Is there a funky or musty odour in your home? Maybe you’ve smelled it a couple of times when you arrive home after work. Perhaps a family member has commented on it.
Even if the smell comes and goes, it’s not something you should ignore. That damp, funky, musty stench is often a tell-tale sign that harmful microorganisms are present in your home which, could be a health risk to you and your family. On the other hand, if you’re looking to sell your property in the future, a damp smell can also severely restrict your asking price and hamper your chances of selling your home.
Perhaps you’re thinking: “But my home is clean?!” The fact is that mould and mildew can still flourish in clean homes, because the key ingredient is moisture in the air and on surfaces. So, if you’re not quite sure where that damp smell is coming from, the good news is that this guide will help you identify where it is, how to get rid of it and how to prevent it from returning.
Do I have a damp smell problem?
Some people have mould or mildew and they’ve become so used to smelling it that they don’t notice it. That might seem difficult to believe to some people, but it’s easier than you think if the mould has built up very slowly over time. You can easily get familiar with the damp smell and ignore it.
If it’s more of a musty smell, you’ll need to identify if you have mould, so let’s talk about what mould is, where it could be hiding, and why it’s so important we get rid of it.
Do bear in mind though that if there’s more of a rotting food smell, it could be your kitchen sink drain. Check out our guide to How to get rid of kitchen sink smells in this case.
What causes a damp smell?
If your home or clothing smells musty, it’s very likely that you’ve got some mould hiding out somewhere.
Mould can grow anywhere – it doesn’t have to be in an old, cobwebby attic. It can be your clean, modern home or apartment. Essentially, there are a few essential items that mould needs for it to thrive:
- Mould spores
- A surface to grow on
- …and the special ingredient – moisture
You may have guessed that moisture is by far the biggest problem in this list. Moisture is the catalyst that sets off the mould-growing process – and it could be moisture coming from condensation on a window, humidity in the bathroom, or from leaking water.
It’s dangerous because microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs) are gasses emitted by mould. These MVOCs produce the musty odour you’re smelling, and some of them are dangerous to human health.
Some common symptoms of exposure to microbial volatile organic compounds are:
- Nasal irritation
What is mould?
Mould is a concentrated layer of fungi that can infiltrate an array of materials, including furniture, fabrics, drywall, plants, books, shoes and clothes.
How to identify mould in your home
Your top priority is to locate the source of the problem. Sometimes the source or area affected by damp smells can be obvious, like stains on walls that might indicate a broken or leaky pipe. Other times it may prove difficult to identify.
Here’s a list of areas to inspect:
1. Pipe system
3. Showers and baths;
4. Window sills
6. Gutters – During autumn and winter, your gutter can easily get clogged and this causes a terrible stink as the organic matter decays. So don’t forget to clean out your gutters regularly.
7. Areas with a high level of condensation or high humidity levels, such as your utility room, bathroom, cellar, air conditioning unit, behind furniture, and underneath rugs, to name but a few.
Inspect hidden or hard-to-reach places in your home
8. Check thoroughly in spaces that don’t get much sunlight and fresh air.
9. Look out for any unusual spots (of any colour) that may be fungi.
10. Trust your nose – really tune into your sense of smell and that should guide you.
Watch out for warning signs that specific materials are damp:
Plasterboard and drywall
If there’s a high level of humidity in your home and you see any plasterboard or drywall bloating – this is the ideal host for mould.
If there’s constant moisture in your home that isn’t drying out, natural materials like solid wood and MDF furniture will start to dampen and deform. Mould loves damp and decaying natural materials.
Upholstered furniture and fabrics
Upholstered furniture and fabrics absorb dampness in the home and can become a central source for the smell to emanate. Watch out for signs of moisture on your carpets, curtains, cushions and sheets because the damage can often be irreversible. If it’s an item with sentimental value, you may get away with having it professionally cleaned, but whatever you do, don’t leave it in its current state.
How to get rid of the damp smell
Throw away items badly affected by the damp/mould
Sadly, some of your belongings may be beyond repair:
- As noted before, upholstered furniture and fabrics can be riddled with mould.
- Moist and mouldy clothes can possibly be saved, but if they come out of the washing machine and still don’t smell right, you may have to bin them.
- Books, photos, magazines and the like are, unfortunately, difficult to save from significant mould infestation.
If mould has irreversibly damaged these items, we recommend you throw them away, eliminate the source of the mould, dry out your home and then you can relax knowing you’ve got it all under control.
How to eliminate mould and get rid of the damp smell
Items you’ll need:
- Spray bottle
- Baking soda
- White vinegar
- Household detergent
- Microfiber cloth
- Small brush or old toothbrush
- Bleach or specialist mould cleaner containing bleach
- Protective mask and adequate ventilation
Here’s a step-by-step guide to removing mould and damp smells:
- Remove and throw away all contaminated items (see above). This could mean clothes, fabrics, books, magazines, bed sheets, curtains, blankets, pillows.
- Alternatively, if the contamination is minor, put clothes and fabrics on a washing cycle with some vinegar added to your usual laundry detergent, to really get rid of any smells.
- Mix baking soda and water into a paste, put on some gloves and scrub tiles, walls and surfaces free of mould. You can also try a hydrogen peroxide and water mixture. Get more information on the effective solutions for getting rid of mould here. Give it some elbow grease until you’re happy it’s all been removed.
- If you’ve got a serious mould infestation, you may need to use a specialist mould cleaner containing strong bleach. You’ll need to wear protection over your nose, mouth and hands and make sure there are no children or pets around.
- If there’s mould on your window sills, you can use a mix of water and bleach, a small brush to tackle it.
How to prevent mould and damp
- Improve your ventilation – your rooms need a regular flow of fresh air – especially ones with high humidity like your bathroom and kitchen. This might be as simple as opening windows and doors more frequently, or fitting an extractor fan in your window.
- Clean closed, dark spaces such as airing cupboards, cabinets, drawers, and wardrobes.
- Give areas areas exposed to moisture a wipe with a mixture of bleach and water.
- When you do your regular weekly clean, be extremely thorough in the bathroom and around any sinks in your home.
- Use a dehumidifier if necessary.
How to remove a damp smell after a leak
Here are some traditional methods that work really well. Don’t use these methods to merely mask the smell if you haven’t removed its source.
- Charcoal in a jar
Get an old jam jar and fill it with pieces of charcoal. Put it next to the damp source overnight and it should help to absorb the unpleasant smell.
- Boil lemons
Use the fresh aroma of lemons to overpower musty odours in your property. Leave the pot of boiled lemons in the problematic room to cool off.
- Use cat litter
Cat litter’s main function is to absorb bad smells. It lasts for a few weeks so it’s good as a short-term solution.
How to get rid of damp smell in bathroom
Your bathroom is probably the most humid room in your house, so it needs some attending to:
- If your airing cupboard has an infestation, remove all contaminated items, including towels, flannels, etc.
- Put salvaged towels and flannels in the washing machine, adding some white vinegar to your usual laundry detergent.
- Make a baking soda paste with water and scrub the bathroom tiles, walls and surfaces. You can also try a hydrogen peroxide and water mixture. Scrub and wipe until you’re happy it’s removed.
- If you have a serious mould infestation, you may need to use a specialist mould cleaner containing strong bleach. You’ll need to wear protection over your nose, mouth and hands and make sure there are no children or pets around.
- Remove mould on your window sills with a bleach and water mixture, a small brush, and some good old elbow grease.
How to get rid of damp smell in your washing machine
If your washing machine or dishwasher smells funky, run an empty cycle on maximum heat with baking soda or white vinegar added to the detergent drawer.
Good riddance to mould and damp!
Hopefully, now you’re rid of that horrid damp smell. As we said earlier, preventing another mould infestation is really rather simple – it’s all about getting adequate ventilation. However, there are some things you really can’t prevent, such as the occasional leaking pipe or blocked drain.
If you’re a busy homeowner, landlord or tenant, we recommend getting plumbing and drainage cover for those occasional, inevitable household surprises which could turn into mould. This way we’re always here for you if you need us and you can count on an expert plumber to come and quickly fix the problem.
What causes the smell of damp?
If your home or clothing smells musty, it’s very likely that you’ve got some mould hiding out somewhere. Mould emits dangerous gasses called microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs) which produce the musty odour you’re smelling, and some of them can be dangerous to human health.
Can the smell of damp harm you?
While the smell of damp itself is a product of microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs), which can be harmful, damp leads to mould – and some types of mould can be serious. So it’s important to eliminate the source of damp and mould in your home to protect your health and your property.
How do I get rid of a damp smell after a leak?
once you’ve got to the bottom of the problem and fixed the cause, there are a few tricks you can try to help rid your home of that horrible smell.
1. Leave an old jam jar filled with pieces of charcoal next to the damp source overnight and it will absorb the unpleasant smell.
2. Boil lemons and leave the pot in the damp room to cool off.
3. Use cat litter to absorb bad smells for a few weeks.