How To Remove and Cleanup Musty Smells
A musty smell in a home is a result of inadequate cleaning, poor or stagnant air circulation, high humidity and possible moisture problems.
If you've ever noticed an odd smell coming from old furniture, clothing or books, or in a poorly ventilated area such as the attic or basement, you have a problem with mold, mildew or fungi.
If the mold and mildew growth is heavy it might look like an area of pink, orange, blue, black or green discoloration- on the other hand, if the fungi growth is light you might not be able to see where it is, though you can definitely smell it.
Old furniture is often musty and puts off a smell that I can only describe as a combination of mold and rotten eggs. The odor may start out as a minor annoyance but will eventually get to the point where the air in your home is bad for your health. So once you start smelling a musty, moldy odor, it’s time to take care of it. The poor air quality and odor problem won't stop on it's own and will only get worse.
Molds and fungi are not healthy for your lungs. Mold spores and noxious gases they put off are aggravating to your health. If you have breathing problems or the smell is particularly bothersome you may want to wear a mask while cleaning it up.
Possible Locations and Causes of Musty Odors:
First you need to figure out exactly where the problem is and what is causing the odor:
The smell is not caused by the water leaking into your house itself, it’s caused by molds and fungi that are growing where the water is pooling.
As they grow in number, mold and mildew put off a sulfur containing gas we all can easily identify. Once established, fungi can easily spread to other areas of a home so it's important to get rid of any water leaks as soon as they’re discovered. Wet basements, leaky faucets and pipes are a common culprit.
If wood remains damp it will start to rot and give off an earthy musty smell. Once again, molds and fungi will grow just like it will on any other organic material.
If you should see dark stains on wooden items, chances are that they’re becoming wet from a leak somewhere and molds and fungi are growing.
This can happen to an item left in a storage shed that water happens to drip on, or it can happen to the baseboard in your home that might have a water pipe leaking behind it.
Leaking roofs allow rain inside which often follows gravity right up to a beam or other supporting structure in a home. Wet wood will continue to rot and allow mold and mildew growth until the source of moisture is stopped.
If walls in your home are starting to look very rundown, take the time to look behind them. Most walls are made of drywall which is gypsum or plaster in between 2 sheets of paper.
Mold and mildew will grow on the paper backing and it will darken in color, start to flake, blister or peel off.
Start by looking in the area with the heaviest discoloration for moisture leaks. Chances are pretty good that either molds or fungi or both are growing behind the walls and will have to be removed.
Mold and mildew that covers more than a very small section of the wall will likely indicate a serious problem and the section of wall might need to be removed and replaced by a professional.
High Humidity Locations -Bathroom/Laundry Room
Molds and fungi love bathrooms and laundry rooms. Both are warm, moist and often leak. Basements, attics, crawl spaces and air-conditioner vents are great homes for molds and fungi.
If you start to see stains on the floors, ceilings or walls, molds and fungi may be growing. Clean the area right away to keep it from spreading further. If it's in a moist area where standing water is common, a good scrubbing along with a spray of 50/50 water and bleach will remove mold and mildew almost instantly.
Damp Furniture/Drapery Fabric:
Fabric that is moist or in area of high humidity can be a breeding ground for molds and fungi.
Damp or Moist Carpet and Rugs:
Carpets and area rugs trap dirt, hold moisture and can become wet or saturated in the case of plumbing leaks or a cracked foundation. Dust and dirt will settle in the fibers and give off a bad odor if not cleaned occasionally.
Removing Musty Odors from Hard Surfaces:
- Vinegar kills molds, mildews and fungi. Use full strength if you should see areas of any of the above.
- Lemon juice and water the acidity in a lemon and water solution will wipe out musty odors quickly.
- Soap and water will help to remove the any remnants of the offending mold or fungi that might still be present. Dry after cleaning so that you don’t leave moisture for new growth.
- Baking soda removes odors. After using either vinegar or lemon juice and water, and then the soap and water, baking soda can be spread over a musty area to get out any residual smells.
- A dry vapor steam cleaner will kill most molds.
Deodorizing and Cleaning Mildewy Carpets:
Look under the carpet to see if the carpet pad is mildewed. If it is, remove that part of the pad and replace.
Clean with Vinegar:
Clean the moldy part of the carpet with a solution of one cup of white vinegar to half a cup of warm water. Then scrub the mildewed area to remove mold. Turn a fan on the wet spot to dry it quickly.
Sprinkle with Borax:
Spread borax on the entire dry carpet. Borax will treat mold, mildew and fungi and keep it from reappearing. Let the borax sit for half an hour or so and then vacuum it up completely.
Vacuum upholstered furniture or drapes thoroughly with a vacuum. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove mold spores from the circulating air.
Steam clean or dry clean the item, dry with a clean towel to remove additional traces of moisture. Move the piece to an area with good air circulation to dry completely.
Preventing Musty Smells From Returning:
Once the musty odors are gone, it’s best to try to prevent molds and mildews from regrowing.
A dehumidifier or air conditioner will keep the air in your home drier which will help prevent new growth of molds and fungi. It will also help to remove musty odors by replacing old air with new, fresh air. Follow manufacturers recommendations on cleaning your dehumidifier and air conditioner filters to reduce mold, mildew, and odors from being recycled back into the air.
Increase Air Circulation
Increased air circulation reduces overall moisture in affected areas. A fan or cracked window will help to keep the air fresh.
All molds and mildew prefer low light conditions. Turning the lights up helps to retard their growth.
Image courtesy of mike77800, CC BY.