Get rid of the smell from these cabinets?


I moved into an apartment and there is some kind of odor coming from the top cabinets. It is unbearable when they are opened, but still discernible when they are closed if you smell them.

It smells kind of like sour cream or cooking flour in the worst way. It is hard to describe, I have never smelled anything like it before, but it doesn’t smell like mold or must.

The bottom cabinets do not smell.

I noticed the top cabinets seem to have yellowed both inside and outside as well, but the bottom ones have not.

I have tried everything I can think of to get the smell out, including; Clorox wipes, bowls of vinegar, a vinegar/ baking soda paste, boxes of baking soda, bags of activated charchol, leaving the cabinets open for a weekend with the windows open, and even hired a professional cleaner who washed them with bleach and filled them with boxes of baking soda.

I cannot put my dishes or food in them because the smell disgusts me. I can’t even go in the kitchen / living room area without becoming nauseous. My landlord does not care. She says they are fine.

I can’t live with this smell. I’m trying to figure out the possible cause to get to the bottom of it. If anyone can help, I would appreciate it so much!

q get rid of the smell from these cabinets

This is the inside of one of the cabinets. I know the discoloration is not dramatic, but the bottom cabinets (which do not smell) are not discolored at all.

q get rid of the smell from these cabinets

Here are 4 of the 12 top stinky cabinets. Notice the top cabinets are discolored, but the bottom ones are not. It is this way across the entire kitchen, even over the top of the fridge. I do not think the smell / discoloration is from cooking.

  21 answers
  • Judy in Canton. Judy in Canton. on Jun 28, 2021

    That is strange. Because it affected so many of the top cabinets inside and out I would rule out that there is a dead animal in the walls. Seeing that they are also discolored it may be in the finish or material that makes up the cabinets. Ask landlord if they will allow you to repaint them (inside and out) with a product like Kilz or other odor stopping product.

    • See 1 previous
    • Marion Nesbitt Marion Nesbitt on Jul 09, 2021

      Get the landlords to come in and smell for themselves. You could also threaten to contact your local Tenants & Landlords or a health agency. Who knows what is causing this toxic odour and preventing you from using the cabinets that you pay rent for.

  • GrandmasHouseDIY GrandmasHouseDIY on Jun 28, 2021

    I agree with the KIlz idea from the first answer. Kilz is the toughest paint primer I know of. I would go looking for order blocking and stain blocking primer that is also oil based and then also paint white oil based paint over that.

  • Lindsay Aratari Lindsay Aratari on Jun 28, 2021

    Agreed with the kilz!

  • Dee Dee on Jun 28, 2021

    There is a product called odoban that you can get in Home Depot, Costco, Lowes etc. It should help. If not you will have to at least prime and paint the inside.

    • See 1 previous
    • Dee Dee on Jun 30, 2021

      The odor will dissipate if you keep the cabinets open for several hours

  • Libbie B Libbie B on Jun 28, 2021

    We have rental units, and I am sorry your landlord isn't helping. The Kilz should work even if it takes a couple of applications. Good Luck!

  • Jean Jean on Jun 28, 2021

    This is not a professional technique, but you might want to try coffee grounds to see if that helps absorb the odor. Not in a coffee can, but in cheesecloth or netting so you can spread it flat.

    You might also want to try an enzyme killing spray, the stuff that is used to erase the scent of cat/dog accidents. If there has been any animals (including mice) in there, it might kill the odor.

    Good luck!

    • Karen Karen on Jun 30, 2021

      A couple of my guy friends in college relied heavily on the coffee beans to keep their dorm rooms fresh haha, so I know this works, but I don't want all my food to taste like coffee. I'll look into the enzyme stuff, I use an enzyme detergent for my workout gear that is pretty effective. Thanks!

  • Mogie Mogie on Jun 28, 2021

    Call the apartment complex and explain this to them.

    • Karen Karen on Jun 30, 2021

      I have unfortunately had many conversations with them about this. Initially the manager came to the unit and said she couldn't see any discoloration but she could vaguely smell something in one of the cabinets. Later in an email she said there was no smell whatsoever and I must have misunderstood what she meant. They now do not respond to my emails.

  • Vimarhonor Vimarhonor on Jun 28, 2021

    Hello. I have seen a blogger recommended vodka.

    This resource Stinky Dresser Makeover | Confessions of a Serial Do-it-Yourselfer link has the answer.

  • Sharon Sharon on Jun 28, 2021

    I would get Room Shocker, its used by contractors for disgusting odors. You can find it at home stores like Home Depot or order online from Amazon.

  • Catherine Deirdre Rodden Catherine Deirdre Rodden on Jun 29, 2021

    Am I the only person wondering if the duct work above the cabinets may be a cause? Get a ladder and pop open that vent. Look and see if that can get vacuumed out or wiped as far as you can reach in either direction. If that makes a difference, you need to convince the landlord to have duct work professionally cleaned in entirety.

    • Karen Karen on Jun 30, 2021

      That's a really smart idea! The duct is right there...The company that owns the building is denying that there is any discoloration or smell, so I'm going to have the city come inspect and that will be the first place I send them!

  • Cheryl A Cheryl A on Jun 29, 2021

    here are a couple of things to try,in%20the%20smelly%20cabinet%20overnight.

    you could put a small plate or bowl in the cabinets with one drop of vanilla extract on a paper towel that has been rolled up in a ball close doors and let it sit for awhile and the smell should go away

  • William William on Jun 29, 2021

    This is a tough call. I am going to assume the cabinets were not made at the same time as the lowers and possibly different adhesives were used to adhere the laminate to the substrate. They also they may be different substrate between the uppers and lowers. It's possible the adhesive has reacted with the substrate causing the odor and a form of bleed thru to the laminate surface. It seems you have tried everything possible. All else fails my solution would be to seal the odor in the cabinets with Bullseye Sealcoat.

    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.

    • Karen Karen on Jun 30, 2021

      I'm pretty sure they were put in at the same time since the building was big development that happened in 2015 and there was only one tenant who lived here before me. One set could be defective though? They won't give me any information on what brand they are but the cabinets in the bathroom have a "veneto cucina" steel logo slapped on the side of the drawers. Very tacky.

      My dad also suggested shellac, my only concern is getting my $5,000 security deposit back. Will it be noticeable if I shellac them?

  • I agree with William, it seems to be something with the cabinets themselves.I was originally going to recommend coffee grinds, but it seems more structural. That discoloration is key. Since it's a rental, I'm not sure the Kilz is going to work, you'd have to be able to paint the cabinets. Is that an option?

    • Karen Karen on Jun 30, 2021

      No, it's a "luxury" complex and they consider their cabinets to be very high end, so they won't let me paint them. :(

  • Karen Karen on Jun 30, 2021

    I have a bit of an update for everyone. I ordered a product off Amazon called ZorbX. I sprayed some in one cabinets and it instantly turned one spot red (see attached photo). I can't seem to find anything about this product turning things red, but I know bleach can sometimes turn mold a reddish brown, so I'm wondering if this reaction could mean there is mold in the cabinets?

  • Karen Karen on Jun 30, 2021

    I decided to take a closer look for potential mold before spraying anymore ZorbX. Here are a few photos of what I found. Nothing is a smoking gun, but I would love to hear your opinions.

    1. Signs of moisture collection on the ceiling around the top of the cabinet. Signs of water damage on the cabinet top board.
    2. Another top cabinet with some odd yellow stuff and separation between the cabinet and the ceiling.
    3. Yellowish substance that also appeared in the bathroom drawers. Whatever this is, it does not come off. I tried soaking in Goo Gone.
    4. This looks like it could be a potential mold spot? What's interesting is that it doesn't appear to the naked eye. It only shows up in pictures. I took many pictures of it to make sure I wasn't crazy.
    5. The cabinets above the refrigerator feel "sealed," like something is festering in there. There are distinct markings where the cabinet doors touch the wall.

    Thank you again for all the advice and support!

  • William William on Jun 30, 2021

    I still don't think it's mold. Some contact adhesives are yellow in color. Used to glue laminate to a substrate. If there was any water damage I will assume somebody tried to reglue the separated laminate back to the substrate at one time. That could be what caused the discoloration. There may be hidden mold somewhere that is causing the odor. Chemicals in ZorbX could have reacted with the adhesive used. The yellow substance could be remnants of adhesive. Have you tried if it scrapes off with a razor blade?! if the cabinet doors over the fridge are sticking that could be a reaction of adhesive and laminate or adhesive was not fully cleaned off the surface. Bullseye Sealcoat dries clear. You may try a small area first. OH, "veneto cucina" is Venetian Cuisine. Very tacky. Good luck. Continue to complain to your landlord. Ask questions.

  • Kathy Gunter Law Kathy Gunter Law on Jun 30, 2021

    Odoban wiped all over should clean disinfect and remove odor.

  • Scott Scott on Jul 01, 2021

    Spray With Odo-Ban from Homedepot Paint with KILZ

  • It could be that some kind of moisture or smelly substance got into the cabinet substrate itself, leaked in and under the laminate which would then be impossible to remove. You could try leaving bowls of vinegar in there, see if that helps but it sounds like it’s in the cabinet material itself based on everything you’ve already tried. Or leave odor eater/eliminators in there. Your landlord’s lack of response is very very concerning. Can you break your lease or sublet and move elsewhere?

  • Kmdreamer Kmdreamer on Jul 01, 2021

    Ask your landlord if you could paint the inside that will seal the smell and give a fresh new surface

  • Betsy Betsy on Jul 10, 2021

    Hi Karen: Yikes! I would tell your landlord that you want a new cabinet installed. If not, then maybe you can get some of the other tenants, whom you are friendly with, to verify your problem, start a claim in the Landlord/Tenant court and take these folks with you or get a notarized affidavit from them. If it's a high end complex, they will not want the negative exposure. Take better pictures, these really don't show the yellow, and also take them and the ones with the red spots you got with you to court. If you corresponded by text, keep them in your phone to take to court, too. Ask around to see if any other tenants are having a similar problem.

    Good luck