Help! Antique furniture has a musty smell.

dabunchJuly 17, 2007

I've never owned antiques before. I have a couple of chairs & a hutch. They smell like they were sitting in someones smelly old basement.That musty smell really bothers me. I feel like there must be a mildewy problem when antiques smell musty.

What will get that smell out, if anything?

Will Clorox & water work?

First I want to get the smell out. Then I want to clean them & bring back the shine.

Please advise. TIA

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Chemocurl zn5b/6a Indiana

A friend of mine claims that she had a similar situation. She put it in an enclosed room, and ran a dehumidifier for a few days. She said the smell was then all gone.

I find it very hard to believe, but you might try it, if you have or can borrow a dehumidifier.

Good luck!


    Bookmark   July 17, 2007 at 5:24PM
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I've known people tp put a tray of kitty litter in each drawer and atop the piece. I don't really think this works.
In my opinion the only real way to get rid of that odor is to refinish the piece,the odor is in the finish/wood.
Cleaning the piece will not neceserly allow you to bring back the shine. Most likely the finish is hazy,cloudy etc.. and cleaning it will have zero affect on getting a shine.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2007 at 7:46PM
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Well...once again I will disagree with stocky.
A musty smell in a wood piece is easy to get rid of.....dry out the piece and finish all INTERIOR surfaces.Put a dilute coat of finish of some sort, shellac, spray-on laquer like Deft, or something....coat the insides of the drawers and the underside of the top...all unfinished wood.
The smell is not coming from the finish but from the wood. Do not wash with clorox and water...particularly don't wash the finished surfaces. You might try wiping all surfaces with mineral spirits and see if that removes the smell....and perhaps it will.
To bring back the shine, try something like min-wax Antique oil finish.
I would start with the easiest fix...put in in a room with a de humidifier going full blast and put a tray of charcoal in each drawer and behund the doors of the hutch. Give that about 5 days. If that doesn't do it, then try the wiping inside and out with mineral spirits....and as a last resort, put some sort of finish on the inside.
I am NOT in the business of refinishing furniture but rather a long time collector/buyer and look for the least expensive/invasive fix.
Linda C

    Bookmark   July 17, 2007 at 8:27PM
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lindac are you directing your last line at me ? YES I refinish furniture, lots of it. Do you think my motive here is top get customers ? Give me a break ! I haven't been in business for 30 plus years by trolling the internet for customers.
If you seal /finish the drawers you will have two problems.
First is that you will likely not be putting enough sealer on the drawers to prevent the musty odor from coming thru.Why would you want to seal the musty odor into the piece ? Would it work , not for long . Initially you would just be smelling the shelac or lacquer you just sprayed in the drawers.
Second is, that spraying to much of any sort of finish on an interior surface like a drawer is not a good thing. The drawer,because it's closed never really has a chance for the finish to breath and disapate. If your putting clothing in these drawers, your clothes will smell from the finish.
We spray two light coats of sealer on all interior surfaces so it's dirt and dust free.We then rub and wax that surface like it was an exterior surface.It's now clean,dirt and dust free as well as smooth to the touch.
As for a shine on an old finish, use any "snake oil " product you want. You are still putting it on top of an old oxidized finish. It's like painting a Saturn with Porsche Red , it's still a Saturn underneath.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2007 at 12:41PM
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Maybe I should mind my own business, but how about putting a handful of coffee beans in each drawer?

As for the chair, how about Nature's Miracle? I know it's used for pet odors on carpeting, and they have a dry formula also, so take your pick. Just a thought. ;o)

    Bookmark   July 21, 2007 at 6:59PM
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I thought this looked familiar, I remember it now from Home Dec. Up since 4 a.m. and too tired right now to retype my response from over there, so I'll just link to that post here ;)

I wouldn't seal the inner drawers/interior myself. As stocky says that would just be sealing in the smell. It also alters the original state of the piece. Interior wood was meant to breathe, so I just leave it nekkid ;) The Natural Magic gel I suggested in the Home Dec thread on this topic really does do the trick in my experiences. Good old fashioned fresh air does wonders, too ;) Avoid days of rain forecast, high humidity or hot beating sun. "Crisp" days are best for airing out. I often set pieces like this in the garage for a week or so when I first get them home, open the windows and overhead door if I know I'll be home all day. Not feasible to move a hutch around like that, but you could still do it with the chairs. If the fabric is in bad shape, you could consider having the seats redone. If adventurous, you could do it yourself, but read up a lot first on how-to. Definitely try the dehumidifier, too. Wouldn't recommend long term exposure in a closed-in room with that, it might dry out the wood too much and you could get creaks 'n moans where there were none before.

Nor would I strip/refinish, unless the finish is in bad shape. If it's presentable, I'd leave it alone. Once you get the smell out, I'd recommend a coat of a quality paste wax to revive the shine. Here's a really good article from the Henry Ford Museum on care/cleaning antique wood. I was watching antiques roadshow the other night and they were showing examples of what not to do with antique finishes. They said never use oils to polish/shine, it will oxidize over time, and if there are any little nicks or scratches in the finish the oil absorbs into it and over time they will become quite dark and pronounced from the oxidation process. I just searched and found the related article. They recommended a once a year or so paste wax. I like Trewax paste wax and am curious to try the Renaissance Wax mentioned in the museum article (some not-too-shabby museums use it), although it appears that has to be specially ordered.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2007 at 8:27AM
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To Stocky or anyone else knowledgeable: The musty smell I have is in my grandfather clock that I bought in 1991, so it isn't that old. However, it was wrapped and placed in a storage unit that was not climate controlled for 9 years (initally I only expected it to be there for 3 months, long story). Aesthetically it looks perfect, no warpage, etc. But the inside has a old smell. Would I want to sand it down and refinish it? It is a Howard Miller clock and it has a cherry finish, I think the wood could be maple or ash. Not sure. Howard Miller had no advice. Would bleach and water be safe to use on a finished interior?

    Bookmark   June 20, 2008 at 9:42AM
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stuff every cavity with squished up newspaper, and leave it for a few works perfectly for me!

    Bookmark   June 20, 2008 at 1:19PM
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We often run into this problem with the old sewing machine I collect. Some favorite solutions: a day in the sun, baking soda or activated charcoal in a small dish, Dial soap--place an open bar in each drawer. In extreme cases, wipe down with bleach solution--especially if you can see active mildew growth.


    Bookmark   June 24, 2008 at 10:05AM
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I'm so confused! Shelac, don't shelac, use bleach, don't use bleach, use magic elixir, coffee beans, kitty litter, mineral spirits, all the above, Argh! I bought an art-deco chest of drawers that needs to be rid of that "old smell". From reading the posts, I'm inclined to use the diluted bleach solution. One of the drawers has warped and cracked veneer on the bottom that I think I'll just take out. (Why did they put veneer on the drawer bottom?) I also noticed some of the slats dividing the drawers are missing. I'm assuming they must have become warped and cracked also. They aren't a big deal. The warped veneer in the drawer I was speaking of didn't show too well in the pic, but I don't have any doubt that it just needs to be removed. Should I have it replaced or just leave the bare bottom? Should I put shelf paper in it? I can't put the piece outside to air out, I live in Seattle, there is no sunshine to speak of. For now the drawers are in the living room of my apt and the chest in my room where it's intended to be.
Here's a link to some pics:

Slideshow of dresser

    Bookmark   March 31, 2009 at 12:34AM
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That link to the pics didn't work, try these:

    Bookmark   March 31, 2009 at 12:46AM
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Hmmm, just noticed how OLD and MUSTY the posts in this thread are. I guess I'll get advice where there's more recent traffic.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2009 at 4:13PM
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If you dry everything really well.....things like taking all the drawers out and putting a lamp inside the case and leave the lamp lit for several days....putting the drawers out in the hot sun etc. The veneer in the drawers may shrink bacik to size. dredged up an old post and added to it with your own issues. You would have been better to start another thread with your own dresser pictured....
People thought it was just more take on the original post dating from July of 07.
Things move pretty fast here....if you start a new thread and don't tag on to an old one.
Linda C

    Bookmark   March 31, 2009 at 6:42PM
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brinybay, I'd be happy to give ya my thoughts on how to handle your piece off line.
If you like please contact me at

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 6:18PM
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I'm going to push Natural Magic or Citrus Magic again. Usually at paint counters or cleaning supplies of hardware stores. Ace, Lowes, and some paint dealers near me. There's also a newer brand, Clean Air, I've picked up at Lowe's. I lean toward the Natural Magic only because it's $1 cheaper for the same size container. Any of them work well, the stuff is amazing. There's also Gonzo volcano chips (Home Depot). Gonzo works, but the magic absorbers seem to work much faster. I see the post I linked to is gone. I bought a vintage Drexel Heritage bedroom suite, solid cherry, pristine but one center dresser drawer had perfume smell (strong, like some spilled). It carried into other drawers. No way could I use it, all our clothes would smell like that old perfume. So I cleaned with bleach water, no luck. Put a couple Natural Magic containers in the dresser, kept the drawers cracked about 2" (for air flow, the 'magic' absorbers need some air flow). Rotated them around inside different drawers for about 3 weeks, and smell was gone.

I use them everywhere, from rentals between tenants, my closets, cars, pet areas, etc. Worth every penny!

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 8:20AM
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It was brown wood finish, I primed it painted it three coats of paint, lit scented candles inside brushed it with ammonia, sprayed it with lysol, yet the smell is lingering around.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2011 at 10:43PM
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