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Musty smell in basement and throughout entire house

Q. Help! My boyfriend's house is very smelly! We think it's from the basement. He has an open basement that does not have a door. Consequently, the musty smell of the basement comes all over the house, and everything -- clothes, furniture, etc., -- smell musty ... even outside of the home. What can we do?

KAY V. [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
home owner - Blue Grass, Iowa

A. Lysol.

Simon D. [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Roseville, Minnesota

A. Close up the basement , you must dry it out, remove all water, fix leaks, etc. Get a dehumidifier and run it on high. Put a box fan down there and run it 24 hours a day. Get a box of powdered bleach and spread it on the concrete floor for a couple days, then sweep it up. If it still smells spread another box, etc.; keep at it.

Ken [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin


!! Your problem is a serious one. Getting that nasty mold smell out is all but impossible because the mold, over time, has gotten INSIDE your walls and between the upstairs floor and basement ceiling. Here is how to KILL the mold:

FIRST: get some kerosene (or citronella-mosquito oil will work fine too) and pour small amounts (maybe 1/2 cup) on the floor (2-3 inches from a corner) in each room that has a carpet. If no carpet, pour on a pillow, cushion, or any textile-type product.


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SECOND: Open 3 to 5 windows randomly around the house, but not two in the same room. If you have those high-vent type windows in the basement, open two that are farthest from one another.

THIRD: Get one of those butane lighters with the long nose like you would use to light a charcoal grill. Set fire to each of the locations that you poured the kerosene, then IMMEDIATELY leave the house.

FOURTH: Wait for the mold to be killed. The process will take as little as 10 minutes for a mobile home, or as much as 2 hours for an older masonry structure.

VERY IMPORTANT: Do NOT call the fire department or use your own hose, even to put out the embers. The water will cause a new infestation of mold.

Dave W. [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Bowling Green, Kentucky

thumbs up signYour problem may be a serious one, too, Dave :-)

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

thumbs up signI was looking for answers regarding the odor in my home and have been crying all morning. I read your response Dave and I was laughing so hard I was embarrassed cause all of my windows are open (due to the odor). It didn't solve anything but sure put a smile on my face because I would really love to do it!

Jamie Gustafson
- Centerville, Massachusetts, USA
June 26, 2011

A. Well, I wouldn't go and set your house on fire like the previous post. Instead, get some professional help. Hire an environmental inspector to come in and show you what needs to be done. Often they can even tell you where the water intrusion is coming from. This should only cost you a few hundred dollars ... better than spending a few thousand to rebuild you home after it burns to the ground.

Heather Peters
- Toronto, Ontario, Canada
May 13, 2008

A. My house smells musty too. A couple of things have been suggested:

1. Hard wood floors as they age can become musty. Try a wood conditioner on them, perhaps linseed oil [affil links].
2. Area rugs that are wool can smell musty. Try baking soda [on eBay or Amazon] or the commercially prepared carpet freshener powders.
3. Place bowls of vinegar [in bulk on eBay or Amazon] around the house to absorb odors.
4. I understand charcoal placed around can absorb odors too.

I have to say, what's up with people whose first answer is to call in some high-dollar service. On the "This Old House" web page they said have a mold specialist inspect your home. Please, I can see the bill already. At least let us try some home remedies first. Most of us don't have $$$ coming out of our ears. If I had limitless financial resources I wouldn't be on the web looking for suggestions, I'd just call the "professionals" and pay whatever they asked. CLM

Catherine Montsinger
- Charlotte, North Carolina
April 14, 2009

Q. I have been renting a house (50 years old) for the several months and I can't get that old, musty smell out! Any home remedies? The smell is worst early mornings or when no one has been home for several hours. Sometimes it smells like musty trash...yuck! My landlord has ruled out mold or mildew as there is no moisture under the house. I do have hardwood floors and an attic. The house has copper piping also. HELP!

Clista Adams
- Nashville, Tennessee
July 30, 2009

A. I had a chest of drawers that had a musty smell from the basement. Just spray Febreze [affil links] on it. Doesn't smell any more. Also spray it on stuffing batting. No musty smell.

Lucy Jenkins
- St Louis, Missouri
August 15, 2009

Q. First off I love that fire comment! Let's not panic and burn the house down! I am having the same musty odor problem and have tried the charcoal ( without fire ) trick with minimal if any success. I am going to try the white vinegar in cups in different locations. I doubt that will help but at this point will give it a try.

My problem is a portion of the house which was once an enclosed porch and now part of the living room with a 4 ft. deep footing so it is well attached to the house.However there is no basement under that section of the house and is inaccessible. So my only alternative is to rip up the floor and pour concrete from inside the house, which will be both labor intensive and expensive so consequently I am trying any and all alternatives. with that I wish everyone out there with this same problem good luck! And if anyone has a more effective solution PLEASE feel free to comment

Joe Mann
- Minneapolis, Minnesota
September 1, 2009

A. Guy with the room add-on, try Lime in crawl space!

Julie Onka
August 23, 2011

Q. Great answers...but what do you do, when you rent a home that ALREADY has had the NEW CARPET and NEW PAINT installed?

How do you get the mildew/musty smell out of a ready-to-move-into room?

Stephanie Shaul
- Omaha, Nebraska
September 18, 2009

November 23, 2010

Bad Air Sponge

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Q. I just moved into a house two months ago. The landlord told us there was a water leak in the foundation but it had been fixed. The basement use to be used as living space as well, but not any longer. He gutted it and it is one large room now. When we moved in I noticed a mildew smell and thought it was because no one was living in it. Well we are running two dehumidifiers, one upstairs and one in the basement. Nothing has changed since we moved in, it still smells. There are no leaks anywhere, nor is there water coming in the house. I don't really notice when we are in the house, but when I leave I notice our clothes smell like musty like mildew. Am so lost about what to do, I have a 5 month old baby and not sure if it is bad for us, or it just smells bad?

Tara Sowell
- St. Joseph, Missouri

A. You should try Room Shocker. It will get the musty smell right out! It is also environmentally friendly!

JJ Henry
- Fontana, CA, USA
September 22, 2011

Q. My water heater is in the house in an enclosed closet. It leaked for a week while we were gone until it was empty. Probably should have replaced the floor but the new 40 gallon heater is back in there.The mold smell is awful. I've tried Damp Rid, odor eliminator, sprayed bleach, have run the fan and air conditioner for days on end. I've left the door open and done all this with the door closed. We have a month old baby coming to visit. If anybody has any current fixes I'd love to hear about them.

Dee Miller
personal - San Jose California
November 4, 2011

Q. My son moved into a rental basement suite because of school. After 3 months of living there he has become extremely ill (extreme headaches, dizziness, nausea, couldn't concentrate or study, even coughing up blood). The list goes on and on. He even said he feels "like he's dying". He finally got out of there, and came back home, went to the doctor, and after just 5 days, his symptoms started disappearing, so we knew what it was. The mold smell in the basement! He is not going back and gave notice. I want to sue the landlord for this. Its unbelievable that he can rent to university students knowing full well that this was a huge problem in his suite. And the problem is now EVERYTHING HE OWNS SMELLS LIKE MOLD. All his clothes, bedding, furniture, even his school books and paper. Its unbelievable. I don't know how to get the mold smell out of absolutely everything he owns. Can't air things out outside because its winter and raining. I'm trying to wash loads of clothes over and over, but the smell just doesn't go away. My husband's freaking out and doesn't want anything brought back into our house because it will multiply here. What can I do?

Donna G
- Washington
December 18, 2011

A. Haha.. I love the comment from Dave W. !!! Something tells me that doing this would create several more problems. In my experience, musty smells coming from the basement are almost always tied in with water leaks. This moisture can lead to growth of mold spore which can cause mustiness to creep up and into the home. Once you have found the leak and treated it, I recommend that you scrub the flooring, walls and ceiling with a mixture of one part white vinegar to two parts water. This will help in killing the mold spore at the source and prevent it from returning. For more specifics, I found this guide of removing mustiness from basements to be very helpful:

I wish you all the best and hope you are able to remove this stale stench without burning your house down. No matter how much Dave W. would enjoy it. =)

Jane Ferguson
- San Diego, California, USA
April 24, 2012

Q. I do not have any leaks or dampness in my basement. But every time the air conditioner kicks on, it smells dusty and musty in my whole house, especially the first floor. my home is 2 stories. Well 3, if you include the bm. I went down there and vacuumed everything I could, and wiped down the furnace itself and surrounding area. Also vacummed insde my air vents in the house. And change the furnace filter once a month. What can be still giving my house that dusty smell? Its very annoying and yucky!!!

carol wiatrak
- toledo, ohio,usa
June 17, 2012

Q. How to get musty/wet dog smell out of clothes? The washer and dryer is in The basement. The basement also smells musty and now it is smelling the same upstairs. We have a door leading to the basement but stays closed all the time. would it be wise to power wash the basement, push all water down the sub pump, open windows and use fans? Also how to get the smell out of carpet?

Jesica H [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Shelbyville, Indiana
July 14, 2012


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A. I have been facing this musty smell problem for a quite long time. Recently I tried dehumidifier (Westinghouse company, made in USA) and it works!

Tulasidas Shanbhag
- Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
August 6, 2012


Q. How do I tell my boyfriend his house smells like an old basement without hurting his feelings? Every time I go there my clothes and hair smell like mildew.

Lisa J [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
November 17, 2013

November 2013

thumbs up signHi Lisa. When this thread ventured into musty smells, we were already beyond my skill set. As we careen along to "Advice to the Lovelorn" I am w-a-y out of my depth :-)

Still, to manage your boyfriend's feelings, any woman can learn from Sylvia .

It's from Lo Those Many Years Ago, but no woman ever figured it out better :-)


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

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