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How to Get A Musty Smell Out of Furniture (Once & For All)


How To Get Odor Out of Wood Furniture The Easy Way

Whether you need to remove the smell of cigarette smoke or that musty, moldy smell of old furniture, you don’t want to just mask the foul odor, but you need a simple solution that disinfects to deodorize. 

If you are struggling to get a smell out of furniture, here are some fail-proof solutions to get any smell out of furniture for good!

I love it when readers ask me questions about their DIY projects!!!

When I see a question more than a few times, I make a mental note that I need to write a blog post about that topic.  That was definitely the case for removing stinky smells from furniture.

gray end table

How do you get musty smells out of furniture?

Whether it’s removing that old, musty, moldy smell or cigarette odor, apparently several furniture rehabbers are having the same problem.  Fortunately, I’ve found some simple solutions that work on the vast majority of smells.

Perhaps the worst furniture smell I experienced was this girl…

I saw her on Facebook Marketplace and kept eyeing those cute little drawers that I could add card catalog-style hardware too!  Right as I was about to type “I want it” in the comment section, it came up as “SOLD”.

To my surprise, the next day she was listed again but for $80 instead of $90!  You’d think I would have caught on at that point, but unfortunately, I didn’t.

Normally, I like to look at every square inch of a furniture piece before committing to buy.  I inspect the legs, open and close every door and check the structure so I know what I’m getting myself into.

However, this time was a little different.  My husband Jeremy beat us to the storage facility and it was already loaded in his truck when I arrived.

We got home to find that the dresser had an insane amount of damage.  One of the drawers had a huge chip and there was significant water damage along the bottom.

But that wasn’t all…it had a horrible stank that made our entire garage smell like stale cigarettes, old socks, and garbage all packaged into one pungent aroma.

The dress was quite a “treat” for the senses.  Fortunately, I have a lot of experience with stinky furniture finds.

old dresser

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Refinishing Furniture (The ONLY Tutorial You’ll Ever Need!)

How to Get Musty SMell Out of Wood

The fact that it had water damage gave me a clue as to why the dresser smelled so stinkin’ bad!  Many smells are caused by mold and mildew.  If it was exposed to water for a time, there’s a good chance that was at least one source of the smell.  If you want to know how to get rid of the wet wood smell, you have to kill any potential mold or mildew first.

What Causes Musty Smells in Furniture?

Odors can be from mold, mildew, chemicals, and bacteria so you don’t want to just cover up the odor to get the smell out of furniture.  Imagine trying to spray rose-scented room deodorizer into a dumpster.  It’s just going to make it even worse.

When my daughter caught C Diff. after her tonsillectomy (it was horrible), we had to make sure the C Diff. didn’t spread.  Therefore, I did a lot of research on the best disinfectants.

How Do YOu Neutralize Furniture Smell?

It turns out the most powerful disinfectant in the world is already in your home.  When it comes to killing superbugs or even the common cold, a 1 to 10 solution of bleach to warm water will be your best bet every single time!

The key is letting the surface stay wet with diluted bleach for 30 minutes so that it can kill every single germ and mold spore on the surface.  The important thing about this ratio is that the bleach is not concentrated enough to discolor your furniture or leave any adverse effects.

Letting the bleach solution sit on the furniture piece for 30 minutes does two things:

  1. It helps the solution to soak deep into the wood pores where bacteria and mildew spores are hiding
  2. Bacteria need 30 minutes of exposure to bleach to kill them. This is why a quick spray and wipe with a damp cloth doesn’t work


Sometimes it’s more of a matter of just disinfecting.  Some chemicals, like those from cigarettes, permeate the wood grain and fabric of furniture.  Those chemicals have to be neutralized and they can be successful with a few drops of your favorite essential oils.  We’ll discuss below which blend of essential oils is best for removing the smell of cigarette smoke.


How to Get Musty Smells Out of Furniture – Supplies Needed:


  • Zinsser Bullseye 123 Primer – It comes in gray or white.  Click the link above on the best places to buy it.
  • Bleach
  • 2 Spray bottles
  • Rocky Mountain Purity Essential Oil – Check the current price here.
  • Fan

Step 1: How To Get Smells Out of Wood Furniture with Bleach

Some people will use baking powder or vinegar but if you want to really deodorize wood, you have to get out the big guns.  Bleach will kill bacteria like nothing else and you don’t have to use a lot to get a smell out of furniture.

Mix a 1:10 ratio of bleach to water in a spray bottle and spray down your wood furniture liberally.  If it is easier, you can wipe it down with a cloth but be sure to wear latex gloves.

QUICK TIP: Always mix this solution a few minutes before you use it because water mixed with clorox has a short shelf life.

Wipe down every single surface that you will not paint including the insides of drawers, the backs of drawers, under the furniture piece, etc.

Step 2:  Let it Sit.

Give the bleach solution 30 minutes to just sit and sanitize the surface of the furniture.

*** Don’t use Clorox wipes for this because they actually don’t contain any bleach.

Step 3: Wipe down.

Wipe off the bleach solution and put a fan on it so it’s no longer damp.  You want to remove any extra water so it doesn’t damage the wood.

Step 4:  How to get Musty Smells Out of Old Furniture With An Essential Oil Solution

Mix about 15-20 drops of Rocky Mountain Oils Purify into 8 ounces of water.  Shake it well.  I like to use a glass container for essential oils but it’s not a must.

Spray over the furniture piece just in the areas that will not be painted.  Again, don’t forget the inside of drawers, underneath the furniture piece, etc.

The bleach solution was our ‘defense’, killing any existing mold and bacteria on the surface.  The essential oils are our offense.  In case we missed any places on the surface with the Clorox solution, the essential oils make the surface uninhabitable for mold and bacteria to grow in the future!

Why Rocky Mountains Purify blend?  There are a lot of great essential oils out there.  I’ve done some research into this company and they sell a reliable product that is inexpensive: Purify Essential Oil

This blend is part of their cleaning line and contains oil from Lemongrass, Tea Tree, Rosemary, Lavender, Myrtle, and Citronella which are very effective at getting the smell out of furniture.

Not only can Purify help repel insects, but it also works to clear the scent of smoke and eliminates other noxious odors.  Plus, it smells amazing!!!  Check the current price of Purify blend here.

Let the essential oil solution sit for 30 minutes before wiping it off with a clean cloth or paper towels.


Step 5:  Let it Fully dry.

Let the piece and it’s drawers dry out completely!  Make sure the inside of the drawers are exposed to fresh air. Its a good idea to open windows to remove stale air with excess moisture in order to let the natural wood breath. If the weather is nice, let it sit in natural sunlight.

Use a box fan for a couple of days if needed.  Do a sniff test, and if you still have a faint smell, spray the essential oil mixture again.

How to Deodorize Dresser Drawers

The process above still applies if you are wondering how to get smells out of wood drawers of an already-finished piece of furniture.  Just go over it with the bleach mixture, let them sit and then spray them with the essential oil spray as described above.


Step 6: Prime Furniture to block Out The Smell

Once your furniture is fully dry, you can prime the areas you want to paint.  The first step to refinishing is to lightly scuff sand just enough to degloss the surface. Primer is always a must before painting. (I discuss this more in my posts Why I Don’t Use Chalk Paint and How to Sand Furniture in Less Than 5 Minutes).

If you still have a slight odor, I have good news! The primer will block out the odors under the painted surface.  This primer in particular also has a mold and mildew resistant film. Continue to refinish the furniture piece using this post: A Beginner’s Guide to Furniture Refinishing (DIY Tutorial and Video

How to Get a Musty Smell Out of Furniture With A Natural Wood Finish

What if you go through all these steps and you STILL have unpleasant odors? If you can’t prime and paint the piece, you can still block the odors without painting over the natural finish. Just use a clear coat in matte or satin finish. After testing clear coats for furniture, I recommend this product wholeheartedly: Varathane Water-based Polyurethane

Be sure to see this post for the best tips on how to apply your top coat: How to Apply A Clear Coat to Furniture

How to Get the Smell out of Furniture Fabric

I have a personal rule that I don’t upcycle pieces that are upholstered unless they are in amazing shape.  However, there are times when you need to de-stank a piece you couldn’t resist or a well-loved piece of furniture in your home.


How to Remove the Smell from Fabric-Covered Chairs

For fabric covered chairs, I would take off the fabric and wash it on a gentle cycle or by hand with Woolite.  Then, I’d replace any stuffing (check here for foam) before you staple on the fabric again.  This way, you can rest assured that you know exactly what is in that foam padding!  (That episode of Friends with the rat in the red chair comes to mind!)

How to Get the Smell Out of a Couch

First, you need to decide what parts of the couch could be replaced.  I have replaced the cushion foam in three separate couches with fabulous results from The Foam Factory here.   They have directions online to measure your couch cushions.  You send in the measurements with your order and in a matter of a few days, they send you new cushions.  I’ve been very pleased and have gotten a lot more life out of several furniture pieces.

After ordering your cushions, you want to wash the cushion covers.  If your cushion covers smell like body odor, add this detergent: I have actually put couch cushion covers in the washing machine on the hand wash cycle and it works great.  Do not put your couch cushion covers in the dryer.  I put mine around the tops of my kitchen chairs and let them air out to dry.

Wipe down the rest of the couch with water and detergent.  After it has dried, spray it with the essential oil blend and water I used above.  Shake it well before use.

If your fabric furniture still smells, see the two products below…


How to Remove Urine Smell From a Couch

We have had kids and our puppy both pee on our couch before……hey, it happens!  I went through about 15 different products for upholstered furniture before finding what works to completely get out any lingering smells.  Don’t waste your time on enzymes!  The problem with enzymes is they will not work if any other soap or detergent has been used previously.

Your first option is something called Genesis 950.  I’ve used it to get old cat urine (and lots of it) out of one of the rooms in our house when we moved in.  Dilute it according to the directions and you can wipe it on a couch without it discoloring the fabric.  I would be sure to test a tiny area first to be safe though.

BE SURE TO FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS.  It has a strong chemical smell while you use it but it DOES work when other products will not.  In spite of the smell, they say it is a natural product.  The chemical smell is gone after it’s dried.  Check reviews and the current price here.

For a cheaper option, you can try Thornell’s K.O.E.  K.O.E. (Kennel Odor Eliminator) concentrate is an essential oil-based cleaner and is very effective at removing dog urine odors also.  One container will make dozens of gallons of cleaning solution.  This is also safe to use on a couch but test a small area first.  You can even use it in your washer to wash the couch covers.  Check the reviews and the current price here.

With these methods, you can avoid throwing out a well-loved piece of furniture.  Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments section.

For more quick tips on refinishing old furniture check out my must-have painting tips.  They will make your whole project go faster and smoother!

Must-Have Painting Tips - Don't start your DIY project without these painting tips. These painting tricks will make any furniture makeover or wall painting project go faster and smoother. FREE DOWNLOAD. #renovatedfaith #paintingtips #paintingtricks #furnituremakeover

FAQ’s: How to Remove Smell From Wood Furniture

How to Get Rid of Musty Smell in Furniture?

The water/bleach solution kills the mildew and bacteria but adding an essential oil solution neutralizes chemical odors and prevents mildew and bacteria from returning.

How to Get Mildew Smell Out of Furniture?

Musty odors are the result of mildew and/or bacteria and sometimes these smells have permeated beyond the surface.  A humid environment in a small enclosed room or old attic is a perfect breeding ground for mildew and bacteria. For example, my old dresser was in a storage facility where it also had water damage.   Stay away from quick fixes like air fresheners or any other easy recipes that simply mask the musty odor.

The first thing you need to do is air out the piece on a dry day and allow it to get some natural sunlight which will help to kill mildew in affected areas.  Use the cleaners in this post to help with bacteria but mildew will be killed most easily with anti-fungal detergents and a few drops of your favorite essential oil.  For the next step, scrub the furniture piece with the cleaner and let it sit before rinsing.  Let any fabric upholstery dry completely with the help of fans.

How do You Get A Thrift Store Smell Out of Furniture?

The musty scent you often smell is from mildew odor and a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water is usually enough to kill the mildew. Make sure the solution sits on the surface for 30 minutes and then is dried out completely.

Does Musty Smell Always Mean Mold?

A musty smell usually means mold and bacteria. If there was enough moisture for mold to grow in the pores of wood furniture, then there is definitely enough moisture for bacteria.

Does Vinegar Remove Musty Smell?

The important thing to remember is that you need something to kill the bacteria, mold and fungus spores that settle in porous wood furniture. Bacteria and even mold spores are tiny and settle deep into the reviews of wood. A white vinegar solution can inhibit mildew growth because of it’s high acidity but sometimes it doesn’t kill the spores completely even with the best cleaning efforts.

What is the Best Way to Remove Musty Smell From Furniture?

I’ve tried several different cleaners including baking soda, steam cleaning, dryer sheets, coffee grounds and even kitty litter. The problem with most of these including vinegar solutions is that they can’t get into the pours of wood to kill the source of the odor. The cleaning solutions mentioned in this post have given me the best results to remove old musty smells from antique furniture without any lingering odors.

Some other cleaners like apple cider vinegar, murphy’s oil soap, antifungal detergents or a one part lemon juice to one part water solution will remove unpleasant smells temporarily but the mildew smell will eventually come back. This is especially the case with natural cleaning products.

How Do You Prevent Cleaners from Having Adverse Effects on Furniture Finishes?

It’s always a good idea to test the cleaner in an inconspicuous area. Wipe it onto the bottom of the furniture piece and see if it reacts with the original finish before applying it to the whole furniture piece.

Related Posts on How to Remove a Musty Smell From Wood Furniture

How To Build a Turned-Leg Coffee Table

The Best Paint for Furniture, Tested and Reviewed

Why I Don’t Use Chalk Paint on Furniture

Easy Guide to Refinishing Furniture for Beginners

The Best Painted Furniture Makeovers from Renovated Faith

Why I Don’t Use Chalk Pant on Furniture

The Best Paint for Furniture (24 Brands Blind-Tested and Reviewed)

How to Repair Damaged Furniture Easily

Easy Natural Wood Finish on Furniture

How to Paint Furniture White

Want to see how the dresser turned out?  Click here for my coastal blue dresser makeover!

Final Thoughts on How to Get Smells Out of Wood Furniture

With this easy tutorial you can remove odors in any furniture piece so you can enjoy it for a long time. Whether it’s a leather couch, fabric furniture or a natural wood piece, the good news is that there are several options to remove the odors long term. Don’t let a funky odor keep you from refinishing that thrift store find. If you have any questions, be sure to ask them below in the comment section!

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How to Get Musty Smell Out of Furniture

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  1. I couldn’t seem to find a link for removing smells, although the page says several times that this page has all the details. What have I missed? Thanks

  2. Katherine says:

    I rescued my grandmother’s solid hickory bedroom suit out of an old house that had been abandoned for almost 3 years. I had the outside refinished and it looks beautiful but the inside of the dresser and hutch drawers have an awful musty smell. I found your site and have treated it with the bleach solution and am looking at ordering the essential oils. My question is, would it be possible to use the varnish you are suggesting on the inside of the drawers? Is there anything safe to use on the inside of the drawers? After I use the essential oils.

    1. Hey Katherine, You can definitely use the primer or the clear coat on the inside of the drawers to seal them. Either will work!

  3. What if you are not refininshing the hutch. We bought it without asking if it was a smoke free home and it smells horrible. Can I still use the bleach and essential oils.

    1. Hey Emma, I was about to say “that stinks” but I guess it really does. The only way to know is to try. The essential oils definitely won’t hurt the surface and as long as you do the bleach to water at a 1:10 ratio you will be fine. Good luck and let me know if I can answer any other questions. – Blessings, Karin

  4. When in the process of de-stanking would you sand the piece? Step 6 says to prime. Would i sand before starting the de-stank process or right before step 6 during the process?

    1. Great question. I would sand firsts so you aren’t treating any of the surface that will just be sanded off later. Let me know if you have any questions! Karin

  5. Hi, I was wondering if you know the best way to cover a wooden desk with faux leather? I bought a second hand desk in black and want to add faux leather to the top. I guess I want to fold it around the edge of the surface so the finish is good. I don’t want to use staples so perhaps a glue or I was even thinking about stick on Velcro?

    1. Hey Jo, Have you thought about hot glue? I like hot glue because it cools quickly and it will keep the leather in place but it’s not completely permanent. You could always take the leather off if you wanted to as long as you just use hot glue on the folds on the undersides of the corners. Let me know if you have any other questions! Blessings, Karin

  6. I have bought a couch from a inside Flea market. It’s like from the 70’s to 80’s. It has a packed up smell. How do you get it out.

  7. Kimberly Thomas says:

    Hi Karin, I just bought an old antique washstand. It smells like old…mold musty. I have no idea what the smell is from. But before I put it in my room I searched and found your page.

    Here is my fear, I have no intention of painting this washstand. It is in beautiful shape in its natural wood stain. But the smell is bad.

    What or will there be any damage by using water/bleach/oils etc on this? Should I only use it on the insides which will be fine but if there is mold or other on the outside…will I be damaging it?

    This is now 2020, I hope you can answer soon because it is in the way of everything. I have a small space and well I am remodeling and I am strapped for space. Plus…there are no plans for Mother Nature to send any sun my way for this entire week! Feb. 10, 2020, LOL!

    Thank you so much!

    1. If you are going to paint all of it, the bleach solution will not hurt it. Also, use the essential oils I mention in the most as they will help to kill any mold/bacteria as well. Just make sure it dries out after you clean it up before painting it. If there is still a little smell left after cleaning it, the paint should block it out the rest of the way. Feel free to send me a picture if you want at karin@renovatedfaith.com.

  8. Rita Votava says:

    How can I get dryer shett smell from upholstered sleeper couch? I already washed with vinegar and air dried.

  9. I have a leather couch that I cannot remove the cushions. They were in my moms storage unit for years and we just moved into a new place. Is there any possible way to get the mildew smell out? If not, will it eventually be less? I have washed it with bleach and water 3 times.

    1. I don’t think you want to hear this but I don’t think anything can trump bleach. But you can always try the essential oil I recommend. It won’t hurt!

  10. I have been washing couch cushion covers in the washing machine forever; here’s a trick I learned from a old decorating book: When you take them out of the washer, immediately pop them back onto the cushions and stand them on their end (so the air can get to both top and bottom at the same time.
    They’re much easier to get back on when they’re wet and I think the seams dry straighter.

  11. Jan vandiver says:

    Can you use the KOE on suede cloth furniture

    1. Good question. If it’s that faux suede you see a lot now, I think so but just test it on a small area. Thank you for reading!