Oh my God, it smells like something died in here!
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
Thank you, I’ve recently been searching for info about this subject for a long
time and yours is the best I’ve came upon till now.
However, what concerning the conclusion? Are you certain in regards to the source?
how do you get rid of cat urine out of wood coffee table thats a octagon shape
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.
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 ?
To get the smell of old people and mold out of a dresser than came from my husband’s grandma’s basement, we put a scoop of clean dry cat litter in each drawer and closed them all. After a couple weeks, I dumped out the litter and vaccuumed, and it smelled new & clean again. I was skeptical, but it worked great!
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.
Oh my! Mothballs! Yuck! Worse than the odor I’m trying to get out. I didn’t think anyone ever used those anymore. That smell permeates everything and makes me nauseous. I’d have to try something else just to get rid of the mothball odor! Plus, it triggers my asthma terribly. I think the vodka trick sounds like the best idea for those of us with respiratory issues. Will be trying it on the leather couch we just acquired. I can’t stand the smell that it absorbed from prior owner’s home.
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.
Odoban works great on most things, it gets cat and dog smells, and even got the nasty “smoke” smell out of clothing and other items after our house fire.
Kelly @ Eclectically Vintage
Perfect post for the thrifters among us!
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!
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.
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.
The vodka worked. It really neutralized the horrible smell that was coming from the wood. Thank-you for the idea…it worked!
Atta Girl Amy
I’m glad to hear that! Thanks for letting me know. And so glad your stinky furniture is no more!
Thanks! I’m going to try Vodka. I have an old chest of drawers that belonged to my mother-in-law. The smell inside it is unbearable! I too have tried baking soda, cedar blocks, vinegar, bleach, & Febreeze. None of those worked. Right now, the chest is sitting empty in a spare room. I can’t bear to discard it, but can’t use it either. Got my fingers crossed that the Vodka works. Will post results!
What type of vodka, just any brand does quality matter when using for furniture ?
Atta Girl Amy
I would use the cheapest quality vodka for cleaning. No need to invest in a top shelf liquor for this.
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?
Atta Girl Amy
I don’t have experience with methylated spirits, but it’s worth a try. And any proof vodka should work, I would 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.
I like the vodka hack will have to try this on a old dining room hutch I’m about to restore.
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.
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!
Atta Girl Amy
So glad charcoal worked for you.
Musty and stinky odors are a problem with old furniture, but I love hearing what has worked for other people.
When you put charcoal on the drawers did you leave the drawers open or closed? I have an old dresser that when I brought it home stings like old and musty, I have tried everything now I just bought a bag of charcoal and distribute it …how many pieces did you use in each drawer too?, tks
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.
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.
seal it with polyurethane! Works awesome!! Smells like burnt wood,cat urine to name a few,it works!!
I used a two step approach on old wood floors where a cat had repeatedly peed. (actually more, but the store bought neutralizers and removers did not help). I poured on vinegar, left it to soak in and dry, then mopping with bleach water. The floors were already faded, so it didn’t hurt them and the smell never came back.
This works amazing well on cat, dog,
and human urine. It is an enzyme “eater”.
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.
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.
TSP is the way to go–definitely! I have re-habbed a lot of old furniture and TSP is the bomb!
Any suggestions how to get the odor out of leather couches? I have 3 dogs…enough said, right?!! Thanks!!!
Catherine L Thompson
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
Diane @ The Checkered Apple
A wealth of information here…thanks!
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.
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.
Did you ever get that smell out? I have something very similar on a dresser I just bought. Done vinegar and baking soda a few times as well as coffee beans. Better but not gone. The whole room still stinks from the dresser.
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.
If there is a smell such as cat urine,or burnt wood,use polyurethane..It will seal the odor!