Antique wood dressers that have been in storage for a while often develop an unpleasant musty odor that can be hard to remove. While painting the drawers with Kilz or some other sealant works for removing musty odors in contemporary dressers, an antique dresser needs special handling so as not to cause permanent damage.
Here's a few simple ways that will remove musty odors without causing damage to the wood.
Set it out in the sun. Since I live in a desert, my first approach for removing odors is to set my musty furniture out in the sunshine. Ultraviolet light is a natural disinfectant and in most cases will kill the fungi that's responsible for the musty odor in old furniture. To disinfect a smelly antique dresser, simply remove the drawers and place both the dresser and the drawer in sun, open side up. Let set for several days, bringing in at night to avoid damage from the dew. Remember to flip the drawers so that the underside has a chance to air.
Spritz it with bleach. If your weather isn't as cooperative as mine, another simple solution is to wipe down the inside of the dresser with a mild bleach solution. Bleach kills mildew and mold on contact without damaging the furniture. One easy method is to decant a mild bleach solution (1 cap bleach per 3 cups of water) in a spray bottle, spray the interior of the drawer liberally, and then wipe dry. Take care not to over spray since bleach can ruin your clothes and your carpet.
Pack it with charcoal. Charcoal absorbs odors and may work with antique dressers with just a faint trace of mustiness. To get rid of odor, place several bowls of charcoal briquets in each drawer, close the drawers, and let sit for 24-48 hours.
Paint it with apple cider vinegar. The high acidity of apple cider vinegar also is effective in killing mold and removing odors. Working with one section at a time, use 5% apple cider vinegar and a dollar store paint brush to liberally "paint" the interior of your antique dresser and the inside of the drawers. Wipe down the vinegar after several minutes, let air dry before using.
Musty dresser odors isn't anything new. Our grandparents struggled with the same problems years ago which why antique dressers are often discovered lined with paper. Dresser liners not only protected clothing from stains and wood snags, but absorbed stale odors, too. Once your antique has been deodorized, keep it smelling fresh with either scented and unscented dresser liners which are still available at most bath and bedding stores.
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