How to Get Rid of Musty Smell in Your Home

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A musty smell in your home is frequently a sign of mold or mildew growth. There are many natural solutions that can help you to get rid of musty smell such as baking soda or white vinegar that can help absorb musty smells in the air and trap excess moisture and there are also great commercial products. Your first step in dealing with this type of odor in your home is always to identify the location and source of the water or moisture so you can stop the flow and dry up excess moisture. 

What causes musty smell?

Musty is a word we associate with an unclean, stale, and often moldy smell. You may notice it in a home that is new to you, or if your home has been closed up for a time. You may also just notice it suddenly appear in your home. A musty smell usually develops over time and is a sign of decay. 

Musty or moldy smells can be attributed to many things including dampness and mold, lack of adequate airflow, or odors trapped in your HVAC system. A musty smell is a warning sign that you should not ignore and generally is a sign of mold growth in your home. Mold and mildew can release foul-smelling gases. Mold spores grow in the presence of moisture or water and can quickly develop within 24 to 48 hours in the right conditions. 

If you experience a water leak such as a burst pipe or excess condensation the excess moisture can go unnoticed until mold forms and you begin to smell a musty odor. Moisture buildup combined with darker areas and stagnant air is a prescription for mold growth. The odor may be throughout your home, in your basement, laundry, bathroom areas, or closets. 

As soon as you notice any mustiness, inspect the area and look for any leaks in your pipes, appliances, bathrooms, or kitchens. Check for signs of water and address it immediately. If it seems to be coming from a small area like under a sink, that makes it easier to track and treat.

get rid of musty smell

Does a musty smell mean I have mold?

Mold is the most common reason for a musty smell in your home. But all homes have some mold and since the mold has a low odor threshold, the musty smell does not mean it is already out of control. What you may be smelling are MVOC’s, or mold volatile organic compounds. These are the chemicals that are released at a certain stage in the life of mold that is volatile enough to evaporate but also have an odor that is strong enough to be noticed in a home. This is often not dangerous and can be easily addressed. 

If the odor persists and is stronger you likely have mold and should look for the source of moisture that is causing it. You may also be experiencing an “old house” smell which is not necessarily a sign of the mold but can be from a number of causes. 

Old house smells can stem from the combination of limited ventilation, high humidity, and darkness. Sunlight and ventilation can often clear this up. The smell may be associated with the carpet, furniture (couch or upholstered chairs,) or drapes. Check them out and have them cleaned if so. Do a deep cleaning and deep declutter and that may solve your problem.

Is musty smell dangerous?

A musty smell can be dangerous in as much as that it can be an indicator of mold growth in your home. Mold spores only need a surface to land on, excess moisture, air, and often warmth to thrive and cause mold growth. Mold can be toxic and hazardous to humans and pets. It is particularly dangerous to those with weakened immune systems, respiratory problems or asthma. 

Some reported symptoms of mold exposure are itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, headaches, asthma-like symptoms, or throat irritation. You should also avoid touching mold or mildew and should wear proper protection including glasses, a mask, and gloves when working around mold or mildew. More research on this area is needed but it is always best to be safe and remove mold and mildew from your home as fully and as quickly as possible.

Where does  musty smell commonly appear?

A musty smell in your home may emanate from a small area like a closet or a cupboard or may encompass an entire room, most commonly a basement area. If the smell runs throughout the house, it may be a sign that it is coming from your HVAC system. Some of the culprits in causing moisture, mold, and mildew are a leaky pipe, a leaky roof, excess humidity in a home, condensation on pipes or air conditioning or a faulty appliance such as a dishwasher or washing machine.

How to get rid of musty smell in house

Some basics steps to get rid of a mildew or musty smell are :

  • Locate the source of the smell.
  • Air out the affected area or the entire home. Open windows and doors and run and fans, creating as much cross breeze as possible.
  • Do a deep cleaning with plain white vinegar and dusting of the area.
  • Deep clean any carpets.
  • If extreme, rent an air purifier with HEPA filters to remove mold spores and tiny dust particles.
  • Change any air filters in your HVAC systems and keep a schedule to change them regularly.
  • Have your air ducts cleaned? This can be effective in eliminating odors that you notice when running the air conditioning or heating.
  • Turn on fans and any extra fans you can find.
  • Boil some lemon peels and bring the steaming pot to the affected area. Use a fan to circulate the fragrance in the room.
  • Do a walk around and repair any leaks around pipes, loose-fitting windows, in the roof, and elsewhere.
  • Odors can reside in walls or wallpaper. Strip off old paper and paint, and wash down all walls before painting with an oil-based and mold resistant paint.
  • Tear out any old carpets that are beyond cleaning.
  • If you are in doubt about the odors in your home, call in mold damage or water damage professional to test your air quality and do a proper inspection.

How to get rid of musty smell in a basement.

Basements present the perfect conditions for mold and mildew growth. Fungi needs only dampness and darkness in order to thrive. Once the musty or mildew smell develops it can quickly seep into drapes, carpets, and other fabrics. Getting the odors can be difficult.

You must first locate the source of your moldy odor. Sometimes cleaning is not enough and you want to avoid just covering up the smell. When warmer air from upstairs flows into your basement, the moisture condenses and lands on the basement floors, walls, and pipes. Mold can quickly form.

Look for other sources such as a bad window seal, or crack in your foundation or leaky washing machine. Make any necessary repairs and then use a dehumidifier and fans to dry up any moisture.

Insulate your pipes if appropriate.

Get rid of any visible mold. Pour straight white vinegar into a spray bottle and heavily mist the entire area with windows open and air circulating. Allow it to dry.

You can also lift the odor by placing bowls of white vinegar or baking soda in open containers throughout the basement to absorb the smell. Let it sit for a few days.

If you have not seen any other leaks, and you have thoroughly cleaned the area, and lifted the smell, you should be all set.

How to get rid of musty smell in carpets?

If the smell is coming from a carpet, address it immediately. The smell comes from excess moisture and the carpet could be harboring mold and mildew. If the carpet was completely soaked you may have to remove it and replace it.

Take these steps to get rid of musty smells from your carpet.

  • Dry out the entire area. If necessary call a water damage remediation specialist.
  • When the carpet is dry, vacuum it thoroughly.
  • Mix one cup of white vinegar to 2 cups of water and add the mixture to a spray bottle. Spray a light mist over the carpet.
  • Add baking soda to the carpet. It won’t harm your carpet or pets!
  • Allow the baking soda and vinegar to sit for a few hours, up to overnight.
  • If the smell persists, repeat with hydrogen peroxide and water. It is one part of hydrogen peroxide to 5 parts of water.
  • An alternative is to use a foam carpet cleaner according to directions.
  • If the odor still persists, it is time to call the mold remediation professionals.

How to get rid of musty smell in clothes and towels

It’s easy for clothes that have sat in the laundry basket to pick up the musty smell. Here are some cleaning tips:

  • Use white vinegar in the rinse cycle, adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup for front loaders and one cup for top loaders.
  • Sprinkle baking soda in the washer with your clothes. Use 1/4 to 1/2 cup per load followed with a white vinegar rinse.
  • Bring in the sun! Line dry clothes when weather permits.
  • Try one of the commercial laundry odor removers. 
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