Three ways to clean thrift store and second hand furniture

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We buy second hand furniture. Like most of the furniture in our sunroom was bought at a thrift store or dragged from the curb and given a makeover.

Here are Three Ways to Clean Thrift Store and Second Hand Furniture!

Here are the supplies I ALWAYS keep on hand for cleaning thrift store items: (Read on for how I actually use all of these)

Here are the EXTRA STRONG supplies I use to make sure the smells STAY GONE:

And we know that smell all too well. It’s like a mix of wet basement, cigarette smoke, mouldy wood and dirty feet. It’s disgusting. But it seems to come with almost any thrifted or flea market piece. It’s like an unwanted guest. You want the furniture – but not the SMELL. EWWW.

If you have purchased a used couch and need to disinfect the upholstery, try this post I wrote about getting odours out of sofas. It’s about dog smells, but works for other smells too. I’ve also written about cleaning feather pillows, which sometimes come with sofas and chairs. It’s not hard to do, but requires some attention to the drying process.

(Note: Sometimes furniture pieces don’t release their smell until you move them from the place they’ve been sitting in for a while. Don’t know why that is. It just is. Maybe the stink gremlins get all upset about being displaced. Nevertheless beware. What might not smell terrible in a store or garage, might end up stinking up the place once you move it!)

So how do you get rid of it?

Disinfect & Absorb

The ‘Disinfect and Absorb’ method involves some of those basic cleaning supplies that most of us use. It is recommended for pieces you know are very old or that are antiques. In general, we use this approach on every piece we bring into the house. If it doesn’t work completely, we move onto Methods Two and Three (below).

How to Clean Thrift store furniture supplies

We most recently used this method to ‘de-must’ an old cedar blanket box. It had been in the basement since we moved into the house and was really damp and dingy. When we moved it to the living room, the smell was awful!blanket box before

Here’s what you do:

Fill a bowl with fresh baking soda and place it in the piece – drawers, cabinets, whatever it is that you need to de-stink.

To speed up the process, do this while the piece is outside on the lawn or porch on a warm,  dry, sunny day. Those are few and far between for us because we live on the coast and if it’s warm, it’s usually foggy and misty – so it’s not unusual for me to haul out  a bunch of pieces at a time to air them out!

The sunshine acts as a natural deodorant, as does the baking soda.

After a few hours, mix up some vinegar and water solution (and add in some basic dish soap if you are comfortable doing that) and wipe down the entire piece with a damp rag and some household cleaner.

Then leave it to dry in the sun and, even better, leave your baking soda bowls in it over night.

By the next day, the smell should be greatly reduced if not gone altogether.

If you can’t leave it out in the sun (like for example, if you live in Nova Scotia and it rains for eight million days straight), try a household dehumidifier plugged in and propped as close to the piece as you can reasonably get it. It will suck out any excess lingering moisture, kind of like the sun 🙂

I’ve also heard of people who like to use the Silica Gel kitty litter as a booster for the baking soda. I’ve never tried that – but it seems to make sense! Absorb those odours!

The Chemical Mold Killer

I used this method with great success on my new little wooden front entry bookcase. It smelled a lot like cigarettes and I could tell it had been soaking up nastiness for a while.

how to clean thrifted furniture mould killerThis is a fairly straightforward approach in that you simply use normal mould remover and dilute it with a bit of concentrated all purpose cleaner into a spray bottle. Nothing fancy and it certainly will have a more ‘chemical’ smell – but it should kill any mould spores that are hanging on or near the surface of your wood piece.

Wipe the piece down and then repeat as needed. It also doesn’t hurt to leave the piece outside for a while as well.

Extreme Measures

It happens. Rarely. But it does happen. Where a piece is too beautiful to pass up, but is too stinky to even handle.

Like. You can’t even. Not even.

In this case, if Methods One and Two have completely failed, then you’re only available option is to just COVER the smell. If you’re a purist, this will likely not be an appealing option. To be honest, I’ve only used it once.

If you want to leave it as natural wood – then you are a bit limited in your options depending on the sheen you want to maintain. You can try:

Otherwise, if you’re plan is to paint the piece, you can try:

  • Sanding the piece and sealing it with a water-based polyurethane – however this won’t be ideal if you want to paint it or don’t like the original finish
  • Sanding, stain and a strong shellac finish to essentially cover the smell
  • a strong stain blocking primer  – if you use this, make sure you focus on any and all areas that would be stinkiest like the inside of drawers, the backs of bookcases and the underside of almost everything
  • chalk paint followed by wax – anytime we’ve painted something with a high end chalk paint product it has doubled as stain and scent blocker. I can’t explain it, it just seems to work.

The very last and least appealing option is the opposite of ‘covering it up’ and instead stripping the entire piece of its top layer and starting fresh. I have written extensively about how to strip wood veneer off thrifted furniture, but it’s not easy and should be considered carefully. Often this will serve to allow any and all mould particles to disseminate. Just make sure you are in a well ventilated area and wearing a mask at all times if you go this route.

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The Three Best Ways to Clean and Deodorize Thrift Store Furniture


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3 thoughts on “Three ways to clean thrift store and second hand furniture

  1. Your suggestions are great but do you have any for upholstered furniture? About a month after taking delivery of a thrifted sofa the smell started permeating our entire apartment. The sofa is so lovely and perfect, except for that smell!! It’s a blood red velvet and I don’t want to ruin it but need to get that wretched smell out of it!

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