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How to Get Smell Out of Wood Furniture

  • by Joshua Cordray
How to Get Smell Out of Wood Furniture

Everyone loves wooden furniture but nobody likes a bad smell - especially from that nice table you picked up from Craigslist. While our team at Artisan Born normally build new furniture, we've also taken on some used pieces and know how to get rid of that whiff of.... whatever that is!

Let's go through the things you can get done at home, sometimes with just a spray bottle.

First Identify the Smell

The first step in eliminating odors from wood furniture is identifying the type of smell. Different smells—such as musty, urine, or chemical—come from varied sources. Dog urine doesn't smell like moldy wood. And you treat those two problems very differently.

So, check for what is causing the smell. Is there a particular stain that stinks to high heaven? Did the furniture come from a smoker's house? Will a simple cleaning fix the problem?

Just have a good look at the furniture first. Sniff around a little. Try to narrow down the problem a little.

Common Methods to Eliminate Odor from Wood

There aren't eighty-nine ways to get smells out of wood. There are really only about five. Natural remedies are highly effective and also less likely to damage the wood.

Ready to add to your file of DIY know-how? Here are the five best ways to get rid of that whiff.

Baking Soda

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a natural odor absorber, making it ideal for removing smells from wood furniture. Its alkaline nature neutralizes acidic odors, which are common in food spills or pet accidents.

To maximize effectiveness, spread a generous amount of baking soda over the wood surface and leave it for 24 hours. For deeper odors, place a bowl of baking soda inside closed spaces like drawers. Vacuum or wipe off the powder afterward. Baking soda is especially effective for organic odors but might be less effective for chemical smells.

White Vinegar

White vinegar, due to its acidic nature, breaks down odor molecules, making it effective for removing a wide range of odors, including pet urine and mildew. Vinegar is a great choice because spraying it on and wiping it off again are really easy! And because wood absorbs moisture, it will take in a little of the vinegar to get rid of the other smelly stuff it absorbed before.

Create a diluted solution of one part vinegar to one part water and apply it lightly to the wood using a soft cloth. Avoid over-saturating the wood to prevent damage. After application, allow the wood to air dry. The vinegar smell will dissipate, taking the unpleasant odors with it. This method works well for acidic and alkaline odors alike.

Vinegar is great for targeting specific stains. It's also very unlikely to leave a mark if you spray it onto any fabric material by accident.

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is highly porous, enabling it to absorb odors effectively. Place bowls of activated charcoal inside or near the furniture for several days. For enclosed spaces like drawers, small sachets of activated charcoal can be used. This method is particularly good for persistent odors that do not respond to other treatments. Activated charcoal is odorless and will not leave a residue, making it suitable for all types of smells.

This is a slow remedy, though. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Put a bit of activated charcoal in drawers or storage closets that seem to always get a bit smelly.

Sunlight and Fresh Air

Sunlight and fresh air are natural deodorizers. The UV rays from the sun can kill bacteria and mold causing the odors, while fresh air helps to dissipate the smells. Place the furniture outside or in a well-ventilated area exposed to sunlight for a few hours. However, avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, which can damage the wood.

This method is best for musty or mildew odors. Wood left outside like this, as long as it doesn't get wet, will dry out. The mold and mildew will die off and the smell will dissipate.

Sand and Reseal

When odors have penetrated deeply into the wood, sanding off the top layer of the finish and resealing can be effective. This method removes the odor-absorbing layer of the wood. Sand the surface gently to avoid damaging the wood, then apply a new sealant. This approach is labor-intensive but necessary for severe or persistent odors that have not responded to other treatments.

Treating the Problem: Specific Examples

Those are the most common methods and the ones that work. Now let's take a quick look at some specific examples and how you could treat them.

How to get urine smell out of wood

For urine smells, start with a vinegar solution to neutralize the odor. If the smell persists, apply a layer of baking soda for 24 hours. In cases of deep penetration, sanding and resealing the wood may be necessary.

However, most urine stains are really only shallow stains and unlikely to have penetrated deep into the wood. Vinegar is the best bet for this category. If the first try doesn't succeed, then just do it a few more times. It will work!

How to get smells out of wood drawers

For odors in drawers, fill a sock or small fabric bag with baking soda or activated charcoal. Leave it in the drawer for several days. If the odor remains, consider wiping the drawer with a diluted vinegar solution.

Musty odors in drawares are not usually caused by the wood, but by the things in the drawers. Baking soda will absorb the smells.

Did you know one teaspoon of activated charcoal has as much surface area as a football field? Yeah! It's great for filtering odors out of air and is used in my professional filters for that very reason. A little porous bag of it in a drawer will work wonders.

How to get musty smell out of wood furniture

To remove musty smells, first try airing out the furniture in sunlight. If the odor persists, apply a vinegar solution or place bowls of activated charcoal inside the furniture. For stubborn smells, sanding and resealing might be required.

If musty stench is the problem, take extra time to try to find the specific area causing the problem. Yo might see a discolored patch, an area where mold or mildew grow, or even a bit of soft wood. Washing the affected area and then leaving it to dry is a great start.

What to do when new wood furniture smells bad

New wood furniture may emit odors due to chemicals in the finish. Place the furniture in a well-ventilated area or outdoors to off-gas. Activated charcoal can also help absorb unwanted smells without adding any scent.

To speed this up, give the finish a rubdown with a mix of water and vinegar. You don't damage any paint or varnish if you're gentle. But you will speed up the process of leaving the piece sitting about somewhere to stop stinking.

When is it Time to Sand and Re-Seal Surfaces?

Consider sanding and resealing when odors remain after trying less invasive methods. This approach is necessary for odors that have deeply penetrated the wood's surface or in cases where the wood has absorbed significant amounts of an odor-causing substance.


Eliminating odors from wood furniture requires a strategic approach based on the type of smell. From simple, natural solutions like baking soda and vinegar to more intensive measures like sanding and resealing, there are effective methods for addressing various odors. Understanding the nature of the odor and how different treatments work allows for a targeted and successful odor elimination process, restoring your wood furniture's natural beauty and freshness.


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