Thursday, March 7, 2013

removing stubborn smells from old furniture

Two of the pieces I picked up last week smelled like cigarette smoke BAD.  The two dressers were in the seller's garage when I picked them up so I didn't realize how intense the smell was until about ten minutes down the road.  In my experience, cigarette smoke is by far the hardest odor to eliminate - but it's totally doable.

I started small.  I began by spraying down both dressers entirely with vinegar,

and left them outside overnight to air out.  Usually this step is enough to get rid of most musty smells, but it did nothing for the cigarette smell.

Don't make the mistake of assuming that several coats of paint will cover the smell - very few paints are odor blockers.

The next step was to try wiping them down with a TSP substitute.  Wipe it on, let it sit for a few minutes, and then wipe it off.
Again,  nothing.  Darn.

So I pulled out my trusty shellac.  The zinnser shellac and (this primer) are widely used odor blockers.  They are also very hazardous, so I use them as a last resort.
I was planning to distress these pieces after I painted them, so I didn't want to use a pigmented odor blocker.
The clear shellac can be applied with a brush, roller or a rag (or sprayed).  I opted for a lint free cloth.  It dries very quickly so you have to work fast to avoid any drag.

The minimum recommendation to block odors is two coats.  The smell was so strong for these pieces that I applied three to every inch (inside and out) before the smell was gone.

Lightly sand with a 220 grit sandpaper before applying paint and you're good to go!

(Clear shellac is also a tannin bleed blocker.  If you're experiencing any bleed as you're painting and don't want to prime with a white primer that will show through when distressing - this shellac works great).


  1. Thanks for sharing this! I've had trouble getting rid of odors before and will definitely try these tips!

  2. Perfect timing!!!!!! I picked up a smokers dresser today off CL and was freaking out about the odor removal process! You rock!!!

  3. thanks for sharing those tips, I always have trouble getting the stink out of old drawers!

    Why is shellac and cover stain hazardous? I use cover stain alot and now you have me worried!


    1. You might find this interesting:

  4. I have used kitty litter with great success..but once I purchased something that came out of a barn and frankly there was just no getting that stink out of the wood. Shellac is often the key, but the smell is horrible...and must be done with good ventilation and a respirator if possible.

    1. I've never tried kitty litter - what a great idea!

  5. Thanks Natty........your persistence paid off. Coffee beans does wonders too! Happy weekend :)

  6. I have run across a few "stinky" ones myself and tobacco is always the worst to get out! I use shellac as my last weapon because it's takes a lot of work to get every nook and cranny but always have had good results with vinegar and then baking soda, alternating the two. I let the baking soda sit for a few days and do a few rounds of each:)

    A good tip for moldy smell is diluted (with water) bleach and spray it all, wiping it down with a wet rag. Kills the spores. Then backing soda to get rid of the bleach smell.

  7. I also faced this problem and now i will try your tips and i hope my furniture will fine and good again like new. And i have shared this post at my facebook page "Efurniture".

  8. Thanks dear for the articles…. Really helpful for me and it’s according to the purpose.interior designs