How To Get That Musty Smell Out Of Your Basement, According To A Cleaning Expert

Stale. Damp. Old. These aren't smells any of us would be keen to detect when we're in or near any part of our homes. Unfortunately, if you do get a whiff of something that might be described as stuffy and unpleasant — or if you've caught the scent of damp socks while you're in your basement — chances are high that you're dealing with a mold or mildew infestation.

Mold is not something to be dreaded under normal circumstances; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that fungal growth is a natural part of our outdoor environment. However, mold and mildew can become problems indoors. In an exclusive interview with House Digest, Jessica Samson, a cleaning expert with The Maids, advises, "You should acknowledge that if you have a musty smell from your basement it is likely mold or mildew and these can cause serious damage to your home if left untreated." Property damage notwithstanding, the EPA also warns that mold can trigger allergies, from hay fever to asthma. Simply put, there is no upside to ignoring the presence of mold and mildew and wishing they might go away on their own. That said, here are Samson's tips for preventing and eliminating the musty scent from your basement.

Tackle mold and mildew

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says mold tends to thrive in areas that are exposed to plenty of moisture and stay damp. This is why mold growth often appears near windows or on walls after an area has been flooded. Mold and mildew may be drawn to organic material, but they can take root and grow on many types of construction material. Unfortunately, we may neither see nor smell anything until the infestation is significant.

The good news is, dealing with the issue is not always as complicated as it sounds. As a first step, Jessica Samson of The Maids says, "To eliminate this smell, try keeping your basement windows and doors open whenever possible." She also recommends the use of a dehumidifier in your house as a way of dealing with the moisture build-up when mold is discovered in an enclosed location. While dehumidifiers don't kill mold, the machine sucks the dampness out of the air — making it difficult for fungi to thrive.

Finally, Samson recommends tackling the issue head-on. If you find visible mold, clean it up using these methods.

Wrap any exposed pipes

Our bodies aren't the only ones that sweat — water pipes can sweat too, particularly when water comes in from the cold outdoors and into the warmer indoors. All that condensation makes for a more humid home and more favorable conditions for mold to thrive, thus giving off that unmistakable musty scent. And the problem is two-fold — pipes don't just have to emit moisture; they can also experience rust and corrosion, which also cause joints to weaken and allow water to get through, per Succeed with Contractors.

To prevent this, Jessica Samson tells House Digest that it is important to check your pipes and offers a DIY tip to contain condensation. "If you wrap your exposed water pipes with foam it can reduce condensation in your basement. Check for any damages and repair them to reduce the amount of exposed moisture in your basement," she says. Dry pipes will help prevent the scent in the first place and stop an existing issue from worsening.

Use lemon and vinegar

If you've done all you can to keep your basement dry, but the scent is still overbearing, sometimes you need a quick fix. In this case, Samson says it is possible to deal with the smell first with the help of a few kitchen staples. She tells House Digest, "If you are looking for just some temporary relief from the musty smell, vinegar and lemons are your best friend. They are also great cleaning products as well." 

She recommends making your own vinegar and water mix, pouring that into a spray bottle, and using the solution to spray the area. From there, Samson says you can "finish off with some fresh lemon to give it a bright and fresh scent and you should have eliminated the musty smell from your basement at least temporarily." You can reapply these gentle products as needed to keep mold at bay and freshen up your space.