Does Reclaimed Wood Smell? What You Need To Know

A woman is smelling the air next to a wall made from reclaimed wood. Wavy lines are overlain across the photo to indicate the smell emanating from the wood. Across the bottom of the image are the words, "Does Reclaimed Wood Smell? What You Need To Know."

Reclaimed wood is a great building material because it is sustainable, durable, and can add a lot of character to your home.

However, the fact that it has spent considerable time in another environment may have some unwanted effects on your material.

For instance, it may have a distinct “reclaimed wood” smell that you dislike.

Most of the time, reclaimed wood may have a smell of old wood or other distinctive smells. The older the wood is, the more it can smell. Additionally, its previous purpose and the way it is stored may also play a role. However, companies can use treatments that get rid of the smell.

In the rest of this article, I will include some information about why reclaimed wood smells and what affects the smell.

Additionally, I will include several ways to eliminate unwanted odors in reclaimed wood. Let’s get started!

Things To Know About the Smell of Reclaimed Wood

A photograph of a reclaimed wood floor with a cartoon man with question marks over his head and smells emanating from the floor.
The smells that can come from reclaimed wood are caused by several factors, including previous uses of the wood and how it has been stored.

Yes, reclaimed wood may have a particular odor when you purchase it. It’s only natural, considering it is quite old and may have spent a long time in another environment where it has collected different particles.

However, its journey after being repurposed may also affect the odor. Let’s see some facts about the smell of reclaimed wood:

1. Older Wood May Smell More

Unsurprisingly, the older the wood is, the more likely it is to smell. Wood that has collected dust and other particles in uncontrolled environments can have a distinct old wood smell, which may add a little character but may also be unpleasant for some people.

Older wood also absorbs a lot more moisture, especially if used outdoors, which can affect the smell of the material.

2. The Previous Purpose of the Reclaimed Wood Also Plays a Role

The previous purpose of the reclaimed wood you’re using may also play an important role in how it smells.

Companies repurpose all sorts of wooden objects, from wine barrels to barn doors and decades-old furniture. Understandably, some are more likely to smell than others.

Wine or whiskey barrels, in particular, will have a distinct smell because they have been in contact with different liquids for extended periods.

A closeup photograph of a wine or whisky barrel viewed from the side shows the staves and quarter hoop.
If the reclaimed wood was previously used in wine or whisky barrels, the odors of those drinks could still be present unless the wood has been treated to remove them.

When you select the type of reclaimed wood you want, make sure to learn more about the previous use and see if it still has an odor that may be unpleasant to you.

3. The Smell of Reclaimed Wood Depends on the Way It’s Stored

No matter where the wood came from, it can start smelling even after repurposing, as it stays inside warehouses.

Legitimate, ethical companies ensure the wood is stored in controlled conditions, where it will have little contact with moisture or any other processes that may worsen the odor.

However, some companies store reclaimed wood in less satisfactory conditions, which can create another layer of unpleasant odor on the material’s surface.

Excess moisture is typically the worst enemy, as it is pretty common and may activate the foul odor from the wood.

4. The Right Treatments Should Get Rid of the Odor

Ideally, reclaimed wood should be treated and tested in several ways before it gets to the next user.

These treatments ensure that there are no toxins inside the wood and eliminate any leftover organic material that may be risky to your health.

Throughout this process, the wood undergoes different chemical and temperature treatments that should also eliminate most factors that cause the wood to smell bad.

An industrial kiln ready to be loaded with wood for treatment.
Heat treatment is effective at drying out reclaimed wood and preventing bad odors.

If the reclaimed wood you’re buying has undergone treatments, it should not smell bad. Even if it does at first, the smell should dissipate within a few hours or days.

How To Remove the Smell From Reclaimed Wood

The best way to avoid reclaimed wood with an unpleasant smell is to purchase it from an ethical company that has information about the previous purpose of the wood and uses several treatments to ensure the wood is safe.

However, this is not always the case with reclaimed wood companies, so you may need to remove the odor yourself.

Thankfully, several ways have been proven effective against the odor of reclaimed wood. Here are the best ways to get rid of the smell of reclaimed wood.

Try Odor Absorbers

Certain materials can absorb odors from the atmosphere or other surfaces. You can try and use one of these materials by placing them on the surface of the reclaimed wood and see if they can absorb the bad smell.

Here are some odor-absorbing materials you can use:

  • Coffee
  • Charcoal
  • Baking soda
  • Cat litter
  • Odor absorber detergent

To use most of these odor absorbers correctly, you need to spread them around the surface of the wood for a few days up to one week to give them some time to do their magic. Afterward, you should remove them and wipe the surface clean.

Use Pantry Ingredients

Two porcelain jugs with wooden stoppers on a kitchen countertop. The left hand jug has "olive oil" written on it and the right hand jug has "vinegar" written on it.
Olive oil and white vinegar can help to remove odors from reclaimed wood. This approach is more eco-friendly than using harsh chemicals.

You can also use other pantry ingredients that may make a difference in how your reclaimed wood surface smells.

For instance, you can mix white vinegar with just a glug of olive oil and then wipe the surface with this mixture. Vinegar is known to remove several types of odors. Use this method on delicate surfaces that other chemicals could damage.

Wipe With Hydrogen Peroxide or Ammonia

If your reclaimed wood surface can handle it, you can use stronger chemicals to eliminate the odor.

For instance, ammonia or hydrogen peroxide can clean the surface pretty thoroughly, getting rid of the particles that may be causing the surface to smell bad.

Just use a clean cloth to wipe the reclaimed wood with one of these substances, and then use another dry cloth to remove the excess chemicals from the reclaimed wood.

Remember, don’t use these two chemicals together; you should only try one or the other at a time.

Seal the Wood

If you think you will not be able to absorb or remove the smell from the wood, you can simply try sealing it in.

To seal the wood, you should find a water-based sealant, preferably water-white, to ensure you don’t alter the appearance of your reclaimed wood.

Before applying the sealant, sand the surface of the wood to get rid of any dust or unwanted chemicals on the surface.

So, Does Reclaimed Wood Smell? – Final Thoughts

Reclaimed wood is durable and unique, but the fact that it has been used for a long time may mean it will smell.

Not all reclaimed wood smells; the age, purpose, and storage play an important role. Even if the wood initially smells, several treatments may be able to get rid of the odor quickly.

Some types of reclaimed wood may still smell, so you must know how to remove the odor. Try different odor absorbers, or use chemicals to remove the smell. Alternatively, you can seal the surface to get rid of the smell.

For more information about reclaimed wood, why not read our article about the pros and cons of reclaimed wood?

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