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.

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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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“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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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. Marilyn says:

    Ok, I have a double problem. I stored my mothers 100 year old wedding veil in one of my suitcases. after placing it in, I noticed a strong dust mite smell. Chicken me hasn’t opened it since. Do you think the kitty litter would act as cleaner or a damager for both veil and suitcase? Sign me, Smelly 75 year old. (not really)

    • Yohko Kaneda says:

      I think my reply might come in a little late. But just want to share that, for all genuine leather products or other household items (concerning smell or stench), you can place them under the sun eg; 3 hours or so (anything less the smell is still there).

      Keep turning your product back and front (for smell to get rid of). After 3 hrs or so, you will find that the smell is no longer there. If the smell persists, keep the products under the sun, until it vanishes.

      If your product may become dry under the hot sun, polish it first with some leather ointment and place it under the sun.

      Cheers.

  2. C. L. says:

    I am clean-a-holic; I like old stuff too but can only manage to bring myself to buy things I clean very well with a disinfectant (bleach, rubbing alcohol, Lysol…). The kitty litter idea interests me but how (if at all) do you disinfect/clean such items?

  3. Joan DeCook says:

    I LOVE your idea of displaying your old luggage, and a brilliant way to absorb the “odor”. Using it as a sewing stuff container and odds and ends is so clever – I’m like you, I ADORE things from the past; character and pride in workmanship-which we sorely lack in our products today.

  4. Donna says:

    Hi. Just found your site, and wanted to “add my two cents”. (I’m 59, I can say that, lol.)
    I have a green metal trunk with leather handles that I am going to strip all of the liner paper out of, and then try the kitty litter!!, so that I can use the trunk for blankets and linens in my studio apt.!
    Also: I use Damp-Rid crystals, available at any Home Depot for $2-$3, for mold control in my apartment, and I wondered if trying them would help any of your other readers who’ve tried everything else? They are child-and-pet safe.
    Love the blog; Keep it up!

  5. Cassandra says:

    I am so excited to try this with my old suitcases.

  6. Shelly Gonczar says:

    Thanks for the kitty liter trick. I have tried everything (except kitty liter) to get rid of the musty smell in an old chest I bought.
    A lot of blogs I read, I just want to scroll down quickly to get to the point. But, yours was really funny and I thoroughly enjoyed your comments on “old stuff”!!

  7. Jane O says:

    This post is written so clever, you actually got me to READ it! I am a photo skimmer, so well done! My luggage will likely get this treatment. Found you on Pinterest.

  8. Jeannie B says:

    Hi Karen. I wish that I’d tried this, before I threw out a small vintage case that held matchbox toy cars. It hadn’t been opened in years and the smell was nauseating.I washed all the cars but tried and failed to ” de-stink” the case. My daughter introduced me to ” Feline Fresh” cat litter, made from pine. I use it half and half with unscented cat litter, for my two cats. I may put some in my hall closet to see if it deodorizes. Thanks for the tip.

  9. Pam Mischler says:

    The old people in my family must have bathed in mothballs. Any idea if this will work on that smell? I have my grandmothers old trunk that’s 110 years old and was full of mothballs as well as the attic it was stored in.
    I would love to use but afraid I won’ be able to. Any thoughts!,
    Pam

    • Karen says:

      Hey Pam – Mothballs are a tough one. Bleh. But I’d do what I said. Fill it with kitty litter. I have no idea how successful it will be, but you might as well try it. Dump in a box or two of kitty litter. After a week or so I’d rotate the trunk, the instead of the bottom being on the ground, the side is. That way the kitty litter will fall and have contact with the side of the trunk. Keep doing this for a month or so and see what you get. ~ karen!

  10. maureen says:

    I just bought 2 shocking purple American Tourister vintage suitcases at Goodwill that need this!!! Thanks so much. (And who knew you could buy shocking purple luggage in 1953?)

  11. Amanda Gerber says:

    Hi, I wanted to know if the kitty litter will work on an old chest of drawers? I have an solid oak chest that was given to me years ago by a older woman. I story my summer clothes in it during the winter time. I don’t want to damage my chest so I’m worried about trying anything. Please let me know at your convenience.

    Thank you,
    Amanda G

    • Karen says:

      Hi Amanda – Sure! Use the kitty litter (the unscented kind). Load each of the drawers up with kitty litter and leave it for a week or so. After a week, take a cup of litter out of one of the drawers and smell it. If it smells musty you know the litter is doing it’s job. You may need to empty out the litter and load it up with new stuff as it fills with musty smell. (I don’t know if this is totally and completely necessary, but it’s just what I’ve done) For some reason I’m afraid that it will only take in so much stink before it won’t take in any more, lol. Good luck! ~ karen

  12. Eva J. McWilliams says:

    This site was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve found something which
    helped me. Kudos!

  13. mindy says:

    I was wondering what would get the smell out of some cabbage patch kids that i bought that have never been removed from their boxes. They all have a musty smell, and I don’t want to remove them from the box. Would kitty litter in containers work? Or is there something else that might work better?

  14. Kim says:

    This is great! Can you reuse the cat litter for another de-stink project or must you buy a new container for each project?

    Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kim – I’m able to reuse the litter as actual cat litter because I have two cats so I’m not sure how well it work work for reusing. I imagine it would depend on how bad the stink of the object you use it in is. Basically if you remove the litter from the suitcase or whatever, and the litter smells musty, you’d have to get rid of it. Hope that helps. ~ karen!

  15. Sandy says:

    Googled how to get musty smell out of a vintage typewriter case (1934 typewriter) and stumbled upon your blog. I’ll have to try the kitty litter. Really enjoyed this post. You have a great sense of humor. I’ve got you bookmarked so I can back.

  16. Sheila Maclean says:

    Thanks for the laughs about ‘old people’ though I hate to consider myself one of’ em at 67! I bought a lovely old wool coat, guessing it dates from late 50’s but I can’t get rid of that musty old ladies smell ingrained in it so I’ll be wearing it when I visit my daughter in London so I can get first dibs on her cat’s litter suppy …or perhaps I should just buy a bag and re-use it, come to think of it stuff in my drawers that doesn’t get used for a while definitely needs de-ponged so maybe I’ll try a strong refuse bag and dump all smellies into it for a while…then try the same with the drawer. Can’t do any harm, meanwhile I’ll try it with old vintage suitacase as per my original plan. Thanks for many witty ideas with humour flung in! Sheila

  17. Michealyn Smith says:

    I love the comments, but I have to share my old, tried and true method of getting rid of odors. NEWSPAPERS! Single sheets, wadded up and stuffed into the suitcase; the strength of the odor will dictate the number of times this had to be done. The ink in the newspaper is a cheap ink and absorbs the odors. If the problem is with fabric; wrap with tissue and the put in container with wadded newspaper. I inherited a car that smelled of a smoking habit…wadded newspapers thrown in the car at several intervals, did the trick. (wads in the back seat if I had to drive it. Looked funny, but worked.) Also in the drawers of a piece of furniture that was smoke damaged from a fire! Talk about recycling! Just thought I would pass it along.

  18. Carol says:

    So, does the kitty litter need to actually touch the item or can you put it in a box or bowl? I have two large armoires that reek musty inside, (veneer / pressed wood). One has several shelves, the other is more or less a giant box for hanging clothes. If I could just set an open bag in each one for a week that would be perfect. AND as an extra bonus, I have a cat, so the K.L. can be recycled!!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Carol – Touching is definitely best. Just a few bowls will work a little bit, but not nearly as much as filling an item with litter. Which with an armoire … might be a bit of an issue! ~ karen

      • Carol says:

        I can scatter some on the floors and shelves and then I’ll leave the whole open bag sitting in the bottom and see what happens. This is a common problem with old armoires that have been in storage for years – these two are probably from the 1930s, so that’s definitely a lot of sitting. There are a number of fixes, but most of them are way more complicated than the kitty litter method – sanding, re-sealing, washing, spraying, charcoal… I’ll keep you posted on the saga, as these are about unusable without getting the stench out. I will prevail!! Thank you for your prompt reply, take care…

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  20. Patricia says:

    Hi
    I’m making notes as this thread progresses. It is very useful!

    I am currently clearing a home after the death of a serious hoarder – just imagine opening a box to find the person has kept all the teeth she has pulled out of her mouth in the last twenty years! Her hoard also includes all her mother’s hoard therefore some of the rubbish is 100 years old – badly worn shoes and clothes, papers – nothing valuable. Yes there are smells that permeate everything.
    Now for my request for advice – not for the faint hearted – her bathroom floor was uncovered – over the years she has “missed” and wee’d into the concrete. Any ideas for sorting the smell of this problem? Eeek?

    Pat

    • Karen says:

      oh dear! Yikes. Concrete is porous so it would soak it all up good. Um, you can get concrete cleaner. You can also get spray for pet urine. i’m not sure if it would be useful on human urine or not but it’s worth a try. It’s an “Enzyme cleaner”. Also, once it’s cleaned you could put a concrete sealer over the concrete to trap any ick inside. ~ karen!

  21. Getting rid of stuff says:

    Great post! Been reading a lot about getting rid of old stuff. Thanks for the info here!

  22. anna says:

    Does anyone know if its safe to sprinkle/hang kitty litter in a baby’s closet? I thought it was unsafe for babies, or is that just cat litter thats been peed in?

  23. Sonya says:

    What about ridding a cedar chest from old mothball smell?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Sonya – Well … either a whole lotta kitty litter (honestly) or try spraying with vinegar a few times. Vinegar works fairly well in that situation according to my sister. I’ve always used litter but she uses vinegar. ~ karen!

  24. Susie says:

    WOW! The old people smell that you are referring to are actually people who endured numerous wars..hardships..and sacrifice., so that you can have the freedom of speech to post your rude comments . Have a little respect for the aging in this country.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Susie – This is an information and humour website and needs to be read as such. My mother is 80 and she loved the post, so it could just be this sort of humour isn’t for you. ~ karen

  25. Lioness says:

    Update on my chest of drawers, good news! Charcoal didn’t work, as I’d expected, but citronella candles did, a smallish one per drawer. Hopefully this can help someone else with stubborn odours.

    • Karen says:

      Good news! I just hope the candle isn’t just masking the odor. Did you try spraying it with vinegar? ~ karen

  26. Nicole says:

    Interesting…..because right now we’re dealing with getting the smell of litterbox out of our “new” house finished basement- where the previous owners kept the litter boxes. It doesn’t smell like cat pee….but just like a litterbox!!!! Gross. I’ve used vinegar, nature’s miracle, boxes of baking soda left out for weeks, charcoal….you name it. It’s still there. Nasty! Any recommendations for that dilemma?

  27. G Grube says:

    NICE luggage!

  28. Pat says:

    I just got a 40+ year old camera bag with a moldy smell to match its age. I will try your idea. Thanks for the post. They are not old, just timeless 🙂

  29. Suzi says:

    Karen, happy Friday!

    When the planets align and I manage to sneak in a blissful hour at a local estate sale, I always seem to gravitate straight to the women’s fashions and accessories (a girl’s gotta do…), and if the aligned planets also give way to yet another beautiful Northern California summer day, and I uncover a treasure that’s been waiting patiently for me, my day is complete!

    … sigh …

    Once home, that musty smell is overpowering and I have to leave my treasure(s) outside to air out, etc. I’ve been told about and tried the ziplock bag/dryer sheet trick (no dice), as well as charcoal, hand wash, machine wash, dry clean, etc etc. I have had zero success. That ends today. I found a funky, colorful 60’s wrap skirt ($3!) that will receive Karen’s Kitty Litter Cure and I will funkify … well, **something** in a few days when I wear the skirt. Thank you!!

    p.s. you had me at ‘whack job’

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Suzi. Ya, whack job! LOL. Good luck with your skirt! My sister says she has great luck with spraying clothing/fabric with vinegar. (then wash it of course) Happy hunting. ~ karen!

  30. Beth says:

    I was wondering if the kitty litter would work for old kids books that smell musty and how to go about it. I already tried laying them out in the sun for hours which helped a little but not enough. I would love to hand them down to my grandchildren. PLEASE HELP!

  31. B says:

    Thanks for the great tip!
    Love your wit and writing style!

  32. Kitty says:

    Hello, I was SO excited about the cat litter solution!

    I bought a mid-century sewing box which is a beautiful thing but was obviously unopened for many years and smells very fusty, like it was quite overpowering at first. I have tried cleaning it day after day after day after day, leaving it outside to air for days at a time, etc. I just tried the cat litter method. Nothing, it is still smelly.

    btw, I don’t think it smells of old people as my gran was an old person and she smelt of lavendar soap and Eternity perfume – in fact, I wish it DID smell of old people! But it smells of vintage and long-term storage. So I think I will remove the lining – waah, lovely fabric lining and see if that helps. Has anyone else has to go nuclear like this? I have no idea how to actually replace the lining.

    Thanks for the tip though, I am sure it will come in useful again in the future 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kitty! My one last tip would be to spray the inside with vinegar. SOAK it. Then let it dry in the sun if you can. ~ karen!

  33. Barb says:

    When I bought an antique secretary that smelled musty, I poured some nice smelling potpourri in it for about a week and it worked like a charm. Still smells really good 3 years later.

  34. jill says:

    I love how the bottom suitcase is smiling at us! I’ve used litter too. A lot to be said for days out in the sun too.

  35. Monica says:

    Hi. A family member just moved n with us and my house has a funny smell. Don’t know what it is, but everything smells like her, her cover and her clothes. How do I get that smell out?

    • Karen says:

      That’s a new one. Without knowing what the smell is I don’t think I can help. Could it just be her perfume? Febreeze (without scent) will get rid of odours without making another equally offensive odor, that’s worth a shot. ~ karen!

  36. Lisa says:

    hi Karen, your blog is helpful. I have a vintage leather purse with cream suede interior. Would you still recommend putting kitty litter inside?

    Thank you,
    Lisa

    • Karen says:

      Hi Lisa. Sure the litter will be fine in the cream suede interior. Just make sure it isn’t wet or damp! Then the litter will stick to it. Just pour the litter in, close it up and leave it. Then you can just dump the litter out. You may need to vacuum it out a bit too. Good luck! ~ karen

  37. katie says:

    Charcoal, as in briquettes. Seriously. I am a smoker, and the smell of smoke in my car bothers me, so I’m sure it bothers others. Take a few briquettes – the kind without lighter fluid added – and put ’em in a paper lunch bag. (Or two, or three, or as many as floats your dress up. Bags and briquettes both.) Place bag(s) in car. Roll up windows. Park car in sun. Leave there for as long as possible…at least 12 hours. Remove charcoal. Roll down windows and take a drive. Smoke smell is gone!

    • Karen says:

      That sounds like it really would work. 🙂 I know charcoal absorbs poison so it makes sense it might absorb smells too. ~ karen!

  38. Bob says:

    The kitty litter trick is an interesting way of getting rid of that old musty smell and I will definitely give this a go. I have a question though: I like old (useable) sewing machines and have a few and that smell is a problem with some of them.
    Obviously I can try the cat litter trick on the cases but what about the machines? That musty smell is in some of them and they are 99% metal. Any ideas?
    I read you comments about the washing the typewriter but I don’t want to immerse a sewing machine in water due to inaccessible machine parts and the fear of rust inside. Thanks for the blog, it’s interesting.

  39. Jane says:

    Wow. Trying to think of another protected class of individuals we could publicly say are stinky because they are part of the protected class. Yeah…I know…a lot of folks will tell me to lighten up. Well, just pat me on the head and tell me I can say whatever I want because I’m old.

  40. ronda says:

    I bought an old mirror on eBay that turned out to be very musty smelling. Would putting the mirror in a large garbage bag with kitty litter do the trick, do you think? Hoping this thread isn’t too old now!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Ronda! I’d give it a shot! The other thing you can try is to spray it with vinegar. Chances are the musty smell is from whatever the backing on the mirror is (felt … cardboard … wood … whatever). ~ karen!

  41. Autolycuss says:

    Hi K.
    Like your kitty litter idea for removing musty smells – will try that as Plan B if Plan A fails…
    Plan A is for when you have a smelly, mildewy, ex-military rucksack that is exceptionally sturdy and lightweight, but whiffs when you open it. The problem with pouring loose kitty litter in – especially those clay-based variants (which are the most effective), is that the clay turns to mud and lines all the seams & small crevices. So Kitty Litter is Good for removing smells, but no good when said clay covers whatever is stowed in the bag later on…
    What we need is a Dry moisture & smell absorber…
    Looked around and found a Fabric bag of rice over here in an Indian deli (in England – hence the damp), where the Key Words are “Fabric Bag”.
    You need a “breathable” bag of rice – this one is 2kgs, which is a bit on the biggish side, but should suck up a lot of moisture. Place it in the affected rucksack and leave it in a dry room, indoors, for a week or two.
    The porous nature of the bag (500 gramme bags or – 1lb for you colonials – are best, but the bag should be Hessian), allows all that smelliness to be sucked into the dry rice and retained there.
    After a week or two, remove the rice bag & pop it into a warm oven (no more than 50 degrees C), for two hours. This dissipates the moisture, dries the rice and makes the bag ready for another go – if required.
    When your rucksack interior smells & feels dry, close it up with one of those small sachets of Silica Gel (which you can – carefully – dry in an oven, as above), which we all accumulate and which you all keep in a small tin… don’t you…?
    I keep a bar of Wright’s Coal Tar Soap in my rucksack after drying & de-whiffing the interior – this may not be available on your wayward side of the Atlantic, but you’ll have something similar, I’m sure.
    All done – easy.
    Mail me if you have any questions….
    …And have a wonderful weekend…!

    • Karen says:

      Interesting! And no I haven’t seen the coal soap but it may just be because I haven’t looked for it. And it sounds like it be a great thing to have around. ~ karen!

  42. Ti says:

    How offensive. What do recommend old be do or to do with old people to get rid of this offensive odor. You insensitive, agist person. Hope you get the same when you get older.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Ti. This post is in no way meant to be offensive. It’s humour. Funny. And yes, I can stop you right there. You will say it’s not funny. But … it is. I am not now, nor will I ever be ageist. The smell is referring to “dust, must and mothballs”, which whether you like it or not, is associated with “old people”. It’s the smell that almost everyone in the world recognizes as one that reminds them of their grandparents. While it might be a fond memory of your grandparents it isn’t what you want your suitcase that’s carrying your clothes around in to smell like. ~ karen

  43. Sherree says:

    Dearest Ms KAREN,
    I am new here and I must say ELOQUENCE is DRIPPING from YOUR PAGES.
    What a LOVLEY WAY WITH WORDS. Simply ELOQUENT!

    LADIES…
    If, I may be soooo BOLD as to ADD to the discussion, it doesn’t get
    much easier nor more simple than using PLAIN OLE’ NEWSPAPER. If NO
    newspapers or FEARFUL of the Newsprint INK… Just use PAPER TOWELS.
    There’s really ZERO need for anything else and it’s about the easiest
    way to go.

    Oh, Ms. KAREN-I SEE NOTHING BUT CLASS here. Keep IT UP, LOVELY LADY!!!
    Ree

  44. nfrmdwmn says:

    After reading most of these posts, I feel I’ve unintentionally met my 1st cyber peeps group. Reminder to self…, “Give each step intent; Lead with your hips.”

    I digress…, in reference to kitties using your dark corner as the nightclub urinal, take gander at David Polley from Odor Medic
    http://www.odormedic.com/

    Dave and I had a very short kinship, but quality wins over quantity with my new friend. He walked me step-by-step, right on thru til the end with my 2″ shag carpet with in-floor heat, soaked in urine. Not a great combo.

    Do you know how the urine odor tends to come back when it rains? On muggy days, I smell the faint whiff of the deodorizing product, but not what my feline friends left behind. #DaveIsMybff

    I am not a paid spokesperson for Odor Medic, unless you count the insight I received. It’s been nice meeting everyone, via Karen and her wisdom.

    nfrmdwmn
    (informed woman)

  45. Anne says:

    Can the musty smelling but otherwise pristine kitty litter be used for its original purpose once the item and the litter have been separated? Who knows my cats might be attracted to that unique ‘old’ smell or even better how about a little payback for the numerous cat pee dilemmas they’ve put me through.

    • Karen says:

      Uch. Cats and their peeing dilemmas. I’m not sure Anne but I don’t really see why you couldn’t use it for litter. Unless it’s so filled with musty smell that you can’t stand it of course but I’d just throw it in the litter box and see what happens. ~ karen!

  46. Richard says:

    Hello Karen,
    I know this was an “old” post but it was funny and very helpful.
    You made me smile.
    Thank You

  47. Amaryllis says:

    Hello Karen, I bought an old armoire type piece of furniture. You can tell is an antique because 1.the piece used to hang clothes is still the piece of iron folded upwards and 2. the smell. I left two lbs of coffee inside, and took some of the smell away but not entirely. Do you think kitty litter would do the trick?

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