Eliminating Musty Odors & Other Smells In Basements
Short-Term And Long-Term Solutions For Eliminating Basement Odors
Warm air moves upwards in a home, exiting through the attic and upper levels of the building.
As it does, it creates a vacuum, which pulls air upwards from the lower levels. This means that up to 50% of the air in your living space comes from the basement. If the space smells musty, the rest of your house can too.
Some of the most common basement problems that our customers ask us to solve are related to damp, musty, or foul odors. Our dealers are proud to say that we've had a practical, effective solution for every one.
Musty odors in basements will quickly become a much larger problem. As the air moves naturally upwards in your home due a building science phenomenon known as the "stack effect", this musty air will enter your upper levels.
Getting Rid Of That "Musty Basement" Smell
There's a lot of advice out there about the best ways to eliminate musty smells in basements. Some of them work, some do not, and some are just plain dangerous!
A short-term solution is a great way to eliminate a small odor problem -- such as cleaning up cat urine on a basement floor.
However, if your basement has odors from mold, sewage, or water intrusion, your best bet is to stop the problem at its source -- permanently!
If you'd like a free dry basement quote, call or e-mail us today! Our quotes come at no obligation and include an on-site professional inspection, consultation, and a copy of our full-color book!
Air fresheners, incense, and other scented products do nothing more than cover up the odors that you smell..
If you want to create a healthier space, you'll also need to permanently eliminate mold, mold spores, and dust mites in your basement.
Sources Of Basement Odors
Musty odors commonly occur on the basement for the following five reasons:
- Mold & Mildew: The most common reason for musty odors in basements is the prolonged growth of mold in the space. Mold growth can be in visible spaces as well as hidden in wall cavities, in carpets, and above ceilings.
- Wet Building Materials: Wet drywall has a musty smell, while wet fiberglass have a sulfuric, rotten egg smell.
- Animal Smells: Animal waste and urine is a common concern in a basement. Additionally, foul smells can occur when rodents or other pests die in the walls or elsewhere in the basement.
- Sewage Smells: Sewage smells are usually connected to a plumbing issue in your home. This can be as simple as replacing a wax ring seal or as complicated as a cracked sewer line.
- Iron Ochre: Iron ochre is a rusty-colored, gelatinous ooze that appears in some basements. It as a foul smell that's been described as musty, oily, swampy, or like sewage.
Odors & Your Health
Controlling mold and dust mites in your home will provide the added benefit of making your home a healthier, better preserved space. Less mold and fewer dust mites in your home means lower counts of allergenic mold spores and dust mite waste in your air. It will also mean less rot damage, which could lead to expensive and time-consuming repairs and mold remediation in the future.
More about Basement Mold & Your Health
Warning: Mold Removal Is Professional Work!
If you have a mold problem, it's best to use extreme care in removing it from your home. At Basement Systems, we do not recommend removing mold without professional help.
While rare, it is possible for mold (especially "black mold") to be harmful, toxic, and/or carcinogenic to humans. Other molds are allergenic and may cause allergic reactions in some individuals.
Fumes created during cleaning are also a significant concern when dealing with mold -- especially in the case of combining cleaning agents.
Additionally, improper removal of mold can result in further mold issues down the road. It can be common even among professionals to miss a mold source, leading to serious health and home renovation implications later on.
When cleaning dirt, efflorescence, mold, and other stains on your basement walls and floors, take care that you're not mixing bleach- and ammonia-based products together.
Mixing bleach and ammonia can result in in the creation of dangerous substances like chlorine gas, nitrogen trichloride, and hydrazine, depending on the mix of bleach and ammonia added.
Short-Term Solutions For Odors
The following solutions are temporary ways to eliminate mold or musty odors in your basement. These are meant as temporary, "quick fix" ways to eliminate odors only.
These solutions should be used in combination with the permanent methods listed later in this article.
Vinegar & Water: Mix one part vinegar with three parts water. Using a stiff broom or brush, scrub the walls, floors, and other materials that have a musty odor thoroughly.
Throw Out Moldy Organic Materials: Throw out any organic materials that show mold damage, such as boxes, books, or chipboard.
Wash Clothes & Wood Furniture: Moldy musty clothing and cloth stored in the basement should be washed thoroughly. Carefully wash off all wood furniture. Any furniture with deep mold growth should be discarded.
Lay Out Dishes Of Vinegar: Vinegar can help to break down the damp, must smell found in basements. Leave several dishes of vinegar in the basement for 2-3 days to combat musty odors.
Leave Out An Open Bag Of Charcoal: Charcoal can absorb odors and dampness in the air. Leave an open bag of charcoal in the basement, changing it every six months.
Sprinkle Chlorinated Lime: Sprinkle chlorinated lime over the floor of your basement until the must odor disappears, then carefully sweep it up. Do not let pets or children come in contact with the chlorinated lime.
Do Ozone Generators Work?
To eliminate stubborn odor problems in a basement, some homeowners will buy or rent an "ozone generator" - a machine that claims to eliminate odors such as cigarette smoke, chemical odors, cat urine, mold odors, and similar odors.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency makes it very clear that they do NOT recommend these devices, and also suggests that they can be dangerous and/or ineffective to use. Ozone is a toxic gas, and whether it's in pure form or mixed with chemicals, it can be hazardous to your health.
Additionally these machines will not filter the air, and they will not remove large particles such as dust, dander, pollen, or mold spores (even dead mold spores are allergenic). It will also not eliminate water vapor or humidity or provide a long-term solution for mold, mildew, or dust mites.
The United States EPA has this to say about the effects of ozone on humans:
"The same chemical properties that allow high concentrations of ozone to react with organic material outside the body give it the ability to react with similar organic material that makes up the body, and potentially cause harmful health consequences. When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs. Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and, throat irritation. Ozone may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections."
In the summer, a ventilated basement brings in hot, humid summer air. When humid air is cooled, that humidity will be deposited on surfaces in the form of condensation.
During the most humid times, fiberglass insulation can become soaked with moisture, like in the photo above, leading to rot and mold in both the insulation and the floor joist it touches.
Does Basement Ventilation Help?
The importance of basement ventilation is a building science myth that's costing homeowners a fortune in energy bills and home repairs.
Why Basement Ventilation Fails
Throughout the seasons, you're venting your home with three types of air:
Humid Summer Air: When humid summer air cools in a basement, moisture is deposited on all surfaces. This moisture will saturate your building materials, allowing for mold growth and rot.
Wet-Weather Air: When it's rainy, foggy, or damp outside, basement vents bring wet air into your home. Isn't the opposite of what you wanted?
Cold Winter Air: Your basement is the home of many utilities that are meant to be hot -- like water heaters, furnaces, hot water pipes, and heating ducts. If you bring cold winter air into your home, these utilities are cooled, forcing them to work harder than ever to operate normally.
More about The Case Against Basement Ventilation
Sewage Smells In The Basement
Most sewage smells in your basement are a result of these five common sources:
- A Dried-Out Water Trap: The water trap located underneath a laundry tub, floor drain, or wash basin has dried out due to lack of use. As it dries out, sewer gas rises up through the drain and enters the room.
How To Solve It: Dump a pitcherful of water into the drain to restore the trapwater. Follow up by pouring a couple tablespoons of cooking oil into the drain. The oil will coat the water, which will slow down the evaporation process of the trapwater.
- A Missing Cleanout Plug Inside the Floor The Drain: If the cleanout plug is missing from a floor drain, there's a direct path for sewer gas to bypass the water trap and enter your home. Sometimes, these plugs are remove to clean sewer lines and are not replaced.
How To Solve It: Buy a replacement plug at the hardware store and put it in place.
- Dried-Out Water In The Toilet Trap: Weeks of disuse can cause the water in the toilet trap to dry out. As it does, sewer gas is free to rise up and into the living space.
How To Solve It: Simply flush the toilet, and the trap should refill with water.
- The Wax Ring Seal Between The Toilet Flange And Toilet Base Is Defective: This wax ring can occasionally leak -- which is sometimes caused by a rocking toilet whose seal is broken. With the seal broken, sewer gas can escape from under the toilet.
How To Solve It: Remove the toilet and replace the wax ring. If the toilet is rocking, use plastic shims between the stool and the floor. Caulk the joint completely. By leveling the toilet, you ensure that future rocking will not destroy your new wax ring.
- Your Sewer Line Has A Leak: Sometimes, a sewer line will break or crack, or a loose connection joint in the ceiling or buried in a wall will fail.
How To Solve It: Make sure that problems 1-4 aren't your problem. Then use your nose to start investigating the issue, starting with all visible sewage joints. If you can't find a leak in the line, contact a plumber who is qualified to hunt down sewer line leaks.
The Good News: Most sewage smells have simple, easy solutions! If you're not familiar enough with home plumbing to solve this kind of issue yourself, a home improvement contractor can easily help you solve most of these issues.
Long-Term Solutions To Eliminating Basement Odors
The best way to eliminate basement odors to restore the quality of life in your home (as well as the home's resale value!) is to completely eliminate the odors at their source.
With the problem solved, your home will not only smell better, but it will be a healthier place to live. Your home will have fewer allergens, and your basement will be upgraded to be more valuable, usable space.
At Basement Systems, we recommend the following six steps for a permanent solution:
Eliminate All Sources Of Standing Water
If you have significant standing water in your basement, the best people to call are your local disaster restoration experts.
The term "disaster restoration" may seem a bit dramatic for what your home needs, but this is exactly the type of company you need. They're pros at pumping out water, drying out your home, and identifying sources of mold and rot.
Because mold growth can begin very quickly, you should contact them as soon as possible. Some Basement Systems dealers, and some local fire departments, will also offer services related to pumping out a basement.
More about Dealing With A Flooded Basement
Clean Or Remove All Moldy Items
Any porous organic material within your home with mold damage that's deeper than surface level should be thrown out. This includes books, boxes and photos as well as fiberglass insulation, drywall, and carpeting.
Take a good look at your home's floor joist and structural wood as well. Deeply damaged materials should be replaced as soon as possible to ensure that your home does not experience further structural damage.
Use extreme caution when dealing with mold-damaged items. Bring items outside to clean them off, wear a mask, and seek professional help if you have any doubts at all about the safety of the mold.
When cleaning mold, be sure to wear non-porous gloves, protective eye gear, and a N95 mask (available at most local hardware stores). If the area to be cleaned is more than 10 square feet, consult the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines to ensure safety.
Clean The Basement Walls & Floors
Using a solution of one part vinegar and three parts water, scrub the basement walls and floors with a stuff brush or broom.
Remove all mold and mold stains from the surface. You may also use this solution to clean off the white, flaky powder off the walls and floors known as efflorescence.
Carefully remove all mud, dirt, debris, and remaining water from the basement floor. Any organic materials remaining on the walls or floors can become the home of future mold infestations. Waterproof paints and coatings that have failed can be removed with a sandblaster.
More about Stains & Efflorescence On Basement Walls
Address All Groundwater Flooding
If you have groundwater flooding each year, then all your cleaning efforts are in vain unless you install a perimeter drainage system and sump pump.
At Basement Systems, a crew of our basement experts can install a full waterproofing system in one, perhaps two days. This system includes a written warranty against groundwater intrusion.
To avoid any sump pump failure, we recommend installing a battery backup sump pump along with your primary pump system. A battery backup can turn on if your sump pump fails, a power outage occurs, or you have a blown fuse in the home.
More about Foundation Waterproofing & Drainage
Cover The Basement Walls & Floors
Waterproof paints and coatings tend to chip and flake away, creating an ugly mess in the home. Once this occurs, it can be difficult and time-consuming to remove them.
At Basement Systems, we recommend mechanically attaching wall products, so there are no coatings or adhesives involved. On the floors, we recommend plastic floor tiles, which install as a floating floor that needs no grout or adhesives.
Our product line includes six different options for basement walls and nine different basement flooring options.
More about our Basement Wall & Floor Products
Install A Basement Dehumidifier
Rather than ventilate the basement with air that could be humid, cold, or damp, we suggest installing an energy efficient, self-draining basement dehumidifier.
Our SaniDry™ Dehumidifier is able to remove 100 pints of water each day, with digital controls that allow you to set the humidity level of your basement. A powerful blower motor keeps the air circulating through your basement -- drying the entire space.
The SaniDry™ is more than just a dehumidifier. An air filtration system allows it remove allergens and particles from the basement air as small as 2 microns. An optional odor filter can help to eliminate musty smells and odors. It's just what you need for a cleaner, drier, healthier basement space!
More about our SaniDry XP™ Dehumidifier
We Provide Long-Term Solutions For Damp, Musty Basements!
Your local Basement Systems dealer has the experience, training, and products you need to upgrade your damp, musty basement and transform it into dry, usable space in your home. Our products are designed to create permanent solutions for your home that create a more attractive and beautiful space for you and your family.
Our International Waterproofing Network includes locally owned and operated dealers throughout Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. To schedule a free dry basement quote, contact us by phone or e-mail today!