How Can I Naturally Remove the Mothball Stench From My Furniture?

Q: I recently inherited a beautiful antique dark cherry wood chest of drawers from my grandparents. It’s a beautiful piece of furniture. However, it smells like mothballs. I’ve been trying to air it out for a few days but it still smells pretty pungent. I am careful putting my clothes in the dresser for fear of the stench spreading and I will run around smelling like a 1960s senior. What can I do to get the scent out? I have very sensitive skin, so chemical air fresheners, detergents or fragrances are not in the picture. What options do I have left?

Howie, Lewes, Del.

Hey howie,

Given that when it comes to home furnishings and bad smells, we mostly hear about ways to ventilate new furniture that’s littered with chemicals like formaldehyde, rather than ventilate antique furniture that might make you stink of Minnie Castevet if you do that Failure to keep your clothes in it.

Let it breathe

You mention you’ve been breathing the dresser for a few days. I would let it breathe a few days longer as the poisonous stings from naphthalene or para-dichlorobenzene (the main problems with mothballs) are persistent and can last for a few weeks as the smell is most likely deeply embedded in the wood grain at this point. It’s important to keep the dresser in a very well-ventilated area. It would be ideal to leave the odorous dresser outside and in direct sunlight for an extended period of time, but of course unattended in the back yard – an open invitation for various animals to feel at home, if there ever was one – or there was Pulling into the driveway every afternoon for a “breather” and then going back in in the evening is not always an option. This is where a bit of creative thinking and support from small household appliances comes into play.

Remove the drawers and place them near an open window

To start with, I would open the drawers or completely remove them and place the dresser near an open window and have a fan blow right on it towards the open window. Also, be careful not to blow a fuse while the fan is running. You can also bring a blow dryer to the surfaces of the dresser once a day, as direct heat will help kill lingering odors. This may seem strange, but not only do you want the dresser to air out, you want the dresser to “sweat” too.

Use natural remedies to help absorb odors

While it seems like a good idea, don’t just scrub the dresser with tap water and a rag. If you wet the wood, it will only get worse if you embed the smell deeper into the wood. In the evenings, when you don’t blow a fan towards the dresser and blow dry the drawers lovingly, I would recommend reinserting / closing the drawers and using some natural odor absorbing agents: open boxes of baking soda, lavender bags, with essential oils, coffee grounds, a bowl white vinegar or a couple of shallow pans sprinkled with charcoal briquettes – the same kind you would use for grilling (charcoal disks that are used also remove pet smells). You can also lightly sand the dresser, though I would definitely sand an inconspicuous “test area” before going into town with a piece of sandpaper.

Consider non-toxic, environmentally friendly products

In addition to the DIY remedies, there are a number of Mothball-specific deodorizing granules and powders from Smelleze that are non-toxic, odorless and all around environmentally friendly. I’ve never tried the stuff before, but it’s worth a try when the homemade stink absorbing solutions aren’t enough.

On the subject of store-bought remedies, I’ve personally had success with The Bad Air Sponge, a mysterious little jar full of non-toxic, biodegradable magic that removes and neutralizes odors rather than masking them. According to the product website, The Bad Air Sponge managed to overcome unsavory stings that are often found in nursing homes and locker rooms. So putting them in your sharp, mothballed dresser can have an impact.

Experiment with different means

It seems that people are having success with various solutions when it comes to ridding a piece of furniture of dreaded mothball odor. So I would experiment until you find one that is practical and time and cost efficient for your life situation. It sounds like a beautiful piece of furniture with some sentimental value, so I wouldn’t let the stink of mothballs stop you from using it. Let me know what works for you Howie!

– Matt

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