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Can I deodorize musty smelling wooden utensils?

I discovered a box of assorted wooden utensils that had been stored in a damp basement. They have not been used (still have some price stickers on them) and are stamped "France" on the back. If I remember correctly they were purchased at Sur la Table many years ago. I would love to use them but they have a faint musty smell that I'm afraid would leach into the food. Is there anything I can soak them in that would remove the mustiness without imparting its own scent or damage the tools? They are really lovely and have sentimental value to me.

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  1. Soak in diluted bleach, about 1:20, for an hour. Wash with dish soap and water, and rinse well.

    1 Reply
    1. re: GH1618

      I would not soak them in anything, but rather would first try leaving them in sunlight and a breeze for several hours at a time.

      Bleach is an oxidizing agent and thus will work, but so is ultraviolet light (sunlight). And I think the light will perform a bit better, and is a little less destructively than any soak.

      I've used sunlight and breeze to remove that horrible resin offgas smell from new resin impregnated knife blades.

      yes, wut others have said here.

    2. I would first scrub with soapy water, rinse well and sit out in the sunshine. If that doesn't do it, use a dilute bleach (1 T/ gallon water) and soak for a few minutes.and dry out in the sun.

      1. I would be very reluctant to use soap on unused wooden utensils as I would be afraid that the soap taste and smell would be much more likely to contaminate food and the "musty" odors described. The raw wood would be must more likely to absorb odors, soap, bleach, whatever.

        I would rinse them in boiling water and expose them to direct sunlight. Then I would use them while sauteing something in very hot fat. That should diminish the odor and then seal the wood.

        FWIW, I never use soap on a wooden utensil.

        5 Replies
        1. re: akachochin

          I use mild soap on wood utensils because I feel I need to get the smell of food I just cooked off so it won't transfer to the next thing. If you have any oily or other residue at all, just from laying around, you might need some sort of surfactant to get it off. We have just been cleaning out my parents home. If you are worried about replacing one smell with another, you can get homemade soap or castille that is made with olive oil. Bleach will kill any mold, which may be responsible for the smell but then evaporates, so any smell will be gone. You can always start with the least amount of chemicals(boiling water) and move to stronger things if the boiling water isn't enough.

          1. re: wekick

            Wrong - wrong - wrong --

            Bleach is Sodium Hypochlorite (NaClO) and DOES NOT evaporate!!!!!!

            And is poisonous as well as reactive with eg Vinegar and gives off pure Chlorine gas.

            It's rather sure that amounts involved here are small - but the main thing is for everyone NOT to think 'bleach' evaporates - the water does - but leaves the NaClO solid!

            1. re: jounipesonen

              A better term is that it breaks down. In any case it goes away and the end result is the smell is gone.

              "but leaves the NaClO solid!"

              This is not true.

              Any residue from bleach at this dilution(500ppm), if you can find any would be mostly salt. NaCl. I don't think you can evaporate even full strength bleach to do this, it is too unstable. It is much more involved than that. Please point us to a credible site that says you can do this if you have it.

              1. re: wekick

                It could be true that at such dilution it will not crystallize as NaClO.

                The main message is that it does not as such 'evaporate' but even more so bleach should be handled with extreme caution (as per the EPA advice). Even in home solutions it can produce very toxic Cl2 gas and can permanently damage eyes if splashed etc. or left on hands. It's nothing to play with!

                'Bleach' is tossed around in this thread as if it was some kind of fizzy pop or soap detergent - it is rather a dangerous chemical - even at low levels of concentration.

              2. re: jounipesonen

                From clorox:

                I know, THEY want you to buy bleach.
                But they also want their customers to be safe.

          2. I would "hand scrub" them with a heavily textured DRY dishcloth-somewhat like a light sanding/buffing.
            Then soak in the sun in water infused with lemon/citrus rinds.
            Then dry, in the sun.

            1. I would try to soak in one of the following:
              1) Diluted bleach as GH1618 has suggested
              2) Hydrogen peroxide -- store bought
              3) Distilled white vinegar -- store bought (which is usually ~5%)

              Any of these should disinfect the wood utensils

              1. What about putting in a paper bag with some activated charcoal?

                I wouldn't soak wood for a long time in any liquid, although a brief soak in a dilute bleach solution and/or wiping down with vinegar probably wouldn't hurt. Sunlight is also a good idea.

                1. If washing in regular dish soap failed to remove the mustiness, consider a soak in diluted distilled white vinegar. It can work very well without needing to resort to bleach.

                  1. Dishwasher them. I've always dishwashed all my wooden utensils (don't have any "exotic" bits like olive wood though). Some items are over 20 years old and none have suffered in the slightest.

                    1. Soak in diluted bleach...you should not smell the bleach in the water (if you do, it should only be slight). Soak for an hour or so and then throw them in the wash with a high temp setting and a high temp dry setting.

                      If that doesn't do it, chuck them in the trash. LoL

                      1. Lightly sand them with very fine sandpaper, available at any hardware store.

                        1. I have several wooden tools... none "fancy". I do put them in dishwasher fro time to time. If they have a stale smell to them... I'd let them swim in sink iin a diluted bleach solution.

                          1. Sprinkle with baking soda and scrub with the cut side of half a lemon. Rinse and let dry in the sun. I would NEVER put wood in the dishwasher.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: pikawicca

                              Why not?

                              As per my earlier post, many of my wooden spoons, spatulas and one particular favourite wooden handled paring knife have been dishwashed way over 1000 times and are still in perfect condition. Any strong colouration from turmeric, saffron or tomatoes just disappears, and they all have a rather nice rustic bleached (unsurprisingly) appearance.

                              These are non fancy items, made of beech I think. Boards which might split or warp, and anything smarter like accacia or olive wood of course gets handwashed.

                              1. re: pikawicca

                                Re-reading my reply the "Why not?" sounds a little abrupt. Apologies for that, but too late to edit!

                                1. re: pikawicca

                                  I think this sounds like the least invasive solution. We all have wooden spoons we've accidentally left in a pot of marinara, or stew, etc. It happens, and the smell (and color) can be an issue. Personally, I'd avoid the dishwasher. I have found that the detergent odor can linger, which makes me suspicious of the taste. Also, the few spoons I've stuck in the dishwasher really looked terrible afterwards, and over time cracked. Keeping wooden spoons well oiled will protect them from bacteria. A good scrub with soap and water, air dry, oil occasionally has worked for me. I've found that eventually the smell wears off. May take some time, though.

                                2. Thanks to everyone for all your ideas. I'll try a combination of them as soon as the sun has a little more oomph here.

                                  1. I also always run my wooden spoons through the dishwasher.

                                    1. Pay no attention to the alarmist post above about the hazards of bleach. Sodium hypochlorite breaks down in sunlight into nontoxic compounds.


                                      If you are concerned about bleach residue, just dry the board in direct sunlight after rinsing well. Do this outdoors, if possible, because glass blocks ultraviolet.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: GH1618

                                        nothing alarmist folks - sun doesn't usually shine indoors!!

                                        and there was no alarmist stuff - I was simply correcting wrong info that bleach 'evaporates'!

                                        I also happened to be in a room once where someone was cleaning windows with vinegar - and then wanted to use the same mixture for cleaning something else and added some bleach - 'beautiful' clouds of wicked Chlorine gas arose!!

                                        as I said - in this case no larger amounts will be used - but no one should think bleach evaporates - and do want to add the caution not to mix with other stuff - particularly anything acidic.

                                        and all this for those using bleach other than outdoors at Badwater, Death Valley :-)

                                        bleach can be very useful in cleaning, etc, - just know what you are dealing with and exercise caution - (be very careful with any possible splashing into eyes - it does much more damage than soap and very quickly)

                                        I think it is rather cavalier for the above poster to say not to pay attention to my cautions - the EPA site noted says most explicitly:

                                        "Sodium and calcium hypochlorite are extremely corrosive and can cause
                                        severe damage to the eyes and skin. They have been assigned to Toxicity
                                        Category I, indicating the highest degree of toxicity, for these acute effects."

                                        1. re: jounipesonen

                                          You are way over stating it for the dilutions talked about here. We are not even talking about full strength household bleach. Even without sunlight, the bleach starts breaking down. sunlight just accelerates it. The bottle of bleach has plenty of warnings and I don't feel the need to repeat them all when talking about it. You left off mixing with ammonia-it is even worse and hopefully you won't mix it with any other household chemicals. Wear gloves too.

                                          1. re: wekick

                                            Sorry - but just where are people going to access this 'bleach?' Right - from the bottle they bought at the store - which is in a concentration sufficient to blind someone etc. I believe everyone has had spills and 'accidents' when opening and handling bottles.

                                            And you are EXACTLY right about about ammonia - NH4OH/NH3 - real nasty stuff.

                                            Please - use all this stuff for what you will - but just be damn careful - and be double sure what you are MIXING - and splashing!

                                          2. re: jounipesonen

                                            And much of household bleach is actually dihydrogen monoxide.

                                            Scary stuff if you don't know how to use it correctly.

                                        2. Put them in the sun, it will dry them out and the sun's rays will sanitize the wood and then wash them and give them a good dry. I believe there is an oil that you can use on wood possibly mineral oil.

                                          1. Rather than soaking in Bleach, which is strong, even the home laundry type, Id soak the spoons in vinegar and then in a solution of Baking Soda and some ground up Activated Charcoal. These will remove any lingering oder and not harm the wood or leave a taste. Use the vinegar first then a solution of ground charcoal and water.