How To Get Rid of That Old, Musty Smell in Your Cabinets

An expert shares how you can get rid of the unwelcome odor.

Wooden Kitchen cabinets
Photo: Getty Images

If you've been noticing a funky smell every time you open your kitchen cabinets to grab a dish, it might be time to look into what, exactly, is hiding in there. An old, musty smell in your cabinets can be caused by multiple issues, the biggest one being moisture.

"Many things can cause a smell inside your cabinets, however, the main culprit is generally moisture," explains Erin Laine, owner of Resurrect Wood Refinishing in Edgewood, Florida. "Since wood is organic and has 'grain' (tiny fibers of the wood), they react to moisture expanding and contracting with temperature and humidity."

According to Laine, a "musty" smell can occur from moisture that has gotten trapped in the grain of the wood and has not been able to dry out, causing the growth of bacteria, mildew, or mold. Surprisingly, the age of a cabinet isn't what might cause a musty smell. "The age of the cabinets has little to no effect on smell," explains Laine. "If wood is completely dry, it shouldn't hold a noticeable odor."

Best Tips for Getting Rid of the Old, Musty Smell in Cabinets

There are a few steps you need to tackle this issue. The first step is to look for any moisture inside the cabinets. "This will be any spills, water line leaks from the fridge or sink, or other sources of moisture," explains Laine. "Nine times out of ten, there is moisture coming from somewhere."

Once you have eliminated the leak or water source, the next step is to be sure there is no active mold. "I suggest using a flashlight and searching for spores, or hiring an expert to examine," says Laine. "If there is no active mold, first I would suggest getting some dry air forced inside." Use a couple of box fans from the hardware store or something similar to get the air circulating for as long as it takes to dry the areas out. This could take a few days, and you should make sure to leave the cabinets open.

"I would then recommend purchasing a product called Damprid (BUY IT: $19.99; amazon.com) that is a special chemical designed to trap moisture and draw out the moisture from the air," suggests Laine. "This can be used over days to weeks."

How To Avoid the Musty Smell in Cabinets

To avoid a musty smell in your cabinets, you really need to avoid any moisture from getting trapped. "Whatever you do, do not spray air freshener or any other scented products inside the cabinets," warns Laine. "Adding moisture will only make it worse—once cabinets are completely dried out, you can replace the shelf paper or use other dry scented products to help cover up what is left."

When It's Time To Replace Your Cabinets

If there is significant swelling over more than 30% of the veneers or panels on most of the cabinets, it is very hard to return that to fully dry, according to Laine. "The structure of MDF or plywood might be somewhat compromised but that is usually only in extreme cases," she says.

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