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How to Get Rid of Mildew Smell

Scrubbing floor with toothbrush and glove
Likee68 / Shutterstock

If you smell mildew in your home, you’ll want to find the source quickly as it’s one of the first indications that mold has begun forming. Thankfully, the steps on how to get rid of mildew smell are much easier than you may realize, and the items needed to remove mildew or musty smells are probably right in your home. The faster you can tackle mildew, the sooner you can protect your home against health hazards and considerable damage.

Mildew thrives in moisture and is typically found in bathrooms, kitchens, and basements. You can eliminate mildew and musty odors with a simple toothbrush, sponge, and a few cleaning supplies, depending on the type of surface you’re cleaning. Here’s how to get rid of mildew smell and keep it away permanently.

Is mildew dangerous?

Mildew can be dangerous if you don’t take care of it early, as frequent exposure to mildew (which is an early sign of mold) can cause respiratory issues. This holds particularly true for those with asthma or compromised immune systems. Those who are exposed to a moderate amount of mildew may experience itchy eyes, sneezing, and coughing.

In addition to impacting one’s personal health, not properly eliminating mildew can eat away at the structure of a building and decompose walls and ceilings. Mildew can also grow on and damage porous objects such as carpet and furniture. The longer a homeowner waits to eliminate mildew, the more expensive issues can be to repair.

Moldy and musty smells share some similarities in that they both stem from the growth of mold or mildew, usually in damp areas. Musty smells are typically not as strong as moldy odors, but you should take the same action for both.

Mildew looks like a powdery, spotty substance typically found on materials such as fruits, vegetables, and plants. Mold is typically thicker and can cause structural damage since it penetrates deeper into the material on which it grows. Molds can grow on plant materials as well, but it’s also commonly found on building materials such as walls, flooring, towels, tiles, and clothing.

How to remove that mildew smell in 5 steps

  • Step 1: Find the source of the mildew.
  • Step 2: Protect yourself with respiratory protection and gloves, and mix one cup of bleach with one gallon of warm water.
  • Step 3: Dip a toothbrush into the bleach mixture and scrub vigorously.
  • Step 4: Repeat until the mildew is gone.
  • Step 5: Dry the area fully with a rag or towel.

Here are more details on each step of the process.

Removing the musty smell, step by step

Step 1: Find the source of the mildew and musty smell

If the source of the mildew and the musty smell isn’t immediately apparent, remove as many items as possible from the area and inspect all corners, ceilings, grout, tile, tub caulking, and porous objects, such as carpets, clothing, and upholstered furniture. It may be necessary to remove all items from the room entirely to find the source.

Step 2: Create a bleach mixture

Put on rubber gloves to protect your hands and skin, wear a mask to ensure you don’t breathe in the bleach mixture and mold, and make sure there’s plenty of ventilation in the room. Once you’re fully protected, combine one cup of bleach with one gallon of warm water.

Step 3: Remove the mildew and musty smell

Dip a toothbrush into the bleach and water mixture. Scrub the mildew stain vigorously. Then remove the bleach residue with a clean, wet sponge.

Step 4: Repeat

Repeat the previous step as many times as necessary until you see the mildew has disappeared and you can no longer smell the musty odor.

Step 5: Dry the area completely

Dry the affected area entirely after removing the mildew stain. Use a rag or towel to dry the area, as any remaining residue, moisture, or water may make the mildew return along with the musty smell. Launder the rags and your clothing promptly.

Products you’ll need in order to remove the mildew smell

  • Rubber gloves: These are necessary for protecting your hands and skin from chemicals.
  • Face mask: Wear the face mask to avoid breathing in chemicals while cleaning.
  • Bleach: Bleach’s active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, is effective at eliminating mold and mildew and musty smells.
  • Toothbrush: If the area affected by a mildew smell or mold is small, you can use a toothbrush to dip into the bleach mixture and get directly at the mildew problem.
  • Sponge: If the area affected by mildew is large, a sponge or larger brush may be more effective than a toothbrush.
  • Rags: Use these at the end of the cleaning process to completely dry the affected area and remove all wetness or moisture.

How to prevent that musty smell from returning

The best way to prevent a musty smell from returning is by maximizing air circulation and minimizing dampness as much as possible. Install fans in your bathrooms, kitchen, and basement, and try to keep them running whenever moisture enters your home, such as the day of a rainstorm, while showering, or when cooking. After bathing or cooking, leave the fans on to allow the area to dry fully.

The bottom line on removing mildew smell

The great part about how to get rid of mildew smell is that the items you need are very likely in your home. With bleach and some persistence, your home will return to smelling fresh and musty odor-free in no time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do mold and mildew smell like?
Mold and mildew have a damp, musty, pungent scent—often resembling the smell of wet socks or rotting wood. In other words, it’s not pleasant.

Does a musty smell always mean mold?
In many cases, yes. A musty smell indicates that mold or mildew is growing on or within where moisture present in your home. The sooner you find the source of the smell and eliminate it, the better it is for your home and health.

When should I hire a professional for a mildew problem?
If you have respiratory problems, it’s best to hire a cleaning company to remove the mildew. It’s also a smart consideration to hire a professional if the mildew odor is stemming from your HVAC equipment like your furnace, humidifier, or air conditioner. If it’s related to your HVAC system, don’t turn on the air conditioning, as that can cause mold spores to spread throughout your house.

What is a nontoxic way to treat mildew?
Baking soda is a nontoxic product that you can use to remove mildew and it’s safe around children and pets. In addition to killing the mold, baking soda also absorbs moisture and is effective at keeping mildew away.


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