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how can i fix up my old metal trunk / get rid of that smell ? Answered

i have always loved scrappy old trunks so i was excited to find this , im told its an old military footlocker . i think its an awesome piece , but it smells like nasty . its really only the inside that smells bad , the outside just smells like old metal , ive scrubbed it down with baking soda and dishsoap and left it day after day open to air out in the sun , still stinks lol.  the inside was lined with this fabric that was caked in dust and grime i removed as much of the fabric as i could and in doing so i discovered that the inside is some kind of wood backing and im not sure what to do with it . im not familiar enough with rebuilding things to take apart the trunk and be able to put it back together properly ( to remove the wooden backing ) so i figured id just have to clean it the best i could and seal it somehow to get rid of the awful smell. 

any suggestions on how i could do so ? what to use?   im open to any other suggestions as to how to get rid of the smell , or any other suggestions in general =)

also what can i do to get a working key ? locksmith ?

thank you !


wow who knew id get so many answers so quickly ! i appreciate them all !    i think im going to do several of these things  bleach soak , kitty litter , lots of sun , and sealant !!   and i think i will be putting up an instructable of how it goes =)

    i have already given the trunk a bleach/dish soap scrub and soak  which worked well , cut the odor in half  . though there was alittle incident when family members dumped the water and closed the trunk so rust around the nails surfaced and mold began to spore , so i had to scrub and bleach again but it seemed to remove most if not all of it .

it looks and smells alot better so far 

thank you all



7 years ago

I would make sure the wood inside is thoroughly dy and clean and then give it several heavy coats of a brush on enamel paint. Then paint the exterior and let it dry completely for several days. That should seal out the odor coming from the wood.

Hi Kiteman....i've seen this before,but to show my ignorance, WTF is +1?

Think of it as the Instructables version of a "like" button.

It's quicker and simpler than typing "this is a good post, with which I concur".

you can try cleaning it with a mix of baking soda, dish detergent and vinagear

Kilz will eliminate the odor and seal the wood in one can. Available at most hardware/home improvement stores.

just empty it and rub with sand paper and then clean the dust, put in sun for 2hrs and then give a paint coat

Put a fresh coat of paint on it, cover up the smell......

Any time I have a container that has a smell to it, I put it in the freezer for a few days or put ice in it. Ice somehow absorbs the smell for some unknown reason.

I had an answer but couldn't post it ALL yesterday as my IP was down in the entire tricounty area....grrr. Anyway:

There are a few nice suggestions here and I would like to elaborate on some of them if I may.

First " --- "'s suggestion of varnishing over is good as a final step. I think we can do a few things before that however. If you are going to "paint" rather then varnish over it, I recommend "Killz" paint (comes in oil or latex), to kill off any remaining molds, mildews, bacteria that may be remaining.

As " Vyger " recommends, chlorine bleach will work in killing most of the cause of the smells also; depending on the particular mildew,  white vinegar and water can work also. .
You could also try an "Orange based product" which will definitely remove strong odors and the "oxy" portion will help bleach out the causes.

Once the source is eliminated, one can use products like "Febreez", also to get rid of any tell-tail odors remaining.

Interesting repllies all...I recently bought a box of Life magazines at a garage sale and they have that musty odor as well. Nothing with liquid can be used of course but I wonder if any one has contact with a museum curator or preserver of sorts? They surely must have methods to deal with this situation. To answer one reply here, I don't believe because you smell it you are actually getting the mold...if that were true we would all be dead! It is unpleasant, but not terminal.

I have yet to try it myself but I have read of using kitty litter for magazines or books with a heavy odor. I think it probably works best with smoking odors but I'd sure try it with other things. You cover the opened magazine or book with clean kitty litter (clay type probably works best) and leave it buried for a few days. If you have a cat around I'd advise putting the box where the cat cannot get to it or your problem may become much, much worse.

Not all molds are harmful.

Nevertheless, yes just the smell may indicate spores without growth, and if kept in a cool DRY area, they could remain relatively mold free.

Sorry.....the line that reads: First " --- "'s suggestion of varnishing

should ACTUALLY read:   First " Burf's" suggestion of varnishing

I have a list of natural things an environmental medicine doctor gave me and one item used for cleaning, deodorizing to putting into swimming pools is "Grape seed oil" is the good to de-mold and deodorize, and it is also supposed to help get rid of bugs. I have not tried it but am planning to because I have caged animals and supposedly is cheaper than all natural other stuff and smells better than vinegar, which also works well.
I do not know how original of condition you want this trunk, but FYI when you refurbish something like furniture from original condition, it brings down monetary value, even just adding clear enamel.
My 2 cents,

Open a bag or 2 of odor-control Kitty Litter and dump it inside. Close the lid and set it in the sun for a day. Without opening it, turn the trunk upside down and let it rest in that position for a day. Repeat this step with the trunk laying on each side.

On day 4, dump the litter, and use a shop vac to clean out any residual litter. Let it air out and perform the smell test.

I think you'll smell a vast improvement... Good Luck!

orange glo works wonders i also suggest some simple metal polish to clean it up (and at least try to get rid of the smell) i also suggest febreeze and maybe a couple cans of spray on deodorant as for the lock you can try to pick it or break it or get a locksmith that one is up to you but I would seriously try to do as much as you can by yourself first the other commentors have great ideas just try them all

oh and you can even make an ible about how to clean a musty old military foot locker

paint it to mask the smell but make it clean and dusted first, also if you lined it with a smooth fabric that is silky it should be easy to clean and dust next time, don't use felt the dust will cling and it will go musty.

When BOOKS have that "old musty" smell, i have gotten sick (a bad cold) from smelling that. It is often mold and breathing it can make you sick. So, another concern is KILLING the bacteria or mold or whatever is in there ... not just the smell. One way to be sure is to place clear plastic over the trunk and place it in your backyard so the HOT sun shines on it. The temperature will go up to about 150 degrees inside the plastic and nothing can live through that. Leave it out there a day or 2 in the hot sun to be sure any nasties are dead. That might help getting rid of the smell a little also.

Go to your local farm/feed store or hardware store and look for "Rat-Sorb". It looks like honey in a small bottle. put some of that on some cotton balls on a paper plate and put inside the trunk for a week or so. It will remove the smell.

It's made to remove the smell of a dead rat in between your walls and it works miracles.


7 years ago

Someone asked a question very similar to this just a few days ago. You should read through those answers to get some ideas.

One thing that wasn't mentioned is using bleach. Bleach usually won't hurt wood, in fact its used on oak to lighten its color. If you have a big enough water tank, like a water trough, you could immerse it in a dilute solution of bleach. This would kill any bacteria that might be hidden in there as well as mold and fungus. Let it soak for an hour. Then rinse it really good. This should disinfect it and kill most odors. The bleach smell might be around for a while but its a lot better than other smells. I would also think about Ozone, I know that really works good. It destroys smoke odor which is one of the hardest to get rid of. Its possible some mice died in it, That smells really bad, except to a cat.