Updated: Aug 7
Hi Everyone! I'm writing about a vintage dresser that I purchased not too long ago that was so beautiful and had such potential, but alas, had a very big mold problem! I just couldn't resist purchasing this dresser off Facebook Marketplace for under $100 but had no clue how to solve this mold problem!
I’ve had a few failures under my belt when it comes to smelly furniture, but I’ve never tackled a mold issue before. I bought a beautiful cedar chest that smelled like moth balls, which still haunts me to this day. FYI, there is absolutely nothing you can do to get rid of that smell. I tried everything Google suggested – kitty litter, coffee, baking soda, days/weeks baking in the sunlight, tea tree oil, vinegar and none of it worked. So, needless to say, lesson learned. I will never buy another piece of furniture that smells like mothballs! It was time to see if mold would become a deal breaker as well…
A case for Trisodium Phosphate
I immediately started to tackle the mold issue when I get home. I started cleaning one drawer rather than tackling the whole thing at once. I knew it was going to take a considerable amount of work, so I wanted to find the right method before I invest my time cleaning the entire piece.
First, I sprayed the inside and outside of the drawer with a bleach/water solution (about 2 tablespoons of bleach in a regular sized water bottle full of warm water). All that did was help me see how grimy this dresser actually was. There was no reduction in mold whatsoever. Ugh. Now what?!
Then I remembered that my husband had bought a mold remedy spray last year when the water line to the fridge leaked through to the basement ceiling. I grabbed the Concrobium from the garage and gave the drawer a few squirts. Immediately, I could see the small black dots grow three times their size and start to dissipate around the edges. This looked promising!!
I sprayed the entire thing and scrubbed it down with a Scrub Daddy. I could see the mold being brought to the surface, but it wasn’t going away. So, I sprayed it again… and again… and after I used half a bottle on one drawer, I thought it was time to step back and regroup. It was clearly working, but not very efficiently.
After a closer review of the label I learned that the product has to come in direct contact with the mold. So, I thought maybe all that grime was getting in the way. I guess that bleach solution wasn’t enough to “clean” it. I broke out the tried and true TSP and went to work scrubbing down the inside and outside of this drawer – again! I have about 4 hours invested in this one drawer at this point. Which again, is exactly why I wanted to test various solutions on one drawer first. I consider these 4 hours as education rather than billable hours invested in this piece. :) After all, this knowledge will translate to more informed decisions, better process, and efficiency in the future.
If you haven’t already used TSP – get some! It stands for Trisodium Phosphate and is used for cleaning hard to remove dirt as well as preparing surfaces for painting! I recently stumbled on this product when I tried Dixie Belle Paint for the first time. Unlike Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, you must clean the surface before painting with Dixie Belle. Dixie Belle sells a cleaner called White Lightening, which is essentially TSP (but more expensive). I was shocked by how well the TSP worked and I’ve been using it ever since. Let’s be honest, almost all antique furniture has some kind of odor!
I started cleaning the drawer – this is after I cleaned it with a bleach solution and 3-4 rinse downs with the mold remover – and the water from my sponge starts turning dark brown immediately.
I went through a large (4 quart) bowl of water with 2 tablespoons of TSP for each side of the drawer. It was DIS-GUSTING! It took one hour, one Scrub Daddy (it was torn to pieces by the time I was done), and 4 bowls of the TSP mixture to clean the entire drawer. When I was done, the drawer was almost back to its original state. The mold was still present but under control. I switched to a new mold remover called RMR- 86 (It’s less than $20 on Amazon). To dissolve the remaining mold.
For the rest of the piece, my process was as follows:
Clean the entire drawer with TSP.
Sand the sides of the drawer down with an orbital sander and 120 grit sandpaper
Spray the entire surface with RMR-86 multiple times until the mold fades (I went through 2 bottles for this one dresser)
Apply Annie Sloan lacquer to contain the faint traces of remaining mold
Paint all sides of the drawer with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint
The Lessons I Took Away:
Be weary of mold: Mold is not necessarily a deal breaker for me, but it does take considerable time and money to remedy. I will make an exception in the future for a one of a kind, must-have piece as this dresser was, but otherwise, I’d stay away from it.
Protect your lungs: The RMR-86 reminded me a public pool (heavy chlorine smell). In fact, my 4-year old came outside while I was working and scrunched her nose as she said, “mommy, it smells like summer camp at the rec center.” Haha! She was of course talking about the indoor pool. I mention this because I would recommend using a respirator when using this product if your project is as big as mine was. Use a respirator when sanding down moldy furniture anyway. I can’t imagine that airborne mold is great for your lungs.
Loss of creative control: I couldn’t completely remove the mold in the worst of areas, which forced me to paint the drawers.
Keep away from moisture: I made the mistake of leaving the drawers outside in my screened in patio where I typically work. The moisture from a humid night and morning dew essential hit the reset button on this project. Everything I had accomplished the day before went down the drain! I woke up to find the drawers black and completely covered in mold – AGAIN! I had to sand and spray all over again. From then on I kept the drawers in the air conditioned house while I wasn’t working on them.
It comes at a cost: After purchasing 2 bottles of RMR-86, sanding pads, TSP, rubber gloves, and multiple sponges, I spent about $65 on the mold removal – this is an additional investment that cuts directly into the profit for this piece, but hey, it came out beautiful and that's all that matters!
Back to the fun stuff – Painting! :)