For many people, antique furniture is furniture with a soul and irreplaceable addition to their apartments and houses. Many people like vintage and antique furniture, and pieces of certain valuable collections make an even nicer decoration to their homes, especially if they know how to combine it with their regular furniture. Some people furnish their entire homes with vintage and antique furniture, which can sometimes get problematic because of the foul antique odor that makes the furniture smell almost unbearably.

Antique furniture can be found in antique stores, but also in different auctions and online stores, as well as flea markets, where smaller pieces of furniture are more dominant than large sofas, wardrobes, and shelves.

 A piece of furniture is considered an antique if it’s older than 100 years and more. Perhaps, it’s difficult to imagine a piece of furniture could last so long, but metal and full wood furniture could last much more if it was properly cared for.

However, no matter how quality, sturdy and durable some antique furniture pieces are, the process of aging results in the formation of bacteria, mold, and mildew on the surface and inside the wooden furniture. As the parasites and microorganisms continue to multiply on the old furniture as it wears off, a more unpleasant smell can be felt.

This may not always be the case, but with some furniture pieces, it is and can disrupt your entire lifestyle, as no air purifier is good enough to keep your room clean.

When the smell becomes unbearable, antique furniture owners either resort to chemical treatments and hiring a service, or even go far enough to throw the furniture away, which can feel quite defeating for many people who are regular visitors to flea markets and antique stores.

Luckily, if you determine the cause of the smell in time, chances are you’ll be able to save your furniture before the bacteria and mildew eat it away. Continue reading our compelling guide that will help you not only to clean your furniture of unwanted odor but also take special preventive measures that will keep your furniture clean and protected from any bad smells for years if you take proper care of it.

How to Determine the Cause of the Smell?

Of course, in some small instances, it won’t always be the old furniture you own that smells. Sometimes, it can be something else like wet clothing, trash can, dishwasher, moldy walls, or anything else for that matter. That’s why it’d be always good to check for the other causes of smell in your home.

Alternatively, it’s worth mentioning that old wood that can be 100 to 200 years old can absorb different smells from the kitchen, so if your antique furniture is close to the kitchen, it’ll likely absorb the smell from the other parts of the kitchen.

Many modern kitchens are equipped with an extractor fan, which helps absorb the moisture and strong smells that come when you’re cooking certain stronger meals, where vegetables and spices sway different odors that may not be comfortable for everyone.

Even polished furniture loses its polish and luster over time, and as the protective cover fades from it, it’s more likely to start absorbing the smell of different odors that sway through your home, leaving your furniture smelling unpleasant.

It’s also worth mentioning that old wood is dry and easy to absorbs any kind of moisture. That being said, if you have an air purifier or a humidifier, or simply live in a humid area in the world, your antique furniture is more likely to absorb that moisture.

Wet wood and wooden area that is prone to moisture is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, mildew, yeast, and other types of bacteria and microorganisms. Once they made it their home there, they can be extremely difficult to clean and even more so detect.

If it’s possible, you should be able to open and disassemble your furniture to see where the culprit behind the smell is coming from. Some furniture is so old that it can’t be disassembled, but you can still move it away and check for some spots that may have mold or mildew on it. Besides, if the smell is becoming stronger and more prominent, that means that you’re closer to the part that is causing the bad smell.

Tips for Determining the Severity of the Smell

There’s simply not much that we could advise you on when it comes to determining the severity of the smell, but you probably know that some antique items may smell more than others. Some of the best things that you can do to determine the severity of the smell are:

  • Check if there are some parts of the wood that have completely decayed and dried out, as those parts may be what’s causing the smell, but not as severely.
  • Open and remove the drawers or shelves from the wardrobe to see whether there’s a nest of some small animal, or whether there are deposits of mold and mildew.
  • If there are traces of mold, see if there are rough white or green patches over the furniture’s surface.
  • Check if there is a trace of standing water. For example, some drawers or other parts of the furniture to be filled with water.
  • If it’s a chair, rocking chair, sofa, or some other furniture piece for comfort, check if the fabric has decayed.
  • Check for traces of dead or alive insects that could be eating the furniture apart.

Lastly, be aware that you have to take good care of the furniture, and that not all environments are suitable for pieces of furniture that are 100 or more years old. Humid areas can be the death of old furniture, no matter how preserved it is. Don’t forget that your treatment of it also determines how long it’ll last.

Keep in mind that the smell of your furniture may be a result of being treated with some retardants that are used to treat old furniture if you’ve just recently gotten it from the antique store. In that case, you should let it air outside until the bad smell fades completely.

If you determined what causes the smell of the furniture, know that there are plenty of easy ways to get rid of the bad smell. Most of them are easy and won’t damage your furniture further, but if it won’t work, you’ll have to resort to some more radical measures.

Natural Remedies for Eliminating Antique Furniture Smell

Most of the time you won’t have to use any chemical solutions to get rid of the bad smell. All you need is a bit of patience and a few ingredients that can be found at home or bought in a local store. We assure you, however, that you’ll find most of the following this at home.

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is one of the best materials for cleaning. It’s not only good for cleaning your house, but it’s also good for your skincare, hair, teeth, and even digestion problems.

 It’s been a while since activated charcoal has made its way to people’s homes, and that’s exactly because it’s good at soaking up problems. It can absorb dust, bacteria, fungi, and much more, which is why it’s a good thing to clean your drawers and other pieces of furniture.

It can also absorb dirt and bad smells, so it’ll leave your furniture feeling just good. However, don’t apply too much of it, as it can cause the wood to decay after some time. Its texture may be a bit too rough for certain types of wood, so it’s best to use it in moderate amounts.

Editor’s notes: Rub activated charcoal on the affected furniture like drawers, shelves, chairs, cabinets, and other furniture, and use a small brush to scrub it. Let it sit for a few days before cleaning it off and letting your furniture air on the balcony or outside, for the rest of the smell to dissipate.

Baking Soda

A lot of people think that activated charcoal is better at absorbing dust, dirt, and bacteria. They’re not wrong, but baking soda is also a great natural antibacterial remedy to antique furniture odor.

However, a good thing about baking soda is that it’s gentler for old furniture compared to activated charcoal. Still, it’s recommended not to apply too much of it on the furniture, so that the wood won’t decay further. You should leave the baking soda in the drawers or cabinets for at least a week for visible results, and then scrub it off the furniture.

Editor’s notes: You should apply the baking soda in similar ways as you applied the activated charcoal, except that it should stay in the wardrobe longer. If you don’t have baking soda, carpet powder will come in handy just fine too.

White Vinegar

This is one of the oldest tricks for cleaning antique furniture that works. Since vinegar itself is too strong for the old furniture, you should mix it with water in a 1:1 ratio and then spray and wipe every piece of furniture with a towel. That way you’re surely going to get rid of all the unwanted smells.

Editor’s notes: if you’re worried vinegar will ruin your furniture, you can mix it in a 1:2 ratio. Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that apple cider vinegar is also great at cleaning your furniture.

Lemon Juice

Lemon has antibacterial properties, and the citric acid inside of it closely resembles to that of vinegar. That’s what makes lemon juice an ideal agent for cleaning the odor caused by dirt and bacteria in your antique furniture. You can either use whole lemon juice or mix it with water in a 1:1 ratio and clean the surface of the furniture.

Editor’s notes: If you’re unsure of cleaning and scrubbing the furniture with lemon juice, you can pour it into a small cup and place it inside the furniture, that way, the lemon juice will absorb the smell, while your furniture will absorb the beautiful new citrus-like smell.


If you’re looking for a refreshing and pleasant smell for your old antique furniture that absorbed the odor of old, you can use potpourri. It’s usually placed in fabric bags or sachets which are then distributed in the drawers, wardrobes, and cabinets to absorb the old bacteria-like smell. It’s small so you can also place it in musty cupboards and chests where it’s most effective.

Editor’s notes: For a better effect, remember to squeeze the sachets every once in a while to release the sweet smell.

Chemical-based Solutions to Smelly Antique Furniture

Despite being super-effective, some furniture is simply resistant to natural remedies, which is why sometimes you have to resort to chemical solutions to get rid of it.

Odor-eliminating Sprays

There are many pouches and sprays that you can use to spray your furniture and get rid of the stale odor that has been ruining the fresh smell of your home. They were not too expensive, and they look. Of course, in addition to spraying the sprays, it’s important to clean the furniture regularly and thoroughly, to ensure that there are no signs of bacteria or mold on the furniture surface.

Editor’s notes: There are different sprays on the market. What spray you’ll choose also depends on your preferences and what odors you’re comfortable with. Our favorite choice is Febreze Touch Spray which not only works with furniture but also with clothes and other fabrics.

Furniture Polish

In some cases, the furniture simply smells because the furniture has caught rust, dried out, or decayed. In such cases, it’s a good idea to cover the furniture with odor-eliminating polish which will not only eliminate the bad odor but also extend the lifespan of your furniture.

Editor’s notes: One of the best furniture polish sprays on the market is the Rejuvenate furniture restorer. It also comes with a pleasant lemon scent which will restore your furniture.

Furniture Wax

It’s a bit debatable whether furniture wax is a natural remedy for getting rid of that disgusting odor, or a chemical one, but we decided to go with the latter due to some small finesses. Nevertheless, furniture wax is a special polish that is made mainly out of natural ingredients.

It mainly uses beeswax and carnauba wax and sweet fragrances that will refresh your furniture and extend its lifespan.

Editor’s notes: If you’re looking for a furniture wax based on beeswax, there’s no better choice than Wood Seasoning Beeswax. It is ideal for wooden cabinets, drawers, tables, chairs, and other old furniture.

Wood Cleaner

Wood Cleaner will perform a deep clean of the decaying wood and bring it back to life, which is likely exactly what your antique furniture needs if you want to get rid of the bad smells that ruin your mood.

It’s based on a water formula that will help perform a deep cleaning on all wooden surfaces even if they’re hundreds of years old. It will give your wood furniture a clean appearance and also take care of any odor.

Editor’s notes: Most Wood Cleaners are based on the same formula and feel pleasing and effective on all sorts of furniture. Anyhow, we found one of the most effective formulas is exactly Murphy Oil. It is super effective and packed with orange oil that is safe for any kind of wood.

Professional Treatment Options to Get rid of the Odor

In rare situations, neither natural nor chemical remedies will help chase that persistent, annoying odor out, no matter how much you try. In that case, you’ll have to contact a professional service that will use several methods to clean the furniture properly.

Steam Cleaning

Steam cleaning is some of the best ways to clean old furniture thanks to the soft brisk strokes that remove all the bacteria, mold, and other microorganisms. It’s particularly good for upholstery.

It’s worth mentioning that you should always contact the service to ensure they perform steam cleaning on old furniture. That way, you’ll ensure that the furniture is in safe hands and that you won’t have to deal with unbearable smells anymore.

Dry Cleaning

Dry cleaning is a good option for upholstery and furniture like sofas, rocking chairs, and anything that has fabric in it. After all, it may happen that moisture was trapped inside which resulted in mold and another microorganism. Consult with a service that performs the dry cleaning before doing the procedure on your furniture.

You can also perform dry cleaning at home with your own device, but unless you have a label that indicates that it’s safe to dry clean on your own, it’s too risky to try on your own.

Upholstery Cleaning

Do you own any furniture that contains fabric and upholstery in particular? Is your carpet so old and dirty that it started absorbing bad odors? In that case, professional upholstery cleaning is not only more convenient for you, but in the long run, it pays out. Not only will it get rid of the annoying smell, but it’ll also make it look clean as new.

Wood Refinishing

Wood refinishing is a professional process where carpenters will add some other material and finish it in a way to replace the old, decaying piece of wood.

Different materials are used, but if the decaying wood in the furniture is causing a bad smell, this method will help you get rid of it and also restore some life to your furniture. Sometimes, it takes as little as new paint and polish, and sometimes, more complex repairs are needed.

Preventive Measures to Keep Antique Furniture Fresh

If you got rid of the bad odor that swayed through your house and disrupted your day congratulations! However, that’s not where the work ends. Here’s a list of preventive measures to take to keep your house clean.

  • Storage – If your furniture is prone to absorbing moisture and different smells, then keep it away from places where moisture and humidity are high. It’s also a good idea to keep it away from the kitchen where different spices and other ingredients easily get in the old wood and result in a bad odor.
  • Regular Maintenance – Polish and clean your furniture with the aforementioned sprays and other products to ensure your furniture is always clean and no mold or residue is gathering on its surface.
  • Protective Coverings – Unfortunately, old furniture is prone to tear and damage because it’s been around for more than 100 years. Luckily, there are coatings and protective coverings that will keep it looking fresh. Additionally, there are plenty of protective covers that will guard your furniture against moisture, excessive light, and accidents on Amazon.


Antique furniture, if made good, is often timeless, and undoubtedly goes well with modern furniture. Unfortunately, being over 100 years old, it withstood the damage of the tooth over time which sometimes results in bad odors and smells.

Luckily there are many ways to overcome that from natural ingredients to professional processes that effectively get rid of the bad smell, dirt, and residue. Although it can be annoying, old furniture can be brought back to life, and with proper maintenance kept being as good as new. We hope these methods helped you clean your furniture and that it’s looking fresh and clean now.

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