Dear Home-Ec 101,
There is a musty / mildew smell in my home, but I’m having issues locating the source of the smell. As far as I can tell, it’s restricted to one bedroom. I’ve examined all of my clothing, removed the air conditioner, checked all of the furniture, and even the air ducts. I’m guessing it might be in the carpet? Any ideas? The mildew smell is driving me crazy, and I’m sure the bleach fumes aren’t great for me either.
Thank you for any and all suggestions help!
Musty in Muncie
First of all, you are right to not ignore a musty or mildew scent in a home. While the chances are that it’s cause was rather benign -not thoroughly drying carpeting after cleaning up a pet mess- there are chances that the smell may be your first clue to a more serious problem.
The sniff test is one of the less than fun homeowner chores, but get ready, you’re going to try to find the source of the problem. If you have central AC, turn it off and turn off any fans in the room. What you’re going to do is try to zero in on the source of the smell and we don’t want anything stirring the air, making that more difficult. Enter the room and shut the door.
Begin trying to find the source of the smell by following the mildew.
Mildew is likely to be found around sources of moisture.
Check your windows as a potential site for mildew growth.
Sometimes condensation occurs due to temperature differences between indoors and out. If the blinds are never opened this moisture may take a long time to evaporate, especially if the window is on the north side of a home.
Sometimes there is a problem with the flashing around a window that has allowed rain or melting snow or ice to seep down into the walls. If this has occurred, mold may be growing inside your walls.
Remove switch plates and outlet covers.
Is the air trapped in the walls musty? Is the room adjacent to the bathroom, kitchen, or laundry where there may be a hidden, leaky pipe?
Check the HVAC vents.
Sometimes, especially homes on crawl spaces, it’s possible your duct work may have a leak. If this is the case, stale or musty odors may be drawn into your home. (We actually had this issue and our only clue was a musty odor in a bathroom; I’m just so thrilled we spent part of the summer air conditioning the crawl space.)
Look up at the ceiling.
Look for any discolorations that may hint at water damage.
Finally get down on your hands and knees and check the most likely source, your carpeting.
Work your way around the room. If the smell is isolated to a certain spot and you know that there is ongoing problem exacerbating the situation (a leaky pipe, window, or toilet) then first dry the area thoroughly. A shop vac is great for extracting any water. Then lightly spray the area with a dilute solution of white vinegar (about 50:50) and set up a fan to dry the area thoroughly. If after two applications this has not taken care of the mildew odor, it’s time to ensure that mildew is not growing in the pad or the subflooring. If this is the case, the carpet and pad may have to be patched or replaced (depending on the size of the mold growth).
If the subflooring also shows signs of mold / mildew growth, it will need to be sanded and sealed to prevent recurrence.
Home Eccers, have I missed any potential sources of mold / mildew growth in a bedroom?
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.