Removing and Cleaning Up Musty Smells

Woman Letting Fresh Air In After Cleaning Musty Smells.

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.

Possible Locations and Causes of Musty Odors

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 its 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.

Water Leaks

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.

Wet Wood

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 they are 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.

Damp Walls

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 like Bathrooms and the 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 Draperies

Fabric that is moist or in an area of high humidity can be a breeding ground for molds and fungi.

Drapes may get damp from sweating windows, especially in colder months and when it goes unnoticed, that’s where the problem begins. With some patience you can clean them; it doesn’t mean you have to throw them away as a proper cleaning can make them nice again.

  1. Take the drapes down and hang them outside, under a deck is a good place or if it’s not raining, hang a line and drape the drapes over that.
  2. With a hard bristled broom or brush, brush off the drapes. If you are on a concrete pad, sweep the area so you don’t get particles on the bottom of your shoes (it’s probably a good idea to use a pair of shoes you might use for gardening).
  3. Vacuum the drapes as good as you can.
  4. If the drapes are washable, look for the manufacturer’s label. If you don’t see a tag, wash on delicate with a cup of white vinegar along with a delicate detergent.
  5. If the drapes can’t be washed, take them to the dry cleaner or if the smell is not bad after vacuuming you can spray them with a homemade deodorizer (recipe below) while they are hanging outside (and also the fresh air will do wonders, especially if it’s a nice sunny day).
  6. If you have a steam cleaner, you may also be able to use this method as well.

Deodorizing Spritzer

In a large spray bottle mix together: 1 cup water, 1 cup white vinegar, 1 tablespoon baking soda and about 20 to 30 drops essential oil. Shake good until the baking soda is completely dissolved. And shake before easy use. And don’t forget to label the bottle so you can make more as needed.

How many drops of essential oil you add will depend on the oil you use as some are stronger than others. Start with the least amount of drops, shake, let sit a few minutes, spray and smell, then add more if necessary.

Some nice essential oils to use are: lavender, lemon, tangerine, lime, bergamot, geranium, patchouli, sandalwood, lemongrass or a combination of your favorite oils.

A quick few combinations off essential oils that can be mixed with the liquids might be:

Lavender and Lemon Spray

10 drops lavender and 10 drops lemon. Adjust one drop at a time of one or the other.

Bergamot, Tangerine and Lime Spray

5 drops lime, 5 drops bergamot and 5 drops tangerine. Again, adjust one drop at a time to your liking.

Damp or Moist Area Rugs

Carpets and area rugs trap dirt, hold moisture and can become wet or saturated in the case of plumbing leaks or even rugs in front of the kitchen or bathroom sinks and not washed regularly. Dust and dirt will settle in the fibers and give off a bad odor if not cleaned occasionally. Wash with your regular detergent and add in 1 cup white vinegar and 1 cup baking soda. Wash according to label instructions.

Cleaning Mildew Carpets

If there is water damage somewhere around carpet and the water has lingered for a period of time, it can smell like wet earthy, musty smells.

  1. If possible, on your own, the area needs to be dried out as best you can.
  2. After the area has dried, vacuum really good.
  3. Clean the mildew area by putting one cup white vinegar and two cups warm water in large spray bottle. Spray the area and gently work into the carpet fibers.
  4. Spread baking soda over the vinegar mixture. Cover the area.
  5. Let sit for a few hours to overnight.
  6. Vacuum up when done. If necessary, spritz with the vinegar/water mixture to loosen any clumps of baking soda.
  7. Cover until dry.

Preventing Musty Smells from Returning

Once the musty odors are gone, it’s best to try to prevent molds and mildews from returning.

Reduce Humidity

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 remove musty odors by replacing old air with new, fresh air. Follow manufacturer’s 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.

Keep Surfaces Dry

Keep bathrooms as dry as possible. When showering always use the fan and crack a window if you have one. Use a squeegee to wipe water from shower walls. Sometimes if the fan in the bathroom isn’t working the greatest you may see condensation on walls. Be sure to clean regularly and fix the fan.

Kitchens are another place that can get condensation from cooking. Be sure to clean and wipe down walls, backsplash area, and counters.

If windows are not sealed properly, they will get condensation and water will pool in the tracks and ledges. Keep these areas clean and dry.

Inspect Your Home and Do Maintenance as Needed

Having some areas of the home inspected by yourself or a professional can go a long way in preventing water leaks. Inspect roofs, HVAC systems and plumbing.

Mold and mildew and the associated smell is bound to happen at some point, but if you take measures to keep your home fresh and do regular maintenance, it will take less time to remove musty smells.

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