A cool, funky cabinet

When we stumbled on this locker at an antique mall, we were instantly smitten. (I’m sure no one is surprised because we will buy ALL THE LOCKERS)




It had a bunch of sweet features (those feet) and seemed liked a good temporary solution for covered storage in the awesome bathroom.

It had a bit of an odor issue, but we brushed that concern away, reasoning that it could be fixed with a good cleaning. Months later we’ve finally wrestled this into place and the odor is much more pronounced. My theory is that prior to sitting at the antique mall it was left open. At our house, it was left closed and the odors built up.


It’s a lovely aroma of motor oil, chemicals and rust. Be glad this isn’t smell-o-vision.



I hit up the interwebs for some suggestions on eliminating cleaning odors from metal cabinets. (File that under things I never thought I would research.) Most sites suggested a baking soda bath.


You make a thick paste using baking soda and water, smear it on the surface and let it dry.  I decided to test the method on the shelves. Most of the stains were concentrated in this area and if the method seemed to work, then I could treat the rest of the surfaces (sides, back, door).



The mixture dried fairly quickly, but I let it set for a week. Then I gave it a good wipe down with water.

The result? Despite the fact that it literally stripped the paint off the shelves, it still smells really bad. Womp, womp.



I’m not sure where to go from here. I could spray paint the inside, but I’m not sure that will totally mask the stench, which is critical if I’m going to store linens in here. It also seems like a lot of effort for a temporary arrangement. Ultimately, Aaron wants to build some custom storage in here.

He’s currently working on the layout for his workshop. If I give up on this piece, I’m sure it will find a happy home in the basement.

So, what do you think blog readers? Does anyone have any tips on removing these smells or should I give up the fight?


  1. what about a good wipe down with white vinegar? It’ll smell like vinegar for a while, but when it dries that should go away, hopefully taking away the funk with it…

    1. Good thought. I actually tried that but didn’t mention it because it produced absolutely no results. I’m sure the condition of the metal is an issue.

  2. I’ve had really good luck with fresh kitty litter and ‘the sun’. I was gifted a vintage suitcase that was just RANK inside. Pour in some kitty litter left it sitting and it got rid the smell. I think it works the same way baking soda does, but can take up more space cheaply.
    Also leaving an object sitting open outside in a sun beam for a couple hours can get rid of a lot of smells. I line dry my vintage clothes with that wavering ‘moth ball’ scent. Also worked really well with a nightstand we got from a smoker.
    Cool locker though! I’m loving your firehouse.

    1. INTERESTING. The litter would definitely take up more space, which is definitely an issue with this piece. Thanks so much for the idea!

  3. Maybe a commercial degreaser? We got one from Home Depot and its no joke. Nowhere near green cleaning but sometimes you gotta whip out the big guns. I would think a degreaser would work if its car grease stuff? Technical, I am.

    1. Also a good thought. I’m ok with a non-green solution for this piece.

    2. you could even try Simple Green first, if you were a little bit worried.

  4. I wonder if there’s any magic that coca-cola could provide. It might also completely disintegrate the thing, but it’s all I got. That, or just forgo patina for shape/line and paint te entire thing. Like, have an auto body person do it. I hope you can save it.

    1. Ha! I like that your first thought is soda. I’ve heard it can do awesome things… which make it very scary that it’s considered a beverage…

  5. what about a clear-coat? if you like the patina, that is. spray it w/a clear-coat of acrylic sealer and it should seal in the smells – using a low VOC will even prevent further off-gassing of the sealer!

    1. I don’t mind the patina, so a clear coat is a good thought. i wasn’t sure if that would totally seal in the fumes. It might be a nice finishing step after a de-greaser or kitty litter fumigation.

  6. I would say if you want to use it you have to go all the way, have it sand (or media blasted) or do it yourself. Then repaint the entire thing using automotive paint. I would be a less used look but it would still have the vintage bones. You could also try to distress it after the fact if you still wanted that look.

    1. Ok, that actually scares me. I’m not sure it’s worth all of that. It could certainly live in the workshop very happily. It sounds like you have some experience in this area? True?

      1. Some DIY car restoration experience. You can pick up a really simple sandblasting set up like this one (http://www.partstrain.com/store/details///Peak/Sand_Blaster//PEAPPSB.html?source=productads) that just requires a compressor and a bucket of media. From there quality automotive rattle-can paint and primer should do it but you could also pick up a cheap HVLP gun (http://www.harborfreight.com/hvlp-detail-spray-gun-46719.html) if you wanted a better finish. It would probably be a days-worth of work so its up to you if its worth it for your use, the nicer the sandblaster set up the faster it would probably go.

        1. Gotcha. Aaron used to work on cars in his spare time (more on the motor than any restoration aspect). Thanks for the suggestions. He likes to add tools to his arsenal when it makes sense, so I’ll see what he thinks.

  7. I vote for the white vinegar. That stuff is amazing for cleaning… Maybe even use vinegar and baking soda together? That would most likely strip the paint off more though :/ good luck!

    1. Yeah, I tried vinegar first with no luck. I acutally didn’t mention it because it really didn’t do anything… or maybe I didn’t do it right.

  8. call an auto shop. See if they can sandblast and paint if for you cheap. Can be less than $100 in some cases and will make a temp solution into a long-term piece of furniture. Even if you don’t keep it in that room, it will be great any where.

    1. Interesting thought. I’m surprised they would mess with it for less than $100!

  9. hehe, I know I shouldn’t laugh at this, but I’m one of those people that is very sensitive to smells, so I steer clear of funky things at thrift/antique stores. Now I know why!
    I feel like I’ve seen a few Pinterest tutorials for refurbishing lockers. Try there (if you already haven’t!)

    1. I swear it didn’t smell that bad when we looked at it. Still, it’s a cool piece and I’m sure we’ll find a home for it. We grabbed it at the Green Shag Market. It’s a small antique mall, but we always walk away with something fun. Quintessential Antiques is on the same block and has gorgeous styling. They are open the first weekend of each month.

  10. Any update? Did the kitty litter and sun work?

    1. No update yet. We’ve been distracted with a few other projects and it’s been too cold and windy to stick anything in the yard.

  11. Not sure if you gave up on this but they make odor blocking primer. Zinsser is one brand I know of. I love lockers too, only my set is in the garage as it was deamed to heavy to get inside. It will be inside someday 🙂

  12. […] room redo. It seemed like a good option for the awesome bathroom (now that we’ve decided that this metal locker is headed for the workshop) as part plant stand/part extra towel and toiletries holder. Plus at […]

  13. […] some shelves and starting on the workshop Plan changes: The functional bits are the same, but a layout redesign really maximized the […]

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