How to Get Rid of Musty Smells in Your Basement

By:    |   Published August 23, 2017
Hand wearing rubber glove cleaning basement tile with a sponge and soap.

Does your basement have an odor that’s keeping you from going downstairs? As much as you’d like to believe “that’s just how basements smell,” it’s not true. That musty smell is a strong indicator that your basement is being invaded by moisture, leaving mold and mildew in its wake. The first step was identifying the issue – so how do you get rid of musty smells in your basement? Read on to find out!

Find & Clean the Source

The longer you wait to attack a musty basement smell, the harder it will be. Hunt through your entire basement until you locate the cause. There are plenty of places where it might be hiding – behind walls, along your tiling, or in a crawl space. Leave no box unturned and you’ll eventually find the mold or mildew, that could be growing on your floors, walls or anything stored nearby.

How you clean the mold or mildew will depend on the surface where you found it. Some cleaners are better than others – you don’t want to damage your paint or floors while cleaning the mold away. You can typically use a bleach-water combination to wipe away mold and its remnants. Finish off by rinsing the bleach away with water, and thoroughly drying the area.

Keep in mind that you’re only cleaning up the visible part of the mold. There will be more mold under the surface. Now that you know where the moisture is and the area is clean, you can assess the breach. If it’s a small crack less than 1/8”, you may be able to fix it with a small amount of waterproofing compound.

For larger leaks, holes or cracks, you’re going to need to contact a waterproofing expert. Until you fix the source of the moisture, the mold or mildew will continue to return. No amount of surface cleaning will kill the mold at its source, you need to remove the moisture it uses to grow.

I Can’t Find a Crack or Leak. Where Is the Mold Coming From?

If you can’t find an obvious source of moisture, chances are your basement has high humidity levels. Tiny amounts of mold can live in a humid environment even without a direct source of water. When you suspect a humid basement is the problem, get a dehumidifier. Make sure to keep your basement’s humidity balanced. High humidity promotes mold, but if it gets too dry, it becomes easier for viruses to thrive and spread. The ideal humidity level is between 30-50%. As an added benefit, low humidity will also discourage insects from making your basement their new home.

How to Neutralize the Musty Odor

Once the breach has been fixed and your moisture problem solved, you can work on finally getting rid of the musty smell. Take these steps to restore the air quality in your basement:

Remove Any Water-Damaged Items

Moisture spreads through your basement, and will begin to damage almost anything it touches. Likewise, mold or mildew will grow wherever it has access to moisture, which causes anything nearby to take on the musty smell you want to remove. It’s necessary to remove anything that has developed mold or mildew on it – and with the case of items like cardboard boxes, you will have to throw them away.

While you will be able to easily clean some of the items stored in your basement, others may be difficult or simply impossible. If you were storing items in cardboard boxes that suffered water damage, they will need to be thrown away to get rid of the musty smell. Upholstery, clothing, carpeting and even books will require significant steps to clean. Sometimes your only option will be to throw them out. If you’re desperate to keep them, try taking them outside during dry, warm days and letting them air out in the sun.

Clean & Disinfect the Area

Once all the affected items are removed, thoroughly clean the entire basement. Mold spores can spread, and even areas not affected by moisture or mold could become issues down the road. Take this opportunity to completely clean the area with a cleaning solution and disinfectant. Don’t use too much solution and make sure to dry the area after you’re done to avoid creating another moisture problem!

Ventilate Your Basement

When your basement has been cleaned of mold and anything affected by it, you’re ready to get rid of the musty smell for good. The best way to remove the smell is to increase air flow. If your basement has windows, open them. Use a fan or two to really push the air out, especially if you don’t have windows to create natural airflow.

Many basements suffer from poor ventilation and stagnant air that leads to moisture problems. One of our recommended solutions is the E-Z Breathe® system – a maintenance-free unit that can significantly reduce poor air quality in your whole home. It’s easier to prevent a mold-friendly environment than it is to constantly fight mold growth.

Schedule Your FREE 20-Point Inspection

Unless you’re confident that you completely fixed the source of the mold, your next step should be to schedule a professional waterproofing inspection. EverDry Toledo can help with a FREE 20-point basement inspection! We’ll help you find out if your home is at risk for water damage and which solutions will best serve you.

Contact us online to schedule an appointment or give us a call at (419) 469-5833 and schedule your inspection today!

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