Your health and safety are our highest priority during this time. Click here for our precautionary measures.
woman reacting to a foul smell

Why Does My House Smell Musty?

If you’ve recently purchased a home that you did not build yourself, you may have inherited more than character and style. If you’re thinking to yourself, “My house smells musty,” you may have inherited “old house” smell.

Musty odors may be attributed to many diverse factors including but not limited to mold, mildew, cigarette, and pet odors.

Whether your newly purchased home is eight years old or 80, these smells don’t discriminate, and have everything to do with the previous owner’s behaviors.

Read on to learn more about the potential causes of old house smell and how to combat them …

“Old House” Smell Sources

So, just what is the source of that offensive old house smell? Musty smells in houses may be attributed to several causes, including:

  • Mold and mildew: Leaky pipes, a damaged roof, high humidity, and exposed dirt in the crawlspace may all contribute to moisture buildup. This moisture combined with the stagnant air and dark corners can lead to the growth of mold and mildew. Mold and mildew can hide behind walls or in other unseen places. Worse, long after the mold dies, its odor lingers, having permeated the carpet, curtains, and upholstery, making the whole house smell like mildew.
  • Musty odors trapped in the HVAC system: Duct cleaning is one of the most important and most overlooked maintenance projects a homeowner can engage in. You can almost always count on old ductwork to be grimy, dusty, and smelly. The heating and cooling equipment itself may be decades old, introducing musty odors into the home every time it turns on.
  • Cigarette and cigar smoke: Smoking indoors, even occasionally, leaves a lasting impression on a home. Drywall and other soft surfaces like carpeting soak in the scent of smoke and nicotine. If the previous homeowner smoked, the walls will emit that odor for decades without proper mitigation.
  • Spills and messes: Pet accidents and drink spills that are not properly cleaned will seep deep into carpet padding and even the subfloor of a room. These odors can linger for years if never properly cleaned.
  • Lack of Airflow: Homes that have spent a significant time closed lack airflow. Stagnant air from boarding up an old house between owners can bring these scents to the forefront. Airflow is vital to keeping a home smelling fresh.

How to Get Rid of Old House Smells

It can be difficult to eliminate an unpleasant musty odor in your home, even with deep cleaning. To get at the root of the problem, you need to go even deeper and make some home upgrades.

Here’s how to get rid of old house smells:

  1. Air out the house: Encourage airflow throughout the home by opening windows and doors (equipped with screens) and turning on any fans. Be mindful to encourage cross-breezes throughout the house.
  2. Change the air filter: A clean air filter will trap airborne contaminants that contribute to old house smells. Change the air filter in any HVAC appliance you’re currently using (furnace, stand-alone HEPA filter) and make a schedule for changing the filter in the coming months and years.
  3. Clean the air ducts: It’s possible the ductwork in your older home has never been cleaned. Professional air duct cleaning is an effective way to eliminate odors that manifest when you turn on the furnace or air conditioner.
  4. Repair leaks: A little home improvement—including fixing the roof, sealing windows and doors, and replacing damaged pipes—can go along way. If there are any leaks in the home, water may be seeping in and causing problems with mold and mildew.
  5. Paint the walls: Drywall and wallpaper are notorious for soaking up smells. Strip old wallpaper and paint all the drywall surfaces in the home with an oil-based, mold-resistant paint to seal the walls. Contact Five Star Painting to learn more about interior painting.
  6. Clean or replace the carpet: A quick sniff will tell you if the carpet is compromised by pet stains or mildew. Professional carpet cleaning may do the trick, but often, old carpeting has got to go. Contact Rainbow InternationalLink opens in a new tab to learn more about hot water extraction carpet cleaningLink opens in a new tab.

When you or your contractor remove the carpet, be sure to inspect the subfloor. If the subfloor is stained, replace it or seal it with an oil-based paint.

  1. Seal exposed dirt floor with concrete: If you have an unpaved area in the crawlspace, it could make the house smell musty after rain, or earthy during hot, humid weather. Hire a contractor to pour concrete over the dirt floor and seal the area for good.
  2. Test the air quality: After all your efforts are complete, an air quality test will tell you if there’s any work left to do.

Remove Musty, Old House Smells for Good with Aire Serv

You don’t have to settle for a musty, smelly home. Banish “old house” smells for good with help from your local Aire Serv®. From duct cleaning to air quality testing, we offer the services you need to make your home smell fresh and clean.

Breathe easy with air quality services you can trust. Request an appointment online or call (855) 259-2280 to get started.