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General musty smell in house

Hello all-

We recently bought a one level + basement 1916 craftsman house in Seattle. It has developed a general musty (moldy?) smell throughout the house that generally correlates with the rainy season starting. I cannot pinpoint a single source, all rooms just generally smell. The basement does not smell more than the main level, in fact possibly less.

I have done extensive searching for any visible mold or moisture and cannot find any. The attic and basement are exposed and accessible and dry.

Other notes:

- I've had the air ducts cleaned
- I've ran the dehumidifier in the basement for days on end
- I checked the attic ... we recently had a new roof put so the attic is quite dry

I'm about out of ideas. I guess next I will hire a mold inspector. The only thing I can think is that there is something inside the walls (plaster on lath)?

Any help or ideas would be appreciated.



Re: General musty smell in house

Sounds like you have a made a good start . What about smelly carpet ? Plumbing leaks ? Maybe check the drain vents . Stinky pets ? :D

Re: General musty smell in house

I'll second checking the carpets. Stick your nose right down to it & take a whiff.
I bought a house with carpet that was peed on by pets. It was generally most noticeable when humid.
Replacement was the only thing that worked.

Re: General musty smell in house

Thanks for the responses ...

Forgot to mention that the house does not have wall-to-wall carpeting, it is mostly hardwood floors. We only have a couple oriental rugs that are definitely not smelly. There is a small carpet in the basement that might be moldy but I just can't believe it is smelling up the whole upstairs. Plus, I've stuck my nose right up to it and it is not a powerful odor.

No pets too.

Has anyone had professional mold testing done? Is that the next option?


Re: General musty smell in house

Thanks for the response!

I understand your line of questioning ... here are my thoughts:

We moved in in June and the roof was done in mid August. The smell really only started to be noticeable in late September and increasing through October so I wouldn't conclude that it is correlated with the timing of the roof necessarily, but more with the rains beginning.

They did a full tear off of 3 or 4 layers of old roofing, including the original cedar shingles. They took it down to the 1X4 sheathing boards, all of which were in good shape with no evidence of mold, rot or wetness. I was very pleased with the roofing job, decking was 1/2" plywood, felt & laminate shingles, and all the appropriate drip edges, seams, flashing, etc was installed. Also, he installed two solarfan vents which are drawing a good amount of air through the attic keeping it dry.

Because we are new owners, I can't really say when the problem started. It is possible that this happened every wet winter and the previous owner just didn't do anything about it.

As for drainage, there are some issues with gutter downspout drains being backed up or not draining away from the house. This could certainly be related, but what I'm having trouble with is where exactly the mold/odor IS. Like I mentioned, I can't see any wetness in the basement or anywhere else. I'm starting to conclude that it must be in the walls.


Re: General musty smell in house

We just dealt with this problem in my closet.
A damp moldy, musty smell gradually got worse over a period of about a year.
I started seeing small grayish splotches on the closet walls.
My husband removed the outside wall covering of wood.
Termites had gotten into the wall and created a large coating of damp material they leave behind. The 2x4's & siding material had to be replaced. Everything was sprayed with termite killing solution before covering the area back up to reseal the wall.
What created this was previous owner had allowed untreated wood to be in contact with the concrete flooring and only inches from the dirt. So check all areas where your home has close contact with the ground.

A warning: The termites had come into the closet, they got into some boxes of precious pictures. It was a nasty mess, I lost some pictures due to moisture from the termites in these boxes.

Re: General musty smell in house

I have the same problem.
I bought this house in 2006. it is 30 years old and the perivous owners did not keep up with the maintence.
here is a list of things we have done to eleminate the smell.
1- we replaced the main outside doors and windows. they were rotten and the seals were wet and smelled badley.
2- we used this company called DRY_PRO. they put a liner in the basment to reduce the humidity. $1/sqft
3- got a dehumidifier for the house a couple of days ago, works well.
4- got a MOLD testing kid to see if there were any. none, thank god.

a couple more things I need to do:

1-wash the walls of the basement with a mixture of bleach amd water. some soap.
2- get the DRY_PRO people to apply a sealant to the basement wall and seal off the basement vents and put a dehumidifier in the basement also.

when we replace the windows, we could smell the wood that came of the house.
also, there is a product that I bought at Sam's. it is called "OdoBan" thier web site is www.odoban.com
it works great on getting rid of smell all over the house.

hope this helps you and let us know what happens.:)

Re: General musty smell in house

How do I locate the Dry_Pro for my area? And How did you use the odoban? I got on their website and noticed they have various methods for odor removal. What do you recommend? Thanks

Re: General musty smell in house

sorry for delay.
go to www.dryprosystems.com
hopefully they have an office close to you.

OdoBan has so many use and I think it says on the bottle how much you would need for diffierent use.
I pour some in an open glass and leave it in the area to absorbe the bad smell.


Re: General musty smell in house

Odoban works REAL GOOD! You can spray it on just about everything, from carpets to furniture. It has a nice clean fresh smell. They also sell just a small spray bottle of Odoban at any Walmart. Maybe start with that to see if you like it before going and buying the Gallon at Sams.

Re: General musty smell in house

For an inspector near you look up www.iaqcouncil.org or www.aiha.org. Sounds like you could use some specific advice as to what is causing the odors, the source of odors (and any existing pollutants), and a scope of work you can use to get things back in order. Unfortunately, there aren't good test kits out there for mold inspections that get specific. Sounds to me like you've done all you can. It's time for a Pro to inspect the property.

One final note: don't let a remediator be the inspector. No reputable business in our industry today does that. It is a conflict of interest. Find someone that doesn't have a financial gain in telling you there is a problem. The two websites listed above are great for that. There are people you can call within those organizations that will help you too. And it doesn't cost anything to get their advice on finding the professionals near you.

Best wishes.


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