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.

ANY CHARA CTER HERE

ANY CHARA CTER HERE

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.

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ANY CHARA CTER HERE

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

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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”.

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ANY CHARA CTER HERE

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

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Just open up the offending piece of luggage.

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

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

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

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See? Fill it up.

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

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

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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!

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Cute right?

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Only it actually looks like this.

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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.


284 Comments

  1. Becca says:

    Please don’t say that all old people smell. I find that offensive. Otherwise I have enjoyed reading your blog.

  2. Lynn says:

    Thoroughly entertaining! I bought a pre-owned LV handbag and the interior smells musty so I am going to try the unscented cat litter today! Thanks so much for your informative and fun column! 🙂

  3. Nancy says:

    Loved reading this and got a great laugh from your luggage pics using your luggage as a sew box and shown first all neat but shown how it really looks once its closed and you’re carrying it around. You are so funny. I bought a Guess bag off Ebay and when I recv’d it, it SMELLED! I contacted the seller who of course was offended and started slamming the Guess company that they themselves sell smelling bags, ya no! The woman was crazy… Anyway, just wanted to say you made me laugh and gave me a good tip on how to remove smells.

  4. Kaylyn says:

    What could I use to get rid of that musty smell in my house? Any ideas? =]

  5. Hello Karen…I love your site, love you photos and quirky genre..really stylish. Anyway Ive got this lovely vintage bag…very musty smelling but well worth trying anything to. Ive tried the fabric condition trick and hanging in the sun…nothing has worked , so now, one last try..its kitty litter as you suggest. Ive filled it 3/4 full with the stuff ( boy the bag was hugely heavy to cart home…especially with no cat to appreciate it)…I shall let you know in a week if it has worked. best wishes, Puppe ( poshbargains) ps come visit me and you’ll see why this trick could be an essential tip if it words.

  6. Kira says:

    I came across your post via Apartment Therapy (via Pinterest). I use vintage suitcases & trunks to display my handmade stuffed toys at craft shows. (I’m drooling over your suitcases by the way!) I feel like I’ve tried everything to get that “old” smell out of them, with limited success (baking soda, coffee grounds, crumpled-up newspaper, setting them out in the sun). I’ll definitely have to try this one! 🙂

  7. Sammy Lynn says:

    Watch what you say about old people. It WILL come back and bite you in the butt! 🙂

  8. Sue says:

    Aloha,
    Karen what a Great Site!! I have an old pressed wood bookcase that smells like mold. Any tips? I have sprayed and sprayed it, to no avail??
    Thanks,
    Sue

    • Karen says:

      Hi Sue – You can try my trick by laying the bookcase down and filling it with kitty litter, but if it’s pressed wood, chances are the stink is on the inside of the pressed wood and will be VERY difficult to get out. I’m assuming it’s pressed wood with some sort of laminate on top. The laminate will prevent the kitty litter from doing its job. You could try it with one shelf or compartment and see how it works, but I sadly don’t have high hopes. Prove me wrong though! ~ karen

  9. ashley says:

    Hi!! I found you on pinterest. I was looking for something else but so glad to find this bit of information! I aquired a large tv entertainment center/armoir thing last week. It’s wonderful but, you guessed it.. it smells.
    Maybe I’ll put kitty litter in some tubs and put it on the shelves ? It makes the entire room smell. Not quite ‘old people’ but not the smell I want in my room either.

    I let you know if I try it 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Ashley – It’s important that the kitty litter touches whatever material you’re trying to get the smell out of. That’s how it absorbs the smell from within the piece of ick. You probably don’t want to do this, but the best thing to do is lay the unit down and fill the cubbys with litter! If you can, do it, if you can’t .. try it your way and see if it helps at least. Good luck. ~ karen!

      • ashley says:

        that makes total sense. it’s a huge very heavy piece of furniture though and I don’t think the husband would like the idea of moving it again at all :/ Maybe I’ll pour kitty litter on the shelves, keeping it upright

  10. jen says:

    People look at old people and think they are weird but old people don’t give a rats *ss! Thanks for the tip I love old stuff too

  11. Monica says:

    Thank you! And again thank you for the last pic. I always thought that only my stuff looks upside down after a while 🙂

  12. hey Karen
    thanks for the tip! I have some great bags that all smell musty from living here on the coast. My dresser smells like cigarette smoke somewhat, it is old too. It’s good wood, not painted on the inside, do you think the kitty litter will work? Kind of a big drag to dump all my clothes even from one drawer for a week as we live in a postage stamp of a house.
    thanks, your blog is hilarious!

    Nancy

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Nancy – Well … I have no idea if it will work on cigarette smoke. The only thing I can suggest is to try it and see. 🙂 I would think it should at *least* help. ~ karen!

  13. Ruby Cornejo says:

    Do you have any ideas on how to get cigarette smoke out. We bought a massage table. Didn’t realize it was from a smoker’s house. We have sprayed and cleaned. It has been sitting outside on patio for 2 weeks now and still stinks. We still have to try sprinkling it with baking soda, a suggestion from a church friend.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Rudy – Hmm … that’s a tough one. Smoke smell really is difficult to get out but it does eventually go away. But it might takes years. SO! The one thing I can think to recommend is Enzyme Cleaner. A lot of people are making their own right now (I did a post on it a while ago) but you can buy it in stores. The easiest place to find it is in pet stores. It’s used for getting rid of the smell of cat urine, but it will work at breaking down any organic matter, including nicotine and smoke smell. I can’t guarantee it’ll work because I’ve never tried it on smoke smell before, but I can tell you enzyme cleaners work quite well on pet urine. As a last resort you can try one part hydrogen peroxide to one part water. Mix it up, wipe the table and let it sit. Wait 15 minutes or so then go back and wipe it dry. Good luck. ~ karen!

  14. Jackie Cardy says:

    I’m 61. Is that old? It must be because I absolutely stink. Maybe I should give up showering and use cat litter instead.

    • Karen says:

      Jackie – See? There you go proving that even though old people stink, they’re very, very smart! Good thinkin’. ~ karen

  15. dahlila says:

    Brilliant idea!
    I’ve tried everything–vinegar, baking soda–then both together. It does work, mostly, but the kitty litter sounds even better. I’m assuming there’s a vacuum step there after the filling & before the using? Will definitely try it.
    thank you, dahlila

  16. Laura says:

    HAHA, Lol @ “Only it really looks like this.”

  17. Shannon says:

    I recently acquired a ‘certified pre-owned’ leather jacket for my 5 year old son. The jacket is for his Halloween costume (Indiana Jones). It has this unidentifiable odor…I can’t place it…I don’t think its that musty/mildew smell…its something else…and it has a zipped in liner (which clearly needs some TLC i.e. ‘replaced’). I have it hanging in my garage to air out, but its not working. Can I use the kitty litter trick for this?

  18. Dory Gardner says:

    I have two old dressers that I want to refinish and use in my bedroom. The drawers smell like my grandmothers’ closet..the kitty litter should work on them too, right?

  19. Judy says:

    I believe cranky old people were also cranky young people. I find most older folks get sweeter and appreciate life more.

    PS the kitty litter works well.

  20. Carl says:

    Great info! Found you on Pinterest. Unfortunately, the only place I can find cool old suitcases or chests seems to be Pinterest.

    Old person smell actually exists.
    ..
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=old-person-smell&WT.mc_id=SA_syn_HuffPo
    ..
    Thrift store smell is probably a mixture of old person smell and mold spore.

    http://www.dustmitemagic.com/what-musty-smells-mean.html

  21. Denise MacColeman says:

    I recently bought an antique 1940 English sideboard. It is beautiful with grand detail. But this thing smells to high Heaven. I have put a cup of coffee grounds inside, vinegar, charcoal pieces,used Murphys oil soap, cinnamon sticks, cloves and everything I could think of. It still sticks in the cabinets and drawers. I will put cups of litter inside and see if this works. Thanks. Denise

    • Karen says:

      HI Denise – You may have to actually lay the sideboard down and fill it if you can. That’d be your best bet. It works best when the litter actually has contact with whatever you’re trying to destink. ~ karen!

  22. Michele in IL. says:

    Cute and funny! I love your kitty litter idea and will use it. Don’t they say not to buy kitty litter with ammonia? Do u have to repeat the process in a year??
    Thanks so much!

  23. Billie says:

    I have to say that while the idea of Kitty Litter is good, I am amazed that anyone living in this day and age could post such insulting insensitive remarks about old people being smelly. That’s very unfair and unkind -I suppose you do realise that your grandparents and possibly even your parents and other members of your own family come into this category of “old people”.

    And too,I would suggest that you think about the fact that you too will be old one day.

    Anyone can be smelly, both young and old, and some just can’t help it. A little more compassion and understanding of other people’s problems might just turn you into a nicer person!!

    • Karen says:

      Billie – If you don’t associate the smell of must and moth balls with things that are old then you are one of very few in this world. My mother is 77. She’s not offended by the post. And neither should you be. I suppose you’re right that both young and old people can smell. The same way both young and old can either have a good sense of humour or not. ~ karen

    • say wahht? says:

      I also replied above and I am going to agree again with this offended older person.
      Since I have worked with vintage longer than most young people have been alive, I can easily tell you what the “old people” thrift shop smell is. It is nothing to do with being old and everything to do with fabrics and items that can’t be or aren’t washed, crowded intoa badly ventilated shop.. What the smell is: It is old sweat which smells nasty as it decomposes, and old perfume which smells even worse. Perfume goes strongly rancid as it sits on your clothes and in your closet. And mold from improper storage is the finishing touch.I won’t even go into old nicotine. Gak. The worst.
      Since I realized this I NEVER wear perfume with anything that can’t be washed immediately after.
      Don’t ever wear perfume with wool, silk or leather. It will be there rotting away forever.

      • Karen says:

        You understand that I, the originator and writer of this post, am the one to approve all of these comments, right? I’m going to assume you didn’t have much of a sense of humour when you were younger either. ~ karen

  24. Billie says:

    Mmmm – moderated – not really surprised!! I’ll be surprised if you allow that post!!

  25. Crystal Pistol says:

    Looks like I need to buy me some kitty litter. Sounds crazy but I’m gonna pour that stuff in my bathroom along the walls, (I CAN handle that that sight and mess for a week) and down beside my dryer to get rid of the musty stinky smell that every one says they dont smell, but I damn sure do, they all need to get their sniffers checked!!! I hate the smell in my bathroom! thx for the tip chick! *fingers crossed*

  26. Crystal Pistol says:

    oh and I know just what you mean about the old people smell. It’s no doggone secret that yes, old people do smell different…when she used that as her description we all knew exactly the odor she was talking of. So, the people that say they got offended by such comment/opinion I would bet that they are the ones who smell that way, and either dont know they smell that way or know it and they felt compelled to cry about it.

  27. Suzie says:

    I rarely comment on the websites from which Pinterest posts have originated, but I must on this one. While I found your tip very helpful, I found your writing even more enjoyable. I love words and writing, and you combined the two in an interestingly humorous and well-written excerpt as you described your method. Kudos…

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Suzie! I’m happy you found me through Pinterest and left a comment. Welcome to the site … hope you’ll come back. ~ karen!

  28. Emily says:

    If I have a suitcase the size of your middle one, or maybe a little bit bigger would I need to use more than one container of kitty litter, or would one be enough?

  29. Roxie says:

    What about getting the smell of cigarette smoke out of wood furniture? Any ideas on that one?

  30. Roxie says:

    How do you get cigarette smoke out of wood furniture?

  31. Ruth says:

    I have a thrift store and just unloaded a carload of musty clothes – mostly t-shirts that are clean otherwise. Stored 4 years in tight house. To wash would take 20 loads at a laundromat. To soak is out of the question since the pipes froze in my shop this winter. The kitty litter in plastic bags seems to be the best solution. I’m old. I guess if I can smell them then they’re really bad. If I used the smaller kitchen bags and shook them often would that work?

    • Karen says:

      HI Ruth – Yikes. I’m not sure. If I were you, I’d take a few pieces and do as you say. Put them in plastic bags, or even buckets with lids and fill them with kitty litter. Leave them for a week, and then check them. Remember not to use scented kitty litter otherwise you’ll just end up with an even worse smelling article of clothing! Good luck. ~ karen

  32. Ruth says:

    The smell on some of the clothing that was left in clean open air was less this morning but I filled several bags with clothes, oil dry from a auto parts shop and bounce. Will see what happens. The total was over 100 t shirts from one family. About 20 were from a casino – probably the reason they lost their home. Thanks for your response. You’re blog is fun.

    Ruth

  33. carol says:

    When I worked at a convenience store and we had a milk leak in the cooler that started smelling the boss put a charcoal briquette in the back of the cooler and in a day or so the odor was gone. Try that on your bar fridge.

    • cheryl seals says:

      HI KAREN, Just found your site via pinterist ! I have been an antique dealer for 35yrs just retired and closed shop up, YEY ! I have delt with smelly items alot, and i will be trying the kitty litter trick..ONE thing that i have done for years is clean all things in shop with a solution of lavender oil & water in a spray bottle, furniture and anything that can be wet..I used it for dusting and room spray my shop didnt have that antique shop smell aka. old people smell. I also used to put dryed lavender in the drawers and other stuff inclosed in cloth or interfacing it does work the customers always said the shop didnt smell..my thought is you can also maybe add some dryed lavender to the kitty litter for a lovely scent if you like lavender..lavender is an antimicrobical also.. AS for the old people smell it does exist, my mothers home smelled like that..When she passed an before we sold it we cleaned every surface with the lavender water solution, and i ground up the dryed lavender and put it on all the carpets and let it sit for a month and then vacumed the house no longer smelled like old people.. Thanks for your advice on kitty litter, i will be trying it forsure,then giving litter to a friend..See you next time….cheryl

      • Karen says:

        Thanks Cheryl! I actually love lavender scent. I just got a bar of lavender soap and I *can’t* stop smelling it, LOL. Glad you found my site. ~ karen!

  34. Great tip! I would have never thought of this! So clever!

  35. Jackie says:

    Helping my daughter with her vintage travel theme wedding this October. Recently purchased several vintage suitcases at an estate sale and both have that musty smell. One we can tell was due to some water damage but it is dry now. We will try your kitty litter suggestion, sounds like it may work for us. Found your site very amusing and helpful. I think that a cranky, smelly old person was probably a cranky, smelly young person, middle age person etc! There is definitely an old person smell just as there is definitely a new baby smell….whether you find either or both enjoyable probably depends on the memories you associate with each. Why should some people be offended, everyone does know exactly what you mean when you say “old person smell”. I plan to live to be at least 100 but I do NOT plan on every getting old. (of course, I may smell a bit by then 🙂

  36. Maria says:

    You’re a hoot! That’s right! I said hoot!! (I love that phrase!) thanks for the idea! Awesome! I wonder if this would get the vomit smell out of my leather sofa! Someone vomited on it a while ago and no matter what i can’t get rid of the smell that’s coming from in between the sewn cushions! I’ve tried sadle soap-baking soda-borax-you name it! But I haven’t tried kitty litter! I hope this will work!

    • Karen says:

      Maria! omg! omgomgomg! NONONO. Throw the sofa out, LOL. Throw it away, LOLLOLOL! Eep. Hey! Maybe you could take the sofa to those car cleaners who clean taxis. I bet they know how to get vomit smell out of leather. ~ karen!

  37. judi says:

    I was lol’ing all the way through your blog post! found you via pinterest and this is such a GREAT idea. I have some vintage ticking fabric that I washed and still smells…so this is a must try. thanks for the chuckles this morning!

  38. Alexandra says:

    Hi Karen,

    I recently scored a vintage typewriter and case that smells pretty bad. What do you recommend to remove the dingy smell from the actual typewriter itself? I’ve had it out of the case for the past month and I still get a face full of old smell. =(

    • Karen says:

      HI Alexandra- Congratulations on the vintage typewriter. I love old typewriters! Any typewriters actually. The first thing I would do is wash the typewriter carefully. Wash all the keys and body and all the cracks you can get into. Try testing a weak bleach solution (one part bleach to 10 parts water) to make sure it doesn’t dull the finish or anything. Once you wash it, let it dry completely, then fill a tupperware container with a few inches of kitty litter. Place the typewriter inside (on top of the litter) and put the lid on the tupperware. You may need a big tupperware bin for this. Let it sit for a week or two with the lid closed. Can’t guarantee it’ll work completely, but it’s what I would do in your situation. ~ karen

  39. Victoria says:

    i have a friend who has a musty smelling suburban. so what do you do for that? maybe he should use baking soda to clean the carpets.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Victoria – Believe it or not I’d do the same thing. Pour kitty litter on the carpets. It’ll be a pain to clean up (vacuum with shop vac) but it’ll work better than the baking soda. ~ karen!

  40. Angie says:

    Going to definitely try this! Thanks :). Love the humor too 🙂

  41. Cathy says:

    I saw coffee grounds mentioned once or twice. That is actually what the car rental places use. I used it once by sprinkling the grounds around in the trunk. It worked but it took a long time to get the coffee grounds vacuumed up. Next time I will just use jar lids filled with the grounds and set them around in the trunk.

  42. katie says:

    Hi. Love the idea..thank you! Just a quick Q-if you are familiar with vintage pieces. I’ve inherited a train case made of gator material. Trying to get a bit of background of it. Made by the same company as your set. Do you know about the value of this make?

    • Karen says:

      Hi katie – I know the value of some vintage pieces, but I’m afraid that isn’t one of them. 🙁 ~ karen

  43. Wendy says:

    Hi Karen,
    Just stumbled upon your blog, I think I am considered old…58 and you made me laugh! My smelly problem is old vintage jewelry. specifically old pearl necklaces. Nothing expensive just sweet piece’s and they all smell like old perfume…to me that is the “old lady” smell. In your experience will kitty litter work and is safe for jewelry in general?
    Thank you

  44. Lioness says:

    Hi Karen,
    I tried the kitty litter on an old chest and after a week it smelt exactly as musty as before. I didn’t use the clumping sort though, am wondering if that could be it, have you tried this with any other type of litter? I’m now trying charcoal, fingers crossed.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Lioness – Well, that’s no good. Whether it’s clumping or non clumping shouldn’t matter. The other thing I know *can* work is coffee grounds. But you need a LOT. The final resort for something that’s wood, is to use a flat varathane type product. It seals the wood therefore sealing in the scent! ~ karen!

  45. Lioness says:

    Ah well, cheers anyway. Let’s see how charcoal does, though am not holding out hope.

  46. Wanda says:

    I have decided, solely,( well perhaps not solely but mostly anyway), based on your last paragraph, that I like you.
    I shall do some reading and hopefully justify that decision!

  47. Flip Flipenstein says:

    Huh… huh… huh-huh… huh… you said…. STINK BOX! Huh… huh… huh-huh… huh…

  48. Jen says:

    Hi Karen! I just purchased a home built in 1900 w/ old wood support beams & the basement access is outside. It is extremely smelly & musty down there & when it rains the whole house smells awful. If we put kitty litter down there will it need to be vacuumed up up to get rid of the smell? It’s a dirt floor & we don’t really ever need to go down there.
    & there is definitely an ‘old person’ odor that to younger people is not pleasant! I’m not saying all old people have this but many do. I think a lot of it many elderly people are unable to shower frequently so they cover up odors w/ strong smelling perfume.
    But I digress…. please let me know what u suggest for my musty smelling home.

    • Karen says:

      Yikes. That’s probably a bit too large of a job for kitty litter, LOL. However people say they’ve had success with lump charcoal. Buckets of bins of lump charcoal will help absorb smells. Lime over the dirt floor can help absorb moisture (which is causing the musty smell). Vapour barriers bring out different opinions in different people. Some say they’re great and a vapour barrier over your floor will help with the musty smell, other people will say all it does is trap all the moisture. I tend to agree with the later. My last suggestion is one I don’t really know about (even though I’ve recently done it myself) but think you should look into. Check into the option of pouring a cement floor. Those are my ideas for now. Good luck. ~ karen!

  49. eliana says:

    I bought and old suitcase last week and have been trying to remove the musty odor. I tried baking soda,vinegar and dryer sheets, to know avail!

  50. sidney says:

    I’m 66 and think “old” people are getting a bad rap here. Although every time I walk into my office/sewing room i wonder what “old person” has been in my there.
    Love your wit, humor and advice…keep’um both up. Us old folk just need a good hug every now and then (just hold your breath and squeeze like ya mean it).
    Hugs, sidney

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