In this post we’ll talk about how to clean thrift store furniture that you want to bring home and use in your house or that you’d like to refinish so it can become something beautiful!
We realized recently that Kennedy’s cute little family heirloom dresser was getting way too small to hold all of her clothes. She has a pretty nice shelving system in her closet but even with that, a new dresser was definitely something we needed to look into. I didn’t want to just run out and grab whatever basic dresser I could find at a big box store so we headed down to our local Habitat for Humanity Restore to see what they had there. Bonus: When we got there we discovered it was 25% off day! Yay! We found this great high boy style dresser with generously-sized drawers, clean lines, and a nice bowed front, which was perfect. We decided we’d give it a fresh coat of paint before putting it to use and we definitely wanted to give it a good cleaning before we brought it in the house. So today’s post on how to clean thrift store furniture was born!
Supplies to Clean Thrift Store Furniture
Here’s what I typically use for the furniture cleaning and deodorizing process:
- A vacuum (a shop vac is great to have nearby for things like this when you’re working in the garage)
- Basic white vinegar
- Lemon essential oil
- Dish soap
- Baking soda
- Soft cloth
If your furniture piece is really in rough shape or has a really stubborn old furniture smell to it here are some other helpful supplies to use:
How to Clean Thrift Store Furniture: Step One
The very first thing I like to do is to give the piece of furniture a good vacuuming to remove any spiderwebs, bugs, dust, etc. Remove any drawers if your piece of furniture has them and make sure you really get into all of the nooks and crannies so you can avoid any surprises later.
If it’s a nice, sunny day, I like to leave the drawers out or all of the cabinet doors open in the sun for a few hours to help air the piece out. Old wooden furniture almost always has a bit of a musty smell when you first bring it home so the sunshine really helps with that a lot of the time. You can also sprinkle a little baking soda into any drawers or cabinets during this time to help with deodorizing.
How to Clean Thrift Store Furniture: Homemade Cleaning Solution
After my furniture piece has been thoroughly sunned, it’s time to give it a good wipe-down, after I vacuum out all of the baking soda. I like to make my own homemade cleaning solution for this that really helps with de-griming the piece and also with deodorizing.
To about 4 cups of warm water I add:
- 1/2 cup of vinegar
- about 1/2 teaspoon of regular dish soap
- about 10 drops of lemon essential oil
Use a soft cloth to wipe the entire piece down with this solution inside and out and let it dry completely.
How to Clean Thrift Store Furniture That Still Stinks
After all of that sun, baking soda, and lemon essential oil, your furniture piece should be smelling really fresh and should be all set for any refinishing or painting that you’d like to do with it. If for some reason, a musty smell still lingers, try washing the piece with a mold control spray. The piece may have been sitting in high humidity for a long time and may have developed some mold or mildew. It can also be helpful to leave the piece sitting next to a powerful dehumidifier in your basement or garage for a little while to help suck any lingering moisture out of the wood. This is especially helpful if the weather is rainy or snowy and you don’t have access to some good hot sunshine.
If all else fails, you can always paint your piece with an odor and stain blocking primer that will seal all the stink in. Of course, you’ll have to paint your piece after this step and having a natural wood finish won’t be an option, but it will definitely help with the smell!
So that’s what I do when I need to clean thrift store furniture or anything that I’ve found at a second hand shop. Do you have any other additional tricks you’ve learned that work really well? I’d love to try them out on my next thrift store find!
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.