Asked on Apr 03, 2018

What is the best way to remove musty, elderly smell from old furniture

Donna Lockwood
by Donna Lockwood
I bought an armoire on eBay and it was owned by an elderly lady before she passed away. I cannot get that old (like elderly smelling) musty smell out of the armoire. I've used white vinegar/water sprayed on the interior and presently I'm trying an onion cut in half AND a bowl of baking soda to see if that will help. I read online *but can no longer find* that there is a product for use with "elderly smells" in furniture/rooms/etc. (note: it's not urine but just an OLD smell)

  11 answers
  • Mcg29336856 Mcg29336856 on Apr 03, 2018

    You may have to seal the smell in by painting the interior with polyurethane .

  • Janet Pizaro Janet Pizaro on Apr 03, 2018

    wash the entire piece with white vinegar, allow to dry and place open boxes of baking soda, coffee grounds,deactivated charchol or cedar chips inside

  • Barbara Barbara on Apr 03, 2018

    Wipe it down with peroxide and place the drawers in the bright sun. All furniture gets musty smelling when drawers are not used daily or aired out, even in the houses of young people. Wood ages.

  • Tinyshoes Tinyshoes on Apr 03, 2018

    Many times I take items like this out to the sunshine and it helps quite a bit..maybe return to garage or cover for the evenings then return outside for a couple of days!

  • Amy Ogden-Paparone Amy Ogden-Paparone on Apr 03, 2018

    Hi Donna,



    Bacteria and germs can permeate porous wood causing awful “old-smell” odors. To eliminate the smell, kill the bacteria and germs by cleaning the inside of the drawers and all surfaces with a sponge dampened with vinegar, Murphy’s Oil Wood Soap or any Anti-Fungal Detergents. Then let dry in a well ventilated area.


    Fill a plastic or glass container/ bowl with vinegar and place in each drawer. Close the drawers and wait a few days to see if the vinegar absorbs the odor. Other odor absorbing substances like charcoal, coffee grounds, kitty liter or baking soda may also help.


    Porous wood absorbs moisture and smells from it’s surrounding environment. If your piece smells like a thrift store or old attic, try leaving the piece to dry out in the natural sun light. If you live in a humid environment, try placing your piece with a dehumidifier in a small enclosed room. Leave it running for a few days to suck the moisture and odors out of the wood.


    Strip and sand the piece. If the odors are caught in the original finish, this will help by removing the finish and letting the natural wood breath. If there is still a slight odor after stripping and sanding, using method #2. The odor absorbing substance should get rid of any remaining unpleasantness.


    Put bleach or cheap vodka into a spray bottle and mist the entire piece inside and out. Then leave it in the sunshine or another moisture free area to completely dry. This will help disinfect and eliminate odors.

    Hope this helps!

  • Emily Emily on Apr 03, 2018

    Oh, dear Donna old people do not smell anyone than anyone else. The "elderly smell" is probably because the armoire was kept in an unheated and maybe damp place. The very best way to remove the smell is to put it in strong sunlight for several days.

  • William William on Apr 03, 2018

    Lots of great tips. But I'm offended. Old people have same odors as everyone else. What you smell is just mustiness. All else fails you will need to seal the odors. Do not use polyurethane or varnish. It soaks into the wood and actually will bring the odor out more. Use shellac to seal the wood. It creates a surface coating sealing the pores of the wood.

  • Donna Lockwood Donna Lockwood on Apr 03, 2018

    I never intended to offend anyone with my description so please forgive me for having done so. I just love the armoire but haven't been able to get rid of the musty smell so far.

  • Heidi Heidi on Mar 19, 2021

    I have just been searching the same thing and came across this thread. I cannot believe that people are saying they are offended that your question is about old people smell and are saying that old people smell the same as everyone else. It is a scientific fact that as we age our body odour changes and starts to produce a chemical called 2-nonenal, which is the cause of the unique odour. This is just a fact of life, it will happen to us all.

    It worries me how easily offended our world has become, chill out people, don’t sweat the small stuff 😊

  • Johnavallance82 Johnavallance82 on Jun 19, 2021


    Check it doesn't have woodworm, if it does - treat it. Otherwise, Buy Citrenella candles and store them in the cabinet, or store other strong smelling things such as Lavender, Rosemary etc. Hope that helps.

  • MamaRose MamaRose on Sep 01, 2021

    The smell is mold or forms of bacteria. Bleach will kill it but can also harm the finish. Straight Vinegar works well, but needs to be outside to dry.

    Don't forget to do the bottom of the piece as well as under side of drawers and the bottom of the top counter. - Every crevice top to bottom.

    If you put something damp in a warm dry place it will mold. Anyone that uses their heat in damp cities like the south will have an issue with mold.

    An ozone machine will help kill the mold, but they can be expensive and you shouldn't be in the room while they are on. They kill mold, plants and aren't great for your lungs, but my son moved into a musty apartment. We ran an ozone machine in each room for 24 hours (he stayed with me). And voila, all smell was gone. Opened all the windows and aired the house to balance the ozone. Use a small ozone machine. As very strong one is not good for plastic.

    To avoid this from happening again, don't store paper of any kind. Spray a anti fungal sealer like Kilz in the interior and back after you have done the abatement. Good luck