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Removing incense smell from old closet/shrine


We moved into a home previously owned by a Hindu family. One of the upstairs closets was their shrine, where incense was kept burning nearly 24/7/365. We would love to use this space for a linen closet, but cannot handle the overpowering smell.

We have tried vinegar bowls in the closet and baking soda as well. Some of the odor is gone (you can no longer readily smell it in the hall), but when you open the door it is still quite powerful.

I am looking for suggestions to help get rid of the smell that has likely permeated the drywall. My initial thought for the next step is using a paint like Kilz, and if that is not helpful, getting the cedar chip boards to put in over the drywall to make it into a cedar linen closet (which I would prefer not to do---would rather spend money on cedar for a larger closet).


Blue RidgeParkway
Re: Removing incense smell from old closet/shrine
Blue RidgeParkway

is the closet door and any trim wood painted? the drywall? shelves wood, pressboard, chipboard, plywood, coated metal open shelving? tracks?

remove all shelves and hardware, deconstruct any brackets or blocks of wood mounted for supports. remove any carpet, padding, tack strips that may be on the floor of the closet. vacuum with a hepa filter vac, the soot can fall and the ashes from burning inscense are very fine dust and very smelly, get all that you can out of any cracks or crevases using a dry paint brush to sweep out cracks and vacuuming with the crevase or edge tool.

wash completely with a degreaser detergent the soot from burning retains the essential smelly oils and rinse well, you may need to repeat this. then wash down with TSP following all instructions especially the rinsing and neutralizing all painted areas. clean bare woodwork after washing with TSP and rinsing like the top and bottom edges of a wood door and behind the hingle plates with odorless mineral spirits (paint thinner). if you have finished woodwork check what type of finish you have before using TSP on it or mineral spirits you might need to use a different cleaner or solvent so not to damage the finish such as turpentine or others. don't forget the ceiling and the inside wall above the door where the soot and odor may be most concentrated and wash the floor also.

when finished and aired out put several plates filled with activated charcoal (not bbq charcoal) and close the closet up. recharge activated charcoal outdoors in the sun or baking it in the oven as instructions indicate it will help to absorb the odors.

when finished take several glass bowls of ammonia and set in the closet and close it up. when the closet is fully fumed remove and air out a few days, see if that cured the problem. if so, wash all shelves, hardware, etc. seal with shellac either clear dewaxed for woodwork or pigmented shellac like original Binz for areas to paint especially the drywall walls. when dry you may need to lightly surface sand the sheen a bit to allow paint to adhere to it. patch and re-prime/seal any wall imperfections use painters caulk to seal any transitions. next repaint all surfaces to be painted including the previously sealed edges of wood shelves. remount.

if you had vinyl coated open metal wire shelving the smell may not wash out of the coating, if that is the case replace those. if you have a light fixture in the closet you want to clean it completely, you may want to turn off the power and remove it to do this, or even replace it. rubbing alcohol works well to clean candle and inscense residue from glass globes, ceramic, and painted metal.

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