House Smells Musty But No Mold? Here's What To Do Now

House Smells Musty But No Mold? Here’s What To Do Now

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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You do all you can to keep your house looking and smelling fresh. But, have you ever walked in and were met with a musty smell wafting around? Couldn’t pinpoint where the smell was coming from?

Musty smells can make a place uninhabitable, so you must find the source fast. But, not to worry, we will tell you where to look if your house smells musty but has no mold.

What Is a Musty Smell?

What Is a Musty Smell?

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If you walk in and smell lingering odors in your home, you first want to identify the sources. A musty smell gives the impression of a damp place with stagnant air, so when you open the door, all that hits you is the unpleasant smell. It is called musty because the odor is unclean and stale, and most times, it signifies the presence of mold spores.

While you may experience a musty odor more than you’d want, it is not always bad. In fact, studies show that smelling odors makes life less risky because that indicates you need to fix something in your home. Also, the CDC warns that smelling mold indicates a health risk, thus, making it imperative to remove the mold as fast as possible.

But what happens when you can’t see mold? It is possible that your house smells musty, but you can’t see mold growing anywhere. There are a few reasons this could be, including high humidity, plumbing problems, soiled carpets, and a broken HVAC system. Let’s explore these possibilities below so you can remove musty smells from your home.

Possible Sources of the Musty Odors

1. Musty Odors Due to High Humidity

Musty Odors Due to High Humidity

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Sometimes when your house smells musty, you don’t have to worry too much about where the mold growth could be happening. For example, you may not let in fresh air through the windows, doors, and other types of ventilation. As a result, the stagnant air will trap contaminants, resulting in a musty smell.

This problem occurs more in colder seasons like winter when you rarely open the windows. Unfortunately, if you identify this problem in winter, the solution will not be as easy as opening the windows and running the fans. However, some tricks like investing in a reliable air purifier and getting a few houseplants can improve the conditions until the time when you can open the windows and doors.

On the other hand, if you notice the musty odor in a warmer season, the faster solution will be opening your windows and doors during the day, so fresh air can get in. If the smell is too persistent, especially at night, get an odor reducer and tower fan to enjoy fresher air.

Finally, it is also a good idea to wash and dry fabrics like curtains and upholstery to eliminate traces of the unpleasant smell.

2. Musty Smells Due to Plumbing Problems

Damp wall due to plumbing problems

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The persistence of pollutants like mold and mildew happens due to excess moisture on surfaces. So, whenever you notice musty odors, look for leaks in the plumbing. Sometimes, these leaks happen inside walls, so it may take time before you can see the damage on your interior surfaces. But, if the house or room smells musty, it will be your cue to get a plumber to fix the pipes.

Unfortunately, the smells can be unbearable if your house also has high humidity. So, while the plumbing gets fixed, you should invest in air conditioning products like an air purifier and humidifier to improve the condition. 

If the weather conditions allow it, open the windows and doors during the day to invite fresh air that will also dry the wet walls to get rid of musty smells.

3. Musty Smells Due to a Broken HVAC System

Musty Smells Due to a Broken HVAC System

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Our houses rely on good HVAC systems to maintain healthy indoor air quality. But, when these systems malfunction, there may be increased air pollution, such as an unpleasant musty smell. So, after eliminating the above possibilities, consider getting a professional to look at your HVAC if you still smell the musty smell.

The HVAC filter and ductwork often accumulate dust and debris, thus making it difficult for the system to function as it should. In another instance, the system may trap moisture, leading to mold growth. As a result, turning on the HVAC system will distribute the musty smell throughout your house.

You will usually only need to replace the HVAC filter every few months. But, if the system has mold or mildew, your best solution is to find a professional who can repair the heat pump, furnace, and other parts of the system to restore its functionality.

4. Musty Smell Due to Soiled Carpets

Musty Smell Due To Soiled Carpets

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The possibilities above are likely to have more severe damage, requiring you to spend more money to eliminate the musty smell. But, if you are certain the smell comes from one room, it could be that your carpet was recently soiled and has been drying in the room without fresh air to speed up the process.

As a result, the moisture will attract pollutants in the room and produce an unpleasant, stale smell that makes it hard to spend quality time in the room. If your carpet is freshly soiled, you might prevent the bad smell by cleaning the area with a damp cloth and baking soda. Then, leave the carpet outside to air dry, and you will not deal with a musty smell.

On the other hand, if the carpet has spent days on the floor after being soiled, you will notice a stronger smell that calls for thorough cleaning and drying. Not sure how to clean the carpet? You will need a cleaning solvent and a good brush or carpet cleaner. Then, read our guide on how to get mold out of the carpet to get started. Once you have cleaned the carpet, leave it to air dry outdoors to eliminate all smells.

If you cannot clean the carpet from home, it is ideal to get a professional cleaner to do the work for you. The cleaner will use the best equipment, including carpet stain removers and other eco-friendly carpet cleaning products.

5. Musty Smells Coming From The Windows

Musty Smells Coming From The Windows

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Your windows are good culprits for accumulating musty odors, so remember to check them out too. This problem is persistent if you rarely open the windows. In this case, there will be no fresh air to counter condensation, especially if several people live in your house. The condensation will build up over time, thus making a good place for mold or mildew to grow. Eventually, your house will smell musty.

Luckily, this cause of a musty smell may be the easiest to fix because all you will need to do is clean the windows and open them more often to have your home smelling fresh. That said, you will need the best cleaning products, including a grout cleaner, a spray bottle, and a damp cloth, to get started.

6. Musty Smells Due To Laundry Drains

Musty Smells Due To Laundry Drains

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Does the musty smell in your home come from the laundry room? If yes, the washing machine is the main culprit, especially if it is a front loader. Washing machines are some of the most used household appliances, but they also come with hidden nooks and crannies that make great mold or mildew growth spots. When the growth builds up, an inevitable musty smell is bound to reach your olfactory senses.

Luckily, the problem is easy to fix. After every laundry session, you will only need to clean the machine by running hot or warm water. But this will rarely fix a musty smell if it already affects indoor air quality. And, there will be a high chance the musty smell starts rubbing off on your clothes every time they leave the drum. To eliminate the unpleasantry;

Step 1: Clean the soap, softener, and bleach dispensers on your washing machine.

Step 2: Add a few cups of bleach to the bleach dispenser. Then, run a wash cycle with your machine’s hottest setting and wait for the water to mix well with the bleach.

Once the drum has rotated several times, pause the cycle and leave the machine with the bleach solution inside for half an hour. After 30 minutes, finish the cycle and run a rinse cycle to remove all traces of bleach.

Step 3: If the two steps above don’t eliminate the odors, you might want to get a professional to check the machine’s drainage system, which could also cause a musty smell. In most cases, there will be a build-up of cleaning products and lint that allow mold growth, resulting in the smells.

If that is the case, a professional will remove the build-up and recommend the best cleaning processes to prevent the smells in the future.

Simple Remedies for Musty Smells in Your Home

Simple Remedies For Musty Smells In Your Home

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Now that you have eliminated the musty smells with the recommendations above, you also need to take measures to prevent the smells from occurring another time. So, here are some tips to keep your house smelling fresh all the time;

  1. Open windows daily to let in some fresh air.
  2. Increase airflow in your home, especially when you can’t open the windows. So, install ventilation fans and an air conditioner to push out stagnant air.
  3. Make a natural air freshener to mask a mild odor problem. For example, you can boil lemon peels to give your house a lemony fragrance. Place the lemon solution in all rooms to improve the house smell.
  4. Invest in a good air purifier to eliminate smells before they become unpleasant.
  5. Check your plumbing, HVAC, and other places to arrest damage that could lead to musty smells.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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