While some people have always loved vintage (i.e. secondhand) furniture, others are new to the thrift store, flea market, and yard sale game, thanks to current furniture shortages and shipping delays. But shortages or not, there are many benefits to buying secondhand furniture and other items for your home, including the cost, unique designs, durability, and sustainability of using something that already exists, instead of buying something new.
The downsides to vintage furniture vary (or may not exist at all) depending on the piece, but one of the most common is a familiar, sometimes-relentless odor known as “thrift store smell.”
Even if the piece didn’t actually come from a thrift store (and doesn’t have any soft, upholstered surfaces) that musty scent often comes standard with older furniture, and can be hard to banish — even for the most experienced vintage shoppers. Here are some techniques to try if you need to get thrift store smell out of your latest unupholstered vintage furniture finds.
Cleaning and deodorizing
The first thing most people will try to rid their vintage furniture of the thrift store smell is to attempt to clean and deodorise it. Everyone has a favourite home remedy, but here are some of the most popular:
Baking soda: Either sprinkled on/in the furniture directly and then vacuumed off, and/or placed in bowls inside drawers.
Kitty litter: It can be used in the same ways as baking soda, as described above.
Vinegar and water solution: Mix white vinegar and water together using a 1:1 ratio and use the solution to wipe down every surface on the piece. Alternatively, put the solution in an empty spray bottle and keep spritzing.
Vodka: Pour some cheap vodka into an empty spray bottle and regularly spray the piece inside and outside until the smell dissipates.
Fresh air and sunlight
Oftentimes, vintage furniture has been in storage for years (or more likely, decades) prior to you getting your hands on it. The specific cause(s) of the smell differ depending on where and how it was stored, as well as the local climate. But regardless of the cause, if you’ve already tried to clean and deodorise the furniture and the smell is still there, a good next step to put the furniture outside to air out.
Be sure that you pick days when rain or any other precipitation isn’t in the forecast, humidity levels are low, and the sun is out. Depending on the intensity of the smell, some items only need a day or two sitting out in these conditions to freshen up, while others may need much longer. And as annoying as it is, it’s a good idea to bring the furniture inside (or at least into a dry garage) each day when the sun goes down to avoid frost, dew, and unexpected precipitation.
Strip and sand the piece
If you’re dealing with thrift store smell that just won’t quit and you know you’re going to paint or refinish the piece of furniture, you can also go ahead and strip and sand it, and see if that takes care of the odor. (If it does, the smell was likely caught in the original finish.)