5 Ways to Remove that Musty Smell from Old Furniture

I know many of you are thrift store, yard-sale junkies like myself (high-five to that!) and you’re probably always bringing home random pieces of furniture that need some love and TLC. And let’s be honest–there’s a good chance that furniture probably has a funky smell. Well this post is your solution for that problem my friends! Today I have 5 ways to remove that musty smell from old furniture. You know what I’m talking about–the stale, funky nursing home smell that so often accompanies the most beautiful vintage furniture. It’s ain’t good. And no amount of hot, soapy water or time in the sun will even come close to removing it. I was actually talking to my mom about this the other day and she mentioned a few old-fashioned tricks that work really well to eliminate that musty smell. So today I’ve combined her tips with a few things that have worked for me in the past. These should help whether you’re dealing with something a little stinky or extra stinky. I’ve got you covered for all levels of stink! Let’s get to it, shall we?5 Simple Ways to Remove that Musty Smell from Old Furniture. Easy tips and tricks to eliminate odors from vintage furniture.

Dryer Sheets

This is the easiest tip of the bunch and it works well if the smell you’re dealing with is about a four out of ten on the yuckiness scale. It’s not going to take the smell away, but it will certainly mask it. If you have an old dresser just line the drawers with dryer sheets or if it’s a vintage trunk just find a way to stash a few of them inside. This is a really great little trick for lots of yucky smells!

Baking Soda or Carpet Powder

Again, this one is for more mild to moderate smells. Grab some good old-fashioned baking soda, put it in a bowl and place it in the furniture. The bigger the piece the more baking soda you’ll need. For example, if you’re working on a dresser you’ll need a bowl in each drawer. Close it up and leave it for at least a week. Probably two if you’re dealing with a more serious smell. The baking soda will absorb it up like magic. You can also try using one of those odor eliminating carpet powders like this one. Use it in the exact same way as the baking soda.

5 Ways to Remove that Musty Smell from Old Furniture 5 Ways to Remove that Musty Smell from Old Furniture

Vinegar & Water Solution

This is an old-school trick that works well for those really, really funky smells. White vinegar will work the best, but if you don’t have that on hand you can try apple cider vinegar as well. Just mix water and vinegar together using a 1:1 ratio and thoroughly wipe down your piece of furniture, then allow it to air dry. Or you can also fill a spray bottle with the solution and spray it down, whichever your little heart desires. This stuff definitely works. Vinegar is a great natural cleaner and will do the trick just fine!

5 Ways to Remove that Musty Smell from Old Furniture

Murphy’s Oil Soap

Have you guys heard of Murphy Oil Soap Wood Cleaner? This stuff is the bomb and works wonders for actually cleaning wood and removing funky smells. And it’s so easy to use–just pour some on a clean cloth and wipe the piece down really well. Easy peasy for the win and it’s really effective.

Paint with a Powerful Primer

This is the one that works best for those really strong odors that just don’t want to go away. When I bought this old dresser from Salvation Army last year it had that classic musty smell. The whole thing smelled awful actually. I painted it using this KILZ Multi-Surface Primer and I was seriously ammmmmazed at how well that primer blocked the smell. It’s like it sealed it all in and gave me a fresh canvas to start from. If you’re willing to paint the piece of furniture, even if it’s just the inside, I’d definitely consider giving primer a try. This works really well if your furniture has a serious smell problem going on. It sure worked wonders for me!

5Ways to Remove that Musty Smell from Old Furniture

5 Ways to Remove that Musty Smell from Old Furniture

Well friends, those are my five best tips and tricks for removing musty smells from old furniture. I know it’s not the most glamorous topic to talk about, but it’s definitely something that comes along with having a lot of vintage furniture. And you gotta deal with it! I sure hope this post was helpful. Especially with yard sale season officially underway, you might want to keep this list handy for the next time you bring home a beautiful old dresser that smells like it made a trip to Funky Town, USA. I’d also love to hear what tricks you use. I am sure you’re all full of wisdom and great ideas too, so please don’t hesitate to share with me. I’d really love to hear it!

A few other posts you might enjoy:

How to Test Vintage Furniture for Lead Paint

How to Secure an Old Door to the Wall

How to Paint a Brick Fireplace

Hi, I'm Sarah. Welcome to my happy place! I'm mama to three, wife to my high school sweetheart + Colorado native. Let's decorate. Or maybe go on a Target run?!

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61 Comments

  1. 5.2.17
    Marilyn Soto said:

    Great post -about 8 years ago we bought a large armoire that had been in a smokers home. First we scrubbed it with Mr. Clean and water …. it was so bad you could see the yellow nicotine on the cloth . Next we did the vinegar and baking soda then left crumbled news paper inside to absorb some odor. I used the armoire in my kitchen for over 5 years …… then we moved into a new house and the odor seemed to come back ( maybe we just got used to it in our old house) anyway 2 coats of kilz and 2 coats of paint layer and it’s not only beautiful but smells fresh clean and new ! So good that I now use it in my mud/laundry room as additional linen storage . Persistence pays!

  2. 5.2.17
    Heather Hoben said:

    Thank you dor the great tips! I am usually not allowed to bring anything into the house until the funky smell is gone????!! I have tried an open can of coffee in drawers or opened jar candles. However, nothing works better than a good cleaning and then paint!

    • 5.3.17
      Sarah said:

      haha I know what you mean, my husband isn’t a fan of stinky furniture in the house either! And I agree, I think the paint is the best way to go. Well, if you can paint it that is–sometimes that isn’t an option. Thanks so much for dropping in Heather!

  3. 5.2.17
    Vicki said:

    I love Murphy’s oil soap! I recently bought a beautiful stained wood cabinet from a second hand store that had that classic junk store smell. I diluted some oil soap with water in a bucket and dipped an old washcloth in it, wrung it out, and wiped the piece down inside and out until I was satisfied I had the dirt and grime off and let it dry. The finish was in pretty good condition, just a few spots that needed touching up, so I then used Howard’s furniture refinisher, followed by Howard’s feed and wax. Not only does the oil soap clean well, but I love the smell! The feed and wax also smells nice.

    • 5.3.17
      Sarah said:

      Oh wow Vicki, you really did a great job on that old cabinet. Good to know about the Howard’s furniture refinisher, I’ve never heard of that. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for sharing!

  4. 5.2.17

    I had no idea and have some seriously nasty smelling old furniture. I’ve hesitated putting anything in it because of it. Don’t want to paint the inside of the drawers but will definitely try the Murphy’s Oil soap. I’ve never used any vinegar for cleaning because I detest the smell. Will it leave an odor or does it “eventually” deteriorate? Thanks for the hints – can hardly wait to get that Murphy’s soap!

    • 5.3.17
      Sarah said:

      Give the Murphy’s Oil a try and see if that helps Cindy. If not try the vinegar. I HATE the smell too, but it shouldn’t linger once it’s dried. Good luck!

  5. 5.2.17
    Kim said:

    We recently acquired an antique dresser that’s been passed down for several generations and it really stinks, as in no way that’s coming in the house. Thanks for the tips. Now maybe we can actually bring this beautiful piece of family history into our home.

    • 5.3.17
      Sarah said:

      I sure hope these tips help with that dresser Kim. Let me know how it goes!

  6. 5.2.17
    Dina said:

    All good ideas! Here’s another tip regarding pillows – kill anything that might be harboring inside by tossing in the dryer, at high temp, for at least 30 minutes!

    • 5.3.17
      Sarah said:

      Oh great tip, thanks for sharing Dina!

  7. 5.2.17
    Bablofil said:

    Thanks, great article.

    • 8.29.20
      Ka-Cee said:

      Ok I have a tip for you, that I myself need to exercise quickly. The last time I used this it worked perfectly… put cat litter in the drawers of old dressers, let it sit as long as the smell remains, takes a few days but will do the trick. We just returned from a 3 month vacation and one of my projects in the basement is leaving a smell… I better get on it or the place will smell like Nana’s 🥴… great article, thanks 👍🏼

  8. 5.2.17

    Such a great idea for a post! I am always encountering this and I didn’t know of a few of these tips. Thank you friend!

    • 5.3.17
      Sarah said:

      Thanks Chelsea, I’m glad you found it useful. It’s definitely good info to have on hand for that next stinky piece of furniture!

  9. 5.10.17
    Sharon Depatie said:

    Any ideas for an old leather suitcase with metal hardware & leather handles? There was ratty silk lining & pockets that I tore out to the thin wooden lining, then have used every trick I (& everyone else) know, from a multitude of cleaners, pet odor spray, various candles, baking soda dusting to vinegar soaked sponges in a dish closed inside. The funky odor has faded somewhat, but the case is still useless for storage. I’m down to the
    last option – spraying the interior with a sealer & hoping for the best.

    • 5.11.17
      Sarah said:

      I would actually try to paint the inside, Sharon. Considering nothing else has worked, that might be your best option at this point. Using a primer like that KILZ one I mentioned will seal in the smell (hopefully) and it shouldn’t impact your ability to use the suitcase. Give it a try!

    • 5.11.17
      Sarah said:

      And let me know if you do, I’d love to hear if it worked!

    • 7.18.17
      Diane said:

      I bought some suitcases at a garage sale for $3. It was a vintage set/3 and they were beautiful but smelled soooo bad.

      A lady at a local upcycle shop told me to try charcoal. Place charcoal in an open bag inside the suitcase and close them up for about a week. It worked wonders!

      I’ve also heard that some people are successful with kitty litter. Pour it in, leave it for a week or so, then empty it out of the suitcases.

  10. 11.6.17
    Jenna said:

    I just painted two old large wooden windows (28×32) that still have the glass in them because I wanted to use them as decor over our master bed. But once I got them home from the workshop I painted them at I noticed a musty smell to them. I guess I didn’t notice because several of us were painting different furniture pieces. I’ve had them out in my garage trying to air them out and I think that has helped somewhat but they still have a faint musty smell. Will the Murphy’s Oil or vinegar methods help? Anyone have any tricks for old windows?? Thanks in advance for any tips!:)

    • 11.6.17
      Sarah said:

      OH I know exactly what you mean, old windows can have a real funky smell. I’d give the Murphy’s oil a shot, I bet that works!

  11. 1.13.18
    Janice said:

    How do you get the smell of Fabreeze out of drawers……….bought a chest of drawers used because I can’t take the smell of new furniture……….(chemical sensitivities.) it was fine in store…….they sprayed the drawers with fabreeze before they delivered it…..don’t know how to get the smell out???
    ,help!!.,

    • 1.13.18
      Sarah said:

      Hi Janice, try putting a blow of baking soda in the drawer for a few days and see if that will pull the smell of the Fabreeze out!

    • 4.1.18
      Mary said:

      Hi Janice , try leaving the drawers out on a really hot summers day. The chemicals should dissipate.

  12. 1.22.18

    Any ideas for a pair of barely used, gorgeous, upholstered Farfield living room chairs that have a deep musty smell. The fabric is a sturdy, light tapestry. Thanks! Andrea

  13. 2.17.18
    Mindy said:

    If I don’t want to paint the furniture, would applying a layer of clear stain on the inside of the piece do the same trick? I already have clear stain leftover from another project and was thinking the whole time after I read this article that you had said to use stain – but now that I’ve reread it, i see that you’re saying to use primer!

    • 2.19.18
      Sarah said:

      You might be able to cover up the smell out with stain. I’ve never tired it, but it could work. Worth a try anyway!

      • 8.5.20
        Darlene CHandler said:

        I just bought an antique pine blanket box, smelt okay, but when delivered, I think the shop sprayed with some strong perfume and I just cannot get it out. Tried Vinegar, baking soda, do not want to try fabreze allergic to it. Do you think Murphy’s Soap will do the trick. Hardware store told me not to stain the inside, which has never been stained. Had many pine pieces and this is a first for bad smell. It is perfume and a real strong one. I have a feeling the woman that owns the shop sprays all of her furniture before delivery.

  14. 3.6.18
    Sue said:

    Ten yrs. ago, I inherited a beautiful Drexel bedroom set..the owner put perfumed pumice in the drawers of 3 chests and ruined them. Today, as a last effort, I will spray the drawers AND interior case with vinegar…I have tried washing drawers with detergent, baking soda solution, activated charcoal and continued airing. .It has dissapated little .the perfume give me asthma.

  15. 5.4.18
    Sally said:

    I just purchased some drawers for my son. When he puts his clothes in they come out smelling like wood.
    Drives him crazy; now he won’t use them. How can I get the wood smell out?

  16. 6.3.18
    Cindy Jordan said:

    I just bought a wood headboard that had been stored in an old house. It isn’t old, but has a musty smell from sitting on the old carpet. Since I can’t put baking soda or dryer sheets “in” it, does anyone have any suggestions on how to get rid of the odor? Would wiping down with vinegar and water hurt the finish?

  17. 6.18.18
    MOLLY ANN WEATHERLY said:

    Was there somethi g called saw that people were using?

  18. 10.5.18

    I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the page layout
    of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so
    people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text
    for only having 1 or 2 images. Maybe you could space it out better?

  19. 12.11.18
    Doug Hakes said:

    I tried the dryer sheet method and all I got for my trouble was a stinky dryer sheet. Figured it would work because an antique dealer recommended it. Trying the vinegar, straight, now. I actually like the smell of vinegar.

  20. 3.23.19
    Tawana Partridge said:

    I saw the chest you did which is not a light yellow color. Can you share with me the color and the brand of the paint? I enjoy your blog. Thanks. Tawana

  21. 5.14.19
    BELINDA BOND said:

    thanks for the useful ideas. Will be trying each till I get rid of the smell out of a 1930’s vanity I bought.

  22. 7.1.19
    charlotte said:

    I have 2 lovely old wooden trunks that had the old horrible smell. I ripped out any cloth or leather from inside, washed the interior with soap and then coated the whole area with varnish. The smell disappeared and I have been storing sweaters in them for years. Smell never came back

    • 7.2.19
      Sarah said:

      oh that’s great info, thanks for sharing Charlotte!

  23. 7.11.19
    maggie said:

    Great post, thank you.

    I’ve tried everything bar the white vinegar. Won’t this replace the awful smell in my cupboard with the smell of vinegar? It’s pretty pungent stuff!

  24. 11.1.19
    Sknox said:

    I have a 45 yrbold dresser that has always been inside my house 2yrs ago I cleaned it out and since then it has developed a horrible old wood smell, even in my air conditioned, heated house. I’ve tried airing, charcoal, and cedar chips. Can’t paint it a beautifully finished mahogany, the tallboy is doing the same what else can be done

    • 6.30.21
      Candye said:

      I tried the vinegar and water tip on wood that has a musty odor. Now, I realize I only did this an hour ago, but it seems to have worked! Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part, but I so far I think I’m right. I will reapply just to make sure. Thanks for the tip. If I find it doesn’t do the job like I want, I’ll try the Murphy’s oil soap. I thank you for all your suggestions.

  25. 1.26.20
    Crystal M Force said:

    I just had an antique stained and it still smells musty. I am going to try your suggestions. I just really thought the landing and staining would take care of the smell.

  26. 1.26.20
    Crystal said:

    I just had an antique stained and it still smells musty. I am going to try your suggestions. I just really thought the sanding and staining would take care of the smell.

  27. 5.8.20
    Diane Cline said:

    May I suggest two of my go to’s?
    1. Using gloves from “eating your skin”, Full strength Hydrogen Peroxide in a spray bottle and a white cloth dipped in the solution also, then wipe down entire piece of furniture. Repeat. Make sure wood is dried, or use a fan blowing on it, or place somewhere to air dry. The goal is to kill any mold causing the smell. I have had to do my furniture about 3 times as I was moving during the time and it was hard to spread items out. Just make sure you use full strength and get every edge, corner, and cranny.

    My daughter had to treat her headboard also, making sure not to dilute the Hydrogen Peroxide and wear gloves and old clothes as it is a bleaching agent!!

    It works if done thoroughly, otherwise it will grow back.

    • 5.8.20
      Diane Cline said:

      Oh, forgot the second idea: for upholstery I buy Capture Carpet Cleaner powder. Use a brush to scrub it into the upholstery, not too stiff as you don’t want to ruin any delicate material, but also sponge it in. Let sit a short time then vacuum it off. Sometimes it take a second treatment. It works for auto upholstery, old upholstered furniture. It restores color, eliminates soil. Use the powder dry, follow the directions. Great on carpet, and rugs too!!!

      Thank you!

  28. 5.16.20
    Michael said:

    Just used the baking soda powder idea on an old curio display case with an old house musty odor. I cleaned the interior and glass shelves prior to inserting trays of baking soda. Lets see what a week or so will do!!

  29. 5.21.20
    Leeanne said:

    I just purchased an old piano and when it arrived into our home it had a very strong musty odor. Nothing was working. I did one vinegar wipe down and then followed what my mom had said worked for old dolls in her basement. She said to put a dehumidifier into the room and turn the heat because it has to be dried out. I placed a space heater near it also and kept the dehumidifier on for 3 days. The smell is now 95% gone. I’m going to put some baking soda inside on the bottom shelf and then apply primer and paint it. So glad the odor is mostly gone!

  30. 7.11.20
    Christen said:

    My husband and I inherited my grandparents dresser set and vanity, which we use constantly, but that smell, it makes our clothes stink, even though it has been used continuously since the 40s.
    These tips are awesome! Thank you for sharing these tips! Now we can keep using them. 🥰

  31. 7.23.20
    Mary E Jones said:

    Hi Sarah, I purchased a antique buffet/sideboard it’s beautiful, but it smells soooooo bad I found you blog (Thank God) I used dryer sheets in all drawers as well as bowl of baking soda carpet powder, it worked I’m in the process of changing the look in certain rooms and I love vintage and furniture that looks like history. Also I just started following your blog 7.2020 thanks a million 🙏🏾

    • 7.24.20
      Sarah said:

      oh that’s awesome, I’m so glad you were able to get rid of the smell!

      • 12.18.20
        Jami said:

        All work of the things mentioned, but one thing was left out. Persistence. Have to be willing to tackle the problem over time. Baking soda is best for most things, but 4-5 applications, be persistent. Vacuum up, do it again with fresh. Idea is you want to draw up the odor, not cover up. With wooden drawers, very light sanding comes first, vacuum away thoroughly. My problem was with a couch that had never been well -vacuumed. It didn’t have heavy use, just long term neglect of deep vacuuming, Not colorfast, I was afraid of anything wet. Repealed fresh baking soda, slow removal with good vacuum. Big improvement, but odor still not gone. Upon closer inspection, there was a corner tuck I missed seeing, it had gray dust that collected there, That did it. Be ready to do it over time, replace the material you’re using, use fresh application. Also, tent the item. Use a sheet as a cover or beach towels, Let the vinegar or carpet cleaner work by tenting the couch overnight.
        Use a dish of vinegar on the floor beneath, let it absorb slowly any bad smell the frame has absorbed. Once the persistence has worked, renew the smell. But, that’s the hardest part because nobody agrees on a pleasant smell, over time. Citrus probably best. Men’s woodsy soap smell. Women’s shampoo, coconut oil-lime. Leave it in a dish under the sofa. I use the fragrance adverts in magazines, sample cards have nice fragrance that lasts a long time tucked away,
        Also….philodendrons, have potted philodendron all around, plants absorb bad odors over time. After just a few days—feel the top layer of potted soil, it’s sticky.
        Remove a few inches and replace with fresh to reward your green helper.

  32. 8.30.20
    Cher said:

    Thank you for posting this info. I will definitely try your suggestions for an old side table, starting with the vinegar and if necessary, jumping straight to the Kilz. Neither mulitiple cleanings nor leaving potpourri in the drawer for months helped eliminate the strong mildew odor, which stank up a 6’x8′ room even with the window open!

    Also, please tell me the shade of white paint you used for the dresser. I’ve been trying to get that color for years. It’s such a classic high-end look, and I love it!

  33. 9.7.20
    Judy said:

    I purchased four Old Hickory cane chairs. They are beautiful but when we got home noticed the musty smell. I cleaned with Murphy’s oil and sprayed with vinegar and water. I have aired them outside. There is still a noticeable odor. Any suggestions?

  34. 9.23.20
    Nancy Olds said:

    Recently acquired an antique dry sink that I want to chalk paint for my DIL for their new home. Inside the cabinet stinks like a musty basement – really bad. This post is the most useful one I’ve come across. Been doing the vinegar/airing in the sun process for a few days. My next step is Murphy’s oil soap. It’s really a nice piece and I don’t want to give up on it. Think I will end up going all the way and putting a primer on the inside wood. What type of paint/colors did you use on this dresser? That’s kind of the look I’m going for.

  35. 9.27.20
    Nancy said:

    Bought a lovely chesterfield at thrift store it has a bad musty,mould smell,I dusted it with baking sofa ,,then a good vacuuming after 2hrs,next day washed with baking dada dish soap and vinegar still has a smell, not as bab sprayed twice to day with straight vinegar should I take the chesterfield back as I don’t know it it’s safe

  36. 10.15.20
    Patti Alexander said:

    Gonna try them all! My new coffee station makes my coffee cups smell yucky!! Thanks for the tips!

  37. 1.16.21

    Sooo helpful, thanks. I just pulled an OLD sewing machine out of a OLD barn and took it apart cause it fell apart but that is fine cause I only want it for the parts….very musty wood!!! I will go try your ideas and thank you!

  38. 3.15.21
    Laura said:

    This looks like my dresser with exact problem!! It’s about 70 years old …

  39. 5.21.21
    Jill said:

    I picked up a dollhouse at a garage sale. After I got home I noticed it had a smell like cat litter, or bad air freshener. I wiped it down first with a clean wet cloth, then with lysol wipes. The next day I tried febreeze. It still has this unpleasant smell. What would work. It’s an lol dollhouse, with printed walls.( like paper over thin wood like surface.)