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How to Get Rid of Musty Smell in Basement

How to Get Rid of Musty Smell in Basement

There are numerous reasons why your basement has an unpleasant odor such as sewer line leaks, animal waste, dead mice, and many more.

However, if there is a musty odor similar to a pair of wet socks, chances are that your basement is affected by mold.

As mold grows, it releases microbial organic compounds known as mVOCs. These compounds have a very volatile musty smell akin to the scent of a wet dog.

Luckily, this problem can be easily fixed and in this article, we will walk you through how to get rid of the musty smell in basements, step by step.

But first, let’s understand why exactly does mold grow in basements?

What Causes Mold Growth In Basement?

Mold can grow virtually anywhere. It can grow on food, walls, roofs, windows, paper products, carpets, or even dust!

All it takes is an organic material (food), damp space (water), and oxygen and you will find yourself against a mold colony that can cause severe damage to both your home structure and your health.

But why does mold thrive in the basement?

Well, the short answer is because your basement is a paradise for mold and mildew growth.

It has all mold needs, plenty of organic materials to feed on, a lot of moisture, oxygen, and most importantly, it’s a safe space for mold to grow without being noticed.

How Do You Get Rid Of Musty Smell In Basement: Step By Step

If you don’t have a serious problem, you can get rid of the musty smell in your basement by laying out several bowls of vinegar and baking soda in the basement and they will absorb and neutralize the smell within 2-3 days. That said, there is usually a root cause of the musty smell, meaning the problem will continue in the future. It could also be indicative of a mold problem, which can pose health dangers. To get rid of the smell once and for all:

Step 1: Find The Root Cause

Simply neutralizing the smell or cleaning the mold might work for the short term. However, it’s not recommended as this won’t stop mold from growing, resulting in severe damage to both your home structure and your family’s health in the long term.

Therefore, we need to put some work to find the root cause and eliminate it, so it’s not repeated.
To do this, first, we need to find the moisture source in your basement that allows mold to grow.

Basements are often affected by 3 sources of moisture:

1. Rain and Groundwater

Naturally, the ground contains some moisture that can leak into your home if your basement’s walls aren’t insulated properly.

However, the problem is when it rains or snows heavily, more water will be absorbed by the ground, which will cause the soil to saturate.

Once the soil is saturated, it won’t be able to hold the moisture, resulting in both hydrostatic and lateral pressure under your home, which will eventually draw the water to your basement through the walls and concrete footing.

This is a serious problem that can cause severe damage to your home and cost you thousands of dollars if not addressed early, so if you notice water coming into your basement after heavy rain, make sure to contact a restoration expert to help you assess and fix the damage.

2. Internal sources

Every home has numerous internal sources of moisture such as:

  • Bathrooms
  • Humidifiers
  • Broken seals on your clothes dryers
  • Exposed, leaky pipes
  • Window leaks
  • Clogged rain gutters
  • French drains
  • Sewer backups

Therefore, it’s important to investigate all the pipes, seals, and windows in your basement to determine the excess moisture source(s).

3. Air Leakage

This happens because most of the basements are connected to the upper levels of the house through openings such as ductwork, which causes a stack effect.

As you probably know, hot air rises while cold air sinks, this induces a negative pressure on the basement, causing it to draw humid air through any cracks or opening in the foundation.

Further, cold air can’t hold moisture so well, which causes the air to condense on your walls and cold water pipes, resulting in even more moisture.

Step 2: Fix it

Some of the previously mentioned problems can be easily fixed while some more serious issues require restoration experts.

In this section, we will go through some of the most common sources of basement humidity and how to fix them.

Uninsulated Pipes

One of the most common sources of basement excess moisture is exposed pipes.

When those uninsulated pipes that run in the ceiling or down the walls touch the warm, moist air, the temperature around the pipes drops, which causes the air to condense on the sides of the pipes resulting in what we call pipe sweating.

Luckily, this problem can be easily fixed using a foam pipe wrap. The foam pipe wrap won’t only prevent your pipes from sweating, but it will also protect your pipes from fractures and bursts caused by cold air.

It’s important to mention that if your pipes are actively leaking, the pipe wrap won’t fix it, so you need to call a plumber. Learn about pipe insulation in the below video:

Window Leaks

Another reason why your basement has a high humidity level is a broken window seal.
To determine whether your window seal is broken or not, you can use the piece of ice trick.

Simply, all you need to do is to take a piece of ice and rub it on the inside of your window glass. This creates a temperature difference, so if the seal is bad, it will create a fog on the other side of the glass and you won’t be able to rub it off.

Check your window insulation with some tips in the following video:

Once you tested your basement windows using the ice cube technique, now here’s how you can fix it:

  • First, you need to use a putty knife to remove any old caulk around the window. Simply loosen the caulk with your knife and peel it away with your fingers.
  • Clean the window edges with a damp cloth to get rid of any loose caulk or dirt
  • Cut your caulk gun’s tip at a 45-degree angle
  • Apply the caulk by squeezing the caulking gun while dragging it backward in one long motion across the seam
  • Release the trigger once you reach a corner and make sure your caulk is around 0.2” deep
  • Wet the tip of your finger and use it to smooth the caulk by pressing and dragging it along the joint
  • Wipe all excess caulk using a damp cloth
  • Repeat till you insulate all your windows

Wall Cracks

Although wall cracks can be really hard to deal with, some small wall cracks can be easily fixed even if you aren’t handy.

In case you have a small wall crack, you can follow these steps to easily fix it:

  • First, you need to open up the crack till you reach to sound drywall on both sides of the crack
  • Use a damp piece of cloth to clean the crack and remove the dust from the area
  • To help reinforce the crack and prevent further damage, apply fiberglass mesh tape to the crack
  • Apply a thin coat of drywall joint compound till you fill the crack
  • Once the first coat is dry, scrape off any bumps you left behind
  • Apply a second coat of drywall joint compound
  • Wait till the second coat is dry and apply the third and final coat
  • Take off any ridges or pumps on the third coat
  • Use sandpaper or a special wall sanding mesh to sand the wall
  • Apply your wall paint


It’s important to mention that this only works for very small cracks, so if you have relatively big ones, it’s very important to contact a restoration company to help repair them and prevent further infrastructure damage.

Unclog Rain Gutters And Downspouts

Clogged rain gutters can also be a reason for your basement’s excess humidity, as they can wet the soil around your home’s foundation, causing the soil to saturate and forcing excess water to drain through your basement’s wall cracks.

Therefore, it’s important to clear your rain gutters and make sure to drain the water away from your foundation.

Use A Dehumidifier

Once you find the source of humidity and fix it, now it’s time to reduce the moisture level in your basement.

The reason we prefer to use a dehumidifier is that if your basement has over 55% relative humidity, mold can use this air moisture to grow.

So, using a dehumidifier to keep the humidity level between 30 and 50 percent will greatly reduce the risk of mold and mildew growth.

You can also use exhaust or window fans to help circulate the air and prevent cold air from condensing.

Further, removing moisture from the air can also discourage pests such as bugs and cockroaches by creating a dryer environment, making it harder for pests to live.

Step 3: Go On A Mold Killing Spree

First thing first, make sure to wear a mask, rubber gloves, and goggles to protect yourself from mold toxins

  • Load your gun (spray bottle) with one teaspoon of baking soda with two tablespoons of vinegar and half a teaspoon of dish soap, then add warm water. You can also use a mold-killing detergent instead.
  • Open your basement’s window(s) to help circulate the air
  • Get rid of any moldy organic materials (mold food) such as paper products and small pieces of wood
  • Thoroughly wash and dry any moldy clothing
  • Spot treat any slightly affected wood furniture. Simply clean all mold spores and leave them to dry in the sun, as UV light kills mold. It’s important to mention that sometimes mold can grow deeply in the furniture and in this case, you should trash it
  • Heavily mist any affected hard surfaces such as walls, ceilings, cabinets, and window sills
  • Use a brush to clean the affected area
  • Once you get rid of all the mold spores, gently wipe the affected area with a wet sponge
  • Let it dry

Step 4: Neutralize The Enemy

Finally, now it’s time to get rid of the musty smell in the basement.

To get rid of musty smell in your basement, all you need to do is to lay out several bowls of vinegar and baking soda in the basement and they will absorb and neutralize the smell within 2-3 days.

You can also apply some air fresheners or sprinkle some chlorinated lime over the floor to cover the smell for a few days.

Note: In case you decided to sprinkle some chlorinated lime over the floor, make sure to keep pets and kids away from it, as it can be poisonous to swallow.


Will A Dehumidifier Get Rid of Musty Smell in Basement?

A dehumidifier alone won’t get rid of the musty smell in your basement, as the main source of the odor (mold) is still not tackled.

Don’t get me wrong, dehumidifiers can reduce the speed of mold and mildew growth, and in some very rare scenarios, they can even kill mold.

However, to get rid of the musty smell in your basement, you need to:

  • Get rid of the excess humidity source
  • Kill the mold
  • And apply air fresheners to neutralize the smell

Does Basement Ventilation Help?

Yes, basement ventilation can help keep the airflow and reduce the humidity level. But as mentioned before, you have to tackle the problem at its root.