How to Remove Smelly Odors From Old Dresser Drawers

Today, we’re sharing a solution to one of our most commonly asked questions…How to Remove Smelly Odors From Old Dresser Drawers!

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?

It Started with a Simple Dresser Makeover, Smelly Drawers & a Big Decision

A few years ago, I acquired a beautiful dresser.  I loved the vintage lines and hardware the minute I saw it.  At the time, I decided to paint piece with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Duck Egg, followed by a coat of clear furniture paste wax.  

Once the dresser had been painted, waxed and sealed, I thought I was done. 

But something about the smell coming from the drawers really bothered me.  It was so subtle at first I didn’t really notice it. The more time I spent painting the dresser though, the more I realized it wasn’t the pollen 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 so awful, I walk away knowing it’s just too hard to fix.  Given wood is porous, you honestly just have to trust your gut and decide if the extra work is even worth it. 

That said, there are a few things you can do to try and remove smelly odors from piece of furniture that are still in relatively good shape but have been sitting a while, waiting to be refreshed!

Here are 7 tips to help remove smelly odors from old dresser drawers…

Start with a Shop Vac, Brush or Broom 

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.  Keep in mind, if you’re using a vacuum cleaner with an attachment make sure to empty the canister immediately after cleaning the dresser drawers.


Wipe Down the Dresser Drawers 

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. 

So, your cloth should only be slightly damp.


Allow the Smelly Odors in the Dresser Drawers to Air Out 

Allow the drawers to air out in the sun.  A few days if possible, but I understand sometimes that’s not always an option.  There’s just something about the sunshine that seems to draw out the odors though so if you’re able give it a shot. 


Make Your Own Air Freshener 

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.


Use a Wood Cleaner

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.


Feed and Condition the Smelly Dresser Drawers After You’ve Properly Cleaned Them

After a good scrubbing, sometimes the wood inside the dresser drawers can become parched and thirsty.  Feed the drawers 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.

Try a Safe Odor Eliminating Spray

After taking the drawers out, use an odor eliminating spray like Febreeze or safe spray of your choice, 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 in a well ventilated area.


Keep in mind, every wood species is different just like each piece of furniture and the environment in which they’ve been living is different.  You may only need to use one of these tips or as in my case with this dresser, I had to do all 7 steps.

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

Either way, it will be worth the effort.  Some pieces just steal your heart and you know they deserve a second chance.


Speaking of second chance, we’ve completed so many furniture makeovers over the past few years.  Here are some of our favorites: Home Office Desk Makeover, Dresser Makeover in Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint, DIY French Country Bed Crown, and a French Linen Hutch Makeover

To see all the posts sharing our painted furniture makeovers from start to finish, head to the Painted Furniture Category here

Many blessings,


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  1. 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!

    1. Thanks so much Angie, hope you have an awesome day as well sweet girl!

  2. Hey CoCo – these are all fantastic tips! We had to learn the hard way that some pieces are on the curb for a reason 🙂 Thanks for making such a great list – we will Pin this to our Painted Furniture Board!
    Vicki and Jennifer 2 Bees in a Pod recently posted…Jenn’s Old HouseMy Profile

    1. 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

  3. 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!

    1. 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

    1. Thank you Brooke! It’s definitely worth trying out.

  4. Kimberley S says:

    Thank You, Seriously. The only idea I had was the frabric sheets, but those combined with a few of your great tips will surely do the job. Thanx again, Stay Safe..?

    1. You are so welcome, Kimberley! I know it’s not always a fail-safe method but it’s definitely worth trying to save a piece you really love. Hope you have a happy weekend, CoCo

  5. Jacqueline Rose says:

    I bought a beautiful antique dining room suite…20 years ago. The drawers smelled musty. My brother told me cut bar soap, I used dial mountain fresh, and place in small unsealed sandwich bag. Placed throughout the drawers, closed the drawers, days later huge difference. It worked!!

  6. Thanks for all the wonderful tips on
    freshening my old dresser drawers .
    My drawers can’t be removed from the base , but I sprayed Fabreeze behind drawers . I’ll check later to see if it’s helping . I’ll try a soap bar in an unsealed bag . Might try dryer sheets too , but they’ll lose their smell after a few days , won’t they ?

    1. Thank you so much for your patience on this response Jan!

      We did have a reader report she had success using dial mountain fresh soap that she had left in unsealed sandwich bags for several days (make sure the drawers are empty or your clothes will like soap too) I’ve never tried it myself though. Someone else mentioned they used odor-absorbing balls normally used for sneakers (you can find them on Amazon) too and another reported success with kitty litter but that might be difficult for you if you can’t take the drawers out.

      Most of the dryer sheets and sachets we’ve used in the past have lost their scent after about 90 days so it’s definitely not a long-term solution. It sounds like you’re headed in the right direction though.

      Hope this helps,

  7. Hello!

    I have a very old dresser my brother gave me. The drawers smell. Not of mildew or chemical. Like an old wood smell, I think. It’s not a bad smell, it is unpleasant. I used baking soda at first. 2nd I use Murphy oil. I laid them in the sun all day. It helped some. I then painted the inside of the drawers with paint. It helped. I painted again. It helped even more but the smell is still there slightly. My question is – can I use a primer on top of the 2 coats of paint? I wish I came across your tips before I did everything to the dresser drawers. Actually today when I got out of work I came across your tips. I hope the primer would be ok on top of paint. The smell is not strong at all like it was, but still there. Thank you very much😊🙂

    1. Thanks so much for your patience with this response, Diane.

      It’s hard to say if a primer will help now that you already have 2 coats of paint on the inside of the drawers. I’m not an expert but it’s my understanding that primer is normally used before painting in order to seal and block odors. I’ve never tried primer over paint so it’s ultimately up to you if you want to give it a go or not.

      A few readers have had success using kitty litter to absorb excess odors, odor-absorbing balls normally used for sneakers (you can find them on Amazon), and another shared she had success placing dial mountain fresh soap bars in small unsealed sandwich bags throughout the drawers and leaving them in for several days.

      Wood is very porous which can make it difficult to work with sometimes but hopefully, not impossible.

      Hope this helps,

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