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Are There Effective Ways to Remove Musty Smells from Your Home?

Have you been noticing a musty, stale odor wafting throughout your home? Have you opened your windows to try and air the space out, sprayed deodorizers, and switched up your laundry detergent to try to make your clothing smell fresh, to no avail? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you probably have a mold problem.

Molds are naturally-occurring fungi that reproduce by releasing spores, and those spores travel through the air. The spores linger in the air until they find a damp, dark, and warm area where they can land and then multiply. The smell is often described as “musty”; a stale, damp odor that lingers throughout the air, and it’s one of the first signs of indoor mold growth. At first, the scent is usually mild and may be limited to a specific area; however, once the spores land and begin multiplying, the odor will become more pungent and can spread throughout an entire floor of your home – or your whole house! The stronger smell is due to the increased presence of mold spores in the air, as more spores will naturally generate a more potent odor.

While there is no denying that the damp, stale smell that is associated with mold is unpleasant and there’s no doubt you don’t want to smell it, if you notice a musty aroma, you should really consider that a good thing. The ability to smell displeasing odors is essential, as it alerts you to potential dangers, and exposure to mold can certainly be hazardous to your health. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you can smell a musty, stale, damp odor in your home, there’s a possibility that mold growth is the cause, and the scent could indicate that a health risk may exist.

Despite the fact that being able to notice and identify the scent of mold can be beneficial, as it alerts you to potential dangers, that doesn’t chance the fact that musty, damp scents in your home and on your clothing is less-than-pleasant and can be downright frustrating. Fortunately, there’s good news. There are ways that you can effectively eliminate those pungent scents and enjoy a fresher scent in your home and on your clothing. Find out how below.

What is Mold?

First, before we discuss ways that you can eliminate those musty odors and restore the freshness of your home and clothing, it’s important to understand what mold is.

Molds are naturally occurring fungi. They’re living organisms that are all around us, both outdoors and indoors. They release spores, which travel through the air, until they find a prime location where they can grow and thrive. In nature, molds are beneficial, as they consume dead and decaying organic matter, such as plants, wood, and even animal debris. When molds begin growing inside, however, that’s when issues can arise.

As mentioned molds are all around us; including inside your home. They travel inside via windows, doors, cracks in roofing, foundations, and any other opening in a structural element, as well as by way of your shoes, clothing, and anything else that you bring out of your house. Your four-legged family members can bring mold spores inside, too!

If the conditions are right inside your home, the spores that travel indoors will start to grow.

Is Indoor Mold Growth Dangerous?

In nature, molds are not only beneficial, it’s necessary, as they aid in the decomposition of dead and decaying organic matter. Without molds, the forest floors would be piled up to the sky with leaves, fallen trees, broken twigs, and branches, leaving little to no room for new plant growth, and thus negatively impacting animals their natural habitats. While they may be essential in nature, when molds begin growing inside, they can become extremely problematic.

Molds feed on the surfaces they grow on. As a result, they can cause serious damage. For example, mold growth on walls, roofs, and ceilings can weaken the structural integrity of the drywall and shingles, necessitating costly repairs. If the situation becomes severe enough, there’s a chance that the structure could collapse! Additionally, mold can attract unwanted pests, which can pose a whole host of problems. Wood-boring insects, mice, rats, and other pets can be attracted to mold. Not only are those critters a nuisance; they can bring diseases into your home that could be potentially damaging to your health. Furthermore, they can cause structural damage to your home.

Structural damage isn’t the only issue that indoor mold growth can cause. Mold can be harmful to your health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure to damp, mold-filled environments can lead to a variety of adverse health effects. The spores can reduce the indoor air quality of your home, and breathing in those spores can cause a variety of symptoms, such as:

  • A stuffy and/or runny nose
  • Red, itchy, watery, and irritated eyes
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • A sore, scratchy throat
  • Skin irritations
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea/ vomiting
  • Increased symptoms among those diagnosed with respiratory conditions, such as asthma and COPD
  • Lung infections

The degree to which individuals will be affected by mold exposure varies. Some individuals may not experience any symptoms, while others can develop extreme side effects. Those who are predisposed to allergies or who have been diagnosed with a chronic respiratory condition tend to be more prone to adverse reactions associated with mold exposure; however, even those who are generally very healthy and do not suffer from any health conditions can have adverse effects if they are exposed to mold. 

What Causes Indoor Mold Growth?

In order for mold to survive and thrive, it needs five key ingredients:

  • Moisture
  • Warmth (above freezing temperatures – 32 degrees F or higher)
  • Darkness (minimal ultraviolet light, as the sun’s UV rays kill most molds)
  • A food source
  • Oxygen

Since four of the above-mentioned ingredients are present in virtually every home – warmth, darkness, food sources, and oxygen – if the fifth ingredient – moisture – is present, there’s a very high likelihood that mold growth will occur.

There are several factors that can contribute to dampness in a home, which could then lead to indoor mold growth. These factors include:

  • Flooding
  • Pipe bursts
  • Roof or foundation leaks
  • Poor ventilation
  • High humidity levels
  • Condensation buildup

Some of the most common locations where mold growth can occur inside a home include the following areas:

  • Basements
  • Bathrooms
  • Attics
  • Crawl spaces
  • Garages
  • Kitchens
  • Under and/or around pipes, plumbing fixtures, such as toilets and sinks
  • Under and/or around appliances that use water or generate moisture, like refrigerators, dishwashers, hot water heaters, and washing machines

As it’s easy to see, it isn’t difficult for indoor mold growth to occur. It doesn’t matter how meticulous you keep your home, there is certainly a chance that you could experience mold growth at some point.

What Surfaces Does Mold Grow On?

Molds grow on their food sources, and generally speak, their food can include any type of organic material; however, it can even grow on inorganic materials, as the fungi can consume dust, dirt, and debris that collects on top of those surfaces. With that said, examples of some of the surfaces that mold can grow on inside your home include:

  • Walls
  • Ceilings
  • Carpeting and rugs
  • Wood floors
  • Wood furniture
  • Linens and fabric furnishings, such as draperies, couches, mattresses, bedding, etc.
  • Underneath wallpaper
  • Insulation
  • Mirrors
  • Grout
  • Cabinetry
  • Light fixtures

Essentially, mold can grow on pretty much any surface in your home, including those items that are made of organic materials, as well as those that are made of inorganic materials (due to the dust, dirt, and debris that collect on top of them).

What are the Signs of Indoor Mold Growth?

There’s no doubt that you don’t want to contend with mold growth in your home. However, given how easy it is for molds to thrive, you may have to contend with the fungi at one time or another. Given the potential structural damage and adverse health effects that exposure to mold can cause, being proactive is extremely important. Stay aware and pay attention to the signs that mold is growing in your home. How can you tell if mold is growing inside your house? Here are a few telltale signs that indicate you have a problem on your hands:

  • A musty, stale odor
  • Dampness
  • Visible fuzzy patches of green, brown, white, black, or even pinkish/purplish growing on various surfaces
  • Curling wallpaper
  • “Bubbling” carpeting
  • Increased allergic reactions
  • Itchy, irritated skin
  • Red, watery, scratchy, itchy eyes
  • The development of new or the worsening of existing respiratory conditions, such as coughing and wheezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • General feeling of malaise

If you notice any of the above-mentioned signs or symptoms, there’s a good chance that there is mold growing inside your home.

How Can You Remove Musty Odors from Your Home?

It’s important to note that while all of the aforementioned signs indicate a mold problem, usually the very first indication of indoor mold growth is the presence of a musty, damp, stale odor. As soon as you notice that scent, you’re going to want to get to work eradicating the issue. If you ignore the problem, it will only progress, and the situation is guaranteed to become worse.

If you notice a musty odor in your house, you’re probably wondering how to get rid of it. Opening the windows, air purifiers, and air fresheners may provide some relief; however, these are quick fixes and they won’t actually remedy the problem. They’re kind of like slapping a band aid on an injury that requires stitches. So, how do you effectively eradicate that stale, damp, musty odor? Here are some tips:

  • Locate the source of the smell. First things first; you need to find the source of the problem. As soon as you notice that scent, do some detective work to locate where the mold is growing. Let your nose be your guide and begin by looking in locations where the odor is the most pungent. Bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms, attics, basements, garages, and laundry rooms are just some of the locations where mold growth commonly occurs indoors, as these are areas where moisture and high humidity levels tend to be present.
  • Correct any moisture problems. Once you spot the source of the mold growth, you need to correct the moisture issue. As discussed, moisture is one of the essential ingredients that mold needs to thrive. Without it, mold will not exist. Therefore, you need to eliminate the source of moisture that is contributing to the mold growth, otherwise, no matter what efforts you make to eradicate the musty smell, the mold – and thus, the odor – will continue returning. For example, if a leaking pipe is the source of moisture, you need to have the pipe fixed, or if water is pooling in your attic because of a hole in your roof, the hole will have to be corrected.
  • Clean the affected area. Once the moisture source is corrected, you’re then going to want to thoroughly clean the area where the mold growth occurred. If the area won’t be damaged by it – tiles or grout, for example – fill a spray bottle with equal parts water and bleach, spray the mixture, allow it to sit for a while, and then scrub the mold off. If the surface will be damaged by bleach, use a mixture of equal parts distilled white vinegar and water instead.
  • Air out the space. Once you’ve cleansed the area and removed the mold, make sure you open up as many windows as you possibly can to thoroughly air out the space. You might want to consider setting up fans so that they point out of the windows, as fans will help to direct the unwanted odor toward the windows and out of your home.

Schedule a Professional Mold Inspection

While the above-mentioned tips can be an effective way to remedy the musty odors that are caused by indoor mold growth, there’s something else you’re going to want to do: hire a professional mold inspector. You see, even if it seems as if you have eradicated surface molds that you can visibly see, you never know what’s lurking under surfaces. A professional will conduct a thorough assessment of your house to determine if there is any hidden fungi growth. They’ll also use the most state-of-the-art tools and equipment to test the indoor air quality and to find out if mold spores are floating through your indoor air. Based on the information the professional provides, you can then either attempt to remove the mold yourself, or better yet, you can hire a professional mold remediation company.

Contact Mold Inspection and Testing

For the most comprehensive, affordable, reliable, and effective mold testing, get in touch with the pros at Mold Inspection and Testing. The trained, licensed, certified, and insured professionals at MI&T will conduct the most comprehensive inspection of your property to ensure that your air is free to breathe and that the structural integrity of your home will be protected.