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Why Does My House Smell Musty?

A musty smell in your home is a sign that something is not right. Mouldy and musty smells are similar in nature and both are caused by the presence of mould or mildew. Mould in your home can be damaging to your health and is caused by high humidity levels.

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What is That Musty Smell?

Musty smells can make your home feel a bit unpleasant and less welcoming for guests.  The smells can have several different causes, but the most common is the growth of mildew or mould on walls or in cupboards. 

Improving the ventilation in your home to circulate the air more can help to reduce the impact of the smell, but in order to stop the smell for good, you will need to address the cause:  mould..

Moisture in the air leading to condensation is one of the key causes of mould, and so it’s key to keep it to a minimum. Clean spillages immediately and thoroughly, and make sure your home is well ventilated by using an extractor fan when showering, taking a hot bath or cooking. Also try not to dry your clothes on radiators. For problems that pose a threat to your home, such as burst pipes and cracked ceilings, be sure to seek professional help.

Mould spreads by way of microscopic spores and these can grow almost anywhere that there is moisture, oxygen, and a food source.  Moisture is the biggest problem. When all of the other environmental elements combine with condensation, moisture from humidity, or leaking water, mould begins to grow. Incorporating fresh air into your home will help alleviate the musty odours but it won't eliminate the issue, you must find the source and stop the mould growth.

Why does my house smell musty

Is there a Difference Between Mould and Mildew?

Mould and mildew — and the chemicals produced by them — are not great for your personal health or the air quality in your home. Though often used interchangeably, there are differences. 

There are many different mould species in the world including some such as Stachybotrys Chartarum which release harmful mycotoxins into the air that can damage your health with severe allergic responses and cause neurological problems.

Mildews are closely related to moulds, but look quite different.  While moulds typically appear to be wet and dark coloured, mildews are usually a light green and look dry.Mildew grows in flat flat and remains on a material’s surface. Mildew likes to grow where moisture levels are high and can often be found on shower walls and windowsills as well as behind furniture and in dark cupboards.  Mildew grows quickly into large colonies..


Tips for Geting Rid of Musty Smells in Your Home

Cleaning mildew and mould from walls where it is growing will help to reduce musty odours, but it is a good idea to carry out a deep clean in order to maintain good hygiene.

1) Empty wardrobes and ensure each item of clothing has been throughly washed before being put back in. Also hoover and wipe down your wardrobe to remove any dust and mildew patches. 

2) Have your bedding dry cleaned to remove all traces of mildew.  In serious cases, you should also consider having your mattress professionally cleaned or replaced.

3) Have any soft furnishings and carpets professionally cleaned or hire a machine and do it yourself. 

4) After you have washed clothes and other items at home, make sure you rinse cycle your washing machine and dishwasher to remove any traces of mould and spores that might have survived the process.  

5) Deep clean your bathroom walls, ceiling and floors with a bleach cleaner to kill off any surface mould.  Ventilate the room afterwards with natural air by leaving the window open for several hours. 

6) Boil lemon peels, the acidic power of lemon acts as a natural air freshener. 

Most importantly locate the source, if mould is growing in your home no number of lemon peels or carpet cleaners will eliminate it.  


Mould fungal colonies can produce gases known as ‘volites’, that cause the musty smells you want to get rid of. 

As mould forms, grows, and spreads, it emits gasses known as microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs). So that musty odour you are smelling is not “just” mould but is a result of the chemical compounds released at different stages of the mould’s growth.  The chemicals in volites from mould and mildew can affect your wellbeing.

While volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are categorised as man-made or industrial chemicals, MVOCs are naturally occurring. They have a very low odour threshold, which means you may smell them easily and, when you do, the odour is strong.

With prolonged condensation dampness, mould spores can thrive and permeate into walls, carpets, furniture and other soft furnishings. In some cases, the actual mould growth and source of the musty smell may be hidden from view perhaps behind a wardrobe or in a cupboard.

On discovery of a mould colony being the culprit of a nasty house smell a lot of people turn to natural air fresheners or DIY air purifiers. These are often a combination of things like lemon peel and baking soda, whilst it has been proven these items can help to eliminate musty smells they really only cover up the problem temporarily. The only way to truly banish mould growth is by attacking the source and stopping the mould from growing at all. 


How Mould Affects Your Health

Moulds produce allergens (substances that can cause an allergic reaction), irritants and, sometimes, toxic substances. Inhaling or touching mould spores may cause an allergic reaction, such as sneezing, a runny nose, red eyes and skin rash. Moulds can also cause asthma attacks. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a sizeable proportion of the world’s 300 million cases of childhood asthma can be attributed to being exposed to mould and indoor dampness. Those who live in damp and mouldy homes are also at increased risk of depression as a result of the chemicals released by mould.  

Mould causes asthma

Is there a permanent solution to stop musty smells in your home?

Mould thrives in damp conditions where there is plenty of moisture to evaporate into the air and raise the humidity levels. If you want to eradicate those musty odours you must ensure your property is properly ventilated. Electric fans extract excess moisture and remove it from your home so mould cannot grow.

A whole house ventilation system will reduce and control the humidity levels within the home. Modern systems such as EnviroVent's ATMOS system draw fresh filtered air in from outdoors to replace the stale musty air.  By reducing humidity, better ventilation stops condensation and takes away the conditions that can help mould thrive.

So if you are noticing a musty smell in your home it's time to act - get in touch with a member of our team and we can arrange a free home survey.


Need help with condensation, mould or damp problems?

One of our local experts will contact you to learn more about your problems, offer free expert advice and make recommendations for a permanent solution.

During the free survey we will

  • check Assess any condensation, damp or mould problems in your property
  • check Take readings of the relative humidity levels
  • check Identify any underlying problems and make recommendations for a permanent solution

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