Shelves made from recycled wood are often treated with formaldehyde and other substances during manufacture. These substances emit foul odors as they off-gas — discharge gases into the atmosphere — when the shelves are new. When the shelves get damp, such as during humid conditions or when they are exposed to a leak, the manmade material absorbs moisture, which may cause damp, musty smells and chemical-like odors. Eliminate the odor by drying the shelves out as much as you can, then using natural odor-removing materials to manage the rest.
If the closet shelf smells damp, it may have absorbed water, which could lead to mildew or mould or may cause the shelf to fall apart. Wear a dust mask to avoid breathing in the fumes; subsequently remove things from the shelf when wearing rubber gloves. Eliminate the shelf from the cupboard, if possible; you may need to partially disassemble the closet to do so. Cart the shelf outside and let it air out for many days during non-humid conditions, even if the shelf is new and isn’t moist, as it may be off-gassing toxic substances. Put it in a place such as a garage or covered porch to protect it from the elements. If you’re unable to remove the shelf, then cart the cupboard outside if possible, or conduct a dehumidifier or air conditioner near the cupboard with the cupboard doors open to assist remove the moisture. Alternatively, open the windows and air out the space for as long as you can over a length of several times. If the shelf is visibly moldy or waterlogged, it should be discarded and replaced, as mould tends to permeate pressed-wood goods. Solid wood with mould on it’s treatable.
Powdered Odor Remover
Sprinkle baking soda over the whole surface of the closet shelf, ideally outside. Permit the baking soda to sit for at least a day through dry conditions; then brush it away to your trash can. Repeat the process with the other side of the shelf. Wipe away the remaining powder with a slightly damp cloth; then immediately dry the shelf with a brand new dry cloth.
Bust the Must
Vinegar absorbs and removes all sorts of scents and helps get rid of mildew and mould. Mix a tablespoon of white vinegar into a pint of warm water; then wipe down the shelf with a rag dipped into the fluid. Wring the rag out first so it’s damp, not soaking wet. After wiping down the shelf, dry it off with a clean rag; subsequently allow it to air out for at least several hours.
Sealing the Shelf
To protect the shelf from small amounts of moisture, which may also help avoid musty odors, coat it with a reduced volatile-organic-compound sealer, or primer and latex paint. Low-VOC sealers, primers and paints emit very few odors or toxic fumes in comparison to the conventional versions of the goods. When painting or painting, coat the exposed shelf edges as well, because these may absorb moisture and also emit fumes if left unsealed. Sealing the shelf also makes it easier to clean up liquid-based spills, as the shelf will not absorb the substance as easily when sealed.