Learn How To Clean Smelly Wood Cabinets In Easy Steps

Are your kitchen cabinets old? Just because they have been around for a while, doesn’t mean they have to smell old and musty as well. You can easily freshen your funky cabinets by cleaning them thoroughly inside out before you move on to painting them.

Woman cleaning white kitchen cabinet

While cleaning yours, you will be able to figure out what was causing the odour – mould, wet wood, an old potato, etc. In this article, we will tell you how to clean smelly wooden cabinets in your old house in easy steps. Without further ado, let’s get started!

Why do your wooden cabinets smell?

If you ask us, there is nothing more annoying than a smell that won’t go away – the ever-present stench is enough to make you go insane. Especially when the smell is in your kitchen cabinets, which can be quite overpowering.

Lucky for you, there are various steps you can follow to get the musty smell out of them. From a mild smelling situation to a smell that is making it hard for you to step into the room, there is a solution for everyone. 

Before you can start to address the smell issue, you have to figure out why the cabinets stink in the first place. Once you learn what the cause of the smell is, you can easily find a solution for that. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why wooden cabinets smell.

1. Mould 

Is there a faint whiff of mould in your wood cabinets? It is an indication of a larger issue that is lurking in there, being in the bathroom, kitchen, or garage. Mould enjoys dark, damp places and cabinets make a perfect home to live and thrive.

Excess moisture in the cabinets creates a perfect environment for mould. At the first sign of mould, you need to address the issue, as you would if you needed to clean mould off walls. Ensure that there are no water leaks in the areas near your cabinets. You have to remove the mould first before you can work on getting your cabinets to smell fresh. 

Man looking mould at kitchen cabinet

2. Cooking ingredients

We usually keep different cooking ingredients in the cabinets. The combination of these cooking ingredients, grime, and grease causes the cabinets to smell. Plus, as you cook food, the cooking smell lingers everywhere. And you guessed that right! Your cabinets as well!.

How to clean your smelly wooden cabinets step-by-step

Mould on the cabinets is an indicator that the moisture level in the area is too high. Check for obvious water issues such as leaks, burst pipes, etc. If you can’t find any issue, then keep a dehumidifier in the area to keep your cabinets moisture-free. Clean the bloom of mould immediately. And don’t stop there! Locate the source of mildew and then treat the area with strong cleaners like white vinegar, bleach, a commercial spray, etc. 

Things you will need

  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Coffee grounds
  • Vacuum
  • Dish soap
  • Spray bottle
  • Gloves
  • Mask
  • Towel
  • Cleaning Cloth

Cleaning tools for kitchen

Steps for cleaning

When you are working with mould removers, you have to ensure your personal safety. Wear gloves as the removers can be harsh on the skin. Moreover, wear a mask to ensure you are not breathing in any harmful vapours. Before you start working, ventilate the area. Then:

  1. Mix warm water and a mild detergent
  2. Dip a clean cloth in the mixture and start scrubbing the area with the damp cloth.
  3. Once the layer of stinky mould is gone, wipe down the area with a dry towel. 
  4. If the mould returns, you have to move on to stronger mould removers. 

Removing the musty smell

Vinegar is an affordable and natural alternative to harsh, commercial detergents. You can use it to clean both your wooden and your matt kitchen cupboards. Before you spray the cabinets down with vinegar, make sure that you test a small, non-conspicuous area to ensure that it doesn’t damage the wood. Once the wood piece is mould-free, you can work on removing the musty smell

vinegar glass bottle on wooden table

  1. Mix one part vinegar with one part water. 
  2. Use vinegar mixture to deodorize the cabinets. Spray it onto the wood furniture. Let the vinegar sit for an hour so that it can absorb the smells and kill any latent bacteria that are causing those smells. 
  3. Dip a clean cloth in this mixture and wipe the cabinets with it. Make sure that the cabinets are thoroughly air dry before keeping anything inside.
  4. Wipe the cabinets with a vinegar-water solution weekly to keep them from smelling again.

If you find that mildew is creeping up from the drywall behind the wood furniture, you have to address this larger issue first before you can work on removing the smell. If there is a leak behind the cabinets, you might have to remove them and repair the wall

You can hire a professional to do this – however, it is a fairly simple and easy process that any average DIY fixer can take care of.

Deodorizing the stinky surface

Even though we think of wood as a solid and sturdy material, it is actually porous. Here’s how you can use natural deodorizers for wood.

  1. If there is still a faint residual smell, you can keep a small bowl of coffee beans inside the cabinet and close the door. Leave it overnight. The smell will be gone in the morning. If not, repeat the process.
  2. You can also use baking soda to deodorize the wood. Sprinkle baking soda inside the cabinet. Let it sit overnight. Vacuum it up in the morning. Repeat as many times as necessary. 

Coffee beans

Some extra tips and advice

If your cabinets are now free of that unpleasant smell, then you need these amazing tips to keep them that way. They’re really simple. Take a look!

1. Air out the cabinets

To keep the musty smell away, you have to keep airing the cabinets from time to time. Open the cabinets to allow the air to circulate through the shelves, cooking ingredients, etc.

If your cabinets are present in areas with large amounts of moisture, open the windows and doors to let fresh air in. Turn the overhead fans as well as the ventilating fans to get rid of latent moisture. 

2. Keep odour absorbers in the cabinets

From cedar wood chips to scented lavender sachets, you can use plenty of odour absorbers to cut down the unattractive odours that can collect in the chest of drawers

  • Simply pop open a carton of baking soda and keep it in the back of your cupboard to absorb the unwanted smells inside. 
  • Take a netted bag and fill it with dried lavender, mint, scented geranium, etc. Tuck the homemade cabinet odour absorbers behind cabinet doors. They will take down the musty smell and will replace it with a nice, pleasant aroma. 

Bag with dried flowers

3. Refinish the Cabinets

If you have done everything, and the smell still doesn’t go away, it means that it is trapped within the finish of the cabinets. The first thing you should do is scuff up the current finish by sanding.

Next, use a stain and odour blocking primer to seal the laminate cabinets. Once the primer is dry, paint them. Apply a coat of varnish to keep the particleboard safe. Make sure that the paint and primer you use are wood-friendly. 

Woman cleaning her wooden kitchen cabinets

Many of us love buying wood furniture. It is easier on the pocket but can be hard on your nose – the wood furniture can smell! Whether you have bought furniture with a stale, funky smell or your kitchen cabinets have started to smell, with the steps given above, you can easily learn how to clean smelly wood cabinets like a pro. By cleaning cabinets, you can remove the odours left behind from spilt substances, cooked foods, etc. And don’t forget to air them! Good luck!

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