Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Smelly Musty Machine Cases!

I don’t have time to write my antique mall run with Sherry this morning….acckkk! I’ve got a doctor’s appointment that I’ve completely forgotten about!
So instead – I’m going to post a question from a reader, along with some responses for her on what she can do with the problem!  If you have any other ideas --- please chime in with your comment below!  Let’s find out what to do with these stinky cases!
While most of these comments deal with featherweight case issues, it applies to ANY machine case of “a certain age” where wood cases were covered with vinyl “leatherette” and animal based glue was used to adhere the vinyl to the wood.  In some cases
the wood was even particle board, and that could have been made with animal based glue to hold the wood chips together as well.
 Debbie Writes:

In reading your email about your Great-Grandma's machine and seeing the picture of the machine I wonder if you could answer a question for me?

I have a machine that sits in the same kind of case your machine sat in. That brown kind of case, not sure what it is really made of but my question is this....

I purchased a machine that sits in a case like that and the case smells horrible, like someone had left it on the floor when they sprayed for bugs. You can't even touch the machine without having your hands smell like bug spray. So I thought no problem I would air it out and it would take care of itself right???

Wrong I have had it sitting outside for the past 2 months LOL and it still smells horrible.... Any ideas how I can get the smell out without destroying the case?

I thought if anyone would know about this you would.... with your love of vintage machines and all.

 Anabeth writes:
I acquired my 1934 FW in May from a woman in my textile arts guild. It
belonged to her mother and she learned to sew on it. The poor machine had
sat in a damp basement for the last 20 years and it had that musty smell
that everyone talks about. During August, when it was above 90 degrees
every day -- hot and dry -- it occurred to me to put the case in the attic
to bake. It worked! The smell is no longer there! The machine works like a
Jodi writes:
...and when my little friend was returned, it had a very bad mildew
problem. I cleaned it up, but it still has that distinctive smell :( ! I
have tried airing, sunning, crumpled newspaper, all to no end...

Try a mild solution of spic and span with clorox. It will not hurt the paint
and it will kill the mildew. Be sure to rinse it off throughly and dry it.
Marilyn writes:
About the odor in the cases - I don't have this problem but thought it
might help to close the case in a big plastic bag with a box of baking
soda. Also if the odor is caused by moisture, maybe put kitty litter in
the bag or silica gel which is used to dry flowers.
Anonymous writes:
Someone posted a note to quiltnet that she got rid of the old smell in
her Featherweight by using "lava rocks" which she purchased at Bed, Bath and
Beyond. I haven't bought them...I agree with Janice who posted that she
enjoyed the smell.

Lynda writes:

Last year, I tried washing out the inside of the case and then airing it outside in full sun and it did help with the smell for a while.

I had a brainstorm, first i cleaned the inside with a dilute bleach solution paying special attention to the corners and crevices and then I baked the open case in the hottest place I could think of, my car.

We are just starting summer here it was 90 outside and probably 120 or so in the car. I did the case in early morning, and did not have to use the car all day. when I took it out this evening, it smelled pretty good. I think i'll try keeping an open bag of kitty litter in there this winter.

Jane writes:

My FW also had an awful mildewy/musty odor when I first purchased it. I took the advice of several people and wiped down my case with a mild clorox solution. I then put the case on my deck for several days on the really hot days during summer and it did a great job on most of the odor.

When I brought my case inside, I just couldn't make myself put kitty litter or any of the other remedies in my case. Instead, I stuffed about 5 scented dryer sheets in the case and when I open it....... ummmm.... it smells sooooo good.

I also think that putting your case in a HOT & DRY area for awhile is a good idea. I know that the airing on the deck sure helped mine.

Lynda writes:

Here is a method that I have used pretty successfully to eliminate the dreaded "Featherweight Odor". first i wash the inside of the case with a diluted bleach solution. Then I let it dry out in the hottest place that I know, a carwith all of the windows closed, on a sunny day.

I baked the case in the closed car in direct sun for as long as possible. This is usually pretty successful, but in very stubborn cases may need to be repeated. If your winters are damp, you may need to repeat this every summer.

I find that it is usually the case, not the machine that has "Foul Odor", and the machine just needs to be aired out.

Carol wrote:

Referring the question about mold and mildew in the case. Try wiping out with a damp cloth and dry. Then put baking soda in a cup or bowl to absorb the smell.

If this fails try spraying with lysol and set out in the sun.

It may take several tries. I tried the lysol method on my flute case that had been stored for years. It worked for that. Hopefully the sun will arrive soon so you can try
the lysol/sun method. Let me know if it works for you.

Suzanne wrote:

Here is a method that I have used pretty successfully to eliminate the dreaded "Featherweight Odor".

You might want to try kitty litter. I have put kitty litter in musty smelling suitcases and it works! I would air the machine outside on a nice dry day first to get rid of as much musty smell as possible.

Lynn Wrote:

I have been following the trail of FW case odor and offer these hints from my experience. I too am highly allergic to molds and have a violent sneezing and shortness of breath when opening the FW case, so I am pretty convinced that white powdery stuff is mold.

My guess is that in the history of these FW cases that most were stored on the floor of a dark closet until needed. Not likely that the original owners kept the case in a dry, airy place for too long if the machines were originally purchased for mending.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: I wiped the inside and outside of my FW case with Lysol and put it in the sun to dry. This was not too effective since in near the beach in SO CA near it is never really "dry". Baking soda had only minimal effect and did not get rid of the odor.

BETTER SOLUTION: So I came up with the following for mild mold cases based on a theory about glue.

1.Keep the FW case in a dry upstairs room, up off the floor, with lots of air circulation. Never in a dark closet or on the floor.

2. Place GEL SILICATE packages in the case when it is closed. I got several in boxes along with new shoes. These little packages absorb the moisture inside the case. So far, the odor is greatly reduced and no new white mold
has grown on either the inside or outside of the case in 2 years. The odor is very slight and I can live in the same room with the case.

3. Perhaps those of you who have had success with other remedies live in dryer climates for at least part of a year. Near the beach we experience dampness and fog daily so there is no way to get the case completely dry,
but providing the gel silicate bags seems to do a pretty good job in creating a better environment for the inside of the case. It might be better for the machine too as it would cut down on moisture trapped inside and prevent rust to machine parts.

This is just a guess, but I think the GLUE used in the case construction is the reason why FW is the culprit. My case has a vinyl cloth on the inside and that would certainly trap moisture between the box and the cloth. Hide, rabbit skin,animal hoofs and blood are often used in woodworking and to "paper" or size canvas. I remembered that in art class we learned to prepare rabbit skin glue/sizing for our oil paint canvases. Each can of dry crystals came with a gel silicate package inside and we were instructed to
keep the glue crystals in a dry place. Our instructor told us that rabbit skin glue (and I would guess this is true for hide or hoof glues too) tends to mold easily. This type of glue is effective in sealing the linen canvas from the paint oils and in drawing up the canvas tight to the frame.

It occurred to me that perhaps these older FW cases might be made from pressed cardboard, wood or pressed sawdust and they may have used this cheap and effective glue. All the hide glues are still used in industry and for woodworking, although there are better glues available today. The glue crystals, prepared with hot water, will deteriorate quickly and mold when cooled--they must not have been stabilized with an agent to prevent molds. It is highly likely that these cases were made with animal glues, but even if wheat paste glues were used, the result would also be mold formation.

Lynda writes:

First, leave the machine out of it's case for awhile. Most of the machines pick up the odor from their cases, I believe it is the glue used in the cases that creates that lovely smell. Put the case with an opened box of safeguard soap in a sealed plastic bag aside for at least three weeks.

Then, if you want to to eliminate the odor from the machine, take off the plate from the bottom of the machine. You will find a felt like gasket under that plate. Take it out and trace it onto an old pizza box or other similar cardboard. Cut out the new replacement gasket and put

it in place of the felt like one.

The felt like material can absorb odors and make the machine smell badly, also the spool felt can absorb odors as well. You can get replacement spool felt discs at any Singer dealer.

Once you have replaced these felt items, and leave the machine out of the case for a few weeks, the machine's odor should go from strong to mild and possibly nonexistent over time.

I have tried so many methods, in the past, to get my case to smell better, including airing outdoors, activated charcoal, baking soda, fabric softener sheets, baking soda, cedar, etc., etc. and nothing works like a bar of safeguard soap in the case - no other brand seems to do the trick.

BTW, the odor won't leave completely, but I keep the opened box of soap in my case all the time and it is just "ok" with that.

I only put the machine in the case to transport from one place to another, then it is taken out
immediately once I am at my destination.

I hope that gives you some ideas of what to do with the musty smelly cases out there that contain the machines we love!


  1. I have a singer featherweight that came in the smelly box - I was told it was the box itself - old glue ect. It was none of those things and I tried a dozen remedies. There is an elderly lady in our area that does repair work on featherweights and one time when I brought her my machine to fix she asked me if I wanted her to do away with the smell! of course I said yes - "how do you do that" - she said "replace the old oil drip pan on the bottom of the machine" you can order these from featherweight supply stores on line that sell all sorts of odds and ends for singer featherweights - it is a very easy fix - just turn your machine upside down and unscrew the screw that is there - the oil drip pan comes off - replace with a new one and the smell over all will go away -it worked on my machine - the smell however does not leave the box and it is best to get a different a storage case.

  2. I Got a really old Featherweight, '34 and the case and every thing in it smelled horrible!. The machine's paint job wasn't in good shape, and I bought it with the intention of getting it painted, so I wasn't trying to maintain the original case. With that in mind I went at it full force. First I tried Irish Spring soap, Nope it just made me nausious to smell Irish spring after smelling the combination of those two smells. I had it outside in 90+ weather for about 2 weeks, nope. Finally I scrubbed it with Pine Sol and set it ouside. Tt was significantly better, but what really worked was newspaper crumbled up and setting it in the hot sun. I changed out the paper a few times and it is now stored with the paper in it waiting for me to get around to putting it on Ebay.

  3. Anonymous11:16 AM EDT

    CHEAP SOLUTIONS RIGHT AT HAND TOO.... My Featheweight case had that old musty odor. My Mom's trick worked beautifully. Place a NEW bar of your favorite bath soap, or perfumed soap, in the cas Close the case and let the soap give off it's pleasant scent. It might take a bit of time. But it works in drawers, suitcases, purses, sewing cases etc. I have never had it fail.

    Hope you will try this trick.
    Smiles, JulieinTN

  4. I didn't have a musty problem but do want to let you guys know not to put your cases in the attic if you live in the South. My husband put his mother's Featherweight in the case up in the attic when we lived in Houston. When he brought it down some time later there was no black covering on the box - the roaches had eaten every bit of it!! I had no idea this would happen or, obviously, the box would never have gone in the attic.

  5. Baking soda and charcoal filters (the ones used for fish tanks0 are your friend! Removes musty smells everytime!

  6. Thanks for all of the great suggestions. I don't have a smelly case, but we all end up with smelly something or otheres along the way, and I think these suggestions would work for many issues!

  7. I have two Featherweights. And the older black one did have a smell. The machine not the case. I bought and replaced the felt pad under the machine and the odor was gone. I have heard of putting a torch light in the case making sure it does not start a fire and baking the smell away. I also keep a dryer sheet in the case.
    XXOXOXO Subee

  8. Hi I have had success removing odors by placing charcoal brickets inside the offensive item and by wiping it down with white vinegar or lemon juice.

  9. wow, what a wealth of information on stink!!! no FW here but do have old, old suitcases that would love to recycle starting with removing the musty odor.

  10. We get alot of mold here in W.WA I've found that Concrobium Mold Control works really well. It has very little odor and is safe for almost any surface.

  11. I recently purchased a 1955 Featherweight on EBay and the case smells awful. I searched on the Internet for ideas to banish the smell and found one that said to wipe down the inside with a mixture of Murphy's Oil Soap and water, then place a bar of Safeguard still in the wrapper inside. I have bought the Murphy's and soap but haven't gotten to try this. Today is the day, will try it and hope for great results!

  12. Easy way to get rid of the musty smell is to get a cheap bottle of Vodka, ( I dont drink the stuff) using a clean rag, dump some on the rag, wipe down tne inside of the case. Musty is gone.
    This is something I learned back in the day of the Extension Homemakers.. And this works for old dressers etc. The wood is what stinks..

  13. Nice idea Roma, but doesn't everyone at the next sewing gathering think you have a "problem" ? LOL.
    On Sentimental Quilter's blog, this was discussed in great depth, and the concensus there was that is was the oil drip tray under the machine that was the problem. As soon as that was replaced the smell slowly went away.
    I will try that and some of these ideas for the case.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Oops. I wanted to add the Web address. See comment below.

  15. This is going to sound crazy, but this tip I found on "Real Simple" online really works! It said for musty basements to slice an onion (yes, onion) and put it in the musty basement. After the onion odor subsides in a few days there will be no musty smell at all. Seriously, it works! The musty moldy smell from my two Featherweights was solved by replacing the felt in the bottom of the machine as one person mentioned, but if I had known this onion trick then I would have tried it. Don't seal it up, because it needs the air circulation to dry out the onion. Something scientific going on to kill the musty smell, I imagine. Real Simple tip is at www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/new-uses-for-old-things/onion-as-basement-deodorizer-00000000043417/index.html

  16. I went through this with my Singer 301 case last year...You can read about it here: http://feefifofarah.blogspot.com/search/label/Singer%20301
    (2 posts deal with this project)
    After a year, I am happy to say, the smell never came back!

  17. The smell is from a bacteria that feeds on the horse hide glue that was used to glue the fabric on the inside & outside of the case.

    My DH rigged up a porcelin keyless ceiling fixture, attached a lamp cord to plug it into an outlet. Put in a 200 watt light bulb & plugged it in. Insert it into the 221 case for about an hour close the lid. Unplug it & let it cool. DO NOT TOUCH THE CASE! We do this out side because of the smell. when all is cool & everything put back spray it with febreeze. Works every time.

  18. Fabric softener sheets will remove the musty smell from old books, so it might be worth a try for the machine case. I recently got an ironing board cover at a garage sale, unused and still in the package but musty smelling. I put a fabric softener sheet in the bag, left it for a week and it worked great. Also, while managing 52 rental units, I saved many foul smelling refrigerators by placing charcoal briquets inside them.

  19. Charcoal or kitty litter are BOTH great at drawing smells out and combine one them (I actually prefer charcoal) with Baking Soda and you have a dynamic duo!! Put whatever you are trying to remove the odor from in a large garbage bag along with open containers of two and place in a WARM place!! Let sit for... 24 hours or so (depends on what it is and if it can handle the 'heat'!)

  20. jennylouise14@sky.com9:02 AM EST

    marie- hi can any one help? ive just purchased a 2 lovely steamer trunks, but the musty smell is very overpowering. i note all the methods on this blogg to remove these smells and moulds from various items of furniture and leather cases, but, would these methods be suitable for these trunks? they appear to made of compressed board with vinyl casings and metal clasps. the interior appears to covered with wallpaper !

  21. Vinager?
    I use wins vinegar to remove smell.

    Ingelin ;)

  22. Vinager?
    I use wins vinegar to remove smell.

    Ingelin ;)

  23. The case with my featherweight was really musty smelling. I sprayed it with a 20% bleach solution then placed a 100V lightbulb on a secure stand inside the box. I closed the box as best I could with the light on and left it in a well ventilated place on a nonflammable surface (the garage floor with the door open.) It took a couple of "treatments" but it worked great! (I also keep a sliver of Irish Spring in the box to keep it fresh!)

  24. I suggest placing a rag with real vanilla extract on a glass bowl and leave it in the case. Works on refrigerator 's, coolers and camp boxes being stored for winter.

  25. I recently bought a Singer 201K. Both the case and the machine are musty. I assume the machine picked the smell up from the case, as others have indicated.

    Would it be acceptable to use Domestos Spray Bleach in lieu of mixing my own dilute bleach solution, in order to sanitize the case and try to kill the mold?


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