Furniture still smells after stripping/sanding

by Lynn

Ive posted earlier about my refinishing an old china cabinet, and still having issues. I don't know if it was a stain or old varnish (it was a dark color on lighter wood, probably dates back to the 30's. 40s?), so not sure what I was dealing with to start with. But so far I've used many coats of citristrip (left one on overnight, wrapped in plastic, but that time it seemed like it really dried onto the wood), then upon advice here, after scrapping as much as I could, I then moved on to paint thinner to try to remove the leftover stain that seemed to just smear around. That took several attempts then finally got to the sanding stage. I sanded several times, changing the coarseness of paper. Had to move the piece back inside due to rain and I can STILL smell it! Not sure if it's a chemical reaction with the old varnish/stain that is somehow remaining, or a mixture of the old stain/ old wood smell/citristrip and paint thinner! I haven't had a chance to do a final wet wipe after sanding (just vacuumed up the dust before bringing inside). Is there anything I can use to wipe on the finished pieces that might help clear up this lingering smell?? I don't plan to stain, just put some sort of clear finish (suggestions for low odor finish is appreciated as well!). Thanks for any input you might have!

  13 answers
  • on Oct 24, 2021

    Your clear coat may help contain the smell. I like water based polyurethane the best.

    Have you tried putting it outside in the sun? A bright sunny day or two might help cook out that smell - there's something special about sunshine. :)

  • Cheryl A Cheryl A on Oct 24, 2021

    call the mfg of the stain or whatever you used and ask them how to get rid of the smell since they sell this product- if you can air it out in garage or some place and put charcoal pieces in it or rolled up newspaper it could help too

    • Lynn Lynn on Oct 24, 2021

      I haven't stained or clear coated it. The smell is coming from all the stuff I've done to it up to this point mixing with the old varnish stuff I removed.

  • Try putting it out in the sun or put coffee grounds inside. Another idea is to spray with hydrogen peroxide.

  • William William on Oct 24, 2021

    It could be a chemical reaction that just absorbed into the wood. or it could be just the age of the wood. A lot of people here ask about getting odor out of wood furniture they are refinishing. Lots of great advice has been provided and some may have worked. But my solution is if everything fails and the odor remains you can seal it in the wood.

    How to Eliminate Odors in Wood

    Your best hope for sealing in any odors is shellac. It makes an excellent barrier coat over all wood species, and it sticks to almost anything. Zinsser makes a great product for this purpose, called Bullseye SealCoat. It’s a clear dewaxed shellac that you can apply to those drawer interiors easily with a brush. It dries quickly and should help to diminish mice, mildew, musty, smoke, urine smell. And since it doesn’t contain wax, you can apply other finishes like lacquer or varnish over it — they’ll stick just fine. SealCoat is also handy to have around the shop as a general purpose wood finish and sanding sealer. So, I’m sure you’ll find other uses for what’s left of the quart you buy.

    • Lynn Lynn on Oct 25, 2021

      I find I get confused with the various refinishing products, as to what's what! So this product pictured above is a shellac? Since this is a china cabinet/secretary (not sure official name), it's not like it'll get heavy usage such as a table, can this be the only thing I use? I don't plan to stain it so just want something to seal and protect. Will this Bulls Eye do the trick or do I still need something else? And how smelly is this, lol?!

  • Kmdreamer Kmdreamer on Oct 24, 2021

    Once you put on your clear sealer the smell should go away

  • Redcatcec Redcatcec on Oct 24, 2021

    Whatever the smell is, you can seal it in and smell it no more, shellac will do the job.

  • Kathy Gunter Law Kathy Gunter Law on Oct 25, 2021

    Clean it with TSP or OdoBan.

    As for a low odor finish, you can get paint that has virtually no odor (low VOC). Sherwin Williams has a paint with air purifying technology that might be your best bet.

    • Lynn Lynn on Oct 25, 2021

      I plan to keep it as a natural finish (especially after all the work to get it this way, lol!). But now I understand the appeal to painting furniture! Way easier to paint that to go through the hassle!!

  • William William on Oct 25, 2021

    All sealers have some odor. Bulls Eye sealcoat is a combination of alcohol and shellac. A lot of sealers just seal the surface and are not absorbed into the wood. Such as polyurethanes. Bulls Eye absorbs into the wood and seals it.

    • Lynn Lynn on Oct 25, 2021

      Would this also provide a finishing coat as well then? I want an odor sealer/finishing product all in one!

  • William William on Oct 25, 2021

    Yes it also provides a finish coat. it will enhance the woodgrain.

  • Kmdreamer Kmdreamer on Oct 25, 2021

    If you leave it out in the cold for about a month the cold will kill the smell

  • If it's the stripper and other things you've used to remove the old finishes that still stinks, they'll eventually dissipate. It'll take a bit and it's best to keep the item in a well-ventilated area to help speed that up, but that's the nature of using chemicals. You just have to wait it out.

  • Mogie Mogie on Nov 13, 2022

    Contact the company that made the stripper they should be able to help and have probably heard this before. Good luck!