How to Get Rid of Musty Basement Smells

Musty basement smells can be annoying and difficult to eliminate. Here are some tips for getting rid of that musty odor in your basement.

Identify the Source of the Smell

The first step is to identify where the musty smell is coming from. Common culprits include:

  • Dampness or moisture – Look for water stains, leaks, condensation on windows or pipes. Dampness allows mold and mildew to grow, causing musty odors.
  • Old or damp carpeting – Carpets trap moisture and odors. If a carpet is moldy or mildewed, it will need to be removed.
  • Stagnant air flow – Basements with little ventilation have less fresh air circulation, allowing smells to linger.
  • Clutter or storage items – Stored clothes, boxes, furniture etc. can gather moisture and odors over time. Go through items and discard or clean smelly possessions.

Once you locate the source(s) of the smell, you can take targeted steps to eliminate it.

Remove Moisture and Improve Ventilation

Excess moisture is the root cause of persistent musty smells. Here’s how to address dampness issues:

  • Use a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from the air. Look for models with a built-in pump to drain water directly into a floor drain.
  • Improve ventilation by opening windows when possible, and running exhaust fans or ventilation systems. This brings in fresh air.
  • Fix any leaks such as dripping pipes, foundation cracks, etc. to stop excess water.
  • Make sure downspouts direct rainwater away from the foundation. Install extensions if needed.
  • Slope the ground so it drains away from your home’s foundation.
  • Consider sealing foundations and adding moisture barriers when renovating.

Proper moisture control and air circulation will go a long way in eliminating musty smells long-term.

Clean Mold and Mildew

If moisture issues have allowed mold growth, take steps to kill and remove it:

  • Mix 1 cup bleach per 1 gallon of water. Wash visible mold off hard surfaces with this solution (never mix bleach with ammonia).
  • Scrub moldy carpets with an enzyme cleaner formulated to destroy odor-causing bacteria. Rinse thoroughly after cleaning.
  • Discard moldy furnishings, drywall, or insulation. Mold can grow inside materials and be difficult to fully eliminate.
  • Use protective gear like gloves, goggles and a mask when cleaning large areas of mold. Spores can trigger allergic reactions when inhaled.

Repeat mold removal every few months as needed to inhibit regrowth. Ensure affected areas remain dry.

Absorb Lingering Odors

For stubborn leftover smells, try these odor absorbers:

  • Set out bowls of white vinegar around the basement. Vinegar helps absorb unpleasant odors over time.
  • Place charcoal briquettes in bowls around problem areas. Charcoal is highly absorbent and will soak up lingering odors.
  • Buy odor-eliminating bags and place them in corners or hang them from pipes and beams. Look for those made with activated charcoal.
  • Create natural deodorizers by leaving out cut lemons, baking soda or coffee grounds in open containers.
  • Increase air circulation using portable fans. Better air flow will dissipate stubborn smells.

It may take a few days for these odor absorbers to clear the air. Re-apply them periodically if smells return.

Basement Musty Smell FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about eliminating basement odors:

What is the fastest way to remove musty basement smells?

Running a dehumidifier continuously is the quickest way to dry out a damp basement and reduce musty odors. Combine this with fans for improved air circulation. Opening windows can also help dissipate smells faster when weather permits.

What kind of dehumidifier is best for basements?

Look for a dehumidifier with a built-in pump and large capacity tank that can drain directly into a floor drain. This allows for continuous operation without having to empty the tank frequently.

Should I use an air purifier for my basement?

Yes, an air purifier with a HEPA filter can help remove mildew spores and allergens from the air. This won’t eliminate odors though. Use air purifiers along with proper moisture control.

How can I tell if my basement smells are from mold?

Musty, earthy smells often come from mold growth. Look for visible mold, especially black mold, on walls, joists, insulation and other surfaces. Even hidden mold will cause a noticeable musty odor.

Should basement walls be sealed?

Sealing basement walls and foundation cracks can help prevent moisture intrusion and sewer gas smells. Use waterproof sealants, epoxies or urethane injections based on the specific type of crack or leak.


Musty basement odors occur due to excess moisture, lack of ventilation and mold growth. By identifying and fixing the source of dampness, removing mold, improving air flow and using odor absorbers, you can successfully eliminate those unpleasant basement smells. Be persistent and consistently employ moisture control and air circulation strategies to keep your basement fresh long-term. With diligence and the right techniques, you can enjoy a basement free of lingering musty odors.


Here is a summary of the key points for getting rid of musty basement smells:

  • Locate the source of dampness allowing musty odors to develop, such as leaks, condensation, damp carpeting etc.
  • Use dehumidifiers, improve ventilation, fix leaks and direct water away from foundation.
  • Clean moldy areas with bleach solution and replace moldy porous materials.
  • Absorb lingering odors by placing bowls of vinegar, charcoal briquettes or odor eliminator bags around the basement.
  • Increase air circulation with fans.
  • Seal walls and foundation cracks to prevent moisture intrusion if needed.
  • Be persistent with moisture control and air circulation strategies.

Following these odor removal tips can help create a fresh, mold-free basement devoid of mustiness.