How to Get the Smell out of an Old Steamer Trunk?

The blog post I get contacted about the most is the one where I wrote about beginning to restore my Granna’s old steamer trunk. And I can see why – there’s just not a lot of information out there. In fact, when you Google “how to restore a steamer trunk” my little blog comes in in the top 5 results (which I think is hilarious). I started this project in 2014 and – to be honest – have made very little progress with it since I wrote my first post.

Why? Well, I have had a lot of trouble getting all the musty odor out and I ended up tucking it away in the basement for another day year. Getting the smell out is a priority, because if I can’t resolve that there’s no point in trying to refinish the rest of it.

trunk

Here is what I have attempted to far to de-mustify my trunk:

So far I have scraped the insides – I removed the wallpaper lining and the paper backing.

  1. First I cleaned the interior with white vinegar.
  2. Then I cleaned the interior with bleach.
  3. Next I covered the bottom of the trunk in baking soda and let it sit for a few days before vacuuming it up.
  4. Meanwhile, I let the trunk sit in full afternoon sun for many, many hours.
  5. Then I purchased charcoal-activated kitty litter and spread it out on the bottom of the trunk. Let it sit for a few days and then used the shop-vac to clean it up.
  6. Then I really went to town and scraped the inside very well. I read the wallpaper glue could be the source of the odor so I sprayed the insides with water and used a scraper to take off as much as possible.
  7. Then I painted the inside with Zinsser mold killing paint – 4 coats of paint. I was planning on re-lining the inside with duckcloth, so painting the inside didn’t matter to me.

 

But, every time the top gets closed the musty smell reappears. Is it better? Yes. But, as it currently stands I would never be able to store anything inside of this trunk. I even met one of my favorite furniture bloggers at a meet-and-greet, Marian of Miss Mustard Seed, and asked her what to do (she recommends dawn soap and elbow grease – I think we were past that point).

I let it air out one last time on our porch for about a month, and brought it back inside and closed it for a week. Upon re-opening, there is still an odor. Suffice it to say that I’m quite disappointed, as I’d hate to let this piece go out of sentimental reasoning. But, I can’t keep it forever if it’s a dead end. So this is my final call for help before I call it quits on this project.

Is there anyone out there who can help me? Any tips for removing the odor from old wooden trunks or furniture?

 

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