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That Musty Smell

The letters below are suggested remedies for removing and/or over-powering the musty smell that is often found in old pianos and player pianos. It was my hope, when I asked for some advice on the matter, that I would end up with a 'generally accepted' method of handling the problem that was totally effective and inexpensive. Unfortunately, meeting both those ends does not seem to be possible. Therefore, it is my opinion that 'masking' the odors with some aromatic product, that you (the owner) find pleasant, is a very acceptable practice and perhaps the least expensive solution to the problem.
Subject: Alpine Ozone Treatment Device

It has been a while since I contributed to the digest, but the "Ridding
Musty Smells" segments caught my eye.  The ozone device does work.
Checkout http://www.alpineindustries.com/?f for the unit that
leads the industry in this technology.  It really works.

I am a distributor of the entire line of Alpine products and am willing
to give MMD members a good discount off the retail price.  Contact me
for more information.

Gregory Przyjemski
Subject: Ozone Sanitizer for Smelly Pianos

If ozone works to remove odors, maybe the little ozone sanitizer used
in commercial rest rooms would do the job.  Ozone is quite corrosive to
metals, so don't leave it there too long.

Spencer Chase
Subject: Ozone Treatment

* Beware! *  I had a Conn organ and a piano that had been in an ozone
room, that afterward (six or seven months later) started having strange
problems.  Any organic material used in either the organ or piano had
been "denatured", for lack of a better word.

It caused massive problems.  I am only familiar with this one incident,
which amounted to an expensive repair bill.  These rooms may be safe,
and the company that did this goofed up -- I'm not sure -- but I always
thought "better safe than sorry"

Scott Olson
Missoula, Montana --  snow- and bug-free this May
Subject: Ridding Piano Odors

John Tuttle asks about removing odors from pianos -- permanently!

We have been successful in deodorizing pianos where mice have lived
for a long time by washing wherever possible with a solution of ammonia
water (wear gloves), drying, then using _One Drop_ all purpose house-
hold deodorizer.  This product is distributed by Willert Home Products,
Inc. St. Louis MO.  We buy it in the households section of the grocery
store or pharmacy.

This product does not mask odors but actually absorbs them.  Apply a
few drops to a piece of tissue and place in the offending area.  You
may have to repeat several times in various locations in the piano to
completely eliminate all odors, but it works!  The ammonia helps to
remove the dirt and neutralize odor.  Be careful -- do not overdo the
moisture!  Allow all parts to dry thoroughly!

Bob Lemon
Lemon's Player Piano Service
Sacramento CA
Subject: Ridding Musty Smells - Sodium Bicarbonate

Sodium bicarbonate, liberally sprinkled over all surfaces and left
lying inside the piano in shallow trays, will often work wonders.  Also
wipe over surfaces with a strong solution.

Sodium bicarbonate also works for many other smells and on virtually
any surface including upholstery.

No need to buy the expensive culinary grade product.  Hardware stores
and some supermarkets usually sell a commercial grade in pound (kilo?)
containers under such names as "Odour-gone".  Look at the small print
to check the contents -- you do _not_ want any perfumes or other

By the way, I like the ozone method mentioned by Doug Rhodes.  I have
never come across this before.  If your piano has an electric pump you
can try this method for yourself.  Adjust the brushes on the motor to
maximise arcing (sparks generate ozone) and increase the supply voltage
with a transformer to make the sparks bigger still.  Leave it running
unattended for a few days.  Fit an oversize fuse and do *not* use a
ground fault interruptor.  And make sure your fire insurance is up to
date .

The author disclaims any liability for any of the advice regarding

Jeffrey Borinsky
Subject: Ridding Musty Smells

Hi everyone, Kim Bunker here from O. C. Piano.  I noticed someone
wanted to know how to eliminate that terrible old musty smell in their
instrument.  Three years ago we developed a chemical just for that
purpose.  We now proudly call it Cedarscent(tm).  I don't mean to sound
like we're selling something here, however this product does work very

All of our retail used piano dealers tell us it helps a lot in the
resale of their instruments.  It comes in a 2.5-ounce atomizer.  On
contact with wood, cloth, even metal, it produces a pleasing cedar
aroma that lasts for a long time, and will not rust metal equipment.
Our Email address is

Attention Kim Bunker
Subject: Ridding Musty Smells

Hi all,  This is in regards to John's question to get rid of the awful
musty smells.  _If_ it's mold or mildew or some sort of fungus, the
best cure is to scrub it out vigorously with a dilute chlorine bleach
solution (I'm assuming the problem is in the keybed area or down by the
pedals).  This will clean the wood and kill the fungus as well as
getting rid of that objectionable odor.  This method also takes care of
the mouse smell from rodent infested pianos.

>From the no-longer-frozen and bug infested north,

Dan Armstrong
Pine River, MN
Subject: Ridding Musty Smells

One of the best deodorants is white vinegar.  Apply liberally, but
avoid any metal or felt in a piano.  Everything smells like a salad for
a day or so, but once the vinegar evaporates usually the unpleasant
smell is gone along with the vinegar smell.

Another method is to cover an area with freshly ground coffee.  It will
absorb some of the odor.

Bruce Clark
Subject: Ridding Musty Smells

John,  I recently came across the web site of Majestic Piano:


They have someone on their staff who is an "IICRC Certified Odor
Control Technician" -- whatever that means.  On the site, they talk
about smoke-damaged pianos as well as getting rid of odors from mice
and termite infestations.  Funny, I've seen termite infestations but
never noticed a smell.

Perhaps you want to contact them, or at least take a look at their

Bob Fitterman
Subject: Ridding Musty Smells

Greeting:  Companies specializing in post-fire restoration often have
ozone rooms.  Goods that have absorbed smoke in a house fire are left
in the room for hours or a few days while ozone is generated inside.
The ozone "eats" a remarkable variety of smells, including rodent,
beer, and cigarette odors.

The last time I saw this done, a stinking grand piano action was left
in the room for about half a day, and came out absolutely odorless.
We don't need no stinking grands...

Doug Rhodes
Subject: Removing Odor from old players

John, thought you might find this interesting. 
In  trying to get rid of the mouse odor in the player I aquired from an 
old barn, I have tried several products products that worked for a while. 
Home Depot has a citrus spray that I thought worked, but the smell came 
back after a few days, and everything in the room ghad an orange tinge. 
My wife suggested I try something we use when our cats are ill and miss 
the litter box ( and theres nothing worse that that cat smell). its 
called  "Natures Miracle", hookey name but it works. Stuff is expensive, 
about $10-12 a quart. you can get it in most large pet supply stores or 
through the on-line supply houses at a discount. works on contact like 
gang-busters, odor doesn't come back.

Steven Hager
Subject: musty odor

I found putting a half dozen charcoal briquettes in the bottom of an 
old player piano takes away the musty odor.

Bill Wack
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This page was last revised October 8, 2016 by John A. Tuttle, who Assumes No Liability
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