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Getting Rid of Odors in an Antique Trunk

or...I love my trunk but my eyes are burning and my canary died.  What to do?

Old trunks and odors go together like honey and bees.  You're glad you found the former until you notice the latter.  Most odors can be dealt with if you can bear to be patient.  It took 100 years to build up that smell - you can't get rid of it in an afternoon.

First and foremost, nothing helps get rid of odors better than fresh air and sunshine.  Why do you think those retirement homes roll all the residents out on the porch whenever the sun comes out?  If your trunk smells musty, leave it open out in the sun as much as possible.

Check out the inside of your trunk.  What is it lined with?  Most are lined with paper, and it usually isn't in mint condition.  Get rid of it!  It stinks!  Scrape it out and sand down the wood beneath.  If the paper is too hard to scrape, try dampening it with a sponge.  I said dampen it - don't soak it with the garden hose.  You can stain and finish the wood for a nice look.  If you dampened the liner paper to remove it be sure the wood dries thoroughly before you apply stain or finish.  This little exercise will leave your trunk looking and smelling better.  It even works pretty well for that mothball odor that makes your eyes water.  Please keep in mind that it's not just the paper that smells - the glue beneath the paper can stink things up pretty well all by itself.  This glue is usually mucelage, made from old horses, and somehow right about here most people squint and say, 'Hmmmmm, it's all starting to make sense now.'  Once you have all the paper out, keep cleaning the wood surface and use a paint scraper to remove as much of that glue as you can.  If it's damp or wet it comes out just like mucus.  Not very pleasant, but worth the effort.  A day later, or thereabouts, the interior wood should be dry enough to allow you to get in there with sandpaper and smooth things out.  Get rid of all splinters so that you can store your quilts or blankets or excess grandchildren in there without risk of splintering them up.

How to fix up the inside of an antique trunk

Scrape out the paper, scrape out the glue, scrape out the stench.

Here's a tip sent in by Jo Ann Cross:  Place an open bag of kitty litter in trunk and close.  Check it in about a week.  The cheap brands usually work the best.
Thanks for the tip, Jo Ann.  Note from staff:  We think the most important words in Jo Ann's advice are: 'and close.'  Leave it open and the cat will find it and then we're pretty sure your odor problem will be moving in the wrong direction.

Here's another tip, this one from North of the Border:  "I read the page that you had on "How to Deal with Odors" and noticed that you didn't have the simple fix that was recommended to me by an antique enthusiast. She recommended to put fresh ground coffee in any antique that has an unpleasant odor. I tried it recently on a beautiful old wooden bureau that I had purchased. It had been stored in an abandoned barn, then finally in a basement before I bought it.  The musty and mysteryous odors were unbelievable.  I did as my friend suggested, putting coffee in contact with as many surfaces as I could, shut the drawers and walked away.  Within two days the bad odors were gone. I now have this beautiful antique in my livingroom and store my dining room linens in it.  No after odor at all! I hope this tip might help others who have found something beautiful but decidely stinky!
Cindy Bird, Nova Scotia, Canada
Thanks, Cindy!  Another note from staff - Cindy's coffee tip only works if you use dry coffee grounds.  Not the wet mush that's left over after you brew the morning go-go juice.

A wise old trunk refinisher once told me to put a lit candle inside your trunk and then prop the lid open only an inch or so, to let air flow so the candle will burn.  He claimed it would work wonders on almost any smell, and that it was the best way to treat mothball odors.  I learned a lot from him, that old gent, and I really miss him since he passed away in that big fire.  You probably saw that coming.

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