vinegar spritz then kitty litter. Works every time –
Onions will take away musky smell in room and is imagine in a stinky piece of furniture
I have not read all the posts so someone may have already mentioned this. I use coconut oil in my old antique drawers. Leaves a very nice scent while nourishing the wood.
PAM VETOR says
I BOUGHT AN OLD, VERY WELL CONSTRUCTED, DESK AT A FLEA MARKET. IT SMELLED LIKE CIGARETTE SMOKE SO BADLY, I HAD TO DO SOMETHING. IT STUNK UP THE WHOLE ROOM. I USED CHARCOAL AND BAKING SODA IN A OPENED, SMALL ZIPLOCK BAG, IN EACH DRAWER AND UNDER THE DESK. IT DOESN’T SMELL, BUT JUST A LITTLE, NOW, THANK GOODNESS. I LOVE OLD FURNITURE, NOTHING COMPARES TO THE QUALITY AND GREAT PRICE.
shirley brooke says
My Mother ruined a beautiful old cedar chest by putting mothballs in it…how can I remove the mothball smell???Please!
Cedar is very fragrant as it is– make sure you aren’t just smelling the pungent “cedar chest smell”. (The whole reason cedar chests are used for storage is their natural moth-repelling abilities. The odors are different, though).
If it is definitely moth balls you’re smelling, you can sand the interior of the chest.
Basswood. It’s a common wood in North America and was used in older furniture for the backing and inside of drawers specifically because it’s cheaper than the nice wood they used on the outside. It stinks worse and worse as it gets older and because the smell is literally the wood, IT WILL NOT COME OUT. Experienced carvers recommend against using this wood for furniture for that reason. The best you can do is give it a good spray and wipe with a mold spray (concrobium, TSP) to kill any possible mold or mildew (which antiques also tend to get), set it on the sun which as stated has remarkable properties, and then seal all inner surfaces of the furniture with varathane to seal in the natural smell of the wood, as well as lining the drawers if you are using it for clothing since this wood is also rough and will ruin your lingerie!
Best of luck!
Great tip! Thanks for share. I am trying it tomorrow.
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How would you remove a potpourri smell from a wooden bowl? I have hav baking Sosa in the bottom for about a week and now have been placing out in the sun during the day.
Lyndy Carpenter says
i am currently having the same problem. the only difference is the dresser has already been painted. I bought it at a flea market from an elderly couple and it is adorable. but there was a smell that will NOT go away! I have tried airing it out but with the weather it that was only for a day. I wiped it down with wood polish, pine sol, and other cleaners. put baking soda in bowls of drawers, put coffee grounds in bowls, and vanilla extract in bowls, all left in there for several days each. I have tried dryer sheets and fabric softener enhancer bead things. But I have come to now have an even bigger issue bc all of those different attempts have just added to the smell that will not go away. it’s not pleasant and very frustrating.
RE smells in painted flea market dresser: Paint is special. It can spoil. Perhaps the paint used to paint the dresser was expired/spoiled, in which case, it will smell bad for some time. Some paints can absorb odors, as well. I’m guessing you may need to strip the piece and redo it. Another thing to consider–is the dresser very old? As others have posted, basswood used for the drawers of old furniture smells worse as it ages. If that is the case, try sealing it with an oil based product.
I tried the banana idea and ended up with an infestation of fruit flies!
kathrina lewis says
Mold can be damaging to the surface it grows on, discoloring or corroding it. It can also affect people with allergies and can cause a fatal lung infection if breathed in. The key to mold control is moisture control.
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