Antique Dresser and cedar chest - mothballs! EWWWW

lil_geekDecember 2, 2007

So, we inherited an antique bedroom set and a cedar chest from DHÂs great AuntÂs estate. They are made by a local furniture company that just sold so DH insistent we keep them. They are nice enough, though not my style.

However, the aunt lived in an OLD farmhouse, had rooms that had been shut up for likely 40 yearsÂ. And the entire place stank of staleness and the furniture it appears had mothballs in them.

I have tried everything I can think of over the last 6 months to get the smells out.


*airing (open drawers and chest for most of the last 6 months!)


*febreeze (though lightly to minimize the chance of stains)

*cedar blocks

Right now we have Âvolcanic ash deodorizers from Lee Valley in the cedar chest. You think you are making progress shut the drawers and when you open are totally overcome!

Is there any trick to getting rid of this smell?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This question has been discussed many times on this forum. Most will suggest all of the options that you have tried. Kitty litter is also an option.
My opinion is ( and this is often disputed) that the odor is both in the wood and in/on the finish and the only way to truely get rid of it would be to re finish the pieces.

A last attempt option would be to lightly sand the inside of the cedar chest this will "re activate" the cedar and maybe get rid of the odor. I still think the odor will remain because I still think it's in the finish.
You could try the same thing with the insides and outsides of all the drawers. Lightly sand and then use any basic spray wax and wipe clean.
Both attempts might improve the odor, but in the long run I think they will need to be refinished.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 6:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Most cedar chests are not finished on the inside, so the theory of refinishing to remove the smell won't help.
I am still saying time and fresh air.
Do you have "stuff" in the dresser and chest? Or are they still sitting empty? My thought is perhaps something you have in there had mothballs in it. That mothball smell will disappear with time and lots of fresh air....and heat helps it disapate....and sanding the insides of the cedar chest.....and removing the sandings.
Linda C

    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 9:59AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


I had thought of sanding the inside of the chest (no, it's not finished - so hopefully this will work!)

The dressers have sat empty since we got them... so there are no moth balls left in there. The smell could be in the finish... but they don't smell (nearly as bad!) when the drawers are closed. I put 1 t-shirt in a drawer for a few weeks and the stench of it was awful when I pulled it out.

I may try a light sand in the drawers even though they aren't cedar.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 12:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I would fill the pieces with something like old towels...figuring that if they absorb some of the volatile stuff that is creating the odor, there will be less in the dressers....wash the towels and repeat. If it is the smell of camphor, that is a waxy, solvent based material....and perhaps wiping the insides with mineral spirits would remove some of the camphor oils which are making your chest smell.
Linda C

    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 12:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Cedar chests should not be finished on the inside, that would defeat the purpose of the cedar being there.

I did not suggest that it was finished, but there is no doubt that the cedar can and will retain some of that musty odor and that is why you would sand the inside.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 2:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

No suggestions on how to get rid of that rank odor, but if you want to use the furniture, I'd store items in plastic containers or bags to avoid getting them contaminated.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2007 at 5:01AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I saw an answer to this in Yankee magazine a couple of years ago. It said to put the item outside and let the sun shine on it until the odor was gone. Some logistics to allow for weather are in order here.

I have a mothbally cedar chest too. I've never felt inclined to haul it down the stairs so I plan ahead and air out or wash anything that comes from it.

Let us know what works.

What about Odo-ban? Coffee grounds in a nylon stocking?


    Bookmark   December 4, 2007 at 6:42PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The thing with the mothball smell it vilatile iols ( camphor oil) that are in the wood and they have to evaporate out or be wiped out. Heat ( as in sunshine) will help and so will just plain ole time.
I suspect that applying some heat to putting a trouble light in the drawer for a day or so would help also.
You can't really mask that smell with coffee grounds or anything else that is intended to mask have to remove the oils from the chest.
Linda C

    Bookmark   December 4, 2007 at 7:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We have had some pretty stinky furniture around here that we rescued from under years of filth in a shed. What we ended up doing-- and it WORKED!-- was to set the furniture out in the driveway in the sun for a couple of days. I opened up all the doors and drawers. I live in the midwest so it wasn't even warm out... I think it was just the fresh air and the sunlight that did it.

I don't know if this would work with cedar but it sure would be worth a try...

    Bookmark   December 4, 2007 at 11:07PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Looks like I will be bribing someone to haul everything downstairs come spring!!! Unfortunately we already have 8" of snow so it will have to wait. Thankfully it nothing smells to badly with the drawers shut.

He he, and since DH wants to keep them so badly, I will fill it anyway with all his 'work' and 'play' clothes that he never wears anyway!

    Bookmark   December 5, 2007 at 1:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am one who subscribes to the sunshine and fresh air theory ;) In the interim, I've linked to a product below that I really like. You can get it at Lowe's, for sure, and other stores (paint stores) but Lowe's is least expensive in my area. I bought a vintage (but pristine) Drexel bedroom suite and the drawers smelled of perfume (it was obnoxious). Before I ever used it I put several of these odor absorbers inside the drawers and kept them shut tight for a good month. (We got the set in winter). Come summer there was no need to air it out, after a month the smell was completely gone and dresser/armoire/night table smelled fresh and a bit citrus like, instead of old stale perfume ;)

There's Citrus Magic, but I much prefer Natural Magic.

Also, my local Ace has begun selling some very pricey odor absorbing gels ($17) I heard good things about but can't attest to and can't remember the name. Maybe your local Ace would have it? (Mine has it on a display with a video playing, so it's very prominent).

    Bookmark   December 7, 2007 at 9:59AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Exactly the problem I'm facing with an antique cedar blanket chest inherited from my parents. The mothball / camphor smell is intense. The beauty of the chest on the outside is fabulous.

I've tried:

1. Bagged absorpion materials ordered off the internet
2. Sanding the inner wood with an electric sander
3. Airing the chest, fully openned outside for six months.

...all with zero effect.

I am considering applying a marine sealant and spar varnish finish on the inside cedar wood to "trap" the odors. Does anyone have any ideas about doing this? Will it work? Will it make the problem worse?

Any thoughts?

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 3:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Charley, I have done that very thing a few times on old dresser drawers and it definitely trapped musty or other strong smells. I just used cans of water based spray-on polyurethane and it worked great. I would think marine varnish would have a very strong unlikable smell on it's own. Sad to not have the the beautiful cedar aroma but I think you can get small cedar balls to store in your chest after the smell is gone. Just a thought

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 6:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Charley if the 'bagged absorption materials' you used were the volcano rock type (I think Gonzo makes them, HDepot sell them), I didn't have as much luck with those in my perfumey drawers. I'd encourage you to try the Natural Magic method I mentioned above (put at least two of them inside the chest). You'd only be out about $10 and another month or so of your time. I've never had to seal the inside of anything (and really would be bummed if I had to seal a cedar chest, the unfinished wood & aroma is so much of the appeal), so can't vouch for how that works.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 8:06PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I know my answer is often "to refinish" the piece, but we have never had a smell stay with the piece once it's been refinished. We're talking about smells worse than mothballs. Odors from fire damage,smoke damage, musty yukky ukky smells.
Never has a customer complained that the smell was still there after we refinished the piece.
just my 2cents. :)

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 10:36PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Japanese Floral Calendar Plate Collection by Hamilton
I was given a set of 12 Japanese Chokin plates by a...
Need Help to ID Native American Jewelry Bracelet
I picked this up at local garage sale and thought it...
Japanese Vase
I just got this vase at street sale would like to know...
Three crown stamp on fork: Swedish or U.S.?
Any idea on the age or authenticity of this brass fork...
Why isn't furniture selling?
I've been trying to sell this 45" diameter vintage...
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™