How to Remove Smelly Odors From Old Dresser Drawers

So let me ask you guys a question.  Have you ever been in a thrift store, an old barn or even a yard sale and completely fallen in love with a dresser?  On the outside it’s perfection.  Then you pull out the drawers and this obnoxious odor hovers just under the tip of your nose.  It’s in that moment over a cigarette smoke, mildew induced, musty, grimy haze that you have a decision to make.  Should you take the chance or walk away?

I recently acquired a beautiful dresser.  I loved the vintage lines and hardware the minute I saw it.  I painted the piece in a customer favorite Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Duck Egg followed by a coat of clear paste wax.  I thought I was done.  You know, load it up, take it to the booth, this one’s good to go.  But something about the smell coming from the drawers really bothered me.  It was so subtle at first I didn’t really notice it. But the more time I spent painting the dresser the more I realized it wasn’t the pollen or the air pressure that I was struggling with – it was the smell coming from the dresser drawers.

There are some pieces of furniture where the wood is too damaged and the smell too awful, I just walk away.  Given wood is porous, you honestly just have to trust your gut and decide if the extra work is even worth it.  Here are 7 tips to help remove smelly odors from old dresser drawers if you decide to bring it home.

Tip 1: Clean it out – As soon as I bring a piece of furniture home, I immediately get out the shop vac.  I get rid of all of the cobwebs and any lose dirt, debris or flaking paint. If you don’t have a shop vac you can use a coarse bristle brush broom or vacuum cleaner with an attachment.  If you’re using a vacuum cleaner with an attachment make sure to empty the canister immediately after cleaning the dresser drawers.


Tip 2: Depending on the intensity of the smell, I’ll mix 2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar with 1 quart of warm water and wipe down the inside of each drawer.  The trick to this tip is that you don’t want to saturate the wood with the vinegar solution.  The cloth should only be slightly damp.


Tip 3: Allow the drawers to air out in the sun.  A few days if possible but I understand sometimes that’s not an option.  There’s just something about the sunshine that seems to draw out the odors.


Tip 4:  Place a small cup filled with borax or baking soda in each drawer and close the drawers.  Let the borax or baking soda absorb the odors for a few days if possible.  I’ve also placed dryer sheets in each drawer for a few days.  Dryer sheets work best if the smell is tolerable and not overwhelming.


Tip 5: Clean the drawers with a wood cleaner like Murphy’s Oil Soap.  Again, you don’t want to saturate the wood so wipe with a cloth that is slightly damp.


Tip 6: After a good scrubbing, sometimes the wood inside the dresser drawers can become parched and thirsty.  Feed them with a wood conditioner that smells pleasant.  You’ll want to do this step after you’ve cleaned the drawers really well and allowed them to dry in the sun.

Tip 7:  After taking the drawers out use an odor eliminating spray like Febreeze inside the body of the dresser.  Sometimes it’s really hard to clean the back and sides of a piece of furniture.  Make every effort to clean these areas as well as you can then use the odor eliminating spray.


Every wood species is different just like each piece of furniture and the environment in which it’s been living is different.  You may only need to use one of these tips or as in my case with the dresser you’ll need to do all 7.

How to Remove Smelly Odors From Old Dreser Drawers - The Crowned Goat

Either way, it will be worth the effort.  Some pieces deserve a second chance.


I hope you guys all have a happy and relaxing weekend.  See you back here on Monday for the Something to Talk About Link Party!

Many blessings,



  1. says

    Thank you for these tips!! I have found furniture pieces that I wanted but passed because of the smell. Not any more!! Great tips!! Have an amazing day!

    • says

      Tell me about it ladies. The more you DIY the more you understand which pieces are worth taking the chance. Thanks so much for sharing. Hope you girls have a great weekend. Hugs, Coco

  2. says

    Thanks for sharing these tips — I have passed on many a cool looking piece because the smell was more than I could handle! I actually have a dresser we bought brand new that has one stinky drawer; I will be trying these tips on that one! Pinning so I don’t forget!

    • says

      I hope these help, Wendy! I’ve even heard of people putting a box of baking soda into the drawer and placing the entire drawer into a big garbage bag so sit for a few days. I’ve never tried it before but it may be an option for you as well. Good luck! CoCo