House Cleaning Tips > Odor Removal > Removing Musty Smells and Odors from your Home

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How to Remove Musty Smelling Odors in Your Home

One of the most stubborn and difficult problems to get rid of in your home is a old musty smell.

Musty odors can be caused by a number of things in your home, but, generally speaking, mold and mildew are the main culprits.

The bad smell is caused by mold and mildew building up and releasing foul gasses. A combination of moisture, lack of air circulation (stagnant air) and darkness will allow mold, mildew and odor to grow.

Humid air caused by leaky faucets or showers can cause small areas of water to build up. Moisture, warmth and dark areas with little or no air circulation, (such as an attic or basement) are perfect environments leading to the growth of mold and mildew.

Molds and mildew cause that familiar "old" smell because they release a gas that gets into fabric, carpet, curtains and furniture. Once the smell has permeated the area it can be difficult (but not impossible!) to remove.

It can be very frustrating trying to pin down the source of the odor, mainly because of the numerous places mold, mildew and bacteria grow. So what you need to do is locate the source of the problem!

Find The Source Of The Moisture:

Find the source of the odor and take corrective action to remove the moisture problem first.

It is likely that you will need to call in professionals to help if you have a water leak, cracked foundation or leaky roof because if the moisture is not stopped you'll be fighting a losing battle with odor.

Once you have found the source of the problem and fixed it, you can then go to work on removing the smell that has permeated the area.

If you find that you have a part of your house that stays damp or dark after cleaning, using a dehumidifier to keep the moisture level down will help keep musty odors down too.

Getting Rid of Odors:

Simply drying out the area of the house that smells musty may not be enough to completely eradicate the smell. If any amounts of mold spores remain, they will continue to spread throughout the room and house, keeping that musty smell coming back.

The best way to remove all unpleasant smells from a house is to give every affected area a good scrubbing with a good cleaning agent such as:

  • one part boric acid
  • two parts white vinegar
  • two parts hydrogen peroxide
  • four parts water

Then scrub the walls, floors, furniture and more with it. Just be sure not to saturate the items or area since too much moisture can aggravate the situation.

Always be sure to ventilate the rooms(s) well with fans and open windows and dry any wet or moist areas thoroughly. Keep the windows open for as long as possible to help get some fresh air flow through the house.

Freshening and Deodorizing:

If you want to keep mold and mildew odors at bay, there's several ways to keep a room smelling fresh.  You've probably noticed that moss and fungus grows in shaded dark areas outside. It's the same for mold and mildew. One of the best ways to reduce odor is to open the windows and let the sun shine in!

Fresh, or circulating, air will do a lot to remove the odor, although unless the source of the problem has been removed the musty smell will continue.

Zeolite:

Zeolite is a natural mineral that absorbs odor without a perfume or masking agent. I love using it because it's non-toxic and lasts for about six months.

Put the zeolite in the problem area and it will start absorbing the musty smells right away.

In addition to lasting for six months, zeolite is also reusable! It is very simple to recharge this mineral. All you need to do is expose it to direct sunlight sunlight or put it into a two hundred and fifty degree oven for thirty minutes, then...voila! Your zeolite's odor absorbing abilities have been restored.

Activated Charcoal:

Charcoal is also at the top of my list of heavy duty odor removers. In fact, it's in many commercial odor removal products.

Charcoal usually takes about a week to remove musty smells. You cannot reuse charcoal, but it is super cheap and lasts a long time.

I recommend using activated charcoal which is pure charcoal specially prepared for absorbing impurities. You can use plain old charcoal briquettes. They don't work as well but they help.  If you decide to use charcoal briquettes, do not use the kind that are pre-soaked with charcoal lighter fluid, or you'll have a much different (perhaps worse...) stink to deal with! Charcoal is very dirty, too, so be careful to not to get it on your belongings because the stains it causes will be extremely difficult to remove.

Odor Neutralizers:

Vinegar and baking soda don't just hide bad smells. Both will neutralize (stop) bad smells from forming in it's tracks. They are environmentally friendly and safe to use. They are the first products I turn to when I need to deodorize and freshen something up.-- and not because they are less expensive, because  they works the best. Being cheap is just a bonus!

Plain White Vinegar:

Vinegar is a safe, environmentally friendly alternative to cleaners that are marketed for musty odor removal. There are no harsh or dangerous chemicals in vinegar, so it is safe to use on your clothes and around your house. Plus, it actually works!

If your clothes smell old and musty, vinegar is a wonderful solution. It is non-toxic, color-safe and doubles as an all-natural fabric softener! And for those of you out there who are thinking, "I'd rather my clothes smell musty than like vinegar...", do not fret, because the vinegar smell actually disappears along with the musty smell. You'll be left with just a fresh clean scent!

  1. Pour distilled white vinegar in the washer with your musty clothes. Pour in two cups of vinegar per load. You can use a little more or a little less, depending on how large your load of laundry is and how bad the clothes smell.
  2. Soak clothing in HOT WATER for at least thirty minutes with the vinegar. Hot water will kill mold and mildew and help to deodorizeyour clothing. While vinegar will neutralize most odors, hot water will help disinfect and remove any bacteria that is left over. 
  3. Rinse clothes in cold water.
  4. Run clothing through a quick cycle with a mild laundry detergent.
  5. Throw clothing in the dryer.
  6. Do a "sniff test"...if your clothes smell fresh and clean, you're good to go!
  7. If not, repeat steps one through five until the odor is completely removed.
If you have odor in any other area of your home, vinegar is effective as well. Make sure to wear rubber gloves!
  1. Fill a bucket with hot, soapy water.
  2. Fill a spray bottle with distilled white vinegar.
  3. Dip a stiff bristled brush into the hot, soapy water bucket and then begin scrubbing at any areas infected with mold or suspicious looking bacteria.
  4. Take the spray bottle and then spray the area with vinegar.
  5. Allow to air dry.
  6. Repeat if necessary.

Baking Soda:

Baking soda is another safe, effective way to combat musty odors.

Simply sprinkle baking soda over the problem area. This will soak up any moisture and defuse the smell. Leave on overnight and then vacuum up in the morning. It may take a couple applications to work, but trust me, it works!

Baking soda is also the home remedy of choice when it comes to getting rid of unwanted smells from your refrigerator. Just open a box of baking soda, place it in the back of your refrigerator and you will find that that odor will soon dissipate.

Image courtesy of Christian Holmér, CC BY Flickr.


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Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Mrs Clean (Corina Wilson) is not only the owner of the company, but a very busy mother of 3 children.

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Mrs Clean realized long ago, that a clean home is a necessity, not a luxury when we are struggling to find the time in our day to cover the very basic levels of work and/or family obligations. The battle seems to never end... (but that's why we're here to help!)

When Mrs Clean is not busy managing her house cleaning company or running her kids back and forth to their events, she enjoys experimenting with natural and non-toxic cleaners and learning new techniques to remove stains.

She thoroughly enjoys sharing her valuable information with the readers of her blogs and various social media sites.

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