Asked on Oct 31, 2015

Remove odor from antique dresser drawers

Denise Hosner
by Denise Hosner
My dressers are 65 year old mahogany. My clothes all smell like old musty wood. There is no water damage or mildew, just old age. I have tried odor neutrilizers, newspaper balls, scented liners, sachets, perfume samples, etc. Nothing works! Help!
  71 answers
  • Kim Arrington Ashby Kim Arrington Ashby on Nov 01, 2015
    I had the same problem and successfully used incense. (Not the tall stick but the small cone shaped kind) I burned it inside the armoire, inside the drawers, closing them, and underneath it. I left it closed for 24 hours. If you burn it on a saucer, it is perfectly safe. Be sure to choose a scent you like. It dissipates, but you can smell it at first.
  • Phyllis W Phyllis W on Nov 01, 2015
    I have that problem and it was suggested I use plain old charcoal. Not the kind with match light properties.
    • See 1 previous
    • Marion Nesbitt Marion Nesbitt on Nov 01, 2015
      @Denise Hosner Was told it has to be the charcoal that you get at places where they sell fish aquariums.
  • Kerry Davis Kerry Davis on Nov 01, 2015
    Coffee grinding works :)
  • Kelly French Johnson Kelly French Johnson on Nov 01, 2015
    Oil of wintergreen works great on any odor. Just dab a bit on a cotton ball and place it inside the drawer. (I learned this trick years ago as my grandparents owned a small bar in the days when EVERYONE was a smoker. Bar owners would place these cotton balls around the bar area and there was never a smoke smell lingering in the bars) Just be careful as this is a very strong smelling mint and a little bit goes a long way!
    • Guy Brunetti Guy Brunetti on Apr 01, 2020


      I just bought some wintergreen oil (food grade) if I put one drop on a cotton ball close the draw there are six drawers is that ok? And what about breathing that in overnight? Any feedback would be great @

      Thanks and be safe!


  • Anne Anne on Nov 01, 2015
    You may need to take drawers outside, rub down with odorless free bleach on a clean cloth rag to kill the smell. Leave out in sun to dry. Then finish with a transparent spray - suggested sealer for wood
  • Barbara Lowell Barbara Lowell on Nov 01, 2015
    so many great ideas ... the wintergreen seems the easiest but make sure you get food grade in the health food store .... lots of essential oils manufactured by big corporations are very volatile and you don't want to breathe in any more contaminants, we already do that nicely! I have used incense for this and it helped a lot but did not take away the strange smell in my consignment shop cabinet, so i just use it for cleaning supplies. I have also used chai spiced soap very successfully, the genuine hand made intense smelling kind.
  • Polly2025 Polly2025 on Nov 01, 2015
    Home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot sell cedar in little blocks. It will make your clothes smell like you have a cedar closet. The cedar will act as a natural deoderizer, and make your clothes smell cedar fresh.
  • Your piece is beautiful - it's a shame that you're having this problem. Very often a rub down with bleach helps. But I also find that in tough situations, painting the inside of the drawers will really help. My suggestion is to try the bleach/sun method first and then if that doesn't work, paint it.
  • Reallyreads Reallyreads on Nov 01, 2015
    My antique dresser had the same problem when I got it 30 years ago. It was made in the late 1890's. I used all natural baking soda. I first very lightly wiped with a white vinegar dampened cloth and let the sun shine on the drawers. Then I sprinkled with baking soda making sure to rub lightly in the corners. I let it set in my bedroom for several days. I swept the soda out with my vacuum. It's been fine ever since!
  • Lisa Haines Lisa Haines on Nov 01, 2015
    Kitty litter removes smells. Put some in a bowl and put in the drawers for awhile.
  • Carol Carol on Nov 01, 2015
    Don't know
  • Janet Pizaro Janet Pizaro on Nov 01, 2015
    Try activated charchol from the pet stores.The baking soda and white vinegar usually does the trick as well.
  • John Biermacher John Biermacher on Nov 01, 2015
    As you have been unsuccessful removing the smell with several standard methods, you can seal it in with a clear coat of all unfinished surfaces (inside the case, drawers, etc.) Shellac or polyurethane should work.
  • Mary Mary on Nov 01, 2015
    Clean them inside and out with white vinegar then let them sit outside in the sunshine for as many days as possible. I have an old dresser with the same issue and white vinegar and sunshine worked for me. I did this during a hot Texas summer.
  • Tuxx Tuxx on Nov 01, 2015
    You can try lavender essential oil on some cotton balls in a bowl or get pieces of cedar wood and use them. They also help eliminate pests.
  • Bonnie Thompson Bonnie Thompson on Nov 01, 2015
    Don't overlook cleaning the bottoms of the drawers and the back of the dresser.
  • Richard Perry Richard Perry on Nov 01, 2015
    Same problem with my daughters 1910 dresser i refinished when she was 4 years old. I mixed 1 half cup water with one half cup bleach.I squessed out a sponge of this solution and wiped down the indside of her dresser drawers with this ,several times. When dried i sprinkled baking soda in the drawers and let that set several days. I then dumped the baking soda out and vacumed the drawers out. she is 40 years old now and has the antique dresser in her guest room and smell never returned!
  • Billie Billie on Nov 01, 2015
    If all else fails, try spritzing all raw areas with vodka. It's a beautiful piece. Good luck.
  • Amanda Amanda on Nov 01, 2015
    Pour baking soda all over inside dresser and let sit for several days. vacuum out and wipe down. Smell should be gone
  • Shari Shari on Nov 01, 2015
    The quickest and easiest solution is to spray or paint the inside of the drawers with clear shellac. It is commonly used for sealing in smoke or musty odors.
  • Mini Mo Mini Mo on Nov 01, 2015
    also placeing a saucer of ammonia in the drawers will absorb odor..
  • Leslie Crawford Leslie Crawford on Nov 01, 2015
    I have a dresser that was purchased at an Unfinished Furniture mart and was new. We stained the exterior. It has been over 20 years since that was done and any clothes stored in there smell musty! Suggestions?
  • Martha Clyde Martha Clyde on Nov 01, 2015
    fish tank filter charcoal wrapped in a piece of fabric will absorb most any smell...
  • Lpaul Lpaul on Nov 01, 2015
    I just did this a week ago and used Oxiclean and water about three scoops to 2 gallons of water. I did it on a warm sunny day outside so wood could dry quickly after really soaking and rinsing. will also get rid of any stain on the piece. (Excellent stripper!) It got rid of the smell as I had tried everything else too.
  • Kar Kar on Nov 01, 2015
    I have quite successfully used coffee grounds for removing odors. I first heard about it from a trucker whose refrigerator box went out while hauling tons of meats. You can imagine the smell. He went to coffee shops all over the county and picked up tons of coffee grounds and kept them in the truck for almost a month. There was no odor left in the truck. I put used coffee grounds into a small container and set it in the space I need "cleared". So far, it has worked every time.
    • See 3 previous
    • Dave Dave on Oct 03, 2017

      Wont work without a lot of effort want odors out and gone and replaced with a nice scent a few years later? Nitrocellulose laquer, been around for ages dont have to apaintthe whole inside with it just stripes inside where they cant be seen. Be careful the fumes get you high as a kite. Use it in the garage or away from ppilot lights pure stuff is very strong. But after a while settles into that wonderful smell of fifties laquered tweed cabinetry and luggage. A sweeter smell can only be imagined.

  • D D on Nov 01, 2015
    I have used Borax successfully to remove tough odors. !/2 cup of Borax to 12oz of water and spray. I haven't noticed any bleaching from it and I've used it on materials, carpets, and mattresses. I've also used the Borax dry as you would baking soda sprinkled throughout the furniture pieces. I think the key to my success was to close the item in one room and leave it for about a week. My theory, the Borax worked on only that odor not all the odors (pleasant and non pleasant) while it sits. 20 Mule Team Borax is available in the laundry section of the grocery store if you aren't familiar with it.
  • Diane L. Walton Diane L. Walton on Nov 01, 2015
    I do lots of furniture recycling/refinishing and I have found kitty litter will often do the trick. Depending on the strength of the mustiness, you may have to leave it in the drawers for several days.....but I have had great success with it!! Good luck!
  • Val Moreland Val Moreland on Nov 01, 2015
    Wad up some newspapers and leave in the drawers for a few days. I also use it in plastic containers!
  • Martha Earles Martha Earles on Nov 01, 2015
    get you some charcoal balls or whole coffee beans put some freezer paper or something down in bottom and then put the charcoal or coffee beans leave for a few day and that should do it
  • Nancee Nancee on Nov 01, 2015
    Don't know if it will help get rid of mustiness. It worked for varnish smell. Put a few pieces of bread in the pan and cover it with vinegar. The bread is supposed to help absorb the smells. I needed the varnish smell gone quickly because of company coming. I replaced the bread and vinegar daily. After 4 days the smell was gone! Hope it works for you
  • Rus1058682 Rus1058682 on Nov 01, 2015
    Working off of Diane L. Walton's advice, you can put the litter in ziplock bags, about 2" deep, roll the bags up, and poke holes with a pin, needle, or fork, and put in each drawer to remove smells. Hint: Use a litter that contains chlorophyll as it works the best that I know of..
  • DORLIS DORLIS on Nov 01, 2015
    Have a couple of old dressers in basement, may try thi on them so I can use them.
  • Darla Reed Darla Reed on Nov 01, 2015
    Baking soda may work.
  • Lyette Lyette on Nov 01, 2015
    dryer sheets, bay leaves, natural lavender soap in chunks, scented drawer lining you can buy.
  • Pam Pam on Nov 01, 2015
    Norwex has two products that might work.
  • H James H James on Nov 01, 2015
    Charcoal is a natural filter. A few briquettes in each drawer will aborb the smell and any moisture. I put them in the trailer before closing it for the season.
  • Marion Nesbitt Marion Nesbitt on Nov 01, 2015
    Instead of the time and aggravation of trying various products, I would coat the drawers with shellac - it seals everything.
    • Barbara MacDonald Barbara MacDonald on Oct 28, 2019

      But then you have the smell of the shellac. You have to leave it outside for two or three weeks until that smell is gone so you don’t get sick.

  • Swan Road Designs Swan Road Designs on Nov 01, 2015
    Three things immediately come to mind: newspapers, charcoal and sunshine. Yes, you said you've tried the newspaper bit, but try it in concert with charcoal. Line the bottoms of the drawers with a few layers of newspapers, then add a layer of charcoal briquettes - you don't have to fill the drawer - then more newspaper on top. Do this with each of the drawers and close them. Don't disturb the piece for a while, perhaps a week. Carefully remove the newspaper and the charcoal. Your furniture should be a lot better. If there is still some lingering smell, put the drawers outside on a very sunny day and let them "bake." You don't indicate where you live so I don't know what your sunny day quotient is for this time of the year. The newspapers and charcoal have similar but different "jobs" when it comes to cleansing your furniture of the smell. Both are good at absorbing smells. The newspaper is additionally helpful to wick any moisture that may be aggravating the mustiness that is there. Mahogany is a relatively closed-grain wood, so it will take a while to remove any odor/smell.
  • Sarah Sarah on Nov 01, 2015
    I have read that placing cotton balls soaked in vanilla inside a cooler works to get the mildew smell out. Maybe the same would work for the drawers.
    I recently used baking soda sprinkled heavily in a drawer to remove odors. I let them sit for several days and then vacuumed it out.It seemed to be a cure.
  • Denise Hosner Denise Hosner on Nov 01, 2015
    Thank you everyone for the wonderful solutions!!
  • Martha Clyde Martha Clyde on Nov 01, 2015
    Good luck; only way I removed mothball smell from my grandma's dresser.
  • TC TC on Nov 01, 2015
    I have used white vinegar by using a rag that I soaked and wrung out well and wiped the drawers inside and out and placed in the sun for several hours. I then placed the crunched up newspaper inside each drawer after I brought them back inside.
    • Bonnie Bonnie on Nov 01, 2015
      @TC This is a good idea that works well, but you need to make sure to keep the outer varnished wood covered or the sun will blister it.
  • Judith Horne Judith Horne on Nov 01, 2015
    What I did with an old dresser inherited from Mom was to put coffee into filters (open) and sit in each drawer. Every now and then I'd do the sniff test. Wasn't long before the "old" smell was gone.
  • Gwen Gwen on Nov 02, 2015
    I was desperate. I bought old suitcases !!! I used a very one box per drawer sprinkling ( dumping) of baking soda in each case. I also picked lavender and stuck it inside. I sat them open out side all day and vacuumed. I returned to redo more baking soda, dryer sheets and more lavender. This time weather was growing wing colder so I closed it up and after about three weeks, I vacuumed the old soda out. I do keep a small jar of soda and dry herb branch. It's working too!!
  • Informative post!! You really shared a valuable tips and ideas to remove odor from your drawers with proper planning and execution. Baking soda is natural odor-absorber. Try sprinkling liberal amounts of baking soda over furniture,floors, drawers etc. Leave a few bowls of baking soda around the room for several days to help absorb the odors. Thanks for sharing this post.
  • Susie Marrett Susie Marrett on Nov 02, 2015
    The first thing that comes to mind it to sand and seal the inside??? Not sure if that would work but seems like it would... Most of the time the wood seems a bit porous on the inside, it may help....
  • Michael Whoberry Michael Whoberry on Nov 02, 2015
    I've had success placing NEST votive candles inside for a couple of days.
  • Sheryl J. Wykes Sheryl J. Wykes on Nov 02, 2015
    I read once to get the musty, mildewy smell out of olf furniture was to clean it with gin, or was it vodka? Oh well. buy a cheap bottle of each and see what happens! couldn't hurt.
  • Carolynn Carolynn on Nov 03, 2015
    Try spraying 2parts vinegar to 1part water in each drawer and let dry outside. While you have the drawers out spray the back of the chest. This worked for me good luck.
  • Beatriz Villalpando Beatriz Villalpando on Nov 03, 2015
    Ayudar a responder esta pregunta ...Una caja de bicarbonato abierta y un recipiente con vinagre,cerrar durante un par de dias, seguramente el olor abra desaparecido
  • Sandy Bailey Sandy Bailey on Nov 03, 2015
    Saw dust and candle wax. melt wax mix and place into paper egg carton ,cool and put whole carton in what you want to get e smell out of. Works .
  • Charlene Charlene on Nov 04, 2015
    Larger spray bottle with 2-4 Tablespoons WHITE DISTILED vinegar and water. Spray all wood areas and let dry. This should cure the issue on the first issue, if not repeat.
  • Sheryl J. Wykes Sheryl J. Wykes on Nov 04, 2015
    That always works with any home project. If you drink enough you will decide it looks great the way it smells and looks. Very good Anne!
  • Ejf1059400 Ejf1059400 on Nov 04, 2015
    Baby powder
  • Sue VanAbel Sue VanAbel on Nov 05, 2015
    Putting crunched up newspaper draws it into the paper. Also setting it out in the Sun.
  • Henrietta Henrietta on Nov 06, 2015
    Paint the inside of the drawers with polyurethane or Kilz.
  • Dan Machado Dan Machado on Nov 10, 2015
    I have used charcoal in the past to draw out the smell from old dressers also used cedar oil spray on the unfinished exterior and underside of the drawers and unseen insides of the dressers. I then placed the dresser in a plastic "bag" I made to enclose the piece.
  • Kiki Kazakou Kiki Kazakou on Nov 15, 2015
    Put some pieces of chalk or spray with votka. Try it. It costs nothing.
  • Rick Teeters Rick Teeters on Nov 16, 2015
    REMOVING THAT MUSTY ODOR To begin the process of removing a musty odor from the inside of your furniture, you will need to have a spray bottle of denatured alcohol or other anti microbial spray. Open the cabinet and take out all of the drawers and spray the entire inside of the piece. This will kill any mold spores that may be lurking. Let it dry opened up in a sunny place for a good week. If this hasn’t done the job, you will need to go to the next step of sealing the raw wood with any type of finish which will seal in the odor. You could also purchase a small electric ozone generator to eat up the odor causing molecules. A new approach might be using one of the new products for removing odors from fabrics like Fabreeze. Although I would still suggest killing the mold spores first. I have had a customer who had success with putting an open can of ground coffee inside to absorb the odor.
    • Denise Hosner Denise Hosner on Nov 16, 2015
      Rick, could I use the alcohol inside as I am in an apt? Is denatured the same as what you buy for medicinal use? Someone else recommended used coffee grounds, not fresh, although I love the smell of coffee! LOL
  • Rick Teeters Rick Teeters on Nov 16, 2015
    You can use denatured alcohol which can be purchased at the hardware store. You can also use rubbing alcohol like the doctor uses, or even grain alcohol like you would drink, but that would be a waste. They all will have some odor while they are drying, but can be used indoors as long as you don't have any open flames. You can also use some diluted household bleach, but that could discolor the wood. What ever you use, just be careful not to get it on the outside finished surface. Getting it out into the outdoor air and sunlight will help a lot.
  • Susan Shorts Susan Shorts on Nov 17, 2015
    try putting a bowl of white viniger and bleach this will make a strong fumigant!!! you could just wash it down with white viniger and water
  • Carrie Hawk Carrie Hawk on Nov 23, 2015
    I had a wild experience one time years ago. We rented a small cabin to a smoker. I never was in while she rented. After she left, my father went in first. Couple hours later I went in and there were tree leaves lying all around the cabin. I asked what they were for and he said, "do you smell anything?" Well, no I didn't. Duh! They were sassafras leaves. Completely removed ALL odor. Sassafras Leaves!
  • Carrie Hawk Carrie Hawk on Nov 25, 2015
    Actually from a sassafras tree. The leaves look like a hand with 3 or 4 fingers. I realize they're probably none right now unless you live in the "lower" south. Where do you live? Our trees are bare right now. But when they're on, it's the best cure.
  • Carrie Hawk Carrie Hawk on Nov 26, 2015
    You might be able to find some there. You could google it. Let me know what you find. Usually grow in the edge of the woods. Along road sides, etc. Wish I could help you find it. Used to live in Tallahassee. And love visiting St. George Island and Apalachicola.
  • Linda Cabler Linda Cabler on Nov 26, 2015
    DO THIS; its super fast and works...throw a few sheets od downy fabric sheets in the drawers. Odor gone in a few hours.
  • Pie2718190 Pie2718190 on Nov 27, 2015
  • Ann Seyler Ann Seyler on Feb 15, 2016
    I had the same trouble with a night table. I put fresh coffee grounds in a filter and let them sit for a week or so. Odor gone. Use a couple of tablespoons in each drawer.
  • LynAnne Moon LynAnne Moon on Mar 13, 2018

    Lemon essential Oil straight on a cotton cloth,rub it all over inside the drawers, rails and inside the dresser itself. It should smell wonderful.

  • Joy30150932 Joy30150932 on Mar 13, 2018

    Put some "Bounce" sheets into the drawers and eventually the smell will disappear.

  • Gladys Gladys on May 11, 2019

    Denise Hosner, what did you finally use to get the odor out of the drawers?