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An Almost Perfect Vintage Headboard

May 25, 2024

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Last week, while checking my Facebook feed, I found something I'd been searching for...for a very, very, very long time.

A vintage styled, king size headboard to fit my lovely antique bedroom set.

Corner of a vintage cottage headboard near a window

It's furniture we purchased as newlyweds, more than 30 years ago at a yard sale.

And it was already really old back then.

The pieces belonged to my mom's friend. It was her father's when he was a young boy...and she was in her late seventies when she decided to sell it to us.

So maybe old is an understatement.

The $250 set came with two dressers, a night stand, a chair, two mirrors and a full size headboard.

Cottage Style Bedroom Decor

It was a perfect fit for our tiny apartment and our tiny budget.

For the first 8 years of our marriage, in that small apartment and then in our small cottage, we cuddled up in that full size bed, with kids and cats, every night, until we moved here.

This cottage was larger and our bedroom was big enough to accommodate a king size mattress. So we moved the full size headboard into our daughter's room and we did without one for a bit.

I thought surely, I would find a king size headboard to match our charming, well built, rock maple set in the near future.


Yeah. Not so fast.

You see, what I, in my young and naive state did not realize, was that king size was not a thing in the early 1900s. Queen size, sure, but not king.

The best I was going to do was find something that looked like it belonged to my antique set, but even that was a tall order.

I've mentioned this quest before.

Apparently no one makes maple furniture anymore. It's all oak or pine...or particle board. Ick.

Plus, I had another dilemma. When I did find something that looked like it might match, it didn't fit in between the two windows in the room and I never wanted to block them.

Trust me when I say that small houses are not easy to decorate.

However, last week, a lovely lady on Facebook was literally giving away a king size headboard that looked like it might work so I jumped on it.

Vintage Style Wooden Headboard out in the sunshine to remove odor

I didn't ask for measurements, I didn't ask about the wood, I just said, I'll take it, before anyone else had a chance.

Of course, my husband was not as enthusiastic about my new found treasure.

I give it a 2% chance of working out.

But I was unwilling to listen to him. In my head I was afraid he was right. Up until now, nothing had been the right size, but I held out hope that this one would fit without the need for any of his fancy woodworking skills.

With my fingers crossed we brought it home and lo and behold, it fit. Perfectly.

King Size Wooden Headboard in a green bedroom

Plus it had a lovely cottage style feel and even though it was oak, it matched the color and style of our yard sale set.

I was ecstatic and Mr. 2% was in awe.

Unfortunately, that high didn't last. As we were marveling at our fabulous new set up, we noticed a very strong odor coming from the wood. It wasn't musty and it didn't smell like old wood, instead it reeked of perfume.

Now, for someone without allergies, it probably wouldn't have been an issue, but to me it was an overpowering and powdery scent that did not do my tricky lungs any favors.

There was absolutely no way I could have in the house, nevermind in my bedroom where I spend 8+ hours every night.

Green and White Country Style Bedroom

It was the reason I hadn't opted for an upholstered headboard to put an end to the search years ago. Too many dust mites and potential for problems. But even that would've been better than perfume.

No, it would have to go.

Unless I could get that smell out of the wood.

Thankfully, living in the land of DIY like I do, I have heard the "how do I get smells out of old wood" questions hundreds of times over the last decade.

So I was armed with a whole bunch of tips and tricks to remove the odor from the headboard.

And trust me, I used just about every one of them over the next week.

1. Refinish The Wood

The surefire solution would've been to refinish the headboard. Clean it up, sand it down and restain it. But that was out. No one was interested in that huge task. 

Plus the headboard finish was already truly flawless.

Besides, I'm a quick and easy kind of DIY girl.

2. Vinegar

I started with the easiest solution first. I just wiped the entire headboard down with vinegar and water.

a bottle of vinegar

That removed all of the dirt, but unfortunately, it did nothing to the smell, except layer another pungent one on top.

Using vinegar and paper towels to remove odors and dirt from old wood


3. Sunshine

Not to be deterred, I decided to leave it outside in the sunshine to see if the scent could be dried out of the wood.

Wooden Headboard In The Sun

But nope.

I have to be honest, I was skeptical about this one. Sunshine usually works if there's dampness in the wood. It dries it out. I had a different issue altogether, but it was worth a shot.

4. Baking Soda

Baking Soda box and some in a bowl on a table to make a paste to remove odors from old wood

I thought the third time might be the charm, so I whipped up a paste of baking soda and water and scrubbed the headboard down from top to bottom.

But again, no dice.

Woman leaning over old wooden headboard to clean it on a patio

The perfume smell was not budging.

5. Charcoal or Coffee Beans or Grinds

Had this been a dresser or trunk, I could've tried to leave a bag of activated charcoal or coffee beans inside for a while to absorb the odor.

6. Water Based Polycrylic 

Since there's clearly no place to tuck any of those things into on a flat wooden headboard, I grabbed my jug of Dixie Belle Satin Sealer and went over the entire piece, front and back hoping it would seal that odor inside.

Painting Water Based Poly onto a wooden headboard

I have to say it did lessen the smell, but to be honest, one coat was not enough. It took two coats of that water based polycrylic to finally remove all traces of that perfume. Thank goodness!

And because it's a water based product with no odor of its own, I was able to do this in my bedroom without having to unbolt it and drag that heavy sucker outside.

7. Oil Based Varnish, Polyurethane

I will say that if that didn't work, I was could've used an oil based varnish or polyurethane, like we used on our wooden countertop, which definitely would've covered the smell.

Varathane Interior Oil Based Polyurethane spray paint cans on a shelf

The only issue would've been that it off gasses forever. It takes days to weeks to fully cure and that smell is noxious in the meantime. So honestly, it would be last on my list, right before the dreaded refinishing option.

8. Shellac

That is why shellac would've definitely been my next step if the Dixie Belle hadn't worked. We've used this product before and were so pleased.

Zinsser Shellac For Wood Smells

It covers, well, dries quickly and it's alcohol based so once it's dry, it doesn't smell. At all. 

The only drawback to shellac is that's it not quite as hearty as polyurethane. It's not recommended for high use items like tables, because it wouldn't hold up when exposed to heat or water and can fade in the sun.

Although, it would be fine for my headboard.

So far, it doesn't seem like I need to go down that path, but it's nice to know that it's there if that perfume smell ever rears its head again.

For now though, I'm just enjoying the new view in my spring bedroom.

The fact that I can prop myself up in bed properly at night, to read a book, without worrying about the gap behind me.

Cottage Style King Size Bed Set

Or the bed frame wheeling away from the wall...unanchored.

And it only took me 22 years to make it happen.

But who's counting?


How To  Remove  Bad Smells  From  Old Wood

Wait, before you go, I've got more to share! It's time for another fun hop with my Do It Over Designer friends.

Do It Over Designers Blog Hop Graphic

It's hosted by my good friend Ann, from The Apple Street Cottage. I hope you'll stop by to say hello to everyone and see what these creative ladies have up their sleeves.

Happy Hopping, Friends!
Kim Signature

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  1. Great find Kim; it really is perfect! And I'm so glad you were able to resolve the perfume odour; that's a tough one! If you, didn't we have one more trick up our sleeve that even works for mold. We too are headboardless, so this is the inspiration I need to get going on our 19+ year dilemma lol.

    1. Thanks Sara! I'm glad it's been resolved as well. I hope you find a headboard. I can't believe from the comments and emails how many of us have been searching for one for decades! Who knew...oh and I'd love to know that last tip...mold is just awful!!

  2. What a fantastic 'FREE' find, Kim! I know you've heard the saying, "Good things take time" so 22 years? Seems about right. You sure tried all the tricks to remove that smell and I'm so glad you finally got rid of it. It looks great!

    1. Thanks so much, Ann! It really was a super find and I'm so glad we were able to make it work and it's unscented now! Thanks again for the opportunity to share it in the hop. Always a pleasure!! ❤️

  3. I am so glad you were able to find a solution. It looks perfect in your room and I need to find a headboard, too. A queen sized one. I, too, like to be able to prop up in bed and read without pillows filling a 'gap' between bed and wall.

    At least it wasn't something like CAT PEE...I once had someone gift me a chair and it smelled like cat pee. It went right out the door. Today, I couldn't smell it because I have almost no sense of smell. I was following a chemical truck several years ago that was leaking pool chemicals. It came up thru my air conditioner (auto) and I felt a slight burning. I didn't realize until a day or so later that I had lost my sense of smell. UGH!!!!

    1. Oh Diana!! You’re kidding me?? That’s terrible…and kind of scary. I guess you’re lucky that’s all it did, those chemicals are nasty, but losing your sense of smell is bad enough. One time, many years ago, when I lived at home, I smelled something awful in the kitchen. I was smelling everything, trying to find the source, including a glass of clear liquid my mom had on the windowsill. I picked it up, put it right next to my nose and took a long, deep inhale…of the ammonia she had used to clean her rings. It felt like someone put two knives straight up my nostrils and into my head. Needless to say, I couldn’t smell anything for a month. Not a pleasant experience, so I feel for you.

      Sometimes my keen sense of smell isn’t so helpful, like with this headboard. I’m just glad the problem is solved. I do hope you find a headboard of your own, seems to be a lot of us looking. They just don’t make quality pieces anymore and most of them are too large or overpriced. I hope you find your dream Queen very soon…and cat pee? Ick. To the curb is right!!

  4. Yay! Congratulations on your find! It really does look nice in situ, well worth waiting over 20 years for :-D
    We bought a dining table and chairs second hand and thought they were perfect until I came downstairs the next morning and the whole house they stunk of cigarettes. I was lucky that the baking soda and sunshine option worked for me but it did take a while. I'm so pleased to hear you found a good solution for your lovely headboard.
    I guess Mr 2% had to eat humble pie in the end!

    1. Thanks so much, Julie! I'm so glad it worked, too. I was determined to try every trick up in the book, because it really was perfect. Isn't it funny how it takes a while for the odors to work their way into the room. Our experience was the same. We put it in the room, ate lunch, hung around for a bit and we smelled nothing. It wasn't until we left the house to buy the bolts to attach it, and came home again that we were hit with it. Silliness. So glad your table set ended up being an unscented score, too. Thank goodness for baking soda and sunshine!

  5. Looks lovely, and I’m truly inspired by your tenacity! May I suggest you remove some of your beautiful pillows so the headboard shines through!

    1. Thanks so much!! We really love it...and yes, I guess now that I have a beautiful headboard, all the pillows I used to "create" my own faux one are no longer necessary. I'm going to have to rethink my bed making. One thing always leads to another, doesn't it!?! Haha!! Enjoy the weekend!!

  6. I love the headboard and I'm glad you finally found it to coordinate with your bedroom set! Ugg, that perfume smell... It's on some vintage linens that I got at an estate sale recently and you're right... it's a B!TCH to get out! I have a post up on my blog that tells how to remove smoke odors from fabric with vinegar. I had a fabric headboard that reeked of smoke and vinegar worked like a charm but this perfume smell is some other level of stink, stank, stunk for sure!! It's good to know that sealer will work for wood :)

    1. Ugh, I totally get it, I've had to leave some vintage linens at the thrift store for just that reason. I cannot deal with perfume or smoke smells. Of course, now I need to go and read your post about how to get rid of them, so I'm armed the next time I see something pretty. The wood smell was stubborn, normally I would just paint over it, but since that wasn't an option I'm glad the poly worked!

  7. I'm so glad you found a solution to that awful smell, Kim! Persistence always pay off! I know you are quite proud you finally found a headboard that fits! Plus, it looks perfect in your bedroom! You are certainly one lucky lady! Now you can relax!

    1. Thanks so much, Gail! It was an unexpected find. I’ve been hunting for years and this one just popped up when I wasn’t looking. Always the way…Happy Weekend!!

  8. I’m searching for a charming California King size headboard. I do know a king size will work too. It’s hard to find on marketplace!

    Deanna Rabe

    1. Seems like this is a common comment, Deanna. Everyone is looking for a headboard. I didn't realize I was in such good company. I hope you find one soon!!

  9. Oh, I am so glad it worked out! Also glad you did a post on this because I'm going to file this away in my "good to know" links! It's just beautiful and I'm glad you finally completed your set!

    1. Thanks so much, Mandy!! I'm so glad the set has finally been completed, too. It was a long time in the making!!

  10. Hi Kim. Glad you had a lot of DIY solutions to try. What a great free find too. It matches perfectly. You know I never thought about how king beds were not a thing years ago. Makes sense why it is so hard to find any king headboards that are antique. Have a great memorial weekend. We are lounging by pool and beach this weekend in Michigan. Hugs. Kris @ junkchiccottage.

    1. Hi Kris!! Yes!! Lots of trial and error, but I'm so glad it worked out. The lady who gave it to me was so generous, I'm very grateful for this lovely gift. I simply didn't want to give up and have to give it away. I hope Michigan was a blast!! xo

  11. This is a great find. Whenever I see headboards they are too small, mostly double bed. I can't imagine the perfume smell. That would be hard to breathe and affect sinuses and breathing for me. It looks perfect!

    1. Thanks so much, Cindy! Yes, I'm with you on both comments...small headboards and the breathing issues with perfume. Luckily it's gone!!

  12. What a wonderful find! I think you have given a new definition to the word 'patience'...30+ years is a lot of patience!! One more way to use the Dixie Belle Clear Coat! You mention it so frequently I know that I will use it...someday. BUT...someone shared with me a project that needed a clear coat, and I sent her a link to it, along with a link to your blog! I need to share your blog too! The headboard is beautiful, and I am so impressed that you own a bedroom set you bought 2nd many years ago! I love that round, 2 shelf night stand-so pretty!

    1. Dixie Belle for the win!! Again!! Hahaha! I think I'm their best customer. In all seriousness, it's so hard to craft and DIY when you have allergies and sensitivities. I just feel lucky that I've found something that I can work with....and thank you for the kind comments about my set. We love it and wouldn't trade it for the world. That round night stand is all wood and was from JC Penney years ago, before particle board furniture became the standard. I love it, too.

  13. Amazing that you were able to find a king headboard that matched your bedroom set after all these years! And even more amazing that you were able to cover up that gross perfume smell, too. I wouldn't have been able to handle that either. I have terrible allergies and am very sensitive to scents, especially artificial ones.

    1. Isn't it awful? It's very hard to craft or buy second hand when you're sensitive. I was slightly hesitant when we picked it up, but I thought, it's a wooden headboard. It doesn't have drawers or spaces for odors to hide...oh least it's gone now!! Hope you had a lovely long weekend, Melanie and thanks for taking the time to comment! 🥰

  14. Congratulations on finding a solution for the offending smell.

    My goto has always been sunshine. I once hung a pair of suede boots out in the sun to rid them of l'odeur de Beni Hana and it worked beautifully--thank goodness!

    1. funny!! Sunshine is awesome, Pat!! I just bought some cushions for my patio and they reek like the store's potpourri. Ugh. I was like here we go again. I've been leaving them out in the sun and it seems to be helping...maybe I should've left the headboard outside longer!!

  15. You just couldn’t pass up that beautiful and free headboard that you’ve waited 22 years for! I’m very susceptible to strong smells and that perfume odor would’ve driven me crazy. I’m so happy you solved that dilemma and your bedroom looks beautiful!

    1. It was a crazy find for sure, Kitty, and thank you. I just couldn’t pass it up, you’re right! I never expected it to smell though, but I’m so glad it all worked out. It’s really made such a difference in the room and made my old set look new {to me} again!

  16. I wasn't expecting perfume to be the issue, but I am glad you were able to figure it out Kim. Just recently when I open one of the original kitchen cupboards that we use as storage on our steps, I smell a strong perfume smell. It wasn't there when we placed them on the ledge several years ago, it is like it just popped up. I do not wear perfume since like you, I am allergic, and asthma is not a fan of perfume, so I am not sure where the scent has come from, but I find it interesting none the less. Love your new headboard, and so glad you were able to find one that works for you now.

    1. Oh gosh, Cara, I'm sorry you suffer as well. It's not a fun affliction. I really do hope your perfume scent disappears quickly. I didn't smell the perfume when we first placed the wood in our house, but noticed it after. Perhaps where the wood has been sitting has allowed some of the scent to become more pronounced? I guess it's a mystery, but it doesn't sounds like a fun one. Keep those doors closed!!

  17. WOW, you did not give up. High Fives for you!!! I love your new headboard.

    I cannot stand all the perfumed things this world has. The latest is garbage bags. We ended up getting scented garbage bags, I was sick in 15 minutes from the strong odor.


    1. Thanks Carla! Woot woot!! I was determined to make that sucker work!! Haha!! And yes, too many perfumed items today and none of them are good for you. I cannot deal with those scented garbage bags either and lately I feel like I really have look for the ones that are not. Ugh...

  18. I have the same miserable allergies to chemical fragrances. We have an heirloom glass curio from my mother in law that my husband didn’t want to part with but it had stored candles so I couldn’t even open it. He treated it with the various things you did and put it in the sun and garage for weeks. Then I sealed it with varnish and it finally worked. I can’t image having it at my head all night like a headboard. When I visit people I sleep upside down so my feet are at the headboard and padding fabric ones are impossible. I read your post on the kitchen addition, which turned out beautifully, and wonder if the buffet server is rock maple. Our rock maple breakfast dining set with corner hutch looks like that. Pamela

    1. Ugh. I'm sorry you suffer, as well, Pamela. Great tip about sleeping upside down, though, thanks for sharing. I usually buy cheap pillows at Target for $3 or $4 each and take them with us when we travel, since even hotels can be a problem. Then I just leave them there. It's not an easy way to vacation, but I certainly wasn't going to live that way in my own home. Thankfully, the scent has been eradicated now and I just get to enjoy my new headboard!

  19. I'm definitely going to put the polycrylic tip in my back pocket. I'm guessing it would work well for inside of drawers, too? I've got a 50's desk makeover that I've been putting off. The drawer smells are potent! How lucky to get your headboard for free, have it fit perfectly in your space, and look great, too! Pinned.

    1. Thanks so much, Allyson! Yes, it worked out really well and I highly recommend the polycrylic. Although, truth be told for a bigger job with drawers, I might be tempted to go with the shellac. That spray is awesome and no brushing needed!!

  20. Wow! How amazing that you found the perfect headboard after so many years. It look so lovely. So happy you were able to get the perfume smell taken care off.

    1. Thank you , Tuula! I am thrilled with the results and new look.

  21. Kim,
    I have to say that I never even thought nor heard of wood smelling...Glad you were able to get rid of the odor...It looks great in your bedroom....
    Debbie-Dabble Blog

    1. Thank you, Deb! Yeah, I wasn't happy about it. I know that old wood can have a smell and some of my mom's bedroom furniture definitely smelled like Elizabeth Taylor's Passion, but this was overwhelming for me and my allergies. Glad it's out!!