How to Get Rid of Musty Smells in Your House Naturally

By Marilee Nelson |

How to Get Rid of Musty Smells in Your House Naturally

Mysterious musty smells in the house indicate a moisture problem. 

Even though this type of issue is common, it should never be taken lightly. Moisture issues in a home can lead to mold and mildew.   

Mold and mildew exposure can result in respiratory irritation, significant allergic reactions, skin rash, asthma attacks, or even chronic disease. 1

Therefore, it is essential to track down the source of the musty smell, and remediate the issue without using harmful chemicals that will further pollute your indoor air.

In this article, you’ll learn how to get rid of musty smells in your home, including:

  • What causes musty smells in homes
  • How to find the source of the smell
  • Determine if a professional is needed to remediate
  • How to get rid of those smells (without resorting to toxic chemicals)
  • And how to prevent musty smells from coming back

First, What Causes Musty Smells in Houses?

Musty, damp, earthy smells in homes come from excessive humidity or water damage, leading to mold or mildew growth.

As mold and mildew grow, they release musty-smelling gasses, indicating the need for remediation or cleanup.

You’ve probably smelled this in basements, old homes, or bathrooms. 

However, no matter how new or old the home, mold and mildew will eventually rear their ugly heads if you have a humidity or a moisture problem.

The good news is that you can learn to identify what should be taken care of by a professional and also how you can nip many mold and mildew issues in the bud before they become a big problem. 

How Do I Find the Source of the Musty Smell In My House?

Sometimes the source of a musty smell is obvious and not so serious, such as a bathroom shower curtain or a damp pile of laundry you left in the dryer.

However, sometimes the location of the musty smell isn’t so obvious.

Your nose will be the best tool to track down and identify the source of those musty smells.

Here are some tips on common places mold and mildew may be hiding in your home:

Laundry Room

  • Washers, especially front-loading washers
  • Damp or wet clothing or fabrics
  • Leaking pipes
  • Water damage underneath the washer or dryer
  • Mold/mildew build up in sinks or pipes


  • Showers and tubs
  • Shower curtains
  • Underneath sinks

HVAC Systems

  • Leaks or moisture issues in HVAC systems can cause mold within the system, the air ducts, or the flooring, walls, etc. that surround them.
  • If you notice the musty smell increases when you turn on the air conditioning, for example, that may indicate the musty smell is coming from the HVAC.


  • Closets generally have poor ventilation and get dusty, which can result in mold or mildew, especially if there’s any additional moisture like damp clothing, a water leak, etc.
  • Use a flashlight to check clothing, shelving, drawers, carpeting, and even walls.


Basement or crawl space

  • This can be problematic if humidity is not controlled and/or you’ve had flooding or water damage.
  • Shining a flashlight on joists can expose powdery mildew.


  • Water or roof leaks can cause mold in attic spaces.

Underneath sinks

  • A leaking faucet can easily go undetected and cause a musty smell.
  • Sink drains can also harbor mold resulting in a musty smell.

Carpeting or Upholstery

  • Carpeting or upholstery that has gotten wet and not been properly dried could be a source.

Children’s Bedrooms

  • Some teenagers are notorious for leaving wet piles of clothing or sports gear on their floors, in laundry hampers, etc.

These are some of the more common places with humidity issues. 

Remember, you need moisture/humidity to grow mold and mildew, so consider that when tracking down the smell.

Determine if Professional Help is Needed

Resolution of many of the sources of musty odors in the home mentioned above can be taken care of by the homeowner. However, remediating serious mold issues resulting from contaminated building materials is not an undertaking for DIY homeowners. Specialized training, equipment, and procedures are necessary to avoid toxic mold exposure for your family in the following cases:. 

  • Undetected plumbing and roof leaks are a source of many building contaminations. Professional remediation is necessary in any situation involving porous materials like carpet, drywall, insulation, and manufactured wood that have been wet or damp for more than 24 - 48 hours. Mold starts to grow after 48 hours and sometimes before.*
  • Any mold or mildew problem that spans larger than a few feet
  • Basements and crawl spaces that have a musty odor need professional evaluation.
  • Mold problems within HVAC units require expert direction and guidance by a specialist..
  • Anytime you can’t determine the source of a musty or moldy smell, call a professional. 
  • If a person in your home has a respiratory illness, is chronically ill, or is very sensitive to mold, you may also wish to call in the pros.

*Note: If you immediately catch a roof or plumbing leak and dry out all wet materials within 24-48 hours, you have eliminated the chance for mold growth!

This is a high-level overview of a very vast topic.

Bottom line: when in doubt, call in a professional for a consultation. 

How to Get Rid of Musty Smells in Your House Without Harmful Chemicals 

Most of us have been trained to eradicate mildew, mold, and musty smells with a bottle of bleach or bleach-containing cleaning product.

But not so fast!

Not only is bleach incredibly toxic, but the EPA no longer recommend it for cleaning up mold. 2,3

That’s because bleach only kills surface mold and does not address the cause.  

Plus, bleach introduces water into the area, which can feed mold beneath the surface.

Instead, consider these methods for getting rid of musty smells throughout the house.

Get Rid of Musty Smells by Airing Out Your House

We’ll cover how to remove or remediate mold or mildew next.

However, airing out your home is the first step. Use a box fan, sealed to an open window that exhausts to the outside. Make sure to crack open up a window on the other side of the room or house to provide makeup air. The exhaust fan will draw in outdoor air. The outdoor air dilutes the contamination and helps remove the smell and some of the gasses produced by the moisture build-up. You’ll also want to exhaust and have the windows open when you’re cleaning up the source of the smell.

Learn How to Remove Mold & Mildew

Reduce the Source of Moisture

You can air out your house and burn essential oils (not recommended) all you want, but the musty smell will come back unless you address the source of the moisture.That is always your first line of attack.  For example:

For Bathrooms

  • Turn on the exhaust fan when you shower or take a bath and leave it on for at least 15 minutes after you finish. If you don’t have an exhaust fan, and the weather permits, open the window. 
  • After your shower, wipe down or squeegee the bath/shower walls and floor. This removes the water and any soap scum or grime that is food for mold.
  • Open the shower door or curtain to circulate the air.
  • Don’t leave wet towels in the bathroom. Take them outside to dry or dry in your dryer.
  • This is simple bathroom maintenance that will eliminate mold growth on grout and caulk.

 For Front Loading Washing Machines

  • Proper maintenance is essential in front loading washers as they are vulnerable to mold growth
  • Never leave wet clothes in the washing machine. Remove wet clothes right after washing.
  • Always keep the door open when not using the washing machine.

 General Principles

  • Keep household humidity at 45% or below. Air conditioning automatically reduces humidity. Sometimes extra dehumidification is necessary. Use an inexpensive accurate hygrometer to measure humidity levels in the home
  • Don’t leave wet or damp clothing in a pile. Take clothes outside to dry or dry in the dryer.
  • Dry spills on carpet thoroughly. If necessary, lift up carpet and place a fan to blow and dry out padding as well. Note: Carpet that has been mold contaminated should be removed by professionals.
  • Many walk-in closets have no supply air vent and may be vulnerable to mold if humid conditions prevail. Check with your hygrometer. Open the closet and create air movement with a small fan.
  • After heavy rains, check ceilings and up in the attic for water marks that indicate a roof leak. Take immediate action. Calling in a company that does dry outs with large fans and dehumidifiers can save the day and avoid mold growth.

Clean with Branch Basics to Remove the Mold

You can tackle mold and mildew yourself on solid wood and non-porous objects for smaller jobs using a HEPA vacuum or microfiber and Branch Basics.  Just as Branch Basics removes germs on surfaces, so also Branch Basics removes mold.

Here are general instructions on how to accomplish this:

Supplies needed:

General Cleaning Procedure for mold:

  1. Ventilate the space by opening windows, running an air purifier, etc.
  2. Always HEPA vacuum the surface to be cleaned first. 
  3. Spray a dry unscented Swiffer or microfiber with Branch Basics All-Purpose or Bathroom
  4. Clean the surface - cleaning with Branch Basics and a microfiber removes the mold. 
  5. If cleaning grout, spray Branch Basics Bathroom on the grout and sprinkle Oxygen Boost on top of the spray to grout or tile..Spray with Branch Basics Bathroom to wet the Oxygen Boost.  Let sit for 5 minutes.
  6. Scrub using a toothbrush or cleaning brush..
  7. Rinse or wipe off the surface with a microfiber cloth to remove the mold or mildew. 
  8. If you have done a good job of cleaning, the mold will be removed. No further steps are necessary. The next step is optional.
  9. Spray straight hydrogen peroxide on the surface if desired. (add a spray nozzle cap directly to your hydrogen peroxide bottle to make this easy), and let it dry.

We have specific instructions for bathrooms, dishwashers, and front-loading washers in:

*Remember to always leave serious mold issues involving building materials such as flooring, basements, ceilings, walls, and attics to professional remediation. 

More Tips On This Topic

Dust Your Home

Mold and mildew need two things to survive:

1: Moisture

2: A food source

And one of their favorite foods is household dust.

A HEPA vacuum is ideal for removing dust because it will not recirculate dust or mold/mildew toxins. Hence why these types of vacuums are used for professional mold remediation.

If you don’t have a HEPA vacuum, microfiber cloths, and microfiber mops  work well for trapping and removing dust from hard surfaces.

Dusting plus controlling humidity, and addressing moisture problems is the ultimate formula for eliminating and preventing mold and mildew growth.

Learn more about the toxins riding on household dust in: 

Try a Dehumidifier

A dehumidifier is programmed to maintain a humidity level, typically 50% or less, where mold and mildew cannot grow. 

These can be used in basements, bathrooms, or any place where it is difficult to control humidity.

Vacuum, Mop, Repeat

Again, the HEPA vacuum and microfiber cloths and mops will be your best friend in keeping problematic, mold-feeding dust at bay.

We recommend regularly vacuuming and mopping to help control dust levels and clean up any mold or mildew residue in your home’s air.

Learn more in: HEPA Vacuum: Indoor Air Pollution’s Worst Enemy (and how to choose one for your home)

Change Out Your Air Filters

Air filters are wonderful because they catch mold, mildew, and other household contaminants.

However, if you’ve discovered mold or mildew in your home, you’ll want to swap out those air filters ASAP after your cleanup!

This will prevent any captured mold and mildew from recirculating once the filters are saturated and help get rid of those musty smells.

If you use an air purifier in your home that requires filter changes, you’ll want to swap those out too.

What’s the best air filter to use for the return air vents?

We highly recommend Filtrete air filters because they have no antibacterial or chemical treatments.

Aim to change them once every 1-3 months for optimal indoor air quality.

Use a Natural Odor Absorber Without Synthetic Fragrance

Natural odor absorbers, such as baking soda, vodka,and plants, can be helpful in the interim and after clean-up to help get rid of those musty smells.

No matter what you may read or be advised, do not use chemical-based odor absorbers or fragrances. 

As discussed in, Fragrance Is The New Secondhand Smoke, these products contain some of the most harmful endocrine-disrupting and health destroying chemicals and have no place in a healthy home.

Learn about our favorite natural, non-toxic odor absorbers in: 7 Non-Toxic Air Fresheners: Remove Odors Naturally.

Have Your Air Ducts Professional Cleaned

Since mold spores can travel everywhere, it may be wise to consider cleaning your air ducts.

Many carpet cleaning companies will do this using professional vacuum-like equipment. Just make sure they only do mechanical cleaning. Don’t spray anything into the ducts.

How to Prevent Mold & Mildew 

To recap, you can prevent musty smells by:

  • Addressing water leaks, spills, or water damage immediately and thoroughly
  • Controlling humidity and moisture  - Condensation in a home’s wall cavity can occur if the humidity in the home is not controlled. This condensation can be the catalyst for mold growth on insulation and drywall.  Mold can’t grow in humidity 50% and below.  Make sure the humidity in your home is 40-45%. 
  • Leaving your washing machine door open
  • Moving clothing directly from the washer to the dryer vs. letting it sit for too long
  • Wiping down your bath/shower after bathing and running the fan
  • Using a dehumidifier in areas that aren’t well-ventilated
  • Ventilating your house regularly
  • Dusting, cleaning, and vacuuming regularly

If you follow this advice, you’ll be in an excellent position to prevent mold while dramatically enhancing indoor air quality.

Get Rid of Musty Smells In Your Home With Branch Basics 

Musty smells may spell trouble, but knowing how to identify, address, and prevent them is power!

If you haven’t tried Branch Basics and want to learn about our non-toxic cleaning and laundry system, check out our Premium Starter Kits (available in plastic or glass) or test us out with a $5.00 trial kit.
Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.