How to Get Rid of Musty Smells In Your House

Musty odors in your home can be unpleasant and embarrassing. A persistent musty smell often indicates excess moisture, which can lead to mold growth and other problems if left unchecked. Fortunately, there are many effective methods for eliminating musty odors and their underlying causes. With some detective work and dedicated cleaning, you can banish stubborn musty smells from your house for good.

Locating the Source of the Odor

The first step in eliminating a musty odor is identifying its origin. While some damp areas may be obvious, musty smells can emanate from hidden sources that require some sleuthing to uncover.

Check Areas Prone to Moisture Damage

Some key areas to inspect for musty odor sources include:

  • Basement or crawlspace – Check for standing water, condensation on walls/pipes, water stains or mold growth. Damp basements are common sources of musty odors.
  • Attic – Look for roof/plumbing leaks, condensation, and mold. Insufficient ventilation can also cause musty attic smells.
  • Bathrooms – Inspect under sinks, around showers/tubs and near toilets for hidden leaks or mold.
  • Laundry room – Musty smells may originate from washing machine hoses, overflowing drains or condensation.
  • Kitchen – Check under the sink, refrigerator drip pans, pipe insulation and behind appliances.
  • HVAC system – Dust buildup, condensation or mold inside ductwork can emit musty odors.
  • Windows or walls – Look for water stains or damage indicating possible leaks creating damp conditions.

Inspect Other Household Items

Musty smells may arise from specific moldy, damp items around your home. Carefully inspect:

  • Furniture or upholstered items
  • Carpeting, rugs, curtains or other fabrics
  • Books, papers, or cardboard boxes
  • Clothing, linens, towels or shoes in closets or storage
  • Pet bedding or pet crates/carriers

Isolate any suspicious smelly items until you can clean or discard them.

DIY Methods to Eliminate Musty Odors

Once you’ve pinpointed the source(s) of the musty smell, you can begin treatments to eliminate odors:

Improve Ventilation

Increasing air circulation helps dissipate musty odors and reduce excess moisture that causes them.

  • Open windows and run fans to air out the space.
  • Run dehumidifiers or cooling units to dry the air.
  • Use vent fans while cooking, bathing or doing laundry.
  • Install bathroom fans ducted outside.
  • Add vents/fans to attics, basements or crawlspaces.
  • Leave closet/cabinet doors cracked open.

Absorb Moisture

Use moisture-absorbing products in damp problem areas:

  • Set out bowls of baking soda or activated charcoal to absorb odors.
  • Place moisture-wicking dehumidifiers or desiccants in enclosed spaces.
  • Stuff closets or drawers with newspaper to absorb excess moisture.
  • Lay down moisture trays under appliances to collect drips.

Clean Moldy Surfaces

Eliminate musty smells at their source by cleaning moldy surfaces:

  • Mix non-toxic mold killer solutions like vinegar, borax, hydrogen peroxide or baking soda.
  • Scrub off mold with a stiff brush and rinse thoroughly.
  • Disinfect with diluted bleach – test on a small area first.
  • Allow treated areas to dry fully before painting or caulking.

Deep Clean Fabrics

Rid musty odors from fabric items using these approaches:

  • Machine wash moldy clothes, linens or pet items with hot water, borax and detergent.
  • Hand wash delicates and air dry thoroughly in the sun.
  • Steam clean smelly upholstery, curtains, rugs and carpets.
  • Freshen suitcases or footwear by wiping inside with rubbing alcohol.

Purify the Air

Eliminate musty smells lingering in the air with these air cleansing methods:

  • Place bowls of white vinegar around the room to absorb odors.
  • Set out charcoal or activated charcoal air purifiers to adsorb odors.
  • Run an ozone generator for limited time periods to oxidize odors.
  • Use HEPA air filters and ionizers to capture air particulates.
  • Diffuse essential oils like lemon, peppermint or tea tree to mask odors.

Allow Plenty of Drying Time

It’s crucial to allow any damp areas plenty of time to fully dry out after cleaning to prevent musty smells from returning. Open windows, use fans, and run dehumidifiers to speed drying.

Preventing Musty Odors from Returning

While thoroughly cleaning damp areas is key, preventing excess moisture is necessary to avoid recurring musty smells long-term.

Improve Drainage

Make sure water drains away from your home’s foundation.

  • Install downspout extenders to direct roof runoff at least 5 feet from the house.
  • Re-grade soil to slope the ground away from your home if puddles form near the foundation.
  • Use subsurface French drains, sump pumps or gravel beds to disperse water in chronically soggy areas.

Insulate Against Condensation

Add insulation to prevent condensation that allows mold and musty smells to develop.

  • Insulate exterior walls, attics kneewalls, and basements.

-Wrap chilled water pipes and HVAC ductwork with insulation.

  • Seal air leaks and gaps where condensing moisture can enter.

Maintain Proper Ventilation

Ensure enclosed areas prone to humidity receive adequate fresh air circulation.

  • Vent kitchen, bathroom and laundry exhaust fans to the outside.
  • Install HVAC returns inside all closed rooms and utilize whole-house ventilation.
  • Provide ample attic ventilation via vents, turbine ventilators or fans.
  • Use crawlspace vents with moisture barriers over exposed earth.

Control Indoor Humidity

Use dehumidifiers and air conditioning to maintain a relative humidity under 50%.

  • Get a hygrometer to monitor humidity levels.
  • Run dehumidifiers in damp basements and attics.
  • Use exhaust fans when showering or cooking.
  • Avoid over-watering indoor plants.
  • Vent humidifiers to the outdoors in winter.

When to Call in a Professional

While many minor musty odor causes can be resolved with diligent DIY cleaning and moisture control, professional help may be needed in some situations:

  • Large areas of visible mold growth
  • Failed attempts at DIY mold removal
  • Musty smells returning quickly or persistently
  • Suspected underlying moisture issues or leaks
  • Mold concerns if anyone in your home has respiratory issues or mold allergies

A home inspector can check for leaks or moisture issues in walls or foundations that may require major repairs. For large mold problems, call in a mold remediation specialist to contain, treat, and safely remove contaminated materials.

Frequently Asked Questions About Eliminating Musty Odors

What is the source of musty smells in a house?

Musty odors are usually caused by excess dampness from condensation, leaks, flooding or other moisture issues. This allows mold and mildew growth which produces the characteristic musty, earthy smell.

Where should I look first to find the source of a musty odor?

Inspect dampness-prone areas like basements, crawlspaces, attics and bathrooms first. Also check for leaks near appliances, pipes, and windows. Smelly household items may also be a culprit.

How can I tell if a musty odor means I have toxic mold?

Not all musty odors indicate hazardous mold growth. But large areas of mold, black mold, mold with allergic reactions or persistent returning mold may need mold testing. Consult a pro.

Will air fresheners and deodorizers get rid of musty smells permanently?

No, air fresheners only temporarily mask odors. To get rid of musty smells long-term, you need to eliminate excess moisture and clean or remove moldy, musty-smelling items.

What’s the fastest way to remove a musty odor?

Air purification methods like ozone generators work quickly but don’t fix the root issue. Absorbents like charcoal or baking soda also help fast. But eliminating excess moisture and mold is key for long-term freshness.

Can I prevent musty odors from ever happening in my home?

Yes, by controlling humidity, improving drainage, fixing leaks promptly, increasing ventilation and avoiding excess moisture you can prevent conditions that lead to musty odors. Routine cleaning and dehumidification also help.


Musty household odors happen due to excess dampness allowing mold growth. While annoying, they can often be remedied with some diligent inspection and thorough cleaning. Controlling moisture and improving ventilation are also key to preventing musty smells from recurring long-term. But if DIY odor removal attempts fail or large areas of mold growth are present, contact a mold remediation pro for safe and effective elimination of stubborn musty smells.