Eliminate Musty Odor In Home

7 Tips to Eliminate a Musty Odor in Your Old Home

We were so excited to get our hands on the Dogwood House, finally! We put our offer in the week before Thanksgiving and closed on it a few days after Christmas. We spent that month day-dreaming of all the updates we wanted to make on the house. And, how awesome it would look after all the work ended.

Our first day here we realized something we had overlooked before. The house STUNK!

The only way to describe that smell is “old house.” The house sat empty for so long before we got there, it was the perfect place for odors to grow. (Do odors grow?)

I can handle a messy house, but I really didn’t want my new house to smell “old” any longer. So, we went out to grab some cleaning supplies and came back ready to tackle the smell.  It took us a few hours of cleaning, but by the next day, the smell was gone. And, it hasn’t come back yet.

If you’re dealing with a stinky home, give these simple cleaning tips a try.



Wash the walls and floors.

Before you start this step, you’ll want to make sure you sweep your floors and dust. I thought I could skip this part on the baseboards, and it created problems. The dust just smeared instead of wiping off. Such a mess!

The only cleaning products you’ll need are warm water, a cloth or sponge, and white vinegar. Fill a large bowl or bucket with a 2:1 ratio of water to vinegar. Dampen your cloth and start wiping. I like to start from the top to the bottom, so dirty water doesn’t drip down onto areas I’ve already cleaned.

You don’t need to wipe anything dry. The vinegar helps cut through grease without leaving a sticky residue. It’s safe to use on linoleum, tile, hardwood, and vinyl flooring.


Deodorize your home.

The smelliest areas of our house were the closets and basement.

The closet shelves are made of wood, and I feel like they hold in more odor. If you also have wooden shelving, you’ll want to wipe these down with more of the vinegar and water solution. Once they are dry, it’s time to deodorize. I had baking soda on hand, so I filled small bowls with it and stuck them in all the closets.

The baking soda works by absorbing odors in the air. If you don’t have baking soda, charcoal works great for this too. After a few days, you can remove the bowls and toss the baking soda or charcoal.


Open the windows.

The easiest way to remove smells from your home is to open windows. Our first day in the house was in the middle of winter. Opening windows wasn’t really an option for us. Can you imagine how cold that would be?! We did open our curtains to let some light in the house.

If you can’t open all the windows of your house, you’ll want to try opening the windows across from each other. This creates a sort-of vacuum with the air flow and helps to get the smells out faster.


Clean the air ducts.

I knew we would find all kinds of hidden issues once we started renovating the Dogwood House. I had no idea one of those issues would be our air ducts. I won’t show pictures of that to spare you, but they were terrible. The furnace has a built-in humidifier that was leaking water inside the unit. Because of the dark, damp conditions, some mold was growing on our filters.

We hired an HVAC company to come out and clean our air ducts. In a matter of 3 hours, they had successfully cleaned our air ducts and installed a UV light in our furnace. We opted for the UV light to remove any mold and bacteria that were potentially lingering behind.


Replace filters and air vents.

After the HVAC guys left, we replaced the filters and air vents in our furnace and on all our return vents. Your return vents are where air, pet hair, dust, and dander are pulled back into your furnace. The filters are there to catch all that, so it doesn’t mess up the working parts of the furnace. But, that means they get filthy, really fast.

If you notice your house holding onto odors, check your air filters. If they look really dirty, change them out. You can buy replacement filters at places like Walmart for around $2 a piece.


Look for water damage.

If you’ve scrubbed and deodorized, but a weird smell still lingers, take a look around for water damage. It turns out we have several areas with evidence of water issues. A few places to look in your home are:

– Under sinks in your kitchen and bathroom

– The walls behind your washing machine

– Bathroom walls and floors near showers and tubs

– Basements

– Anywhere else you may have water

Our basement was experiencing water issues a few weeks before we put in our offer. We knew this upfront and were able to negotiate on price because of it. We didn’t realize that the walls in our basement had suffered from it.

The closet under our stairs was covered in mold. We also had a bit of mold under our kitchen sink from a leaky pipe. We removed the wood and walls in these areas because we weren’t sure it was safe to be around that much mold long-term. Once the mold was gone, the smell went away.


Plug it in.

Now that you’ve successfully rid your house of the terrible “old house” smell, it’s time to make it smell like home. My favorite plug-in style air fresheners are by Air Wick and Febreeze.

If I want to make my whole house smell good in a short amount of time, I’ll use a scented oil warmer. Just make sure you keep them in an area away from small children and pets. The oil gets HOT! You can also create your own scents with essential oils in a diffuser.


Do you have a favorite scent you use year ‘round? Tell us what it is and how you deal with a smelly house.

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