Skip to main content

How to eliminate that musty ‘basement’ smell

Do you avoid your basement because of its unpleasant odors? Whether it’s finished or not, basements are typically cool, damp, and have little airflow going, all factors which contribute to its musty smell. Unfortunately, it takes more than general cleaning products and air fresheners to rid the space of mustiness for good. Take a look at some of these tried and true methods to keep your basement smelling light, airy, and fresh.

finished basement seating area with white walls and carpet

Find the culprit of the musty smell

If you’re smelling that familiar musty stench, the culprit is often mold or mildew. Since basements tend to be damp and have little airflow, they are common hot spots for mold and mildew growth. The first step in preventing further growth by sealing any leaky spots and inefficient drains.

Related Videos

Leaking windows and doors

Check your basement’s exterior doors and windows for signs of moisture. Since leaks on the first floor can often drain into the basement, check the windows and doors on the main floor as well. If you find moisture around these entry points from rain or condensation, re-seal the area or call a professional to repair it.

Leaking pipes

Whether pipes are visible in your basement or not, you need to check them regularly for leaks. Examine any water and sewage pipes for signs of leaks and repair any cracks or poor seals. If plumber’s tape or epoxy putty can’t repair the leak, it’s time to call a professional.

Dried-up drains

Floor drains direct water out of the home to keep the floors dry and prevent them from flooding. The stagnant water in this drain also traps bad odors emanating from the sewage system below. However, these drains can dry up from infrequent use, releasing stench into the air. If you notice smells arising near these drains, just pour a few cups of water into the drain to block the gases from escaping.

Clean up the basement

Once you’ve found the source of the odor and made any necessary repairs, it’s time to clean up any dank water, mold, or mildew.  If the smell is particularly offensive or the growth is expansive, you may need to call an expert for professional mold and mildew removal.

Get rid of mold and mildew

Products like bleach, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and even tea tree oil are some of the best at removing pesky fungus. Whether you decide to go the natural or chemical removal route, tackle your mold and mildew before it spreads and causes more issues.

Wash and mop all surfaces with bleach

Now it’s time to deep clean. Start by wiping down all surfaces with a bleach solution. Move all of your furniture and storage out of the way so you can sweep and mop underneath them.

Steam clean carpets and fabric furniture

Carpets and fabric in your basement absorb moisture from leaks or flooding and hold on to that musty smell for ages, so it’s crucial to tackle these areas as well. Steam clean your basement’s carpets and furniture upholstery to rid them of that stale stench once and for all.

finished basement with gray furniture and white walls

Deodorize the basement

Ridding your basement of the source of foul odors won’t always get rid of the smell entirely. The room also needs lots of ventilation to banish the smell once and for all. Speed up the deodorizing process by placing containers around your basement that are filled with odor-absorbing materials like kitty litter, baking soda, vinegar, or even an industrial-strength moisture and odor absorber like DampRid.

Reduce the humidity in the space

To prevent the musty smell from eventually returning, reduce the moisture in the space regularly. Run a dehumidifier in the space every few days to keep the humidity in your basement below 55 percent, above which is a prime condition for mold growth. You can also run oscillating fans to increase airflow.

With a little regular maintenance, you can have a welcoming and fresh-smelling basement that’s a perfectly pleasant space to hang out in.  With the steps we’ve reviewed, you can find the source of the mustiness, reduce moisture, and banish odors once and for all.

Editors' Recommendations

DIY 101: Repair concrete gaps and instantly enhance your home’s curb appeal
How to fill large gaps in concrete so your home's exterior isn't an eyesore
how to repair wide cracks in concrete shutterstock 505982602

Cold weather and ice aren't just uncomfortable for us physically. They can also cause a lot of damage around your property. While you can winterize your flower beds, your lawn, and even your house in order to prevent winter damage, there's a lot less you can do about cold weather damaging your concrete. While concrete is tough, cracks inevitably happen, and they make for unsightly and unsafe gaps in driveways, stairs, and walkways. Read on to learn about why you should repair cracks quickly and how to fill large gaps in concrete.

Why you should repair cracks in concrete
Sure, a crack in your concrete patio or walkway is ugly, but is it really necessary to fix them? There are actually some important reasons you should repair cracks sooner rather than later. Here are the benefits of fixing those gaps.
Enhances curb appeal
If you're trying to sell your home, curb appeal is crucial. Cracks and gaps in your concrete give your home an unkempt appearance and may make prospective buyers wonder what else has been neglected. Fixing those gaps enhances your curb appeal and could lead to higher property value since buyers will be willing to pay more for a home with pristine concrete.
Eliminates safety hazards
Small cracks in concrete grow and turn into large gaps, which pose safety risks such as trips and falls. Keep your family and guests safe by filling in the gaps and making the hazardous spot safer.
Prevents further damage
Small cracks are easier to repair than the large gaps they grow into, so it's best to fix the problem while it's small. Also, cracks in your concrete take in water, which washes away the soil underneath the concrete and makes the gap grow even more. Water in the cracks poses an even bigger risk — flooding your basement — if the crack is close to the foundation of your house.

Read more
Do you need to wash walls before painting? The honest truth
What you need to know before you paint your walls
the best white acrylic paint

While there are many mistakes that can be made during a DIY painting project, one question many homeowners have is whether they really need to wash walls before painting. It's a cumbersome task, so is it really necessary?

The answer is yes. Having a clean, dry wall before slapping down that paint can prevent all sorts of cosmetic and even health issues down the road. Of course, there are some rooms in your house that need more thorough cleaning than others. If you're ready to paint, here's how you should wash your walls first.

Read more
How to remove old caulk: A 4-step guide to get this tedious job done quickly
This is how to remove old caulk the right way before slapping on the new stuff
how to remove old caulk shutterstock 1249102075

Sealing certain areas in your home against both moisture and escaping air is a good practice for preventing costly loss and damage, and caulk is a tried and true sealant to use. Whether it's used in the bathroom, on windows, or on your welcoming front door, caulk can not only get grimy and stained after a while, but it can also start to break down and lose its effectiveness. Re-caulking is a common practice, but you need to remove the old gunk before applying the new stuff. Here's a guide for how to remove old caulk.

Why should you remove old caulk?
It's a lot of work to remove old caulk, so a lot of homeowners wonder if they can simply skip this step. Applying new caulk over the old material, though, is actually pretty useless. Caulk doesn't adhere to itself, so you'll eventually end up with a poorly sealed area that could contribute to water damage and poor insulation.
How do you soften caulk for removal?
While you can forgo the use of chemicals and simply use a sharp caulk-removing tool to cut and scrape off the old caulk, chipping away at hardened caulk takes a lot of elbow grease and quite a few hours. Applying a caulk remover softens up the material and makes it easier to lift from the surface in bigger pieces. This will save you a lot of time and effort.

Read more