How to Get Smell out of Old Furniture

Before you complete your next furniture makeover, would you like to know how to get smell out of old furniture? 

Like many of our blogger friends and readers of Birdz of a Feather, we love a good furniture makeover! Chances are if you are an upcycler or just love to make over wood furniture, you’re going to run into instances where your nose is telling you to turn the other way! Your first reaction may be ‘no thanks’. But don’t run away just yet.

When you stumble upon a freebie or curb side special, like the one below, it’s likely there because it hasn’t exactly been loved and stored well. However, we’ve got some practical solutions to eliminate musty and moldy odours deep in wood furniture!

Curbside find are prime candidates for how to get smell out of old furniture

Do It Over Designers

Today we’re taking part in the Do It Over Designers blog Hop hosted by Ann at The Apple Street Cottage.

We’re a group of bloggers who take something old and/or unused and ‘do it over’ into something new. These items can be found in closets, barns, garages, yard sales, thrift stores, you name it! Don’t forget to check out the other projects at the bottom of this post. And be sure to drop back in throughout the week to visit them all!

Before we get into the tutorial, don’t forget to get your craft mojo on at Birdz of a Feather and subscribe! You can also follow us on Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

What is that Smell?

First of all, let’s discuss the likely suspects for what could be could be causing the odour in the first place. Mold and mildew have a damp, musty, earthy, pungent smell. Unless you suffer from loss of smell, you just know it when you get a whiff of it!

What’s the Difference Between Mold and Mildew?

Both mold and mildew are types of fungi that favour dark, moist, warm environments to grow. Mildew is a surface fungi that grows flat. It can be seen as a patch of white or grey fungus lying on the surface of the wood.

On the other hand, mold can be black or green and has a fuzzy raised texture. Mold emits gasses known as microbial volatile organic compounds. As a result, what you smell is the release of these chemical compounds as the mold grows. Exposure to these compounds can result in health issues with common symptoms being headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and nasal irritation. Mold prevention is key to keeping your home safe. So the bottom line is you don’t want to introduce it into your home in the first place!

How to Get Smell out of Old Furniture

To start, we like to remove metal hardware so we can reach all the nooks and crannies of the wood furniture. Spores can seep underneath hinges and drawer pulls and you want to be able to reach everything.

hand removing metal pieces from sewing table for how to get smell out of old furniture

Also remove the drawers so you can reach the raw wood inside the drawers too. Here you can see what appears to be white mildew on the drawer face.

Drawer face showing white mildew for how to get smell out of old furniture

If you have a HEPA vacuum, you can vacuum up all visible dust. The HEPA filter will capture any mold spores on the wood.

How to Remove Mold From Wood

We’ve got three surefire steps to eliminating odour from furniture.

1. Leave Furniture in the Sunshine

Fresh air and sunshine should always be your first line of defence. Sunlight kills mold, so leave your furniture outdoors on a dry sunny day.

Hubs has been teaching himself how to restore vintage sewing machines since the pandemic started. Along with the free sewing machines he finds come a myriad of tables. Below is an MCM inspired table he got for free.

We leave it out in the sunshine all day (or until the shadows swallow up our sunshine)! But we don’t just leave the pieces in one position.

Leaving furniture pieces in the sun is step one on how to get smell out of old furniture

As you can see, we rotate the furniture so the sun can reach all sides of the piece. Yes, this does take time. But again, you don’t want to bring mold into your home environment.  So we think it’s worth taking the extra time to do this step.

sewing table on its side in the sun to neutralize mold

2. Clean Mold Off Furniture

If you think we’re going to tell you to use vinegar or bleach, you’d be wrong. Bleach, while great for killing mold on non-porous surfaces, is not effective on wood. That’s because chlorine in bleach can’t penetrate wood, so only the water portion of the bleach gets absorbed.

Water and wood, especially when dealing with veneer furniture, are best avoided. The veneer on many of these old pieces are glued down with hide glue which can soften and reactivate with water, releasing the veneer.

The best way to kill mold on furniture is to use Benefect Botanical Decon 30. Decon 30 is a professional grade disinfectant cleaner with no hazardous chemicals. It’s actually made naturally from plant extracts; the active ingredient is Thymol which is found in oil of thyme.

Hands holding a bottle of Benefect Decon 30 which is used in how to get smell out of old furniture

How to Get Smell out of Old Furniture Video

Watch this video to see us explain how remove the odour from the old sewing table.

The Benefits 0f Benefect Decon 30

Decon 30 not only kills 99.9% of germs, but it kills mold and bacterial:

  • Made from plant extracts
  • Pleasant smell (smells like Thyme)
  • No synthetic fragrances, dyes or bleach, cautions/warnings on the label or MSDS sheets
  • No mixing, rinsing or wiping required

More about Benefect and Benefect Decon 30.

While we’re showing you how to use Benefect 30 to remove mold from wood furniture, it also works as mold prevention after a water leak. Although we didn’t use Decon 30 when our basement flooded that first time, we did when our basement flooded again. You may remember reading how we lost our engineered wood floor in this post about our loose lay vinyl plank flooring installation.

I wish I knew about Benefect 30 when I was restoring my first house –  a post war bungalow. I would have used it on every surface in the basement, my wood window frames, the baseboard and deck. The list goes on. Benefect Decon 30 is definitely something to keep in your cleaning arsenal.

Before Cleaning Moldy Furniture

It’s generally a good idea to know what finish is on the old piece first, especially if it’s wood.

Old sewing tables are typically sealed with Shellac. To test out what we’re dealing with, you can use some shellac thinner or ethyl alcohol.

Rub it on an inconspicuous area and if the finish dissolves, it’s shellac. Do this outside and wear a mask and gloves when handling any chemicals of this nature.

As it turns out, this MCM sewing table has a shellac finish.

How to Clean Moldy Furniture

As a natural product, Decon 30 is not dangerous to use. However, mold and its spores can be dangerous so wear protective gear like a mask, gloves and googles when working with old moldy furniture.

There’s no need to dilute Decon 30, but we do put it into a spray bottle for ease of cleaning.

Fill a spray bottle with Decon 30 for how to get smell out of old furniture

Be sure to label the bottle so you know what it is after storing it!

These old sewing tables are almost always made with wood veneer. Old hide glue and moisture do not play well in the sandbox. So proceed with caution; we suggest spraying the rag first and wiping the wood surfaces. With Decon 30, there’s no need to rinse.

Spray Decon 30 onto a cloth before wiping down wood furniture for how to get smell out of old furniture

Musty Smell in Drawers

Raw, solid wood, like you find in drawers, is a different story. Since it’s not sealed,  spores, and therefore a musty smell, can penetrate the wood. In this case, we spray on the Decon 30 and wipe it everywhere – inside and out. Don’t forget the underneath of your furniture piece too!

3. Seal with Shellac Based Primer

If we were painting this piece, we would seal it first with Zinsser B-I-N Primer. B-I-N is a shellac-base primer that not only prevents bleed through on furniture, like mahogany, but seals in odours too. Zinsser also makes a clear B-I-N primer, which I would love to use to preserve the natural wood on this piece. However, we haven’t been able to find clear B-I-N locally.

You can’t go wrong with B-I-N as a stain AND odour blocker under paint! We learned that the hard way when we initially sprayed our drink station – another sewing table makeover. We had to re-paint the top after getting bleed through.

Below we’re conducting a scratch test with a variety of primers and paint; we’ll have a post for you soon on the results of that. But I can tell you that B-I-N outperforms all other primers in our test for durability and stain blocking.

How to Get Smell out of Old Furniture – Before and After

Although we’re not ready to make over this MCM-style sewing table, we DO have many creative sewing machine table upcyles to inspire if you’re wondering what to do with those!

In the meantime, here’s a reminder of the waterfall dresser we found by the curb and cleaned in the same manner:

And now, the after! Can you even believe this is the same piece of furniture?

You can read all about our roadside rescue waterfall dresser here.

How to Get Smell Out of Furniture FAQs

Can moldy furniture be saved?

Yes, it sure can. Using a combination of sunlight, Benefect Decon 30 and Zinsser B.I.N. primer (in white or clear), you can eliminate both mold and the musty odour of old furniture.

What is the best mold remover for wood?

Benefect Decon 30 is an all natural disinfectant fungicidal that kills over 99.9% of germs. We have successfully used it to eliminate musty odours from old wood furniture.

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Pinnable image for How to Get Smell out of Old Furniture

Do It Over Designers

Don’t forget to visit these other talented bloggers for more upcycled do-it-over transformations!

20 thoughts on “How to Get Smell out of Old Furniture

  1. SO informative, Sara!! Great post. I often find pieces that smell and usually sunshine does the trick. Although I usually pass on moldy pieces…but now that I know there’s a remedy, I may not!

    • Thanks Kim! Those moldy pieces seem to find us somehow and I do hate to see things go to landfill!

    • Thanks Patti! It really isn’t too time consuming; much less time than cleaning the kitchen and more rewarding in the end lol.

  2. I’ve never heard of Decon 30 but I definitely need to check it out. I’ve always used the sun and vinegar. Thanks for the information, Sara!

    • The sun is great and that’s the first thing we try, but it can’t penetrate all the nooks and crannies on the more challenging pieces like this one 🙂

  3. Mold is so dangerous. I rented a home that was full of the stuff so I’m extra careful. It seems a shame to toss old furniture. These are really great tips for restoring wood when you find a special piece!

    • It really is dangerous and we’re so careful too; especially after the water damage we’ve had!

  4. Your post is quite enlightening, and a great guide in removing mold from furniture, Sara! It seems like it can be an all too common issue with thrift finds that I wasn’t aware of. Thanks for sharing!

    • It’s always good to clean and disinfect a piece even if it doesn’t smell. It can still have mold spores on it that haven’t grown yet and all it needs are the right conditions to get going! That’s why we always have a dehumidifier running in the summer 🙂

  5. I have never heard of Decon 30 and it has now been added to shopping list. Knowing you are also Canadian, I know it’ll be readily available. We are planning some basement renos this winter and I have a feeling we’ll be using this product. Thanks for the info, Sara!

    • You’re welcome and good luck with your basement renos!

  6. I’ve never heard of that stuff either but I’ll have to see if I can find some! Your dresser turned out so great!

    • Thanks so much Tania! Can’t wait to finish the sewing table too.

  7. Thank you so much Sara for sharing all your great tips. I think we all have this issue with furniture from time to time. We don’t have Benefect Decon 30 here but I will be looking into a local equivalent. Really Great post.

    • Thanks Anita! Hope you can find something similar 🙂

  8. This was very informative. I have only refinished an old little cabinet with drawers that I use as a night stand. The drawers always smelled like some old powder that women used to use. It no longer smells since I refinished it. I have a few old dressers with the mirrors on top and the old wooden wheels on the bottom. I have looked up online trying to find out what people use on the natural wood on the inside of the drawers to give the old dry wood some of it’s luster back. They are very dry and some of the wood is starting to split or crack from being dry. I did use some wax but that didn’t help a lot. I don’t want to varnish the inside and not sure about an oil since clothes are put in the drawers. Any suggestions to get some moisture back in the old wood before they really split? Thank you

    • Hi Ramona – great question! We just received a product to try out called Big Mamas Butta; it adds moisture back into old wood and can also be used to make wooden drawer runners glide without sticking. We haven’t had a chance to try it out yet so I can follow up with you once we do. You make a good point about the clothes though – I’m not really sure about putting it on the INSIDE bottom of the drawers where clothes will be in contact (we generally varnish with a water based clear coat inside the drawers). I’ll look into it further and let you know if it would be appropriate to use over natural wood on the inside of drawers 🙂

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