34 Pro Tips on How To Get Rid Of Musty Smells In Your Home

Identify + remove musty smells with this must-have checklist.

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at home click-clacking away at your computer when all of a sudden, you catch a drift of something undeniably musty. Stale, moldy, damp: musty smells can be hard to put your finger on exactly. But when they’re there, they’re really there. Something–or some combination of things–is making your house smell deeply unsavory.

What is causing the musty smell?

Figuring out exactly what’s causing the musty smell can be challenging, though. Is it damp laundry? Does your house just need some air? No matter the cause, we’re here to help get your house back to smelling great.

Are musty smells dangerous?

Musty smells are often the result of mold or mildew. We hear you, that doesn’t sound particularly great. But oftentimes, the source of the problem is relatively contained and all you need is to open up some windows, do a deep clean, and/or give the laundry another 15 minutes in the dryer.

That being said, you definitely shouldn’t ignore it. If your mustiness is, in fact, the result of household allergens like mold and mildew, then depending on the specific type of allergen and the person being exposed, these allergens can cause irritation (think congestion, fatigue, coughing, headache, or itchy eyes). And while less common than other types of mold, black mold can be downright dangerous. (Seriously, if you suspect you have black mold, consider calling in an expert–you do not want to mess around with that stuff.) Another thing to keep in mind: mold and mildew, if left unchecked for long periods of time, can also wreak havoc on your home’s structure.

Basically, if you have a persistent, musty smell, it’s time to figure it out.

How to find the source of musty smells

Tracking down the source of musty smells is sometimes straightforward and sometimes...well, not so much. But if there’s a specific cause for your musty smell, the only way to really rid your home of it is to find that cause and deal with it.

The good news is that there are definitely some common culprits behind musty smells–and (thank goodness) some pretty rock-solid tips and tricks for tackling them and achieving a musty-free home.

First thing’s first: consider that mold and mildew LOVE dampness and thrive in areas that don’t get much ventilation. With that in mind, checking the following is a good place to start.

  1. Look under all of your sinks for leaks or water build-up that may have caused mold or mildew growth and scrub these areas with mild bleach or vinegar solutions. (And honestly, isn’t under your sink past due for a cleaning anyways?)
  2. Examine your showers for mold or mildew. If you find any, scrub (with the caveat noted above that if you’re concerned for your health, call in an expert who knows how to get the job done safely).
  3. Clean your garbage disposal and scrub your dishwasher filter. Yes, you need to clean the dishwasher.
  4. Do you have some damp laundry or sweaty gym clothes sitting in a corner somewhere? If so, that could definitely be the problem.
  5. Check for signs of water damage. If you notice any buckled or rippled flooring or wet spots, you might be looking at a plumbing issue. Call in an expert who can help you diagnose and fix the problem.
  6. It could also be Fido or Fluffy. Got pets? Their fur, dander and general pet tendencies may be leaving a musk inside your home. Swiffer Heavy Duty Pet products are a total lifesaver. Not only can the Swiffer Pet Heavy Duty Duster extend to reach those awkward places where hair might be hiding (ever thought to check your ceiling fans?), but its special fibers trap and lock in dust and pet hair. Swiffer Heavy Duty Pet Dry Sweeping Cloths are also great for quickly sweeping your floors without having to mess with a dustbin; pet hair sticks directly to the disposable cloths, which you can then remove and toss straight in the trash when you’re done.
  1. Be sure to check your pet’s bed while you’re at it. Think about how often you wash–or should wash–your bedsheets. Now, think about the fact that your pet probably spends a whole lot more time in his or her bed than you do in yours–and probably bathes way less often. If your pet’s bed isn’t washable and you suspect it stinks, it might be time for a new one.

How to get rid of musty smells in your home

Okay, so you’ve now diagnosed the underlying problem (hooray!) and have got everything in tip-top shape and mold- and mildew-free (double hooray!). Now, it’s time to deal with the lingering smell.

As a general rule of thumb, increasing ventilation, enhancing natural light (which can actually kill germs and bacteria), and decreasing humidity are your best friends in the fight against musty smells. Depending on how irritating–and/or persistent–the smell is, a full-on, deep cleaning of your home could also be on your horizon (sorry!).

Below is an easy-to-follow guide that should set you on the right path. By completing these steps, you should be well on your way to an odor-free home–and equipped with the know-how to keep it that way!

  1. First: air out your house by opening your windows and doors to let in some sunshine and some fresh air.
  2. Consider setting up a dehumidifier, which will dry out your home and discourage bacteria and germs from breeding in an otherwise humid environment.
  1. Sweep, mop, vacuum, repeat. We all know we’re supposed to be doing this regularly (like, weekly), but we get it: you’re busy, no one notices the floors anyway, etc. etc. If you’ve got a musty smell, though, it’s (well past) time to go through the whole rigmarole. Don’t stop at the carpet: vacuum everything. We’re talking rugs, curtains, and even furniture. Be sure you’re cleaning and changing your vacuum filter often, as well. When you’re done vacuuming, mop any finished floors with Swiffer WetJet, which will save you the trouble of having to haul out buckets of water and detergent.
  2. Spot treat your carpets with baking soda. Yep. Good ol’ baking soda. It’s odorless, but absorbs odors really well, which makes it the perfect deodorizer for problem spots (here’s looking at you, Fido and Fluffy). Simply sprinkle it on your carpet and let it sit an hour before vacuuming it up to help neutralize odors embedded in your carpet. Pro tip: using baking soda the same way also does wonders for carpet stains. If spray bottles are more your thing, you can also whip up a cocktail of vinegar and baking soda to spray onto your carpets to deodorize further (this works really well on curtains, fabric furniture, and pet beds, too).
  3. Steam clean your carpets or hire a service to do so if the thorough vacuuming above doesn’t do the trick. We know, it seems like a lot, but you don’t even want to know what gets trapped in that carpet.
  4. Deep clean upholstered furniture by washing all removable covers in the laundry and scrubbing any curious mystery stains with some more baking soda. If your furniture doesn’t have removable covers, you can use a soft-bristled brush to dust hair and dander off before wiping it with a damp cloth. Leather furniture can be wiped with a mixture of vinegar and water, but be careful not to oversaturate the fabric.
  5. Lightly mist any hard-to-wash fabric items with your favorite scent of Febreze Fabric Spray to eliminate unsavory odors.
  6. Wash the walls and (if you didn’t already when you were diagnosing the problem) clean the garbage disposal and scrub your dishwasher filter. For anything that could be producing a funky smell, do a sniff check and clean accordingly.
  1. Try changing the air filters in your home’s heating and cooling systems to maximize the airflow and circulation. Stagnant air can be stinky air.
  2. Invest in an air purifier, which may help to reduce odor issues by killing the bacteria and fungi in the air.
  3. Simmer vinegar or some lemon peels in water on your stove for twenty minutes or so to neutralize the surrounding air.
  4. Need some extra help with smoke or other tough-to-get-rid-of smells? Spray Febreze Air for a quick burst of freshness and to eliminate lingering odors. Or consider purchasing an essential oil diffuser, some scented candles, or fresh flowers to replace that musty smell with something positively lovely. (Plus, couldn’t we all use more flowers in our lives?)
  5. If your pet is contributing to the musty smell, after washing his or her bed and doing a deep clean of any pet-friendly areas of your home, hit any remaining trouble spots with some Febreze Fabric Pet Odor Eliminator or Febreze Air Heavy Duty Pet Odor Eliminator for additional freshness. And find a routine that works for you to keep those pet smells away for good.

How to get rid of musty smells in your basement

While the above pointers also apply to musty basements, there are a few additional things you might want to check if your basement is where you’re noticing a musty smell.

  1. Really look for leaks. This is even more important in your basement because there’s a decent chance this is where your water heater lives. Plus, basements often have exposed pipes. If you find any leaks, you’ve also found a very hospitable home for mold and/or mildew. Unless you’re an expert, if you have a leak, call a plumber.
  2. Examine your pipes for condensation. So you don’t have a leak, but your pipes look like they’re sweating a bit? Consider wrapping them with foam pipe wrap. It will insulate them and help prevent condensation.
  3. If your basement has any windows, make sure they’re well-sealed. If water is getting in when it rains or snows, you’ve got a problem.
  4. Go through the steps outlined above. Once you’ve diagnosed the root problem and fixed it, it’s time to go through the same drill you would if the musty smell were in the main part of your house.

How to get musty smells out of clothes

Your house smells oh so fresh and clean, but your shirts have you wrinkling your nose. What’s going on?

  1. Clean your washing machine. Like your dishwasher, your washing machine needs to be cleaned. This should be done once a month to help prevent mildew growth or bacteria. Wipe the washer drum with a household cleaner, toss in a couple of tablespoons of baking soda (is there anything baking soda can’t do?), and run on a hot wash cycle (run it empty, without a load of laundry).
  2. Remove the existing mustiness from your clothes. A good wash in a clean machine might very well do the trick. If not, try adding one of the following to your laundry detergent:
  • A pinch of apple cider vinegar
  • One cup of white vinegar
  • One cup of baking soda (use the hottest setting)
  1. If you’re able to air dry your clothes outside, that should also leave them smelling fantastic.
  2. Keep your clothes free of mustiness moving forward by drying your clothes thoroughly. We know, the dry cycle takes waaaayyyy too long, but it beats that musty smell following you around all day.
  3. Along the same lines, don’t leave your clothes in the washing machine long after a wash cycle has completed. You know what we’re talking about.

How to get musty smells out of towels

Towels aren’t really all that different from clothing, so the tips above will serve you well if you have musty smelling towels. With towels, though, the other absolutely critical thing is to really let them dry after each use. Otherwise, you’ve got a super damp cloth hanging out in your home–and by now, you know what that means.

How to prevent musty smells from coming back

Congratulations! You did the thing and banished that musty smell! Now that you’ve successfully rid your home of mustiness, though, you want to keep it that way. A few rules of thumb will help keep your living space smelling its freshest:

  1. Ventilate–and then ventilate some more. When possible, keep windows (and even doors) open. Fresh air is the best way to keep musty smells at bay!
  2. Open those blinds and pull back your curtains if you can’t keep your windows open. We all have those days we want to hide away, but natural light does wonders for mustiness (and your Vitamin D levels).
  3. Consider investing in a dehumidifier and/or air purifier–particularly if the musty smells just keep coming back.
  4. Maintain–or start–a regular cleaning schedule. Cleaning regularly will ensure that dust, mold, and mildew don’t build up and prevent musty smells from taking hold.
  5. Follow the steps above as preventative measures. Even if your home’s not musty yet, it never hurts to get ahead of it.

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