Posted on: June 17, 2008 Posted by: Nicole Harding Comments: 15

Old furniture and poorly maintained homes are susceptible to a musty smell that seems like a mixture of molds and rotten eggs. This odor starts out faint, but it eventually grows until it occupies a room or even the entire house. Just like any bad household odor, it’s connected to a lack of proper cleaning and maintenance. You should devote some time to remove the musty smell before it becomes powerful enough to make the air barely breathable. It can also pave the way for respiratory diseases, so you should take action once you smell the pungent odor.

What are the Causes of a Musty Smell?

Before jumping into any solution, you must know about the problem areas that you will have to target. The musty odor is brought by a handful of causes, which combine to produce a strong stench. If you want to completely eliminate the odor, you will have to cleanse all of the problem areas, otherwise it can reappear at any given moment, even after cleaning. Here are the common causes of a musty smell:

  • Leaks – Leaks are the leading causes of home odors. The smell doesn’t really appear from the water droplets, but from the molds and fungi that grow out of the puddles formed by the leaks. When these critters grow in number, they can generate a pretty strong odor. They can even spread to other regions of your home, which strengthens the musty scent. (If this is the problem, learn how to fix drain pipe leaks)
  • Damp Wood – Wood, when left damp and uncleaned, gradually develops a strong musty scent. The culprits are molds and mildew, which thrive in organic materials. The moment moisture or a puddle of water stagnates on a piece of wood, molds and fungi will almost certainly sprout, so you have to be alert. Keep watch for the sudden appearance of stains and discolorations on your wooden items. Chances are, they are the sources of the bad odor.
  • Bathrooms – Bathrooms are among the favorite lounging areas of mold and mildew. The puddles caused by leaky faucets and showerheads are the usual havens of molds (Tips on how to get rid of a leaky faucet). When you spot yellowish stains on the floor and walls of your bathroom, expect a musty odor to follow if you do not clean them immediately.
  • Rundown Walls – Old rundown walls need to be replaced not just because of the musty smell that they produce, but because they are also signs that the foundations of your home are weakened. If you look behind the walls, you will find the lush development of fungi, which is signaled by the growth of mushrooms and white moss-like organisms. Wear a mask when cleaning those areas. Inhaling those tiny white creatures can cause respiratory ailments.
  • Extremely Hot Areas – Aside from moisture and water puddles, fungi, molds and mildew are attracted to particularly warm areas. Since these things are plants, they depend on at least a little sunshine and water for their survival. Unfortunately, sparse amounts of both provide enough nourishment for large groups of molds. Check your basement, the space above your ceiling and the vents leading to your air-conditioner.
  • Dusty Areas and Furniture – When cleaning the house, some items and areas are often overlooked such as cupboards, cabinets, furniture and storerooms. Dust, of course, will pile up. You should know that fungi, from time-to-time, is mixed with other particles to form dust and dirt.
  • Carpets and Rugs – Carpets and rugs are not easy to clean, given their “hairy” features. The strands can trap dirt and dust particles from the air or from the floor. Leave those mats uncleaned for long periods and eventually, it will develop a nasty odor.

You should devote several hours to a day for cleaning your home, if you want to completely get rid of a musty smell, given its number of causes. Never leave any corner unchecked just to be sure.

Musty Smell Removal: Helpful Products

A series of products on the market are specially formulated to mask musty odors. A good number of them can even be used to kill fungi, molds and mildew. The funny thing is, some of the items are readily found in almost every household.

  • Vinegar – The strong acidity of vinegar is potent enough to kill fungi. The smell-causing organisms won’t survive constant contact with corrosive the kitchen condiment for long periods. You can pour vinegar solution in an area filled with molds and mildew before washing. It will surely speed up the process of removing unwanted home smells.
  • Lemon Solution – Just like vinegar, lemon’s high acidity can wipe out groups of molds and fungi. Mix natural lemon juice with some water to create a potent cleaning solution. When the fungi-killing liquid is ready, apply it on the areas associated with the musty odor then rinse them with soap and water. The bad odor should be nothing but a distant memory right after.
  • Baking Soda – Spreading baking soda across a moldy area will reduce or even eliminate the musty odor. The condiment’s powdery base will absorb the scent, so using a significant amount can actually make the odor disappear, though you sill need to clean the moldy areas if you want to truly get rid of the annoying aroma.
  • Hydrochloric Acid – For musty bathrooms, hydrochloric acid, also called muriatic acid, is probably the best cleaning solution available. It is more aggressive on fungi than either vinegar or lemon juice. It can wipe out an entire community of molds upon contact. Just make sure that you use it only for the bathroom, since its corrosiveness can also damage wood.
  • Air Freshener Spray – If you want temporary relief from a musty smell, you can purchase an air freshener spray. These items have strong, yet pleasing scents that can easily cover horrid home smells. Even without musty smells, many people use the product to make their homes smell refreshing.
  • Dehumidifier – For people with modest budgets, the dehumidifier is a good device for covering and preventing musty odors from appearing. The gadget takes in must air and replace it with fresh odorless air. The dehumidifier also lowers the humidity in the room, which prevents the appearance of moisture, stopping the growth of bacteria and fungi in the process.
  • Ionizer – The ionizer is another device used to remove bad household odors. It is even more effective than the dehumidifier when it comes to removing odors. It releases ions, which stops the musty scent’s molecules, though it has no means of preventing or removing the odor permanently. A damaged machine is also known to release ozone, which is harmful to your health. Use this product at your own risk.
  • Soap and Water – Aside from repulsing bacteria and fungi, the use of soap and water for rinsing will ensure that an area is thoroughly clean. It will wash away the remains of molds, which still produces a musty scent, and repulse any remaining survivors after splashing an area with a cleaning solution. Just make sure you dry the area completely after washing. Excess water can always stagnate and promote the growth of a new set of molds and mildew.

The ideal way to use smell-removing products is to use them in conjunction with each other. You can use hydrochloric acid to cleanse your bathroom while the vinegar or lemon solution will be relegated to all the other areas of your home. By doing so, you can make sure that musty scent won’t be returning anytime soon after cleaning.

Musty Smell Removal: Cleaning Procedures

Now that you have an idea on the products that you will need to remove molds and mildew, let’s move on to the cleaning procedures. Most regions are normally taken care of by applying a cleaning solution, washing with soap and water than drying, although, some spots like carpets and hard-to-reach areas require special cleaning methods.

  • Carpets and Rugs – Carpets and rugs are pretty tedious to clean. First, use a vacuum cleaner to suck out big chunks of dirt stuck within the “hairs.” Once done, wash the furry mat with soap and water. Scrub its fibers forcefully to remove the smallest particles. Rinse the rug then let it dry beneath the sun. Fungi may thrive in warm areas but too much sunshine will burn their fragile bodies.
  • Bathrooms – In place of the vinegar or lemon solution, use hydrochloric acid to remove molds, bacteria and the stained areas in your bathroom. Be sure to wear safety gloves, since the acid can burn your skin. After applying the solution, rinse it off with soap and water. Scrub the place dry right after.
  • Professional Cleaners – For hard-to-reach areas and musty smells that simply won’t go away, you may need to enlist the help of professionals. These people have the right tools to remove fungi and clean any area of your home. They may charge fees for their services but you surely won’t trouble yourself with nasty home odors when they’re done. Remember, some of the best things in life aren’t free.

The removal of a musty smell is entirely dependent on how meticulous you are with the cleaning procedures. If you are pretty sure that you have covered every affected area, yet the odor still remains, your best option is to leave the job to the professionals. They will fumigate and clean your home, turning it to a pleasant odor-free environment.

The Lowdown

After using the right products and applying the proper cleaning procedures, you should still do some home cleaning occasionally. An unclean home, even after going through a comprehensive odor-removing procedure, will always be susceptible to odors. A sudden gust of wind or an unmonitored damp area in your home can always begin another mold and mildew infestation.

 Click here for more information on how to get rid of musty smell.

15 People reacted on this

  1. ZEOLITE, 2 lbs. per 75 sq ft. I think our house is about 1,000 sq. ft. and I ordered 5 2lb bags. Zeolite is entirely organic and inert (mineral) and absorbs mustiness, mildew spores, chemical fumes, etc. I put one under the bed, one in the bathroom, one in the kitchen, and I have 2 left–which will go in the worse areas. We live near the beach in an old cottage and the mustiness is awful. ZEOLITE really helps–it started helping the first day I placed the bags. My husband wishes we’d known about this YEARS ago in our old house. This link provides answers to common questions: You can get this in allergy stores/catalogues, natural gardening stores, etc.

  2. I find to get rid of this is to do it unconventionally. Keep a fish in each room and you’ll see wonders. Fish should be on average 3-4 inches in length, tropicals are the best.

  3. I have two cats and have tried everything. I recently found an amazing new product called Room Shocker. It not only took the urine smell out but it also helped with my husband’s allergies. It seems that it completely purifies the air and eliminates any severe bad odors right at the source. I ordered it online from a website called The best part was I didn’t have to scrub anything. Very low maintenance just leave it in a room for a few hours, come back and the smell is gone!

    This product seems to work well for all severe bad odors.

  4. I contacted Atlantic In Home Air Solutions,, in order to get rid of smells and ordors due to moisture build up in my basement, they set me up with the ezbreathe ventilation system which was a godsend, it eliminated the smells and cure the moisture after just 1 day. I wouldnt not hesitate to recommend thier services or product. But check out thier website, they have a lot of information regarding smells moistures mold etc.

  5. I bought a Lazyboy recliner at a yard sale, and it has a musty smell to it, How can I get rid of the smell, the chair is in great condition, will shampooing get rid of the smell?
    Thanks, Sue

  6. Hey I have a pub in offaly ireland I replaced roof on pub because it badly had to be done Before replacing the roof I painted the pub to give the inside a face lift Ever since I`ve had a bad smell and costumers are all blaming the paint But they now say it`s a musty smell A fungi is going on timbers in the ceilling between bar and upstairs living area as i discovered last week and on the gabel end of the house from more than likely water damage from leaks before roof was replaced and during reconstruction Please if u could tell me the best thing to do or if u have any contacted in republic that i could ring and get to make this pub a fresher area

  7. I bought an antique trunk and it smells musty and i want to keep it as furniture piece how do i wash it out? it has an old cloth outside and paper inside over wood

    what do you recommend

  8. Great article. Also thanks for the tip on zeolite, we’ll check that out, too. We also live by the beach and our downstairs really has a musty odor.

  9. Can anyone tell me how to keep the indoor humidity st 30% to 50%? This is not a tip . but looking for a solution.

  10. The ONLY product I’ve found to get rid of musty odors in rugs, carpet, clothing, old suitcases and trunks, papers, books is Zeolite mineral. The best brand I’ve found is called Odorzout. (Petsmart quit carrying it so I just order direct from the company in Ariz.) I discovered papers and documents water-damaged in an old trunk and the odor was overwhelming. I wouldn’t put old papers in the sun so I used this product by sprinkling it over the papers (after drying them out) and turning on a fan for air circulation which helps the absorption process. In 2 days the odor was completely gone. I then brushed off the zeolite granules using a clean soft-bristled paint brush. The smell does not come back and zeolite doesn’t stain; it’s completely natural, has no fragrance, just absorbs odors. I had previously used Odorzout for pet problems and in the wash for removing mothball odor. It works on everything! Even old damaged books and fabric that has that awful mildew odor. Don’t even bother with the baking soda or coffee grounds. You can use this on everything. It’s great for pet odor. It’s pricey but a little goes a long way and I will always keep a bottle of this stuff on hand. Go to their website to read more about how to remove stubborn smells. Their customer service is very helpful and it’s all made in the USA.

  11. To Winston re: keeping indoor humidity at 30-50 percent. The only way I know of is to buy a good humidifier with auto setting for shutting off then back on when it reaches the desired humidity level. I think these are rather expensive. I use cheap humidifiers and an indoor temp gauge that also displays the room’s humidity level. I have one from Oregon Scientific company and it has kept accurate readings for years. When the gauge reads 35 percent, I turn the humidifier’s output down so the room doesn’t get too damp.

  12. On arrival home from the Carribean I found my Cases contaminated by a Musty Smell I had to throw away all of our luggage and the only method I found to remove the smell from our clothes was to have everything dry cleaned (very Expensive) but effective.

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