Musty Smell in Drawers

Updated November 21, 2016

Cabinet, cupboard and dresser drawers are often made of wood, as it is a sturdy, but naturally absorbent material. Over time, drawers can take on a musty, stuffy smell -- particularly if they are located in damp or humid areas, such as the basement or the kitchen. Fortunately, there are a number of ordinary household items that can be used to remove musty odours and leave and drawers smelling fresh and clean.


Bathrooms, kitchens, cellars and basements tend to be naturally high in moisture. The combination of running water and limited air circulation creates the ideal environment for the growth of mould and mildew. Even when these microbes cannot be seen, their presence can often be detected by the off-putting, musty aroma that seems to accompany their development. To eradicate these microorganisms, dry out the drawers; remove them from the cabinet or dresser and take them outdoors. Set the drawers in a sunny spot and leave them for four to eight hours. The sunshine and radiant heat removes any excess moisture and kills unwanted bacteria in the process.

Porous Materials

The surfaces of many items are covered with naturally occurring small holes. When these porous materials are placed in enclosed spaces, they work like tiny sponges, soaking up odours and aromas from the air around them. To remove the musty smell from a drawer, wrap a few charcoal briquettes or a handful of coffee grounds in a paper coffee filter. Secure the ends of the filter with strips of adhesive tape and set the odour-eating sachets in the drawer; for an added burst of fragrance, add a few drops of vanilla extract to the materials before sealing them in the paper. Alternatively, a few sheets of crumbled-up newspaper can be used to remove odours and excess moisture.


Acidic materials neutralise unpleasant aromas by killing the bacteria that cause them. To eliminate odour-causing microbes, wipe the interior and exterior surfaces of the drawer with a cloth that has been dipped in white distilled vinegar. The acetic acid in the vinegar kills mould and mildew, deodorising the drawer and disinfecting it at the same time. For a crisp, citrus scent, substitute lemon juice for vinegar; the citric acid in the lemon cleans and deodorises without the pungent vinegar aroma.


What could be more welcoming than pulling open a drawer and being greeted by a comforting aroma of pumpkin pie or sticky buns? To replace a musty smell with the scent of home-baked goodness, toss a handful of cinnamon sticks or whole cloves in the drawer, or fashion a few aromatic sachets from apple pie spice, allspice or ginger, and tuck them into the corners of the cabinet. Not only will the spices give the drawer a heavenly, homey fragrance, they can help keep common household pests, such as ants and silverfish, at bay.

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About the Author

Lisa Parris is a writer and former features editor of "The Caldwell County News." Her work has also appeared in the "Journal of Comparative Parasitology," "The Monterey County Herald" and "The Richmond Daily News." In 2012, Parris was honored with awards from the Missouri Press Association for best feature story, best feature series and best humor series.