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How to Get that Funky Smell out of Wooden Furniture

(hint: the sun)

When I moved, most of my furniture was hand-me-downs from my parents, which was great because it saved me the money and nuisance of having to buy new stuff during a broke and busy time.

One item was a rolltop desk.  I really like this desk, but it had that been-in-the-basement-for-decades odor.  For almost two years, I tried putting various sweet-smelling items into the drawers.  The result was that the desk and everything in it smelled like a yucky mix of must and flowery dryer sheets.

Then, I half-assedly tried gimmicky stuff endorsed by the internet.  (Example: I put one drawer in the freezer with baking soda.  When I took it out it didn’t smell.  Until the next morning when it was unfrozen.  This DOES NOT WORK.)

After extensive research, I cobbled together this week-long plan for killing that smell dead.  Warning:  this takes a lot of time and patience and sunny days.

Day 1: Wipe all drawers and the inside of the desk with a vinegar and tea tree oil mixture.  (I had tried this method months earlier and the bad smells eventually came back — but it did something, if only temporarily.)

Day 2: In the morning, sprinkle baking soda through the drawers and stick natural air freshener inside the desk.  In the evening, vacuum up the baking soda and wipe everything down with Murphy’s Oil Soap.

Day 3: Set the drawers in sunlight inside for the whole day (if you are fortunate enough to have lots of natural sunlight indoors) and in the evening wipe them, as well as the inside of the desk, with rubbing alcohol.

Day 4: Set the drawers outside in the sun.  In the evening, bring them back inside, sprinkle with baking soda, and place natural air back inside the desk.

Day 5: Let the baking soda continue to sit in drawers all day.  You’ll be too exhausted to do anything.

Day 6: Place the drawers, bottoms up with an alcohol spritz, back outside in the sun.  In the evening wipe sides and insides (not bottoms) of drawers with Murphy’s Oil Soap.

Day 7: Drawers back out in sun again (right side up, to hit the insides for a second day).  In the evening, bring them back inside, place them into the desk, put natural air into each drawer, and shut.

Day 8: Remove the natural air and leave the drawers open to air for a day.

By the third day of 10+ hours in the sun, the drawers have a pleasant burnt-wood like smell — much preferable to the musty stink from before.

Notes on the wonder of the sun:

  • The more blazing the sun, the better.  I was fortunate to have a stretch of warm, sunny April days.
  • I’m convinced you can probably skip everything else and just use the sun
  • If, like me, you can’t move the actual item into the sun, the alcohol, Murphy’s oil soap, vinegar, etc. might help.

It’s been two months since I did this and the burnt-wood smell has sadly faded, but the funk is pretty much gone.  I occasionally leave the drawers open to air out and, since it’s basically impossible for me to put the whole desk into the sun, I am satisfied.  At some point, I likely will take the drawers back into the sun, just to make sure anything gross and smelly that might re-animate dies another sun-bleached death.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. gmitchican #

    For some reason I’m having trouble commenting, WordPress says my password is wrong, but wanted to ask how you got the drawer in the freezer?

    June 25, 2014
    • Jenny Vinyl #

      ha! So it helped that I had almost nothing in my freezer because I never cook. 🙂 🙂 I put it in a plastic garbage bag (with some baking soda in the bag) and it fit ok. Oh, I had to remove a rack. But it fit! (And was pointless.)

      June 25, 2014

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