Asked on Sep 06, 2013

What do I do about a stinky dresser?

by April
I have this antique dresser we bought a few months ago that we've been trying almost every way imaginable to get rid of a "stinky perfume" type odor (which to someone with allergies like me, would cause a reaction like the kid in this picture...LOL. ;) ) I'm guessing the previous owners spilt something or someone had some potpourri stuck in each of the drawers.

Anywho, we've tried baking soda, and even wiping down the drawers to no avail. Does anyone have any suggestions, as I want to see if I've missed anything before giving up and perhaps selling it.

  58 answers
  • Debra Debra on Sep 06, 2013
    I have read that if you give it a coat of a clear sealer that works and also if you are going to paint it it locks out any water marks or marks of any kind. Then when you paint it you have a clean slate
    • April April on Sep 06, 2013
      @Debra - Thanks for your suggestions! That's true. I would consider painting it, or at least the inside of the drawers, but I like the finish on the outside and the inside of the drawers is some strange wood veneer type.
  • Catherine Smith Catherine Smith on Sep 06, 2013
    You can also stuff the drawers with crumpled up black and white newspaper. And remove as it picks up the odor. Air out in the sun and add a bowl of coffee grounds to help pull the odor as well. May take a little time, but once you've got it to the point where it's manageable, then use the sealer.
    • April April on Sep 06, 2013
      @Catherine Smith - Wow! I've never thought of those things before. Especially the crumpled up newspaper. I'll have to try this, too. Thanks! :)
  • The Weathered Door The Weathered Door on Sep 06, 2013
    Zinsser Shellac (clear) blocks out odors. I have used it on the inside of a dresser and on the inside drawers and it worked for me. It is oil-based so best to use it in a well ventilated area and let is dry and sit outside till the fumes wear off. You can pick up a quart at Home Depot or in comes in a spray can.
  • Carole Carole on Sep 06, 2013
    I may be going crazy but I thought I once heard the rice would soak up odours?? Just plain old white uncooked rice I am guessing it is supposed to work in a similar way to bicarb of soda, but if you already tried the bicarb and that did not work then maybe rice wouldn't either? Has anyone else ever heard of this or did I imagine it?
  • Gail Salminen Gail Salminen on Sep 06, 2013
    @April I did a little research and here is one site that offers several suggestions . Let us know what works for you.
  • Kimberly C Kimberly C on Sep 07, 2013
    Kilz, love it for all types of cover ups.
  • Sja224738 Sja224738 on Sep 07, 2013
    Set a soup bowl with bleach initial in one of the drawers. Close the drawer and let the piece sit for a few days. The smell will be gone and the bleach odor will not last. Also works for rooms that smell musty. P.S. I learned this on a Martha Stewart show.
  • April April on Sep 07, 2013
    @The Weathered Door , @Carole , @Gail Salminen , @Kimberly C , and @Sjac - Thanks for the helpful tips! Hopefully one of these suggestions at least will work even on wood veneer (which I have no idea why they would put that in a dresser.)
  • April, I recently de-flunked a chest of drawers from a hoarders house that was full of cats. The cat urine smell was intense! I first wiped all of it down with a strong bleach water mix, let it dry in a hot garage, wiped down with vinegar barely deluged with water and finished by restoring the wood and veneer to its original luster by coating with a mixture of 3/4 cup canola oil and 1/4 cup white vinegar. the results were amazing. I have also heard tht kitty litter will draw out strong odors, but I have not tried it.
    • See 1 previous
    • April April on Sep 08, 2013
      @Ginger Mosley, Realtor with Burnett Realty - Ah good to know I'm not alone in this! ;) Bleach would not be possible for me to smell with my allergies, but the kitty litter idea is new to me, so I'll have to consider that! :) Thanks!
  • plz excuse the fat finger typos from my phone...'de-funked and diluted'. 😉
    • April April on Sep 08, 2013
      @Ginger Mosley, Realtor with Burnett Realty - Hehe! No problem! I know how that is, not so much with a phone as from the iPad. I'm always making interesting typos! Sometimes it's good to get back to my good ol' PC. LOL! :)
  • LeeAnn M LeeAnn M on Sep 07, 2013
    I used charcoal briquettes to help remove a nasty, lingering machinery grease smell from an antique icebox. It really worked for me. Might help?
    • April April on Sep 08, 2013
      @LeeAnn M - Good to know! Grease smell is even worse than the potpourri smell I'm getting in the dresser - so if it can work on that it hopefully would work on the dresser. Worth a try anyway. :) Thanks!
  • Irene jarosz Irene jarosz on Sep 08, 2013
    Put an apple or 2 in the drawer and close it. I used this method in a car I purchased (used) and the trunck smelled like a dead body. It worked!
    • April April on Sep 08, 2013
      @Irene jarosz - Wow that's great! I've tried that method before, but not in drawers on a dresser. Will have to consider this, too! :) Thanks!
  • Great advise! thank you Catherine Smith!
  • Liliana Wells Liliana Wells on Sep 08, 2013
    I have used bleach on a subfloor that was impregnated with cat and dog urine while updating an investment house. It worked for us.
    • April April on Sep 08, 2013
      @Liliana Wells - Good to know, though with my allergies bleach is not something I can smell. :( But, I'm really happy it worked for you! :) Thanks!
  • Susan mawhinney Susan mawhinney on Sep 08, 2013
    Sprinkle the inside of the drawer with baking soda and sit them out in the sun, it takes a few days but it worked for me in an old steam trunk
    • April April on Sep 08, 2013
      @Susan mawhinney - That's great! I've tried baking soda already though. :( But thanks for the suggestion!
  • Gloria Damron Gloria Damron on Sep 08, 2013
    My daughter had a steamer trunk that we thought was a 'lost cause' with smell. We put black and white newspapers down in the bottom (news print only- no comics) and on top of that we layered a bag of charcoal- then closed the trunk. We had some crumpled up news papers in there too. It took about a month and the stinks were gone.
    • April April on Sep 08, 2013
      @Gloria Damron - Wow, sounds like you all had to wait awhile, but the results paid off! I guess it depends on the smell. Thanks for the suggestion! Will have to consider this, too! :)
  • Cindy Betts Cindy Betts on Sep 08, 2013
    You can also try coffee. That was the only thing that took the smell out of my fridge and freezer after we had to evacuate for hurricane Rita. No electricity for 3 weeks, and it was nasty. I tried charcoal, and bleach but the smell still remained until I opened a bag of coffee and stuck some in the fridge and freezer.
    • April April on Sep 08, 2013
      @Cindy Betts - So sorry to hear about your experience with Rita, but glad you found a solution! I guess different answers work for different smells. Thanks! :)
  • Sherry Cooke Sherry Cooke on Sep 08, 2013
    News print will remove refrigerator odors. Wad it up and cram the fridge full and close the door for a few days. Works like a charm. Use ground coffee for furniture odors, or even odors in cars. Just put a small dish of coffee in the area and close it up.
    • April April on Sep 08, 2013
      @Sherry Cooke - Good to know! Thanks! Coffee is one of the smells I actually enjoy, so I wouldn't mind smelling that in the dresser. ;)
  • Em Hooper Em Hooper on Sep 08, 2013
    I have a side table I bought w/o opening the doors and sniffing. Have used everything I can think of & still it stinks inside. Am considering spraying inside w/ the chemical used for animal odors on carpets. I might have thought the odor came from potpourri, but it most likely is from an odor killing liquid used after fires. It's heavy duty scented and I found a gallon of it in this house when we bought it. (???) The table might just end up on the thrift store truck so someone else can solve this problem!
    • April April on Sep 09, 2013
      @Em Hooper - I can definitely sympathize with you! I'm having the same problem, only I think it was either the previous owner or the antique shop. I've definitely learned the hard way that it's important to do a sniff test before buying antiques. :( Hopefully these tips can help you, too!
  • Jan B Jan B on Sep 08, 2013
    You know @Em Hooper, if I were you I'd tack a note under that table saying it had probably been in a house fire and send it on it's way to the thrift store. I'd rather see you in need of a table than to hang on to this one (especially since you have no sentimental attachment). It will open you up to spotting something just perfect and w/o the stinks!
    • See 2 previous
    • April April on Sep 09, 2013
      @Jan B - Good advice, especially if it's been in a fire - that would be a tough smell to remove, I'm afraid. :( But, saying this... I remember one time we had painters over, whom smoked (we had no idea at the time until later and no offense to smokers, by saying this) - but there was an incredible amount of smoke like smell embedded in the carpet. We used a lot of baking soda, for about a week and continued to vacuum almost every night and that and a whole lot of praying, seemed to clear it up - praise God. :)
  • Jan B Jan B on Sep 08, 2013
    Good luck! I think the charcoal will do the trick! Just be patient.
    • April April on Sep 09, 2013
      @Jan B - Thanks! It definitely sounds like a good tip! And it's good to hear from those who use it. :)
  • Tina Schuman Tina Schuman on Sep 08, 2013
    I had this problem once and went and bought cedar you would use in a hamster cage....sprinkled significant amt in the two drawers, closed them and waited several days. It worked !! Good luck ☺
    • See 2 previous
    • April April on Sep 09, 2013
      @Tina Schuman - Cedar is a bit strong for me I'm afraid, but I appreciate your suggestion all the same! :) Thanks! I'm so glad it worked for you, nonetheless. :)
  • Jeanette Jeanette on Sep 08, 2013
    Paint oil-based Kilz on an area of sub-flooring when you're changing carpet or other flooring where any pet odors are, and you won't smell them again. I had a pet who used a corner of the room, and the reek permeated the plywood. Kilz took care of that.
  • Lisa C Lisa C on Sep 08, 2013
    Charcoal if no one has suggested fill it with charcoal maybe even cover it with plastic so the charcoal can absorb all the smell. wipe down with vinegar also.
    • April April on Sep 09, 2013
      @Lisa C - Thanks! Good to hear from someone else who has used it. :)
  • Larose LoganOakes Larose LoganOakes on Sep 08, 2013
    Have you tried the new Febreze odor removers? They are supposed to be wonderful! I haven't tried them but it might be worth a shot.
    • April April on Sep 09, 2013
      @Larose LoganOakes - That could work. Does Febreze have a strong odor, though? As I pretty much have to stay away from most chemicals due to the smell. Even air fresheners. :(
  • Patricia W Patricia W on Sep 08, 2013
    Cedar chips. They will not only take the smell out, they will leave it smelling nice and repel insects.
    • See 3 previous
    • Rachel Drechsler Rachel Drechsler on Sep 10, 2013
      Newspaper in layers in each drawer replaced every day or every other day...if it is really strong you can sprinkle damp coffee grounds on top of the newspaper.Air out before using.
  • Bonnie D Bonnie D on Sep 08, 2013
    The newspaper and charcoal will work. Had an old trunk that was RANK! Filled with crumpled newspaper and charcoal.
    • April April on Sep 09, 2013
      @Bonnie D - This is also good to know! Thanks! I'm so glad it worked for you. I am enjoying reading the testimonies here about what has worked. :)
  • Stacy Cooper Stacy Cooper on Sep 09, 2013
    I use kitty litter to remove orders from furniture...just sprinkle it in the drawers (be sure to cover the entire surface of the drawer bottom) close the drawers and let it sit for at least 24 hours, longer for strong orders.
    • April April on Sep 10, 2013
      @Stacy Cooper - Will have to remember this - thanks! :)
  • Karon Nelson Roberts Karon Nelson Roberts on Sep 09, 2013
    Kitty litter and backing soda mix--close up and let sit 24 hrs or longer. If you can't use cedar, try hickory chips-like the ones put in a smoker- let sit 24 hrs or longer. Could try also try light spray of bleach water-- 1 ounce of bleach to 1 gallon water..that's the medical use mixture.. and just VERY LIGHTLY spray. GOOD LUCK!!
    • April April on Sep 10, 2013
      @Karon Nelson Roberts - Wonderful suggestions! Will have to take a mental note of this, too! Thanks! :)
  • Jude Norris Jude Norris on Sep 09, 2013
    Mist with white vinegar and leave multiple dryer sheets in each drawer. It may take a few months.
    • April April on Sep 10, 2013
      @Jude Norris - Good to know! Yeah it seems with smells, patience is one of the things needed. LOL. Thanks! :)
  • Jane Jones Jane Jones on Sep 10, 2013
    I had an antique dresser with that awful musty smell. I carefully wiped the drawers down with clorox and set it in the sun. That did the trick.
    • See 4 previous
    • April April on Sep 23, 2013
      @Julie Moyna - I'm glad I'm not the only one! Yes, exactly! I'm very sensitive to strong smells, so I can relate to having the instant headache you are talking about. Aww, that's sweet. :) Thanks for your help! :)
  • Sherrie Sherrie on Sep 10, 2013
    Hi! We purchase antique dressers all the time. We stuff the drawers with newspaper. Change it out every few weeks. Do this repeatedly for a few months. If that doesn't work, and in one old trunk, it didn't, we then varnished the entire insides of drawers and don't forget the bottom of drawer above, as this too, picks up the smelliness. Good luck. We've always done well with newspaper treatment.
    • April April on Sep 11, 2013
      @Sherrie - Good to know - thanks! Sounds like an effective way! :)
  • Christine Christine on Sep 11, 2013
    Well in the fridge you use baking soda to remove odours so you could put a dish of baking soda in the drawers. But there is a difference between perfume and the musty smell you get with old furniture. The musty smell is from the moulds or fungus that set in the wood. The way to treat that is with Borax, which you buy in the laundry section at the grocery store.
    • April April on Sep 11, 2013
      @Sadl - We're already trying the baking soda, but it doesn't seem to be working on this particular smell - only a little bit and we've had it in there for several months. Thanks for the suggestion though! It's very sweet smelling like potpourri, but also very strong - so thankfully it isn't the musty smell. :)
  • Toelle Toelle on Sep 11, 2013
    because you said you were sensitive to chemicals - this may not work for you,- BUT - there is a product - Odo-Ban - It has a eucalyptus smell when it is first sprayed but it goes away soon after - it was developed to clean the air in passenger planes - I buy it by the gallon - it will also kill germs - My best story is the "dead hermit crabs in an Ice-chest left in the garage for a month story - Yes it was a knock me over dead smell when I opened the chest on Sat morning - I sprayed it with 'Odo Ban' & we used it that afternoon - No Smell !
    • April April on Sep 11, 2013
      @Toelle - Wow sounds like an incredible product! I'm not sure if I could use something like that, but sounds like you had to deal with a sickening smell. I'm so glad it worked for you. Thanks for your suggestion, though! :)
  • Christine Laughlin Christine Laughlin on Sep 11, 2013
  • Karon Nelson Roberts Karon Nelson Roberts on Sep 12, 2013
    @April , . I need help with a dresser that I have in storage. It's not too bad right now but I want to stop it from getting worst. So I'm doing the kitty-litter and baking-soda right's been about 3 days and no smell. I made a sack, put the litter/soda inside, leaving it in the drawers so HOPEFULLY the dresser won't start to smell again. I'll just have to remember to change the litter/soda mix every few weeks. But a suggestion I found when I google the problem, Set dresser in SUN, remover drawers and set everything in direct sunlight.... everyday, all day, for as long as it takes. LOL. I wish I remembered the link.
    • April April on Sep 12, 2013
      @Karon Nelson Roberts - Thanks! This is good to know, and that's an interesting mix. I guess it wouldn't hurt to mix the suggestions up a bit. I hope it works for you as well! We would place it outside, but I'm not sure we can find a place that the neighborhood cats won't get to LOL! :) No problem, thanks again for letting me know your findings! And I hope you're able to get rid of the smells, too.
  • Carolyne Eastman Carolyne Eastman on Sep 16, 2013
    crumple newspaper up and stuff it in the drawers, close them, leave them for up to a week, then remove, throw away the newspaper, repeat as needed.
    • April April on Sep 17, 2013
      @Carolyne Eastman - I've got that in a mental note to try - and it's always good to hear from those who've tried it. Thanks for the suggestion! :)
  • For stinky/musty wood, I have used many of the above suggestions.... white vinegar, bleach (not together!), sun drying.... and also then wiping the inside of the dresser down with baby powder to help give it a more neutral smell. Something else you might try after treating with the vinegar or bleach is painting the wood with Kilz odor blocking primer (purchased at Walmart, etc). We bought a house where part of the wood floor was saturated with cat urine.... total yuck! I treated with vinegar, multiple times, dried it, and then painted with Kilz primer. It will have its own smell while new of course, but it will fade and contain the remaining odor inside the wood itself. Hope that helps! :)
    • April April on Sep 20, 2013
      @Julie @ Wife, Mother, Gardener - Thanks for the suggestions and letting me know what you've tried! I haven't thought of the baking soda before. :) Oh yikes! Glad you were able to get that taken care of! I think Kilz might be too strong for me, but I really appreciate your help! :)
  • Teresa Teresa on Sep 20, 2013
    Use a dryer sheet, (scented), a lavender sachet, or the Joy Mangano diffuser sticks by placing a couple inside the drawers. She is on Hope this helps :-D
    • April April on Sep 21, 2013
      @Teresa - Sounds good, but it would have to be a super light smell. Thanks for your suggestion! :)
  • Lisa McGraw Lisa McGraw on Sep 20, 2013
    fill it with newspapers, the paper will absorb the odors overnight
  • Jane Jones Jane Jones on Sep 21, 2013
    Dilute the the clorox with water. Half and half. Put on your gloves and wipe down the inside of he cabinet and the drawers with the solution .. Set it in the sun and let the sun do its job. Good luck.
    • April April on Sep 21, 2013
      @Jane Jones - Sounds strong enough to do the trick, however my sinuses prohibit me from using products such as those. Sorry. :( Thanks though!
  • Finding Silver Pennies Finding Silver Pennies on Oct 01, 2013
    I didn't know that tip about the newspaper. That is good idea. I find that alcohol gets rid of smells. You could also seal the drawers with clear shellac.
    • See 4 previous
    • April April on Oct 02, 2013
      @Finding Silver Pennies - Oh, okay. I've only smelled rubbing alcohol, is why I asked. Ah I see. Good to know. Thanks for your help! :)
  • Karon Nelson Roberts Karon Nelson Roberts on Oct 02, 2013
    I just read a post about coffee grounds absorbs smells in fridge-- would not hurt to try.
    • April April on Oct 03, 2013
      @Karon Nelson Roberts - Good to know! We just got the coffee grounds a little while ago, so hopefully we can try them out soon. Thanks for your input!
  • Bev Bev on Oct 04, 2013
    You could try a liquid pet odor product from a pet store. They have an enzyme in them that acts on what ever is causing the smell. Use on gloves and wipe down and let the enzyme neutralize the agent.
  • Laura Baker Laura Baker on Oct 04, 2013
    Bounce dryer sheets !!!
  • Ground dry coffee is a great odor remover. I've used it to remove musty odors in a cabinet beneath my sink.If wood furniture smells, place bowls of fresh ground coffee in the drawers and cabinets.In many cases, ordinary charcoal briquettes are even better at removing musty odors from wood furniture. I like the fact that charcoal briquettes are virtually odorless. Allow it to absorb odors for at least 24 hours before removing.If you want to try something inexpensive that also works well to get rid of foul odors , place bowls of baking soda inside musty cabinets and drawers.It is a natural odor remover, and it will effectively remove musty smells from all types of wood furniture. You will find these solutions, cheap it is compared to other odor removal options.
    • See 3 previous
    • Faye Campbell Faye Campbell on Sep 08, 2014
      @Kala Professional Restoration services
  • Gloria Damron Gloria Damron on Oct 11, 2013
    I saw a great answer yesterday and lost it. The main idea was to go to an aquarium store (fish) and buy the charcoal filter packs. They are square, flat and the charcoal is enclosed in them. Buy big ones and lay them in the trunk and close it up. Set an open box of baking soda in there too. Can't hurt- and it is cheap!
    • April April on Oct 11, 2013
      @Gloria Damron - Thanks for your input! I think I may know what thread you're talking about. Sounds like the coffee grounds, charcoal and baking soda seem to be the most effective. And newspaper, too! I will have to try these. :)
  • Saundra K Saundra K on Oct 11, 2013
    Something that has worked for me! Straight vinegar mixed with fresh lemon juice. Let the mixture sit in a dish overnight after wiping down the furniture with it. Also, a combination of vinegar and clorox. Works for me. Oh yes, then I have used shellack on the drawer interiors and inside structure.
    • April April on Oct 12, 2013
      @Saundra K - Sounds good! Only if my sinuses would approve. :( Thanks for the input, though! :)
  • Sallymom Sallymom on Sep 04, 2014
    I had a very old trunk with 'that' smell in it. I poured Kitty Litter into the trunk, closed it and did not open for about a week or so....Opened it and smell had been absorbed! (Used Generic kitty litter) Hope this works, good luck
    • April April on Sep 05, 2014
      Wow, that's an interesting suggestion! I'm so glad it worked for you. I'll have to remember that! Thanks! :)
  • Dae Dae on Sep 04, 2014
    I read I think all of the suggestions and I don't think I saw baking powder. You mentioned you have allergies, but if you could deal with it add vinegar maybe on a wash cloth and close the dresser doors.
    • See 2 previous
    • April April on Dec 10, 2014
      Thanks, Pam. Merry Christmas! :)
  • Marianna Martyniuk Marianna Martyniuk on Sep 07, 2014
    Yes I agree a huge amount of kitty litter (the white kind that absorbs odours) and some Baking Soda will work well to absorb the nasty smell. Not sure the size of it but the more you can leave spread out on a tray to some depth will help. Or you could fill old clean socks or pantyhose with the kitty litter for smaller drawers. It certainly works in tennis shoes. Let us know if it works.
    • April April on Sep 07, 2014
      Wow, those are good suggestions as well! Thanks for sharing! The thought has crossed our minds, too, to paint the drawers (with a non-stinky eco-friendly paint), but we're not sure if it's possible because the drawers look like they have veneer. Will try to keep you all posted, as we have a few other pieces that need it, too.
  • Marianna Martyniuk Marianna Martyniuk on Sep 07, 2014
    It takes time and you may need to change the kitty litter a few times to absorb all the smells. Open boxes of Baking soda work a treat, I always keep one in my refrigerator.
    • April April on Sep 07, 2014
      That's true. One needs to be patient with smells. Thanks again for your help! :)
  • Vigirl Vigirl on Dec 10, 2014
    Spray it down with hydrogen peroxide. It kills any mold spores that causes the musty smell. Let it sit in the sun, if possible, when dry spray again to see if there are any more bubbles. Wipe down with murphy's soap oil and you should be good to go.
    • April April on Dec 11, 2014
      Thanks for the suggestion! Haven't thought about that before. :)
  • Wee964743 Wee964743 on Dec 17, 2014
    If you put newspaper in the dryers and change it every day the newspaper absorbs bad odors but you have to change it every day till the smell is gone it doesn't take long
    • April April on Dec 18, 2014
      @Weezie953 - Thanks for your suggestion! :) Merry Christmas!
  • Orchidmg Orchidmg on Dec 17, 2014
    I remember some time in the mid 1980s my mom bought a dresser at a rummage for my bedroom and it smelled like smoke and old lady perfume. She used Pledge, then vinegar on a rag, then grandma told her to put 4 pieces of charcoal in each drawer for a few weeks before putting clothes in them. And that worked. My mom laid the charcoal on a sheet of papertowel for some reason. And closed the drawers. And each week the smells were less. Then she dusted it all with Pledge again that had a lemon smell to it and no more perfume and smoke smell. My mom also use to put charcoal in my tennis shoes. I hated to wear socks and my feet sweat a lot. That helped.
    • April April on Dec 18, 2014
      @Orchidmg - Wow, now that's a lot of smells going against it. I'm glad she found a way to get rid of them. Thanks for your suggestions! Seems like newspaper and charcoal seem to be powerful odor eaters. :) Merry Christmas!
  • Peg olin Peg olin on Jul 08, 2016
    I had musty smell in old dresser. I took the drawers out in the sunshine, washed thoroughly, let dry and then sprayed a soaking dose of Febreze. Worked wonders.
  • Wipe it down with vinegar.

  • Mogie Mogie on Jul 01, 2023

    The first thing I would do is sit the dresser outside in the sun and let it remain out there for a few days (at least) then check it.

    If you want you could put the dresser in a small room (closet) with charcoal distributed on several pie plates.