My wife just bought an old cabinet from a consignment store. The inside has a strong old wood smell that we are afraid will infuse whatever we put inside.

How do get rid of the smell so we can use it without worrying about the odor attaching to out towels?

  • 3
    Old wood smell? What does old wood smell like? Jun 19, 2012 at 19:09
  • %chirp chirp% go the crickets... Jun 20, 2012 at 18:18
  • Cedar smells, but that's usually new cedar, not old cedar. I'm guessing your smell isn't the wood but perhaps the finish or remnants of what was previously stored within it. I guess I'd start with your standard odor removal techniques...stick a box of baking soda in there for a while. See what happens.
    – DA01
    Jun 20, 2012 at 20:41
  • I didn't think it really needed explanation. Smalls like old oil I guess. It's made of plywood, inside is unfinished, outside is paint.
    – Homer
    Jun 21, 2012 at 13:28
  • It really depends on what the smell actually is. Do you mean oil like linseed oil? Does it smell like a lighthouse? Or a sailboat? (Serious questions) or do you mean more industrial oil? Does it smell like a machine shop? Or is it plywood glue that you're smelling? You might just need to air it out for a while. You might want to clean it with hot soap and water or some white vinegar.
    – Amanda
    Oct 25, 2012 at 19:05

3 Answers 3


It's a little difficult to say that it will be a definite fix but a great start would be refinishing the inside of the cabinet. While I'm sure its possible to re-stain and seal the inside of a cabinet that just seems like way too much work so I'd stick with painting.

I found this nice article about painting cabinets if you want some design ideas. The process shouldn't be all that involved. You'll probably want to sand first and clean the shavings out well then give it a nice coat of whatever color you decide to go with and let it dry. Pretty much like painting any other piece of furniture, just a little bit more of a pain to get inside there.

I once stripped and painted all the drawers and cabinets on a work truck and that was a real pain. Luckily I was able to use a paint sprayer so that made it a heck of a lot easier. If you know someone with a paint spraying system beg them to use it and the finish and coverage in the tight areas will be wonderful.

Just my $0.02 and I can't say that this will be a definite solution but I can't imagine a wood smell getting through a through coating of paint. If your really worried you could use some thick outdoor paint that's designed to work as a sealer too. Best of luck with your project, post pictures if your need help along the way!


Before doing any costly labor like applying a sealing coat of finish (which has smells of its own that you might not like) simply take out the drawers and place all of the parts outside in the sunshine for a day or two.

If still necessary, when you deploy the cabinet into use, for the first while (perhaps several weeks or months) place some absorbent material into each drawer, like baking soda or activated carbon.

Then, re-evaluate the cabinet's smell to see whether it is still wortwhile to put more effort into the problem.


A shellac based sealer such as Zinsser (clear finish) or BIN (pigmented, intended as a primer) should help reduce the odors. Shellac is available in spray can form or liquid suitable for brushing. It might take a couple coats especially if you spray. When thinking if you'd rather spray or brush, consider if you can move the cabinet outdoors, or how you would otherwise handle the overspray bouncing out of the cabinet into your room.

Do not use a polyurethane type clear finish or you will replace your old wood smell problem with a solvent smell problem!

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