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10 Tips to Get Rid of “Old-House Smell”

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10 Tips to Get Rid of “Old-House Smell”
4 min. read

Image: Aaron Amat / Shutterstock.com

Whether you’re buying or selling a home, if there’s one thing that can put a wrench in things, it’s the “old-house smell.” Musty and distinctive, there’s no escaping it, and it’s often the first thing that hits you as you walk through the door.

Fortunately, a little know-how is a powerful thing, and no matter how potent a smell is, there’s always a way to get rid of it. Here are 10 tips to get rid of the old-house smell from your home.

1.   Know Where Old House Smell Comes From

It’s almost impossible to remove a smell if you don’t know where it’s coming from and what’s causing it. Older homes are typically darker and normally don’t have very good ventilation systems compared to more modern ones. Herein lies the problem. Poor ventilation leads to dampness and, when combined with darkness, mold can flourish. That’s right – the old-house smell is typically caused by mold. Fortunately, there are ways to get rid of it.

2.   Air & Sunshine

The UV light in sunshine naturally disinfects, while the warmth of the sun can help dry out the house. With fewer darker corners to sprout up in, sunlight provides an excellent defense against mold and mildew. Air circulation also aids in keeping your home drier, so throw the curtains wide and open up your windows. The fresh air will also remove that stuffy, stale feeling from certain rooms. In tougher-to-reach areas, use fans to promote air circulation.

3.   Dehumidify Damp Areas

A humid home is ideal for mold. So, if yours is particularly humid, it’s worth investing in a dehumidifier or two. Keep these running to remove the excess moisture from the air and to dry things up a bit. Along with keeping the windows open, this will help to freshen the air in your home.

4.   Check for Leaks

If you have leaks in your home or issues with the bathroom piping, there’s only so much a dehumidifier can do. Check under every sink, each faucet and any piping in your home. If you find something leaking, get it fixed as soon as possible. Now is also a good opportunity to remove any clutter from under your sinks, as this can often conceal leaks. Plus, depending on the nature of the clutter, it can also begin to smell when damp.

5.   Combat Any Mold

The previous steps will help prevent mold from growing. But, if it’s already there, be sure to get rid of it. Bleach, tea-tree oil, boiling water, vinegar, baking soda and so on can all work wonders against mold. A firm scrub will remove the visible mold, while chemical treatments will destroy the hidden spores and ensure it doesn’t return.

6.   Pay Attention to Carpets & Upholstery

So far, you’ve reduced humidity, let light in, recirculated air and destroyed any sources of mold. But, does something still smell musty? Over time, fabrics absorb a lot of moisture, and mold spores can soon take hold. Carpets are notorious for absorbing smells, so if you want to keep them, they will likely need a professional, deep clean; otherwise, it might be best to replace them altogether. Furthermore, upholstery on couches, armchairs and any other furniture can also harbor smells. Again, either replace them or give them a really deep clean.

7.   Freshen Up the Walls

Like carpets, your walls can also harbor smells. Grease, dust and mildew can gather on the surfaces, and over time, they will start to smell. Whether you plan to paint them or not, it’s essential that you give them a good cleaning first. To do this, mix two cups of vinegar, one cup of borax and 16 ounces of hydrogen peroxide bleach in a bucket of hot water. Then, wipe the mix over your smelly walls to break down grease, kill mildew and remove odors.

8.   Clean Out Your HVAC System

The vents and ducts that run through your home and facilitate the HVAC system can soon become dirty, and it’s only a matter of time before mold festers. Air conditioner filters are another common culprit, and you could be inadvertently pumping old-house smell throughout your whole home. While you can swap out filters yourself, it’s worth calling in the pros to check and clean the vents.

9.   Search High & Low for the Source

If you’ve done all of the above and you still have that old-house smell, it’s worth checking under your home. Be sure your basement is free from mold, but also check the crawlspace. Keep an eye open for any bare soil; if you find any, seal it off. Next, check the attic for leaks and mold.

10.  Use Odor Neutralizers

Musty smells can also be absorbed by common odor neutralizers such as baking soda or white vinegar. Simply lay pots of one or the other out of sight in affected areas.

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