How Do I Eliminate a Musty Smell in My Basement?

Stagnant, sour-smelling basement air seems to infect everything it touches. You may notice your freshly washed laundry picking up some of that strange mustiness, if you allow clothes to air-dry in the basement.

So how do you get rid of that musty basement odor before it infiltrates your entire home? First, you have to find out what’s causing the smell.

Finding the Source

Basement mustiness is often caused by excess moisture, and it’’s not always easy to pinpoint where that excess moisture is coming from. You might have a leaky pipe somewhere, moisture build-up in exterior walls or a sluggish basement floor drain that doesn’’t move water away from your home quickly.

Using a flashlight, check for leaks around your water heater and washer. If you have central air, make sure your air conditioner unit is draining properly, with a hose or PVC pipe running downward from the unit to the basement floor drain.

Inspect basement walls for moisture, mildew or evidence of corrosion, such as crumbling masonry. These problems may be superficial, caused by small cracks that allow moisture to enter from the ground surrounding your home. Or they may indicate that walls have shifted in a way that may require basement wall foundation repair.

If you have a finished basement, you may need to buy a cheap moisture detector to check for signs of water infiltration. Drywall can mask some of the early warning signs of water damage.

basement drainage problems

Cleanup and Prevention

Vinegar is one of the best natural remedies for tough odors. You can use a spray bottle to douse mold and mildew with full-strength vinegar, and allow it to soak until the discoloration starts to fade. You can also pour it down drains to remove build-up and odors. Wear rubber gloves when wiping down walls, because it can cause skin irritation. And unless you know for sure that you’’re not allergic to mold, wear a shop mask or allergy mask when cleaning.

Once the walls are clean, you can repaint with a mildew-killing primer before adding a top coat. Use a dehumidifier in the basement to remove moisture from the air, and open vents and windows, if you have them. If you have glass block windows that don’’t allow for ventilation, open the nearest door or window and use fans to draw air up and out of your basement.

Outside, make sure your gutters are clean and draining properly, and don’’t allow excess moisture to accumulate near the foundation. If you suspect your foundation has already sustained water damage, schedule a professional inspection right away. Left untreated, foundation problems can worsen quickly.