How to Get Rid of (Remove) the Old Musty Smell From Vintage Upholstered Furniture


Okay, I have a really great tip for you today on how to rid of the old musty smell from vintage upholstered furniture.

But, first you have to promise me something – don’t judge.  It’s an unusual tip.


First, I removed the slipcovers on this loveseat and the two matching chairs.  I washed them in my front loader washer, several times, with a whole lot of white vinegar and a small amount of detergent (to offset the vinegar smell).

This loveseat and coordinating chairs have a long history and are very well made furniture – they are just old and had been in the same home for many years with two families.  They were in great shape – but the cushions, which on the loveseat are down, were very musty.

I tried all kinds of over the counter products and they still smelled.  They were really not usable in the state they were in, so I decided it was time to get aggressive in how I approached it.


Then I found some information about how theater companies address the problems.

They use vodka.

Yes you heard me right – lots and lots of (cheap) vodka.

I took all the pieces and moved them to the driveway on a sunny warm day when I knew it would stay that way.  I used a spray bottle and around 2 and half bottles of straight vodka.

I simply sprayed the entire piece of upholstered furniture in vodka, wetting it pretty well.

Then, I left it for a few hours in the sun and came back and did it again.  In total, I did it three times and let it dry all the way.

By the time I brought them in, they were still slightly musty – but no smell of alcohol. I then used a bit of the over the counter sprays and the job was done.

I think the true test is when you sit on a piece of upholstered furniture – when you offset the cushions, if there is an odor – that is when you will smell it.


I can honestly say there is no longer any musty odor in our sofa – which is perfect since it is such a fun piece and we love it in this room.

Of course, my furniture was a “fix it or ditch it” approach.  If you have a treasured piece – please spot check in an inconspicuous area first to see if it leaves any stains or issues.  I also was not spraying on the outside – just under the slipcovers.

Happy odor removing my friends!

Thanks so much for reading.


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  1. Rick S says

    This is one to file away for when I need it. I just have to think of you sending the empty “cheap vodka” bottles out to the curb in the recycle bin. :) Well at least it wasn’t spiced Rum.


  2. Lisa says

    We have vodka. We have a *vintage* (stinky) settee. Two birds, one stone. Plus empty bottles to craft with. Bonus!

  3. Michelle says

    Cheap vodka is also good for killing mold (like in the bathroom). Bleach will clean it but it won’t kill it. The vodka kills it, then you can use bleach to clean/whiten.

  4. Teddee Grace says

    I’m keeping this in mind whenever the time finally comes that I can get my furniture out of storage and hope it works on really severe cases because I have found I have a real mold problem in these two storage units back in very humid Missouri. I have a loveseat that I really want to save….I’ll let you know.

  5. Suzi says

    What fantastic timing! Since my mother in law passed away last fall we have bringing home linens & furniture from her winter home that is musty/mildewy smelling. Her house was quite damp and closed up 1/2 the year. Vinegar and sunshine have been successful on the things that go in the washer but upholstery, not so much. I had a good degree of success with a good scrubbing and a hand held steamer but not perfect. Since I have bad allegories to fragrance i don’t use over the counter products but have used baking soda between the cushions which helped some more. I let it sit and then brushed it into the fabric and crevices. Her grandfather clock got a lot of moisture and some mildew even grew inside the case so I am going to try the vodka after reading one commet about doing shower tile. And will defiantly do the tile too because she’s right, the bleach whitens but the mildew returns rather quickly! Thanks a heap.

  6. says

    Great tip! A friend and I have picks up some unusual furniture from thrift stores and yard sales and have occasionally had to experiment in getting rid of smells. I love the rooms decor!

  7. Barb says

    Great tip…what a cute couch. Here’s yet another idea for the vodka.
    On your travels should vintage clothing find its way home, they too can be refreshed in the same manner.
    Should I say “Cheers”

  8. beth says

    Thanks so much! I have closed my house up to care for my Mother, and when I went over the other day everything had a green mold on it! We had lost some shingles in a storm and did not realize it, I thought I had lost everything! You have given me hope, and one less thing to worry about! Thank You! Now where to find vodka in five gallon bucket size?????

  9. Shanay says

    Hello Laura!

    I am in LOVE with the slip cover. I would like to know where I can purchase the exact same one, or where I can purchase the fabric to have one created!

  10. Mary says

    What an interesting idea! I will have to try it! I am particularly interested in the metal baskets featured in your coffee table. I wonder if you would share where you found them?

  11. says

    I just picked up two great vintage rugs, which seemed like they were odor-free–until we brought them inside. Think I’m going to have to try this idea. Would never have thought of this! Thanks!

  12. Linda Weeks says

    well, that is something. I have a piece that I bought at Goodwill that I thought would be an ideal sewing machine table, so I paid 40 $ for it; when I got it home, I wondered and wondered what is that smell? I sprayed everything within 20 feet with Febreeze and such, but it was still there, then when I realized it was the table, I cleaned it with vinegar, TSP, you name it, then painted it again and covered with poly. you know what? I am glad you found this tip for upholstered items! I love the loveseat! I’m going to take the table outdoors soon… maybe he will like the sunshine.