Dressers, like any porous material in a home, absorb odours such as cigarette smoke, mildew, pet urine, rodent droppings, or smells from anything odoriferous stored in the dresser, such as sachets, colognes or spilt toiletries. A vintage or antique dresser may come with years of unknown smells that you'll need to remove before using it. Cleaning wood, particularly older or quality wood in a dresser, requires care to prevent damage. Using the right cleaning supplies will help you remove the smell and keep the dresser in good condition.
Work on the dresser in an area where you can leave the drawers out for a day or two. A sunny porch, spare room, garage, or a warm area will be useful for airing out the dresser.
Empty the dresser of all items. Pull out all the drawers. For drawers on runners, tip the drawer downward to unlock it from the runner, and pull it out all the way. Removing the drawers will allow air to circulate through the entire structure to help remove the smell.
Remove any drawer liners or paper inserts in the dresser. Dispose of them, as these materials retain odours.
Mix wood soap and room-temperature water. Wipe down all surfaces of the dresser, inside and out, including the bottoms and sides of the drawers, with the soap solution on a sponge or rag. Rinse the sponge often.
Sprinkle the drawers with a 1/4-inch layer of baking soda. Leave the drawers out of the dresser for at least 24 hours with the baking soda in them to absorb the odours.
Empty the baking soda out of the drawers. Sniff the dresser to check for any remaining smell. Strong odours such as cigarette smoke or pet urine may require an additional cleaning.
If further odour removal is needed, mix 1 tsp peppermint Castile soap and 1 tsp borax with 2 cups of room-temperature water. Dip a clean rag or sponge in the cleaning solution. Wring it out well to avoid getting the wood overly wet. Apply the cleaning solution to all the inside surfaces of the dresser. Don't apply this solution to the exterior surfaces; it could mar the finish.
Keep the drawers open as much as possible until the smell dissipates. Make it a habit to leave dresser and closet drawers open periodically, especially in damp weather, to reduce the risk of mould and mildew. If the wood is permeated with a strong smell, wash the entire dresser a second time. Leave a layer of baking soda in all the drawers for three days or longer to help absorb the smell. Borax provides disinfection to effectively clean urine and other biological stains. Placing cedar chips or cedar blocks in dresser drawers provides a fresh scent and may discourage moths. Clean and fully dry anything that was in the dresser before putting the items back.
Keep the dresser out of direct sunlight to keep the wood from splitting. Wring out the rag or sponge before wiping down a dresser made with veneer -- thin strips of wood on the surface. Veneer can warp or detach from the underlying wood if it becomes wet or is exposed to heat.