Potential Sources for Mildew Odor in a Bedroom: A Friday Ask the Audience

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!
Signed,
Musty in Muncie

Heather says:

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 helpme@home-ec101.com.

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Comments

  1. Change the bed linens, wash with HOT water and vinegar, and thoroughly spray your mattress down with Lysol spray (Heather’s vinegar solution would work too, I’d think). Letting a fan run over it while your linens are washing and drying might be a good idea. In this heat, if you’re not using air conditioning, or only using it some of the time, your nighttime sweat could be wicking into the mattress and if the air is muggy, it may not be drying fully.

  2. My friend’s home partially flooded during Hurricane Ike. She had to remove the carpet in her living room and bedroom closet. When she pulled it up, they discovered mildew & mold underneath the carpet. She had to have a ‘mositure specialist’ come to the house iwth on of those fancy UV thingymabobs to find out where the water came in. It turned out that when her house was built (she bought it brand new) the builder did not insteall the ‘weep holes’ corectly. (I think thats what they are called). So everytime it rained, water was coming in through the corner of her house, running down the wall, and pooling in the carpet. She did not notice the carpet was wet because she had furniture in that spot.

    If you can’t find the source using Heather’s methods above, you might want to hire a professional to come in and do the water penetration analysis to see if there is a ‘hole’ in your house. Usually home inspection companies will do it, and at least in Houston it runs around $500.

  3. Milehimama says:

    Don’t forget to check walls that might have plumbing in them- adjacent to bathrooms, kitchens, etc!

  4. KeterMagick says:

    Crawl around the edge of the room, checking the baseboards, and pulling back the carpeting to see the tack strips. If you see mildew or flaking paint on the baseboards, or if the tack strip is really rusty or discolored, you have a floor moisture issue. Remember to check the closet(s), too… my son’s room once had an awful mildew smell and I finally traced it to a sports bottle in a backpack in a footlocker at the bottom of his very messy closet. It had leaked and soaked the other contents of the footlocker long enough to sprout a fine crop of stinky spore-producers.

  5. Ooh- thought of this after doing a load of teenage boy laundry- check the hamper itself. His room had an awful smell a few years back, and that’s what it turned out to be. That hamper got trashed, and he now has a bag that hangs on a stand and gets washed with his clothes every week (and then clean get delivered back- in the bag, unfolded, to be put away- his drawers proved they never stayed folded, so I took my half hour back!)

  6. ??? :)

  7. hello, I have recently smelled a mildew smell coming from my master bedroom, we do have a bathroom off of our bedroom, but the smell is coming from the bedroom, I have smelled the whole bathroom it is not coming from in there. we do not have carpeting we have tile flooring in the entire house. I have opened every single bureau drawer, smelled every outlet, smelled around the entire perimeter of the base board smelled the whole bed even took off the bedding. I have moved the bed, I went up into the crawl space into the Attic , it looks like brand new, and I don’t smell it up there at all, it looks like brand new wood . so back to the master bedroom, please help, because I am worried for my wife’s and our wellness and safety. thank-you Mike.

  8. Hi mike. I’ve been having this exact same issue in my home and have not yet been able to determine the cause were you successful in solving your problem? We’ve done everything that we can think of including adding another event in the bedroom. I am simply out of options at this time.