How to Get Rid of the Musty Smell From Vintage Rugs and Old Furniture

published Nov 30, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Julia Steele

Buying vintage or antique pieces adds a lot of character to your home. It helps you mix-and-match the old with the new, blending more contemporary pieces with styles from bygone eras. But it’s not easy (or inexpensive) to find throwback furniture in pristine condition. 

Whether you’re buying rugs, dressers, sideboards, or couches, a lot of this furniture smells funky when you bring it home. That musty smell can come from how it was stored, years of disuse, or dust and grime buildup. But no matter what condition your piece is in, one thing is for sure: Most of us want to eliminate that stale scent.

I first encountered this problem when I bought a Turkish rug from Etsy. The vendor assured me it was clean, but likely due to its age and storage with other woven rugs, it smelled incredibly musty.

This led me to do a deep dive into how to clean vintage pieces. Here are some options to consider.

Credit: Marlen Komar

If it smells a bit dusty, use vinegar, coffee grounds, or baking soda.

If you scored a vintage rug at a flea market or a vanity desk on Marketplace, but it smells just a little bit musty, you can clear that up with some tried-and-true odor-zapping ingredients. Vinegar, coffee grounds, and baking soda are all known to remove odor. The acid in the vinegar helps neutralize alkaline odors, while baking soda helps bring odor molecules to a more neutral state, eliminating their scent. As for coffee grounds, the nitrogen in them helps neutralize any off-putting smells. 

To eliminate smells from furniture with drawers, fill a bowl with either one of these options and put it in each drawer. Depending on the odor’s strength, you can leave the bowls anywhere from one night to two weeks. If the smell isn’t just inside the drawers, but lingering on the outside of the piece, wipe down the wood with a cleaning solution consisting of equal parts water and vinegar. 

For rugs, sprinkle baking soda across the carpet and let it sit anywhere from eight hours to overnight. Vacuum the powder, and your odor should be neutralized. However, this will only work with slightly musty pieces. If you smell more potent odors — like mildew or heavy dust — you’ll have to try a different method.

If the smell is lingering, refinish or deep clean the piece.

If the smell is lingering on your wooden piece, it has permeated the wood. The only way to get rid of it is to strip the stain or finish that is trapping the odor. (The same goes for any lining inside.) Sand off the stain, allow the furniture piece to breathe overnight, and then wash it with wood soap to kill any lingering bacteria that might be causing the odor. Once it’s fully dry, restain the piece.

If you’re dealing with a musty rug, you might need to deep clean it with soap and water to remove the dust and grime embedded in the fibers. First, vacuum the top of your rug. Then, flip it over and vacuum the bottom, if it doesn’t have a thick pad. Next, grab your portable carpet cleaner and deep clean the rug using pH-balanced shampoo.

If it’s a powerful smell, call in the professionals.

If you’ve tried all of these options but the smell is still lingering, then it’s time to call the professionals. That’s what I eventually had to do with my Turkish rug. I didn’t have the skillset — or room! — to deep clean with shampoo and buckets of water (and the simple fix of baking soda didn’t work, either.) Once they got the musty smell out, I’ve been able to maintain it by deep cleaning it twice a year with a carpet cleaner. Thankfully, the smell never returned.