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Musty smell in clothes closets

We purchased our 1938 Colonial home in 2003. It had sat empty for 7 years. The previous owner did keep it heated & cooled. It needed a complete over haul. The last interior paint job was around 1958 when the newest addition was built. Almost everything was original. Two years ago I painted our bedroom closets. It wasn't until last year when I packed a suite case to visit my Mom that I noticed a smell coming from it. My clothes smelled musty. When I arrived home I washed all my clothes hanging in the closets thinking that would get rid of the smell. The next time I packed a bag, same thing. What is going on? How do I get rid of the smell and where is it coming from? I'm worried that all my clothes are musty, I just can't smell them because I live in it. Even my coat closet downstairs has a musty smell if I keep the door closed. (That is newly painted as well) Does anyone know what can be done about this?
Thank you

Re: Musty smell in clothes closets

For one, the existing closet may be trapping any moisture from rainy coats or clothing that is put in there. A box of baking soda changed regularly is sure to remove any stagnant odors.

In general, any musty smells that are sudden might be hint of a small roof or plumbing leak in the area. If it was an issue that always existed I would also point to any connected properties or simply that the building has held onto any smell from its past.

Unfortunately, I dont have a solid answer as I recently purchased an older home and have no idea where the closet gets its smell from. I'm assuming cracks are in the walls and its coming from a joined property through the shared firewall, but that's my case.

Re: Musty smell in clothes closets

If the same smell keeps coming back, you have to find the source of the smell and remedy the situation. Merely treating the smell will only make it go away for a short period of time, but not solve the problem.

The source got to be moisture or water. Check for clues of a leak somewhere around the closet.

A. Spruce
Re: Musty smell in clothes closets

Most often, closets become smelly because they get zero air circulation. Even with a brand new house, with new walls, new paint, and new carpet will become "dank" or "musky" from the lack of air movement in the closet. In the case of a coat closet, if we coats are put in there, then the moisture can cause a musty or mildew aroma.

If you or the previous owners were smokers or there were pet accidents, that's a whole other set of smell issues that will be fun to eradicate.

Directly to your problem. If you've got a mildew odor, then that would indicate that there is moisture entering the closet from somewhere. Is it sharing a plumbing wall with the bathroom or kitchen? Leaks from the pipes can cause mold/mildew within the wall, which will increase moisture and odors in the closet. Other sources of moisture in this area could be from roof leaks, or excess moisture on the outside of the wall, say where a sprinkler is hitting the side of the house.

In a home as old as yours, it's not uncommon to find holes into the crawl space or attic, both within the wall and outside of the wall. It's very common in older homes to roll back the carpet and see the ground under the house (raised foundation homes, obviously ). Moisture and odor can be coming from these areas.

Eradication of the odors is somewhat difficult. In the case of moisture issues, the moisture source must be found and eliminated, then any damaged wall or flooring needs to be replaced. If no moisture issues are present, then sealing up air infiltration points (other than the door to the closet) will be necessary. Walls can be primed (at least 2 coats ) with a BIN primer such as Zinsser red label primer and then painted. Flooring can be replaced.

Prevention - frequent airing out of the closet and not letting the clothing be left dormant, meaning if you're not washing and wearing it regularly, then it's going to attract and propagate odors that will infiltrate everything within the closet. You can also use aromatic sachets, potpourri, etc around the closet to keep odors minimized, though be forewarned that any aromas, good, bad, or indifferent, will migrate into clothing. You could also try a room ozone generator. Ozone attacks odors at the cellular level and neutralizes them, as well as kills mold and mildew.

Re: Musty smell in clothes closets

I appreciate everyone's input here.
We have checked all around the closets for leaks, cracks, anything, no plumbing pipes running nearby. We replaced the entire roof after moving in.
In my coat closet I never hang up a wet coats. All interior walls here. Then I realized my husbands clothes do not have the same musty smell as mine. The only difference is the room with his closets (master) we run an air purifier. For an early Christmas gift we purchased two Oransi hepa purifiers. My closet doors are wide open with the purifier nearby. Not sure how long it will take to make a difference, or if it will even work, but time will tell.

Re: Musty smell in clothes closets

Is the home on a crawl space?
Even without 'holes' for air to travel through from a crawl, humidity will still come up - even in new, 'tight' homes.
It's not uncommon for humidity from a crawl to get trapped in closets, mechanical rooms, etc. with no circulation and light and get 'musty'.

Timothy Miller
Re: Musty smell in clothes closets

Howdy consider replacing the closet light bulbs with the ones that have uv ratings to stop fungus growth.

Re: Musty smell in clothes closets

Try ozone. I had the same probem in both a small linen closet and a drawer in a chest of drawers. No moisture played a role in either. "Dead air", as someone mentioned, may contribute. Ozone should help. Small generators are available on line.

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