How to Get Rid of that Musty Old People Smell

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I like old stuff. It makes me happy. It makes me feel relaxed and content. It makes me want to use words like whippersnapper and hooligan while holding a rolling pin in one hand and a television remote the size of a box of cereal in the other.

The only real problem I’ve ever had regarding my love of old things is this;  If it is old … it will smell.  As an example, have you ever met an old cheese, old sock or old person that didn’t smell?

Several years ago I bought this luggage set.   And when I bought it, it smelled.  Poorly.  Like a musty, musty, must bucket.



I don’t actually keep my luggage on my front hall table, I just thought it was a nice way for you to get a good gander at it.



“Gander” is one of the words I intend to use on more of a regular basis when I get old.



Quite frankly I can’t wait to get so old I can say and do whatever I want without anyone looking at me like I’m a lunatic. When you’re young and you declare in an exceptionally loud voice that you think the person in front of you in line at the grocery store is a “whack job” you come off as judgemental and mean. When you’re old and you do the same thing, you’re just “a lively old gal”.



In order to get rid of the musty luggage stink I used my old standby. Kitty Litter.



Just open up the offending piece of luggage.



Unless you’re feeling poorly.  In which case you should probably sucker some other poor sod into opening up the stink box.



That lining right in there is what holds most of the stink.



Just pour a box of kitty litter into the offending piece of luggage. Yup. The whole box. Pour it right in there.



See? Fill it up.



Then close up your piece of luggage (or any other thing you own that’s filled with musty smells.



And leave it for a week. You heard me. One week. Just leave it.



When the week is up, just empty the kitty litter and fill your luggage with whatever you choose to. I use my fresh smelling train case as my sewing box and it looks like this!



Cute right?



Only it actually looks like this.



Which isn’t nearly as attractive in a photograph. But it’s the truth.

You can use this litter trick with almost anything.  Musty vintage clothing?  Shove it in a plastic bag and cover the piece with kitty  litter.  Tie the bag up and leave it for a week!

The plastic bag technique works great with just about anything that smells old and musty.  Although, I probably wouldn’t recommend this exact procedure with old people.

Most of ’em are feisty.  If you try and cover them in kitty litter and shove them in a plastic bag chances are they’ll knock you right on your keister.


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  1. liz a. says:

    why do you suppose there is an “old people” smell, most old people still bathe? don’t they? and how did that smell get in my armoire or your suitcases? curious! and as i get older (past 60) i realize i just don’t care what people think so i say what i want…oh wait, i did that when i was 20 too, oh well, it was a thought!

    • Karen says:

      Liz! I liken the smell to “puppy breath” smell, “baby” smell and “random weird fridge” smell. None of them are explainable. ~ karen!

  2. Jem says:

    Yeah, yeah, great suggestions, BUT… WHERE did you get that FABULOUS TABLE?!?!?!? The silver, pedestal one? OMG. Must have it!

    • Karen says:

      Jem – :) I got the table at Homesense (Homegoods in the U.S.) last year. Thanks. I’m kindda fond of it too. – karen

  3. Alexandra Dare says:

    Love the stack of old suitcases! They look like they’re smiling at me :D I wonder if we can find a way to fill my grandparents’ entire house with kitty litter… I would say get them a ton of cats, but then their house will just smell like poo.

  4. Tori says:

    I find that using charcoal is much less messy. I place one or two in a coffee filter and then just dump them back in the bag afterward so they can be reused. They only need 24-36 hours depending on the size of the space and how many you use to do the job. Only on the smelliest, most heavily varnished pieces have I had to leave them in for a week.

    • Karen says:

      Tori! I’ve never tried charcoal for smells. I don’t actually find the kitty litter to be messy at all. You pour it in, you pour it out. Plus it doesn’t turn your fingers black when you pick it up! Usually. :) ~ karen

    • Rocksi says:

      I don’t think I would reuse the charcoal to cook after the old smell has been absorbed into the charcoal. :(

      • Patty says:

        I have several suitcases that are musty. I have heard that rice is good for drying things out. I’m wondering if it will work like charcoal or kitty litter?

  5. Betsy says:

    This might be the answer I have been looking for too!
    Can I use it to get moldy smell out of books? Would I put the books directly in the kitty litter or a pillow case then litter together in a plastic bag?

  6. Marianne says:

    Do you have any suggestions for cabinetry? We suffer from musty old-person smell in our bathroom cabinets (think old lady talcum power smell).

  7. Sam says:

    If you put this litter in the bottom of a rubbish bin/garbage it will soak up the smells and also any nasty liquid that leaks from your liner.

  8. Langela says:

    Karen, what if my whole house smells like old people? The people before us painted the windows shut and the smell is always lurking here and there. Would you recommend filling the house ALL the way up with litter or would half-way do the trick? :o)

  9. Laura Rehbehn says:

    Is it me or does the bottom suitcase look like it is smiling at you – it looks quite a chipper lil suitcase!

  10. sharon says:

    Your post is so timely for me. I am 70 years old. I have a hot date tonight, so I am spending the day in a large plastic bag of kitty litter just to be on the safe side. Thanks for the tip you little Whippersnapper, you.

    • Cindy says:

      OMGosh!! Sharon, you just made me snort! I have a vision of you standing in a puddle of litter with the plastic bag pulled up and tied around your neck, just waiting. LOLOL. You are too funny. Keep up the good attitude and I am sure the gent will want to spend more time with you!

    • Karen says:


      I hope when I am old and 70, I’m as funny as you are. Oh my……can it be? Must be reading that number wrong. According to my driver’s license 70 comes in another two months!

      Thanks for the laugh. Now about that horrible smell in my second hand suit case.

    • Linda says:

      Thanks for this comment. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. I’m still laughing. I don’t even know how I got to this blog but I can’t stop reading it!

  11. Amy says:

    What a great idea! I have used cat litter when my son dumped a huge cup of water in the car. After 24 hours, I just vacuumed it up and the floorboards were dry.

  12. Diana @ frontyardfoodie says:

    Oh my goodness, genius! I have a vintage chest that needs serious help. This is the perfect thing for it.

  13. Stefanie says:

    Our entire basement smells like old people. Slightly mildewed old people, anyway. There’s a new carpet down there and we’ve had it professionally cleaned twice this year, but it still smells unpleasant enough that we seldom use the space except to do the laundry and stash the bodies.

    Is there a kitty litter trick that might solve our aromatic basement problem?

    • krystyna says:

      take few onion bags,fill w/charcoal and hang around your basement,and I would try sprinkle the cat litter,you can vacuum latter

  14. Natalie says:

    So, after you remove the kitty litter from the suitcase, does the suitcase smell like kitty litter?

    I also noticed that your largest suitcase seems to have a smiley face (with pinholes for eyes, and a big smile made of a handle). Perhaps it’s delighted that it no longer smells of old people.

  15. Jeanne says:

    Question: Can anyone tell me hat can you put into water base paint that has obtained a musty, mildewey odor? There is a product for oil base but not for acrylic.
    And, kitty litter is recommended to put in old paint cans to dry out the paint before disposing them.

  16. Devin says:

    This post makes me think of my best friend. She loves that smell. She also loves the smell of mold. Sometimes, she purposely leaves her towel in a crumpled ball so that it will smell mouldy.

  17. Brilliant! I just bought a persian wool coat with a mink color that smells like moth balls. Would you do this with that curly wool? I’m concerned that it would get stuck in the tendrils.


    • Jeanne says:

      DON”T put kitty litter on your persian wool coat!! You could put it in a pillow case and tape the ends and then lay the coat on top of the kitty litter and put all in a plastic bag…but I have found that by hanging the coat outside on a sunny day will freshen and the mothball odor will disappear.
      I am assuming you have a cat so kitty litter is reusable, or a neighbor who will appreciate the gift as it is @ $10 a box!

      • say wahht? says:

        Put it in a couple of pairs of panty hose and tie the ends.

        Also smells might fade, but rotten manners don’t.
        I’m 64, been an antiques dealer all my life and met plenty of old people for decades who sold me their stuff . Not many of them smelled. But perhaps for every rude old person there might be the same number of obnoxious younger ones with less excuse for making a bad impression.

        When I now hear comments like this now, my personal uncharitably unspoken wish (but with a nice smile) ends up being that maybe you might not get to make that discovery for yourself.

    • Karen says:

      Julie. I actually don’t think putting the Persian Lamb in kitty litter is a bad idea, but you can just try a cuff first to see. It should just shake out. If need be you could vacuum it with a soft brush attachment. Good luck. – Karen.

  18. Farquist says:

    What’s with the Halloween candy box on the floor in the background of picture #2?
    Musty stuff makes you crave chocolate?

    • Karen says:

      Hah, no. Must make me lazy. I took these pics the day after Halloween and couldn’t be bothered to move re-take the photo after I noticed the box of chocolate bars! – karen

  19. Lori says:

    By gobs, I think you answered my prayer today. Well, I won’t go that far – I wasn’t actually PRAYING about it, but…

    I create handbags from recycled leather jackets and I obtained a wonderful bomber jacket recently that had that OLD musty smell. It’s been on my porch for two weeks now. I resigned myself to researching the internet this morning for a solution. It was truly fate because I clearly found my solution here!

    Now I just need to head up to the kitty litter room and snatch some litter. This should be interesting. Thanks!

  20. Tonia says:

    Hello Karen

    This is advice I’ve been seeking for years — thanks!

    Question: It looks like you used unscented cat litter. Would scented work? How about the litter made of recycled paper?

    And did you vacuum out the suitcase after the week with the litter in it?

    Thanks so much! I am most definitely trying this out…

    Tonia in Switzerland

    • Karen says:

      Tonia! I would stick to unscented, traditional kitty litter. The scented stuff is somethings reallyyyyyyy strong. Stinky strong. Also, the traditional kitty litter has way better odour absorbing properties than the newspaper type. – karen!

  21. mimi says:

    Gander over here means a little walk, as in “I’m going for a gander round the block”.
    So I could “gander” on and nobody would know I was noseying around their stuff, they’d think I was gone to the shops!

    Love your sewing box, I think you deliberately tossed it for the photo.

    • sue says:

      To take a gander at means to look at. I’ve been taking “ganders” for over 70 years.

      • Trudy Medeiros says:

        I love your site. Just found it. The musty suitcase is great. I will certainly try it. Plus the cat urine smell. So needed at this four cat household. Mistakes happen. Saw one cat standing up in the box, leaning on the wall to use the box. Oh my goodness. A sight to be seen. The look on her face was as if to say “I am not touching this stuff.” Wish I had a camera. I love your advice. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Amie says:

    Bicarb Soda works too. I use it to get funny smells out of spice & olive jars. xx

  23. Alisha says:

    It really does work folks, she’s not lying to us. (Like she would dare!) This method is far better than using a dryer sheet which just covers up the smell. I do recommend using unscented cat litter though. That scented cat litter sometimes smells just as bad as the “musty musty must box” And yes Karen, your sewing box actually rocks. *jealous face* I use an old ammo box for mine and it is just as organized as yours!

  24. Helen says:

    once again, informative and yet refreshingly entertaining.
    I wish I could bottle you and open you up when I need a pick me up :)

  25. Holly @goodwillblogging says:

    I have also heard that a remedy for a stinky car is to place a bowl of vinegar. Apparently, it deodorizes it (whatever “it” is) and makes the stench go away. I’ve never had a smelly car to try this is, but do you think it works?
    getting old= sassiness is expected and wanted of you. I’m so looking forward to having an excuse for that.

    • Karen says:

      Holly – I don’t know … I’d have to try it. But I must admit, I have my doubts. :( If I ever come upon a really stinky car I’l let you know. – karen

      • Carol says:

        I use the vinegar trick because I have 3 dogs and my car gets smelly sometimes, and yes the vinegar works.

      • Mary says:

        What kind ofvinager???? White???

      • CAROL says:

        I use apple cider from a health food store. I have also used the white if I am out of the other. I also wash my windows with apple cider water and wipe down the seats with a vinegar water.

      • C. L. says:

        My 2005 car was bought new by an old lady who was a smoker and thn found out a few months later she had lung cancer. The car was under a year d but smelled like an ash tray. I am a non-smoker and very sensitive to smells. Her daughter had a jar of apple cider vinigar on a cloth in a jar in the car. It took a few months but the smell all went away. I have had the car for ears now and NEVER smell smoke in it.

    • shari says:

      When are you old theses days? I’ll be 50 next year and I can tell you if it’s on my mind it’s coming out my mouth!

      • Chris says:

        This was a wonderful, humorous article – thank you much for it. As an aging person, I am definitely wondering what is available (besides lavender and rose spray) to rid my body of the ‘old person smell.’ I do believe it’s our bodies’ chemistries changing, etc. – evolution isn’t keeping up with our desire to work ’til our 80’s, live beyond. Any ideas? The plastic bag could work…..cost is horrendous for a bag that large, even on ebay….

      • Karen says:

        LOL! Well I’m starting to get old myself and I find just walking around with a pet skunk tends to divert attention. ~ karen!

      • JoAnn says:

        (I’m 7 years late to the game)
        I am 54, and since the day I turned 50 I have been calling people “dear” and “honey”. Younger or older, cute or frightening. Everyone is dear or honey.
        I also don’t bother thinking much about what I’m going to say or what sort of questions I’ll ask a complete stranger. This embarrasses my daughter to no end, but I usually get away with it. :D

    • Alicia says:

      When we had a skunk spray our house, that vinegar remedy is one of the things I found online. It did not work.

      My husband, having forgot it didn’t work, tries putting a bowl of vinegar in our bar fridge when it smelled like skunk (due to being in the mudroom that smelled) It’s been 6 months and it STILL smells like vinegar!

      • Sheila says:

        There’s a product called N.O.C (Nature’s Odor Catalyst) that was recommended to me by our specialty pet boutique/store after a nasty cat marked our front door. The stuff works awesome! They said they use it on pets that have been sprayed by skunks and many dog owners use it to get urine stank out of outdoor dog runs. Works on a microbial level and is completely natural and non-toxic.

      • Karen says:

        Hi Sheila! Thanks .. If I see it I’ll give it a try. My little cat used to pee on the floor for some reason and it leaves a HORRENDOUS smell. I found Nature’s Miracle (which is probably a similar enzyme reducing product) and it works great too. Nothin’ worse than the smell of cat pee. Thanks again! ~ karen

      • Rose says:

        Maybe you should put kitty litter in the bar fridge to get the vinegar smell out. ??

      • rob says:

        have you tried washing it with tomato juice or Simple green

      • Wanda Rice says:

        Skunk smell removal – works everytime!

        1 bottle of reg. 3% hydrogen peroxide
        1/2 C baking soda
        1 tsp. of dish detergent (dawn or other “gentler” kinds)
        Apply mixture where ever the skunk has sprayed…in all cases I have been fortunate to have my dogs be sprayed…not the house/carpet..etc……so this solution goes right onto the fur….soak the area and leave in for as long as the pet will allow…maybe wash rest of body with shampoo…but let the “stinky” fur soak up all that solution.
        guarantee that this works.
        rinse the area where the solution was applied…then spread other shampoo over, and rinse the pet well just like regular bath…voile’

    • Christina says:

      I realize this is a super old comment, but just in case anyone else is wondering…

      I had left my car windows open in the rain, and didn’t notice it for 3 days. The smell was enough to make you gag, and I tried everything to get it out. Vinegar didn’t do a thing, baking soda didn’t do a thing, neither did air fresheners, shampooing, or coffee beans. It went on for weeks and I was ready to drive it off a bridge into the bay.

      BUT, I heard eucalyptus oil would work because it supposedly creates oxygen (?!), so I got an essential oil warmer that plugs into the cigarette lighter, after 2 days of warm eucalyptus oil, the smell was gone forever. (It also works wonders for a headache or upset stomach in the car.)

      • Karen says:

        Good to know Christina! And not to worry about it being an old post or comment you’re replying to. It’s the Internet where comments and information never die, lol. ~ karen!

      • Fran says:

        That sounds so much more appealing than cat litter. Do you think it would work for for a nasty suitcase?

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