How to Get Smell Out of Old Furniture

2 Materials
1 Hour

Want to know how to get smell out of old furniture?

Like many readers of our blog, we love a good furniture makeover! Chances are if you are an upcycler or just love to make over wood furniture, you’re going to run into instances where your nose is telling you to turn the other way! Your first reaction may be ‘no thanks’. But don’t run away just yet.

When you stumble upon a freebie, or curb side special like the one below, it’s likely there because it hasn’t exactly been loved and stored well. However, we’ve got some practical solutions to eliminate musty and moldy odours deep in wood furniture!

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First of all, let’s discuss the likely suspects for what could be could be causing the odour in the first place. Mold and mildew have a damp, musty, earthy, pungent smell. Unless you suffer from loss of smell, you just know it when you get a whiff of it!

Is it Mold or Mildew?

Both mold and mildew are types of fungi that favour dark, moist, warm environments to grow. Mildew is a surface fungi that grows flat. It can be seen as a patch of white or grey fungus lying on the surface of the wood.

On the other hand, mold can be black or green and has a fuzzy raised texture. Mold emits gasses known as microbial volatile organic compounds. As a result, what you smell is the release of these chemical compounds as the mold grows. Exposure to these compounds can result in health issues with common symptoms being headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and nasal irritation. Mold prevention is key to keeping your home safe. So the bottom line is you don’t want to introduce it into your home in the first place!

Watch this video to see our process for eliminating these odours (or head to the tutorial below):

To start, we like to remove metal hardware so we can reach all the nooks and crannies of the wood furniture. Spores can seep underneath hinges and drawer pulls and you want to be able to reach everything.

Also remove the drawers so you can reach the raw wood inside the drawers too. Here you can see what appears to be white mildew on the drawer face.

Fresh air and sunshine should always be your first line of defence. Sunlight kills mold, so leave your furniture outdoors on a dry sunny day.

Hubs has been teaching himself how to restore vintage sewing machines since the pandemic started. Along with the free sewing machines he finds come a myriad of tables. Below is an MCM inspired table he got for free.

We leave it out in the sunshine all day (or until the shadows swallow up our sunshine)! But we don’t just leave the pieces in one position.

As you can see, we rotate the furniture so the sun can reach all sides of the piece. Yes, this does take time. But again, you don’t want to bring mold into your home environment. So we think it’s worth taking the extra time to do this step.

What We Use

If you think we’re going to tell you to use vinegar or bleach, you’d be wrong.

The best way to kill mold on furniture is to use Benefect Botanical Decon 30. Decon 30 is a professional grade disinfectant cleaner with no hazardous chemicals. It’s actually made naturally from plant extracts; the active ingredient is Thymol which is found in oil of thyme.

Before Cleaning

It’s generally a good idea to know what finish is on the old piece first, especially if it’s wood.

Old sewing tables are typically sealed with Shellac. To test out what we’re dealing with, you can use some Laquer Thinner. Do this outside and wear a mask and gloves when handling any chemicals of this nature.

Put some onto a rag and rub over the finish in an inconspicuous spot. If the finish dissolves and comes off on the rag, like you see here, you’ve got Shellac.

Before we proceeded to cleaning our moldy furniture piece, we also tested the Decon 30 first. That’s important if you want to keep the piece natural wood, but not so important if you plan to paint it. We haven’t actually decided yet if we will paint or not, so it’s just nice to have to option to re-shellac to touch it up and leave as-is.

There’s no need to dilute Decon 30, but we do put it into a spray bottle for ease of cleaning.

These old sewing tables are almost always made with wood veneer. Old hide glue and moisture do not play well in the sandbox. So proceed with caution; we suggest spraying the rag first and wiping the wood surfaces. With Decon 30, there’s no need to rinse.

Raw, solid wood, like you find in drawers, is a different story. Since it’s not sealed, spores, and therefore a moldy smell, can penetrate the wood. In this case, we spray on the Decon 30 and wipe it everywhere – inside and out. Don’t forget the underneath of your furniture piece too!

While we’re showing you how to use Benefect 30 to remove mold from wood furniture, I wish I knew about Benefect 30 when I was restoring my first house – a post war bungalow. I would have used it on every surface in the basement, my wood window frames, the baseboard and deck. The list goes on.

Since we’re not ready to make over the sewing table, here’s a reminder of the before of our waterfall dresser:

And now, the after! Can you even believe this is the same piece of furniture?

You can read all about our roadside rescue waterfall dresser here.

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Happy DIY'ing!

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