Most of us have experienced the odor of mold: musty, stale, or earthy; it is a most unpleasant scent. It may take some effort, but getting rid of the mold smell around the house is relatively straightforward. Identify the source, remove the offending fungus and prevent future problems with these simple steps using standard pantry products.
Molds refer to all species of microscopic fungi, which grow as multicellular filaments called hyphae. Mold can grow on a wide variety of organic materials, including clothing, leather, paper, and the ceilings, walls, and floors of houses with moisture-management problems.
Getting rid of mold or mildew smells doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Understanding the cause and fixing it promptly is key to keeping mold at bay, as well as the unpleasant smell associated with damp surfaces and furnishings. Early detection and quick action can prevent expensive damage.
The main culprit that causes moldy, mildewy odors is water. Condensation on cold windows, high indoor humidity, wet surfaces, and lack of proper ventilation contribute to the likelihood that you will be dealing with mold or mildew smells at some point.
Usually occurring in warm moist conditions, these fungi can easily become a problem unless you take quick action to clean it up and stop it in their tracks.
What does mold smell like?
When mold is present in your home, you will notice an unpleasant damp smell. It can be earthy or tangy, smell like rotten meat, wet socks, or just plain sour.
You may also notice a fusty, moist, musty odor. If you smell any of these noxious scents, work quickly to find the source. This will enable you to know what to do to get rid of it and restore the welcoming aroma of home.
What’s Causing the Mold Smell?
Indoor moisture is the number cause of mold and mildew. High indoor humidity, uncontrolled condensation, and plumbing leaks contribute to the growth of unwanted fungus.
To grow, mold needs a food source (such as drywall or wood, paper, and fabric), moisture, warmth, and darkness. When conditions are right, it can quickly turn into a significant problem.
Is Mold Smell Harmful?
Inhaling mildew spores can cause coughing, headaches, or breathing problems.
However, mold is much more dangerous and can result in long-term damage to your health, respiratory and heart damage, joint pain, migraines, and even fatigue and depression.
When mold is present, allergies are more severe, including congestion, sneezing, and irritation of the skin, nose, and throat.
Can I Use Air Fresheners?
One might think spray or solid air fresheners would be beneficial to combat the nasty smell of mold and mildew, but it’s essential to find the odor’s origin and remove it entirely before considering a quick fix like room fresheners and deodorizer.
One exception would be if your carpet has a slight musty smell; you can use powdered carpet freshener or baking soda to help neutralize the odor and sweeten the room. Sprinkle generously and leave on for at least an hour before vacuuming thoroughly.
The Difference between Mildew and Mold
Mold removal can be serious business, so before you begin, it’s important to know if you are dealing with mildew or mold. Both thrive in warm, damp areas of your home.
Mildew is typically white, gray, or yellow, grows on the surface of warm, wet areas of your home, like bathrooms, kitchens, and basements, and has a powdery, almost fluffy appearance.
Mildew frequently occurs on fabric, paper, leather items, floors, walls, or ceilings in humid places like the bathrooms or laundry and utility areas. Mildew can also grow on potatoes or grapes that are not correctly stored.
Mold tends to be green or black, grows underneath the surface of anything that has gotten wet, especially carpets or behind drywall, and looks slimy or fuzzy. Most often found on food such as bread, cheese, or meat that are beyond their fresh date, mold is prevalent in sheds, garages, and crawl spaces. Boats and vehicles are susceptible to mold as well.
A good deep cleaning is usually all that’s needed to get rid of mildew stains and odor. Apple cider vinegar is arguably better than bleach due to its antibacterial acidic nature. Fill a spray bottle and saturate the area, let sit for a half-hour, wipe and rinse well. Dry all surfaces well to prevent future occurrences.
Proper Preparation to Remove Mold Smells
Removing mold can be a bit trickier. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends seeking professional remediation if your mold problem extends more than 10 square feet (or an area of about 3 feet by 3 feet).
You will need:
1 a good face mask, such as the N-95
2 rubber gloves
3 goggles or safety glasses
4 Make sure you have proper ventilation.
If the mold is dry, avoid using the vacuum cleaner as it may inadvertently blow mold spores around the room, increasing the problem. Remove with a stiff brush and use a dustpan to collect the debris.
The Best DIY Mold Removal
- Hydrogen Peroxide and Baking Soda: Hydrogen peroxide kills viruses, fungus, and bacteria and does a great job killing mold. Baking soda works on some types of mold that vinegar doesn’t.
Mix ½ cup of baking soda and ¼ cup of peroxide in a sealable container to clean tile and grout to get rid of mold and mildew easily. Use an old toothbrush to get in the crevices.
- Hot Water: Mold is sensitive to heat and can be killed by temperatures from 140-160 degrees. Musty, mildewy towels can benefit from a hot water wash cycle, high heat in the dryer, or clothesline drying to freshen them.
- Vinegar and Baking Soda: Small areas of mold, such as grout or bathroom tiles, can be cleaned up by spraying full-strength vinegar directly on the area, allowing it to work for about an hour. Rinse with warm water and allow to dry.
Should it need a little more help, use baking soda to finish up.
In a spray bottle, add 2 cups of water to 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and shake well to mix. Spray on the remaining mold and scrub well. Rinse and allow to dry.
Once it’s dry, spray with vinegar one more time and let dry naturally. This will prevent a recurrence.
- Bleach: Chlorine bleach can be used on non-porous surfaces, like tile and sinks. It doesn’t work for porous materials like wood and drywall.
- Essential Oils: An all-natural remedy for mold prevention is essential oils. Cinnamon, clove, lemon or eucalyptus, or a combination, work best.
These oils are not effective mold removers, but they naturally prevent mold from forming and leave a fresh, inviting scent.
- Borax Powder: Eco-friendly borax has many uses around the house, including sweetening laundry and removing mold. It can be mixed with warm water and applied with a sponge or cloth.
You can mix vinegar with borax for even better cleaning power. Make sure to use warm water so the borax will quickly dissolve.
- Commercial Mold-killing Products: There are dozens of commercial mold-killing products available both in-store and online. Most of these are bleach-based and come in a variety of solutions for different applications.
The other option is Concrobium, a mixture of three different salts, Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Bicarbonate, and Trisodium Phosphate. This patented formula kills mold and prevents regrowth.
How to Remove Mold Smells Around the House
Clothing that has gotten wet and not dried promptly will often have a damp, icky odor. Think wet towels or a load of laundry forgotten in the washing machine.
1 Rewash using the hottest water possible.
2 For white clothes, chlorine bleach works best.
3 For darker colors, add one cup of vinegar or 1 cup of baking soda to wash water.
4 If the odor is particularly bad, you can add ½ cup pine-scented cleaner.
The pine smell and any other offending traces will be gone after a cycle in the dryer.
Removing Mold/Mildew from the Washing Machine
Sometimes the mildewy smell is coming from your washing machine itself.
1 Always leave the lid open when not in use so that the drum can dry naturally.
2 For top-loading machines, pour ½ cup of baking soda and 2 cups of vinegar in an empty washer.
3 Run a cycle using hot water.
4 For front-loading washers, wipe the gasket around the door with warm soapy water.
Other Helpful Tips: Ensure you are using the proper detergent. High-efficiency appliances must have detergent designed for them. Regular formulas can produce an excess of suds, leading to residue being left behind.
Removing Mold Smell in Kitchens/Baths
Kitchens and Baths are common water sources, humidity, and condensation, the culprits that cause mold and mildew.
1 Run exhaust fans when cleaning or dishwashing, or open a window if the weather permits.
2 Straight vinegar works best on hard surfaces, sinks, and countertops.
3 One cup of bleach in a gallon of water will work great on porous areas such as grout. Apply the mixture and don’t rinse.
Removing Mold Smell from Books & Documents
Rescue books and important documents that have gotten stinky by using a plastic bin with a lid and one cup of baking soda.
1 Open the book, or lay the papers flat in the bottom of the box.
2 Put a dish containing one cup of plain baking soda in the bin.
3 Close the lid and leave it for two or three days, or until the smell is gone.
When to Hire a Pro
Clothing that cannot safely be machine washed in hot water or delicate fabrics may require a trip to the dry cleaner. If you aren’t sure, you won’t want to risk damaging expensive items.
Washing Machines that resist your efforts may have a clogged drain or filter or even mold behind the drum. Unless you are very handy with appliance repairs, it is best to call a licensed repairer.
Carpet that has remained wet for more than 24 hours will probably need to be removed. If your home floods or washer overflows, promptly drying out the area can save you thousands of dollars. Large exhaust fans, along with ventilation, can sometimes dry out the carpeting as long as it’s not a large spot or allowed to soak into the padding.
Kitchen and Bath cabinets may also need professional help. Unless the area is minimal, black mold is best handled by remediation.
Books and Paintings with sentimental or monetary value should be left to a reputable restoration company.
In short, mold can be hazardous and expensive to remove. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Promptly clean up spills, especially on rugs or wood floors. Hang bath towels so they can completely dry between showers.
Plumbing leaks should be fixed as soon as possible. Dehumidifiers, ceiling fans, and odor absorbers can help prevent mold growth. Being proactive around the home will ensure that everyone is breathing fresh, clean air.