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How to Get Rid of Musty Smells in Your Home & Laundry

Last Updated: June 21, 2022

Learn how to identify and eliminate the source of that mystery stench in your home, and say goodbye to unpleasant smells forever with these natural cleaning and laundry tips.

Have you ever walked into your home after being away for a few hours or days, only to be bombarded by a musty, damp smell? That odoriferous air is an indication you have mold or mildew, friends.

Here’s how to find the source of the odor and eradicate it — naturally.

What causes a musty smell in a room?

Scary laundry illustration

The damp, earthy smell of mold and mildew is due to excessive humidity, especially in stagnant places like the bathroom, basement, or laundry room. When mold and mildew build up, they release foul-smelling gases, which permeate textiles like your carpet, curtains, and upholstery.

Sources of excessive humidity that cause mold and mildew include:

  • Water leaks behind walls
  • Cracked foundation that allows water to seep in
  • Leaky roof
  • Leaky air conditioner
  • Condensation buildup in the home
  • Poor home ventilation
  • Unremediated flood or water damage
  • Damp or wet fabrics, like clothes and blankets

Do mildew and mold smell the same?

Different molds and mildews may have different odors to different people, but in general, they smell wet, tangy, and earthy. Kind of like if rotting wood and dirty socks had a baby in a pile of wet swimsuits from last week’s visit to the lake.

Is mildew the same as mold?

The terms “mold” and “mildew” are often used interchangeably, but there are notable differences between the two.

Mold is ...

a fungus that contains scores of identical nuclei. It grows on and penetrates a variety of surfaces, such as that loaf of bread you didn’t finish, inside the wet drywall where the shower leaks, or in the creepy crawl space in your basement. Mold grows in raised patches, usually black or green in color.

Mildew is ...

a specific type of mold that’s primarily considered a plant disease that causes enormous damage to agricultural products. It’s often found on plants, wood, and paper. Unlike mold, mildew growth is typically flat and appears white, gray, or yellow in color, and it only grows on the surface of an object.


How do you protect yourself when cleaning mold and mildew?

Since mold and mildew can spark terrible allergy attacks if you’re sensitive that way, always wear a glove and mask when you’re cleaning them up.

How can you tell where that musty smell is from?

Orange drain with bacteria illustration

Before you can eliminate that dank smell in your house, you have to locate where it’s coming from. Is it in your teenager’s bedroom? The living room recliner? The washing machine, basement carpet, shower curtain?

Sometimes, you can trace the smell to a specific place or item. Other times, the odor seems to be part of the environment itself — especially if you live in a humid climate. As you go all Sherlock Holmes on your house looking for the offending fungus, pay special attention to areas near water sources and particularly humid places.

The best ways to get rid of musty smells

10 tips to get musty smells out of your house

Mold and mildew thrive in dark, wet conditions. The key to eliminating a musty aroma and keeping it that way is maintaining proper airflow and humidity levels.

There are several ways to do this:

1. Open windows to get rid of stale air and bring fresh air into the space.

2. Run a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from the air.

3. Keep air circulating with box and ceiling fans.

4. Decorate your home with houseplants that naturally clean the air.

5. Dust regularly and thoroughly.

6. Vacuum and mop floors to rid them of any lingering odors.

7. Deep-clean the bathtub and shower drain with a scrub brush and a natural tub and tile cleaner, then keep them clean with a daily shower spray.

8. Clean the washing machine and disinfect the dishwasher to get rid of mold and mildew.

9. Use your favorite natural air freshener.

10. Fill a spray bottle with distilled white vinegar, and spray down hard surfaces.


Should I use natural deodorizer to get rid of musty smells?

Yes! Try adding a few drops of your favorite essential oils to a bowl of baking soda, stir it up, and set it out in the open to naturally deodorize your home.

Blue laundry items illustration

4 tips to get rid of musty smells on your clothes

Have you ever picked up a towel or piece of clothing only to notice that it doesn’t smell so fresh? Those musty odors are likely due to excess moisture and storage in a stagnant area. Wash your clothing properly to keep it as fresh as your look with these tips:

1. Make sure clothing is dried completely before storing it.

2. Promptly transfer your clothes from the washer to the dryer — don’t let them sit wet overnight.

3. Rewash any smelly clothing with your favorite natural laundry detergent.

4. Remove unworn clothing from your closet to make more room for air to circulate around the pieces you love.

Blue blanket illustration

4 tips to get rid of musty smells on your furniture and textiles

Upholstered furniture with plush cushions and fine fibers tend to trap moisture, dust, and odors. Same with curtains, blankets, and pillows. Clean your couch and other favorite curling-up spots throughout the home with these quick solutions:

1. Sprinkle your furniture with baking soda, let it sit for 20 minutes, and thoroughly vacuum.

2. Maintain proper humidity levels by using a dehumidifier.

3. Keep upholstered furniture away from damp areas.

4. Use a linen spray to help refresh your furniture.


Clean Team to the rescue!

Malodorous mattress? Pungent pillows? No worries. Read up on how to clean your mattress and wash your pillows with our helpful Clean Team guides.

Browse all of Grove’s Clean Team articles here!

What do you do if the musty smell persists?

If you’ve cleaned your home, circulated in fresh air, and spot-treated the affected areas as best you can without success, you may have a bigger problem on your hands that requires professional attention.

Don’t let the problem linger for too long before calling in a mold remediation specialist or a plumber.

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