Oh my God, it smells like something died in here!

Tips for Getting Rid of Odor in Furniture

Apparently, in my circle of friends, I am the go-to person if you have this kind of problem.

I hope it’s not because my furniture and house stinks but rather because I’m always rehabbing old, musty, dusty furniture. I have a little bit of experience with getting rid of odor in furniture.

My friend, Amy, who is a real-life CSI, recently sent me this query:

You can imagine that crime scene investigators like me get interesting questions. However, tonight’s, though forensically sound, is more appropriate for my Atta Girls.  Neighbor: “How do you get the smell of ‘dead’ out of furniture?” :) Seems a 78-year-old, sentimental chest of drawers in her garage became home to a decaying critter without her immediate knowledge. She’s tried Fabreeze and bleach, which not only didn’t work, but also warped a thin, wood packing crate her father used to craft the piece. Any suggestions from the Atta Girls or Friends of Atta Girls?

Great Tips: How to get rid of odor in furniture by AttaGirlSays.com

Well, I certainly have experience with stinky furniture, but thankfully dead is not a stench that I’ve encountered — yet. So, I turned to some of my blogger friends on Hometalk for their input on Amy’s “something died in here” query.

In my experience, the best solution for getting rid of stinky odors is to neutralize them, not to mask them. Because no matter how much air freshener you use,  it always seems the stench comes back. I suspect that what the neighbor’s chest needs is a good airing out — lots of sunshine and fresh air — with some neutralizing agent thrown into the mix.

Here are some tips for getting rid of stinky odors, pulled from my own experience and from the suggestions of the Hometalk bloggers:

  • Clean the stinky chest of drawers, inside and out, with an appropriate cleanser. For the neighbor’s chest, the safest option may be a slighty dampened rag with water or another furniture-safe cleanser. Vinegar and water is another option. For another stinky container, like a trash can or a dirty diaper genie, I would scrub with a bleach-based cleaner and also apply Lysol liberally. The neighbor may be able to use Lysol on her stinky piece of furniture.
  • Sprinkle the drawers with baking soda, which should absorb the odors. Let the baking soda sit for several days, and vacuum it up. You may need to try several applications. Alternately, you can place a bowl of baking soda inside each drawer. The longer it is left in, the better.
  • Let the stinky piece air out. Leave it outside in the sunshine — for days, if necessary.
  • Line the drawers with dryer sheets, and let them work their magic for several days (weeks even, if the smell is quite malodorous).
  • Pour kitty litter into the drawers and leave it for several days. It should absorb the odor. Dump it out, vacuum well and sniff. Repeat, if necessary.
  • Put coffee beans inside the drawers to absorb and mask the odor.
  • Place a few jars of white vinegar inside the furniture. The vinegar smell doesn’t linger and it should remove the odor. Depending on how bad the smell is, you may need to leave the vinegar in place longer and repeat, as necessary.
  • Furniture painting pal Lori Young of Vintage Charm Restored swears by TSP cleaner, available at home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot.
  • Paint can sometimes mask and cover odors. If the neighbor paints the inside of the drawers, the smell may go away.
  • Once the drawers are clean and the odor has been removed, consider storing scented candles inside the chest of drawers. The candles will cover up any lingering scent that may return over time.

Thanks to bloggers Janel at Nellie Bellie and Cheri at It’s So Very Cheri!, as well as my friend Kaaren, for weighing in with tips on how to get rid of stinky smells in furniture. And for more tips on removing odors from furniture, check out this post from Living with Lindsay, and be sure to read the comments for even more suggestions.

For answering this question, I think we all deserve a “get-out-of-jail-free” card from the other Amy! :)

If you have suggestions for Amy’s friend, please add them to the comments. I’ll make sure you get your very own get-out-of-jail-free card for adding your two cents.


  1. A wealth of information here…thanks!
    Diane recently posted..Trying Out New RecipesMy Profile

    • Also, crumpled pages of newspaper left in there for a few days can help. Ground coffee (in paper towels or clean filters) also can work.

    • Faye Lehn says:

      Please do not store scented candles in wood. That’s the smell I’m trying to get rid of in my china cabinet!

      • Atta Girl Amy

        Thanks for that tip, Faye. I wouldn’t have thought about that smell lingering. Hope you’re able to get your china cabinet smelling fresh again.

    • Lynn Thayer says:

      I am looking for something that would work on a rather new piece of furniture but it is not in the drawers I can smell it on the finished top of the dresser. I thought at first it was the dogs my daughter has so I was cleaning everything then I realized it was the dresser I bought her. I smelt the top of it and that is where the smell is coming from. It smells like dog and dirty clothes. It is horrible!! Please help not sure if the advice above will work or not.

  2. Any suggestions how to get the odor out of leather couches? I have 3 dogs…enough said, right?!! Thanks!!!

    • Catherine L Thompson says:

      My husband and a friend manufacture a product that is an odor Kill product that works well to take care of odors. even got the smell out of a car that had leather seats after it sat in a field and mice made their home in it . It can be ordered online and you can read testimonials of successful treatments of bad odors at their site. ATX Odor Kill

  3. TSP is the way to go–definitely! I have re-habbed a lot of old furniture and TSP is the bomb!

  4. Another good odor-absorber is charcoal — add an open bag or tray of it to the drawers and leave for a few days — this worked great when we apparently had a mouse or some other little critter die in the outside wall of our main floor guest room, and the pest removal service said it would have required cutting numerous openings throughout the wall to try to find and remove it. We left a large open bag of charcoal in there for a few days, and it quickly absorbed the foul odor while the critter was decaying (UGH). Another idea is KILZ, which a client selling her house used to effectively cover cat urine odors in the flooring of her sunporch.

  5. Annie Kroll says:

    How do you get cigarette smell out of a vehicle? A strong mix of vinegar and water scrub has been tried with very little success.

  6. samnjoeysgrama says:

    If you buy a house where someone decided their cat should be a “free range” feline with no litter box and the smell is just awful, not only do you need to replace the carpet and pad, but you will need to paint the wood or concrete under the carpet with something like Kilz Primer. If you don’t, in a month or so, that smell will come right back up through the carpet and ruin the new carpet as well. Sometimes you can scrub out dog urine if it isn’t too bad, but NOTHING will take out cat urine. I have used a giant box of soda to get rid of the smell that raccoons left up inside a chimney. It works well, but you may have to repeat the treatment a couple of times. Don’t put it in water, just dump an inch or two on the smell dry and let it set. Not a furniture tip, but might be adapted to some furniture.

  7. Linda Rielly says:

    I had a dresser that had been sitting in the garage for who knows how long. It had dead mice and tirds, bird feathers from them nesting in open drawers and musty, molding pieces of clothing and lots of bird shit. I cleaned it up with a touch of bleach, lots of fantastic with water. Then made newspaper pouches and filled each with charcoal briquets. Placed one in each drawer and left for a couple of weeks. Stench gone. Sanded it down, refinished it, looks and smells like new. This idea was given to be by a caregiver in a seniors home. It was how they freshened the dresser drawers of seniors.

  8. The charcoal trick really worked for me. I put berry baskets with a few bricketts in the fridge, a musty closet, under sink, and old nicotine saturated furniture drawers. The bad doers may take a few days/weeks, but it does work. No harsh chemicals!

  9. I bought the couch of my dreams to recover, but can’t get the musty basement odor out of it. I tried Fabreze, leaving dryer sheets in it and putting it in my living room. It has been cold, snowy/rainy since I got it last fall so I haven’t been able to put it in the sun. PLEASE tell me I don’t have to replace all the stuffing in this couch…it’s an Ethan Allen.

  10. Linda W

    A few years ago at the recommendation of Martha Stewart, I used 100 Proof Vodka. Cheapest bottle of vodka. I think I paid $4 for the bottle. I used it on/in, an old buffet that had been stored in someones barn and the mice had had a heyday in it! Vodka is what high-end antiques dealers use to get smells out of furniture. You saturate a rag with it, then wipe down all the parts of the drawers, slats, inside and out, and you can actually see it dry right behind where you wiped it. It will not warp the wood as it does not absorb into the wood long enough. It WORKED amazingly well. I later painted the piece, except for inside the drawers, and to this day, it smells great! I use it in my craft room and even if it stays closed up for quite awhile, it still has a fresh smell when reopened. I have given Vodka to others for the same purposes of removing odor and it works everytime. I don’t drink so the bottle has lasted for years.

    • Karen Ruble says:

      Well, I am going to try the vodka. Two months ago I bought a cool piece of furniture from a local antique store. The shop owner told me it was from an estate sale and had been in a barn. Phew! I have scrubbed it with vinegar, baking soda, that didn’t work. I scrubbed it with steel wool and bleach, that didn’t work. Murphy’s oil soap, nope! Right now I am using ‘grounds for the garden’ from a local Starbucks. But I am upgrading to vodka. It is a piece for my craft room too! I don’t want to paint it, because it has beautiful robin’s egg blue peeling paint over english oak. The patina is great. Thanks for the idea!

      • Atta Girl Amy

        I’d love to hear how the vodka works for you.

        I wouldn’t paint it either. That patina sounds fabulous.

        It’s possible the smell is coming from inside the piece and maybe you could shellac the drawers. I’ve heard that can also work to seal in the smell.

    • Caroline Duffy says:

      I am in Australia and I can’t get hold of 100 proof vodka. The local DIY shop recommended methylated spirits. Would this be a good substitute do you think?

    • Linda W tweet234, that is an awesome tip with the vodka..I am going to have to try that. I have a dresser that has an old smell in it..and I will share with others as well.
      A great post also.
      Thank you

  11. I use Bulls Eye Shellac- 2 coats fixes it every time. Each coat dries in about 30 mins or less. And it is a breeze to apply! Check it out!

  12. Perfect post for the thrifters among us!
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  13. Juanita says:

    I dont know if it is good for wood but Odoban (they sell it at sams and home depot) is really good for getting alot of smells out. I use it mostly for laundry and when my kids pee in the bed.

  14. I have a tip to share in just making the drawers smell better. Throw in a couple cheap highly scented bars of soap helps the smell too. I’m a crafter & use to decorate soap, after leaving my unused & decorated soap in a drawer I found the scent really lingers. So in a few other drawers I have place a bar or two of my soap.

    What about mothballs cutting down on the smell? That might work too.

    • I think I’d have to suggest that the soap solution be used only short term. I have odor in dresser drawers that is awful!! It’s from the bars of soap my Mom put in decades ago and left there. It is sooo strong it triggers my asthma and makes anything and everything put in those drawers acquire the same too-strong odor. It can be nauseating even. I’m going to get some vodka (suggested in another comment) tomorrow and see it that will get the soap smell out. Baking soda for 2 months has not done the trick.

  15. nadine nelson says:

    How do you get the smell of mold out of wood ? I have tried coffee, washed the cabinet down, put vinegar in it for like ever and short of throwing it in the garbage I’m at a loss. Got any ideas ?


  16. You know those little packets so silica that come with new shoes or a new purse? After trying to mask the musty smell of an old secretary – which worked somewhat – I happened to put a bunch of silica packets in it. Voila! Musty smell is gone and it cost me nothing!

    • Atta Girl Amy

      That’s a great idea! I always throw those away promptly because our dog ate one once — or at least we think she did — and it was messy. But now I’ll have them and try them in some stinky drawers.

  17. how do you get rid of cat urine out of wood coffee table thats a octagon shape

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  19. Lp me please!I have my grandmother’s old cedar chest.Someone in the past put mothballs in it.I have tried wiping it down with water, cleaning it with vinegar, letting it air out for days outside, putting crimpled newspaper & I’m at my wits end. The smell always comes back after a few days with the lid closed. Help me please!

    • Atta Girl Amy

      Hi Sonya, sorry for not replying sooner. Have you tried spritzing it with vodka to clean and then letting it air out. People also swear by charcoal.

      Another option would be to shellac the interior, but you may not want to do that with a cedar chest. I found another article that suggests cranking up the heat (or in the summer storing the piece of furniture in a hot space (the attic perhaps) open, so the smell will dissipate. Here’s the link: http://www.ehow.com/how_4453525_get-rid-mothball-smell.html I hope that helps. The secret seems to be dry heat plus ventilation.

    • Bobbie Anderson says:

      You could try sanding the inside with fine grade sandpaper, then anyone of the previous tips might work better. I sand cedar blocks after they loose there smell and put them back in a closet so it smells nice

    • Phyll Nourie

      I would try the vodka, let it dry for a few days. Then sand the interior with a very rough sandpaper. vacuum the dust out then sand again with a very fine sandpaper. Mothballs are a “chemical” and have soaked into the wood. The sanding may remove the wood that holding the odor.

  20. when I bought my dream home, it came with a “pot-belly-pig” smell : / my Mom (a framer) said to use powdered lime(comes in bags), dump it, slit open bag and sit it, or pour into little pouches and leave in drawers, or wherever needed. Worked for me!

  21. when I bought my dream home, it came with a “pot-belly-pig” smell : / my Mom (a farmer) said to use powdered lime(comes in bags), dump it, slit open bag and sit it, or pour into little pouches and leave in drawers, or wherever needed. Worked for me!

    • Atta Girl Amy

      That’s a great idea! I would definitely trust a farmer, and it sounds like your mom’s suggestion really worked well for you.

      Of course, now I’m curious why the house had a pig smell. Did the former owner have a pig as a pet?

  22. Yes they did have a pot belly pig for a pet. I found this out when I mentioned to the neighbor about the smell and was filled in. The piggy had freedom to roam in some rooms and the patio deck and fenced in yard.

  23. Mary Schmitz says:

    When I was working in a flower shop, an antiques dealer would come in and buy eucalyptus branches. When they would get a musty or mousy smelling chest, they would put the branches in the drawers to combat the odors. Works in musty closets also

  24. Fresh Wave gel places in a small bowl does the trick.

  25. I used to work for a trucking company that occasionally hauled “green hides” from a beef processing plant in TX to a leather goods manufacturer in NY. We always used a combo of a straight apple cider vinegar wash & XL cans of the cheapest ground coffee available (repeated as necessary) to remove that awful stench from our truck trailers, so I would think it should work on just about anything else.

  26. Mary Catherine Allison says:

    I purchased a very old pine blanket chest at auction that I had not done a sniff test on. It really smelled bad! I tried baking soda and coffee grounds after I throughly washed it, but neither helped. I thought it was a lost cause so I used it to store some cedar scrap wood and pine cones I had gathered to make wreaths with. To my surprise, it no longer stinks and I can now use it to store anything.

  27. I refinished a dresser this past summer that had been in my parents basement for several years. It was musty smelling. I filled each drawer with cedar shavings (small animal bedding) and kept it closed for a week or so. After I used stripper to remove the paint, I discovered that a corner smelled like a cat had peed/marked it. I have cats, so if there is any lingering smell, they will certainly remark it. I cleaned it with vinegar, scrubbed with steel wool, made a paste of baking soda and vinegar. Nothing was working. I finally had a few dry days and I left it out in the sun. I gave up at that point and applied the first coat of stain. I couldn’t smell the urine anymore. I’m not sure which was key, the sunlight, or the stain. If it happens again, I’ll try peroxide or vodka.

  28. Anyone have suggestions for getting cigarette smoke out of a house and it’s contents. We inherited a house that we’re trying to sell. We cleaned all carpeting, washed down all the walls with some professiona cleaner and we’ve sprayed all the rooms with air freshener. The problem is is that no one is living in the house anymore so the windows are never opened. When we visit we always are aware of the odor and so does anyone looking at the house. Since it’s now winter we can’talk open the windows while we visit. Any suggestions as to what we can leave in the house while we’re not there? We’ve also tried charcoal and vinegar but these don’the work either.

    • Colleen Wimmer says:

      I would use a Healthmate Jr. filter and leave it on a low setting all the time. I was introduced to it by a friend when the house we were renting showed signs of mold on the walls that were not well insulated. (We no longer live there, thank god!). I had a toddler and was very concerned. The filter worked beautifully! I still have it and use it on occasion for various reasons: crafting with strong paint, the manure smell in spring from local farms, if it’s too cold outside to let in fresh air, when we have a cold in the house. It’s a bit of investment, but if you are trying to sell the house, it will be well worth it! It will remove the odors from the room, but I don’t know if it will aid in getting rid of the odor all together. Maybe. It would try it.

      So another suggestion… I don’t know what product you used on your walls, but one time when I rented a smoke-ridden place, I did use TSP and it worked. But take care to research a bit if it is toxic, to breathe or get on the skin. Some stuff I used back in the day I wouldn’t touch now. Environmental Working Group’s cleaning products database is a fantastic resource in this regard.

  29. I up cycle a lot of old furniture. If the root cause of the bad smell isn’t mold or some funk that needs to otherwise be removed by cleaning, I’ve had good success with putting a dryer sheet in a drawer or cabinet. Great for putting in garbage cans too. Just place the sheet at the bottom of the container then insert the bag.

  30. I put scent booster pellets(washing mashine additive) in a spray bottle of hot water to to disolve and use on furniture fabric to rid of musty smells.

    • Atta Girl Amy

      I just got some of these scent booster pellets for the wash. I’m going to try these on the next piece of stinky furniture I find! Great idea!

  31. Clear Shellac from Zinnser in a spray can is supposed to block the smell. Its a stain and odor blocker. Spray all over inside the stinky area like you would when spray painting something.

    • Atta Girl Amy

      Great idea! I actually plan to use shellac when we replace the carpet in our bedroom. There is one spot that my elderly dog has become too familiar with, and I’m planning on shellacing the subfloor so that any odor does not return or attract her to the spot again.

  32. My husband bought me an antique vanity that had been “refinished” but the seller admitted it had suffered water damage. All the sanding and staining had not even touched the musty & mildew-y smell, ugh! I refused to store anything in it until the smell was 100% gone. I tried vinegar first…left bowls of it in the drawers…not much improvement. Tried cat litter left in for over a week…better but still stinky. Poured baking soda in the drawers and left in for a few weeks…got better but still not gone completely. Lastly, wadded up newspaper in all the drawers and left for over a month. Smelled 90% better! but I was too eager to get it to 100%. I added Yankee candle wax tarts to the drawers and left for a week or so. Finally, the smell was gone or I became nose blind. Every now and then when I open the drawers I can smell a faint musty smell but not anything like it was in the beginning.

    • Atta Girl Amy

      Wow, it sounds like you were very diligent and finally were able to get rid of the odors. It’s tough with old, stinky furniture, and I’ve found that different solutions work for different smells. I am definitely going to remember to use Yankee candle wax tarts. I’ve also gotten a lot of other great ideas from the comments on this post. I need to write an update!

  33. Anita O'Bryan says:

    I tried most all of the options listed here to no avail. The furniture had been in dry storage for years and nothing that I tried helped. Leaving it outside was not an option. After weeks of the terrible smell my Dad advise me to try charcoal. I did and after a bit the smell disappeared.

  34. nedra cummings says:

    I have an wood cabinet with drawers that I used to store scented candles in on of the drawers. I am now wanting to move it to my kitchen to use as a bakers cabinet and would like to store baking supplies (flour, etc.) in the drawer where I stored the candles. The candle smell is very strong. How can I get rid of this and bar in mind i can’t use anything on it that is not food
    friendly. Pleas help.

  35. nedra cummings says:

    I have a wood cabinet with drawers that I used to store scented candles in on of the drawers. I am now wanting to move it to my kitchen to use as a bakers cabinet and would like to store baking supplies (flour, etc.) in the drawer where I stored the candles. The candle smell is very strong. How can I get rid of this and bear in mind i can’t use anything on it that is not food
    friendly. Please help.

  36. Nature’s miracle will take the cat urine smell out of anything.

  37. Mary Cass A. says:

    I bought an old pine blanket chest that swelled really musty. I think that it had been stored in a barn. I tried washing it out, using baking soda, using coffee grounds with no luck. I kind of gave up and stored some pine cones and pieces of cedar wood in it. After several weeks I decided to use it to store something else and to my surprise when I opened the chest, the stink was gone!

  38. Hi there, not to say too much: tottaly awesome and practical tips. Thank you. Wil follow. Matija, Slovenia

  39. I have also read to shellac a piece to “seal” any odors.. Every square inch! And if using chalk paint it will still adhere to the piece. However, that has seemed like such a daunting task I have never tried it! I have two huge French provential piece to do and I have left them sitting just because of the odor issue! Thanks for your advice, now maybe I’ll get started!!!

    • Atta Girl Amy

      Definitely shellac is an option for combating odors. I haven’t done it myself, but I know a lot of furniture painters who have. They also say you should use shellac to seal any mahogany or knotty pine pieces to prevent bleed-through, especially if you’re using a lighter color. Let me know how it goes with your French provincial pieces. I’d love to see the finished pieces.

  40. Belinda patrick says:

    Spraying the inside of the drawers with clear spray paint is also very effective.

  41. This is a great article! Thank you!

  42. I bought an old art decco wardrobe and it smelled awful. I tried vinegar, baking soda and coffee whole bean and ground. The only thing that worked was those laundry freshener beads. I bought the ones made like Gain. It worked beautifully! No more yucky smell!

    • Atta Girl Amy

      That’s a great tip, Kat. I haven’t tried those in furniture, but I can see how those would totally work. Are you talking about the fabric softener beads that you put in the wash? Just want to make sure I’m clear on what you’re using so I can add this to the list of tips in the blog post.


  1. […] of my most popular posts on the site is about how to remove odors from old furniture. I shared my blog post about stinky furniture, along with my tips for getting rid of smells, and dozens of Hometalkers chimed in with their […]

  2. […] One of the best secrets to know about if you’re working with old furniture is How to get rid of stinky smells in old furniture. […]

  3. […] shares her top thrifty tips for ridding old furniture of unpleasant odours over on Atta Girl […]

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