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3 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.

In this post, I’ll dive into how to clean used furniture and how to get thrift store smell out of furniture. It’s actually very easy to do!

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Here are 3 Ways to Clean Thrift Store and Second Hand Furniture!

Supplies to clean used furniture

Here are the supplies I ALWAYS keep on hand for cleaning thrift store items:

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

Read on for how I actually use all of these.

How to get thrift store smell out of furniture

How to get thrift store smell out of furniture

And we know that smell all too well. It’s like a mix of a wet basement, cigarette smoke, mouldy wood, and dirty feet. It’s disgusting.

But it seems to come with almost any thrift 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 the smell and what are the best solutions when it comes to cleaning used furniture?

1. Disinfect & Absorb

How to Clean Thrift store furniture supplies

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).

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 odors! – Get Silica Gel kitty litter here.

2. How to clean second-hand furniture: The Chemical Mold Killer

how to clean thrifted furniture mould killer, How to clean second-hand furniture: 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.

This 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.

3. Extreme Measures to clean used furniture

Measures to clean used furniture

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. 

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

  1. 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.
  2. Sanding, stain and a strong shellac finish to essentially cover the smell
  3. 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
  4. Chalk paint followed by wax – anytime we’ve painted something with a high-end chalk paint product it has doubled as a stain and scent blocker. I can’t explain it, it just seems to work.

If you’re a fan of DIY, I also invite you to have a look at my article on how to make your own DIY Liquid Stain Remover.

The very last and least appealing option is the opposite of ‘covering it up’ and instead of 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 mold particles to disseminate.

If you’re planning to polish your second-hand furniture piece, make sure to have a look at how to DIY furniture polish! So handy and easy!

Just make sure you are in a well-ventilated area and wearing a mask at all times if you go this route.

How to clean a used couch

If you are fond of buying upholstered furniture like used couches, you must know that whatever furniture you buy should be cleaned and sanitized before you bring it inside your home.

Not cleaning a used couch may be an invitation to unwanted germs, pests, and smells. If you are searching for the best way to clean a used couch, you should start with using a natural fabric couch cleaner.

Here are the effective ways to sanitizing and removing odours from a used couch and you will not need a store-bought cleaner.

Although in some cases, you may need to use a stronger cleaner and carpet extractor if the stains you are dealing with are too stubborn.

If you are wondering how to clean a second-hand couch, here is your step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Vacuum the couch

To clean a used couch, the prior step is to vacuum all the loose dirt, fur, and crumbs from the fabric of the couch.

Step 2: Disinfect and Wipe

Wipe down the sofa with reliable disinfectant without bleach as the bleach can damage the wood of your couch.

Step 3: Remove odours

Whenever you are learning how to clean a second-hand sofa, you must remember to remove the bad smell using baking soda.

Spread it all over the sofa and vacuum after a while.

Step 4: Remove Stains

You can spray the vinegar-soap solution on the stained areas and using a bristled brush, you can wipe the stain away.

How to disinfect wood dresser (second-hand)

Buying second hand or used wood dresser is a great way to save money but they may be harmful to bring home if you do not disinfect them.

Used furniture is easily available at local stores, or antique shops but they never guarantee the cleanliness and hygiene of the wood dresser.

You can get the best furniture for your office at the best price but you may not be sure about where the furniture has been.

Therefore, you must know how to sanitize used furniture. There may be harmful germs, pests, and bacteria. So here are some tips for disinfecting your used wood dresser.

Before starting any cleaning process, regardless of any furniture, you are using, you must look at the tag. Most furniture has a tag that explains how to disinfect used furniture.

Secondly, you should always test the cleaner you are using on a small part of your wood dresser.

This way you can be sure if there is any adverse side effect of the cleaner.


Below are the methods explaining how to sanitize used furniture:

  • The solution of water and vinegar.
  • Disinfectant wipes.
  • Wiping down using a disinfectant aerosol spray.
  • Use a strong disinfectant for robust stains.

Get rid of mold

If you don’t know how to get mold smell out of wood furniture, here is what you can do.

  • Take mold remover and all-purpose cleaner solution.
  • Spray and wipe the solution on the mold surface.
  • Repeat until it’s gone.

Short FAQ about How to Clean Used Furniture and Clean Thrift Store

How to clean and sanitize a used couch?

The easiest way to clean and sanitize a used couch is by mixing vinegar and soap: 1 warm water cup, a tablespoon of soap (or mild dish detergent) and 1/4 cup of white vinegar. Put it into a spray or bowl and apply.

How to clean used wood furniture?

1. Mix a light mix of dishwashing soap and water
2. Use a soft cloth, dipe in, wring it out as much as possible.
3. Wipe the used wood furniture piece.
4. Rinse your cloth often.

How to clean second hand furniture?

1. Take your furniture out on a warm day
2. Put a bowl of baking soda on every section of the wood furniture.
3. Leave it for 3-4 hours.
4. Clean the entire piece with a mix of 50% water, 50% white vinegar and a bit of dish soap.

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