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.


  1. 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.

  2. 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 🙂

  3. 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!

  4. Amie says:

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. Karen says:

    Helen – 🙂 karen

  9. Karen says:

    Amie – Baking soda does work, but for bigger jobs like suitcases kitty litter is the one to go with. It actually works better and it’s quite a bit cheaper. – karen!

  10. 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!

  11. 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!

  12. Farquist says:

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

  13. 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

  14. 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.


  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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!

  21. 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?

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

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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!

  26. 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)

  27. 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.

  28. 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).

  29. 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?

  30. 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.

  31. 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

  32. Alexandra Dare says:

    Love the stack of old suitcases! They look like they’re smiling at me 😀 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.

  33. Jem says:

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

  34. 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

  35. 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!

  36. Karen says:

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

  37. Shauna says:

    Great idea. One question: do you chuck the kitty litter when done, or can your pour it back into the container and save for another de-mustifying use? I’m kinda thrifty (some would say cheap) so I’m hoping it’s the latter. Thanks!

  38. Karen says:

    Shauna – I have cats, so it goes directly in the litter box! I’m not sure if you can reuse it to be honest with you. I’ve never smelled the litter to see if it retains the musty smell. I have a hunch it’ll only be able to absorb so much smell, but have no idea how much! I’ll do a little testing and see what I can come up with. ~ karen!

  39. Brook says:

    Great. I work at a hospital, and you can be sure that I’m gonna be grinning like an idiot whenever your kitty litter suggestion pops into my head. Just what I need – more inappropriate mental images to add to the self-monitoring list. Thanks, Karen : )

  40. Amie says:

    cheaper! Got it! 🙂

  41. 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!

  42. You did mean unused kitty litter, right? I can’t economise?

  43. Karen says:

    OMG. Yes unused! You weirdo. 🙂 ~ karen

  44. CJ says:

    Hey……I want to see those leather handbags!

  45. 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.

  46. 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

  47. Eva says:

    I know this is late, but hoping to help for the future. Re: the persian lamb coat. Don’t use kitty litter on the coat! Wool has natural oils that the litter will suck right out of the coat, if left that long. Litter, especially the scoopable kind has powerful dessicants that are used for the “clumping” action. Oh, also, don’t try to wash the coat in the washing machine, even on gentle, unless you want hundreds of little scraps of curly lamb for a project. Gall-dernit, I miss that jacket.

  48. Nicole says:

    I’m glad I found this trick! I have two vintage train cases which looks fabulous but smells nowhere as good. I’ve tried putting it out in the sun (which just melts the glue on the lining inside), the bicarb soda, even had kitchen paper with lavender oil in it for weeks but the smell just won’t go away. I shall give it one more try with the kitty litter. The cases are just too cute to give up. Thanks Karen!

  49. Kat says:

    Any thoughts on photo, vintage cards, spent the weekend tearing up MIL scrapbooks and albums OMG what stinky old people smell – I am thinking ziploc bags and fabric sheets – would like to use these in some mixed media – afterall I have NO clue who these people from 20’s- 70’s are– I think everyone needs to write a name and year to all photos – but saving all mine to external drive these days so guess it won’t really matter– I think my in-laws are related to the “Adams Family” scary!

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