How to Get Rid of That Musty ‘Basement’ Smell

How to Get Rid of That Musty ‘Basement’ Smell
Photo: Artazum, Shutterstock

Even if you don’t live somewhere with a basement (or one you can access) you’re probably familiar with the “basement” smell. It almost always includes a musty, mildewy scent, but you won’t find the same exact aroma in every basement.

In addition to the smell of dampness, the rest of a particular basement’s scent typically comes from their laundry products (if their washer/dryer is in the basement), what is stored down there, and the overall “house smell.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In an article on the This Old House website, Tom Scalisi walks you through how to pinpoint and then eliminate that recognisable aroma.

Figure out what is causing the smell

More often than not, the musty smell is caused by mildew and/or mould, which easily grows in basements because of their dampness. To get rid of that smell, you first have to figure out its source. Scalisi suggests checking the following areas for leaks or cracks:

  • Basement windows (Do the wells improperly direct water toward the house, instead of away from it?)
  • Basement exterior entrances
  • Windows from the floor above
  • Exterior doors from the floor above
  • Bathroom and kitchen plumbing from the floor above

But those aren’t the only potential problem areas, Scalisi says. Others may include your groundwater, a dry floor drain or p-trap under a sink, or any upholstered furniture or carpeting that’s down there.

Fix whatever is broken

Once you figure out the source of the smell, make any necessary repairs to get rid of it and prevent it from happening in the future. These could be things like fixing leaky windows, getting rid of musty carpet, removing any wet materials in the basement, or dealing with cracked pipes, Scalisi says.

Get your humidity under control

Now that the source of the moisture and/or smell has been fixed, you’ll want to take extra steps to make sure your basement stays dry. The easiest way to do this is by using a dehumidifier. Here’s Scalisi to walk you through the process:

[Dehumidifiers] pull moisture out of the air and condense it into a removable tank that you can remove and empty. In some cases, you can route a drain hose to a floor or sink drain, removing the need to empty the tank. Dehumidifiers are excellent for basement settings.

Shoot for a humidity level of roughly 50 per cent so the space stays comfortable without encouraging mould growth (which occurs at over 60 per cent). You can also use a box fan or window fan to improve the ventilation and air movement for faster drying.

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Deal with the smell

At this point, you’re ready to tackle the actual smell. To do that, Scalisi suggests the following methods:

  • Place bowls of baking soda around different parts of your basement for a few days.
  • Other options are placing bowls of clean cat litter, white vinegar, or products specifically designed to eliminate musty odours, like DampRid (separately–not all mixed together).
  • Clean the entire basement as thoroughly as possible.
  • If you’re keeping an of your musty-smelling carpeting or furniture, consider renting a professional-grade steamer for a few days to deep clean them.

And it should go without saying that the goal of this whole process is to find and eliminate the source of the smell, rather than just masking it with some sort of scented spray or air freshener. That won’t do anything to help the overall problem, and will make your basement smell like musty lavender.

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