Why Do My Cabinets Stink? (And How To Fix Them)

There is nothing quite as annoying as a smell that just won’t leave. Whether it’s in your carpet, your wood floors, or your cabinets, that ever-present stench is just about enough to make you go crazy! Especially when it’s in your kitchen cabinets, an unpleasant odor can become overpowering. 

Why do my cabinets stink? There are a few things that could be causing the odor in your cabinets. The most common cause, however, is mold or mildew caused by excess moisture. Depending on the layout of your kitchen cabinets, bad smells could be caused by grease from your stovetop as well. 

Luckily, there are several steps you can take to fix the smell in your cabinets. Ranging from a mild response to a much more drastic approach, you are sure to find a solution to your cabinet odor within this post. 

Figure Out Why Your Cabinets Stink

Before you can begin to address the smell coming from within your cabinets, you must first figure out why they stink. Understanding the cause of the smell will help you know how to fix it in a way that will provide longlasting results. 

Most likely, your cabinets have a musty smell. This is caused by excess moisture in the cabinet, something that is quite common in many regions across the country. Most cabinetry is located in the kitchen or bathroom, both rooms that are exposed to water elements. This can create the perfect environment for the formation of mold and mildew, both of which cause an unpleasant smell.

This musty smell in cabinets is quite common in older homes that have been exposed to larger amounts of moisture over the years. If you suspect that mold or mildew is the cause of your cabinet odor, it is important to make sure that you do not have any water leaks in the areas around your cabinetry.

Another common cause of cabinet odor in the kitchen is simply grease or other smells created while cooking. It could also simply be the combination of cooking ingredients that are typically kept within that particular cabinet. If the smell in your cabinets is caused by one of these kitchen culprits, the smell will likely be localized to just a few cabinets.

A musty, or old, smell caused by moisture will be present throughout your cabinetry and often in other areas of the home as well. This is one of the easiest ways to determine the underlying cause of the bad smell coming from your cabinets.

How to Remove Bad Smells From Your Cabinets

Once you have determined the origin of the odor and eliminated the possibility of water leaks, you can begin to eradicate the smell from your home. Here are a few basic steps to follow during this process.

Empty Your Cabinets

The first step in removing the bad smells from your cabinets is to remove everything that is located inside them. This includes any cabinet liners, organizing bins, or other items stored within the cabinet. If you are attempting to remove an odor from your kitchen cabinets, make sure to inspect any food items as you empty the cabinet to make sure that they aren’t the primary culprit.

Let Your Cabinets Air Out

Once you have emptied the cabinets of their contents, it is wise to let your cabinets air out. Most of the time, cabinets are left shut off from fresh air and air circulation. Leaving the cabinet doors open, with nothing inside, allows the smell to escape. 

If the cabinet doors are easily removed, you may consider detaching the doors to let them air out in the sun. Setting your cabinet doors on a dry surface outside is a great way to let the sun remove as much of the moisture as possible. Just be sure to bring the doors back inside at the end of the day so that they are not exposed to the moisture caused by dew.

Clean the Surfaces

Why Do Cabinets SmellThe next step in the process is to clean every surface of your cabinets. We will discuss specific cleaning solutions to use in the next section. However, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you cover every area that is exposed, including the bottoms of any shelving. 

It is also wise to clean any of the dishes, food containers, or linens stored in the cabinets. Failing to do so may allow the offending odor back inside the cabinet once the process is complete.

Use a Stain-Blocking Primer

If you have completed the steps above and find that the smell is still present, you may consider painting the cabinets using a stain-blocking primer. This is often effective in blocking any of the remaining odor. Plus, your cabinets are fresh and clean as a result! Your local home improvement store will be able to suggest a primer that is appropriate for the cabinets in your home.

Replace the Smell With Something Pleasant

In some cases, even the most extreme measures will not be able to successfully eliminate the smell entirely. It is often helpful to replace the bad smell with something pleasant! Many homeowners suggest coffee beans, essential oils, or even products made specifically to deodorize cabinets.

If you are dealing with kitchen cabinets used to store food, remember that anything you place in your cabinet with a scent may affect the taste of the food. For this situation, you may choose to use a product that aims to deodorize without an added scent such as baking soda.

Cabinet Cleaning Solutions

There are many solutions available for cleaning your cabinets and removing any obvious odors. It is recommended that you being with a mild approach to cleaning your cabinets. Move towards using more drastic measures if your first attempt proved unsuccessful. Here are a few of the most commonly recommended solutions for removing cabinet odor.

Remember to use proper protective gear when cleaning your cabinets. It is also wise to open the windows in your space to ensure that you have proper ventilation while you are in the process of cleaning.

Vinegar

The inexpensive bottle of vinegar pushed to the back of your kitchen cabinet could be the magic solution you need to rid your cabinets of their unpleasant smell! Both white and cider vinegar have been knowing as a household cleaning essential for decades. With cleaning, disinfecting, and deodorizing properties, vinegar is a strong odor combatant.

One way to easily remove the smell from your cabinets is simply to fill a shallow bowl with vinegar and let it sit in the smelly cabinet overnight. If this approach is not effective, you can combine vinegar with baking soda to create a cleaning paste. Just be careful to thoroughly clean your cabinets with clean water following the use of the cleaning paste to eliminate any chalky residue.

Odor Absorbents

You can also try a similar approach using other odor absorbents. Things such as baking soda, charcoal, or other products marketed to have a similar effect may be effective.

Mineral Oil & Rubbing Alcohol

You may find that the smell in your cabinets is resistant to the more natural approach. Luckily, you still have plenty of alternatives. Carefully mix 1 pint of mineral oil with ½ cup of rubbing alcohol. Using an old rag, wipe down every surface of the cabinets or drawers. 

Not only will this work quickly to eliminate the odor, but it will also act as a sealant to prevent future smells from permeating your real wood cabinets

Bleach

Although it should be used as a last resort, bleach is a powerful combatant when mold or mildew are the cause of the smell. The best way to eliminate cabinet odor using bleach is by using a spray bottle. Dilute the bleach using 1 tablespoon of bleach for every quart of water. Using the spray bottle, saturate every surface of the cabinet with the bleach solution. Allow the solution to sit for a minimum of 15 minutes. 

One the time has elapsed, use a damp sponge to clean the bleach off the cabinets. With this approach more than any other, it is important to use extreme caution. Not only is the smell of bleach quite strong, but it can also harm both your skin and clothing. We recommend wearing old clothing and removing anything that could be accidentally bleached such as area rugs or dish rags. 

What If Cleaning Your Cabinets Doesn’t Eliminate the Smell?

In the most extreme circumstances, or when a water leak is the cause of the smell, it may be necessary to contact a professional. If you suspect mold is an issue, but a leak is not present, a mold remediation company may be able to eliminate your problem. 

If a water leak is present, or if you believe the musty smell is due to the old wood of your cabinets, you may consider contacting a kitchen remodeling expert. This could be the perfect opportunity to update your kitchen to reflect one of the latest home design trends!

Smelly cabinets can not only be frustrating but can also become quite embarrassing. It is important to address the odor in a timely manner. The presence of mold in your cabinets can eventually impact other parts of your home. We hope that the simple steps outlined in this article provide you with the help you need to eliminate bad cabinet odor once and for all! 

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Matt McWilliams
matt@mcwilliamsmedia.com

Hi there! My name is Matt and I write for Expert Home Report. I enjoy writing about everything related to home improvement, home tips and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either spending time with my family, doing a DIY project or learning a new skill.