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Free Encyclopedia of Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, Repair
ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS - INSPECT, TEST, REMEDY
MOLD: A COMPLETE GUIDE to TEST CLEAN PREVENT
ACTIVITY of MOLD in BUILDINGS
AGE of MOLD - Old is the Mold?
AIR CLEANER PURIFIER TYPES
AIR FILTERS for HVAC SYSTEMS
AIR TEST SAMPLING CASSETTE STUDY
AIRBORNE MOLD COUNT NUMBER GUIDE
AIRBORNE PARTICLE ANALYSIS METHODS
ALLERGEN TESTS for BUILDINGS
BROWN HAIRY BATHROOM MOLD
BIBLIOGAPHY for ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH, MOLD, IAQ
BLACK MOLD, HARMLESS COSMETIC
BLACK MOLD, TOXIC & ALLERGENIC
BLEACHING MOLD, Advice about
BOOK MOLD, Moldy Book Cleaning
BOOKSTORE - ENVIRONMENTAL
CACTUS FUNGI / MOLD
CAR MOLD CONTAMINATION
CARPET DUST IDENTIFICATION
CARPET PADDING ASBESTOS, MOLD, ODORS
CARPET FUNGICIDAL SPRAY
CARPET STAIN DIAGNOSIS
CARPET & other STAIN TESTS
CARPET TEST PROCEDURE
CARPETING & INDOOR AIR QUALITY
CHAIN OF CUSTODY - TEST SAMPLE
CLEARANCE INSPECTIONS - MOLD CLEANUP
DIRECTORY of MOLD / ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERTS
DIRT FLOOR MOLD CONTAMINATION
Disinfecting Buildings with Bleach
DO-IT-YOURSELF MOLD CLEANUP WARNINGS
DUST ANALYSIS for FIBERGLASS
DUST, HVAC CONTAMINATION STUDY
EFFLORESCENCE, Salts & White / Brown Deposits
FEAR of MOLD - MYCOPHOBIA
Fiberboard Insulation Sheathing Mold
FIBERGLASS INSULATION MOLD
FIND MOLD, ESSENTIAL STEPS
MOLD in BUILDINGS
FIRE DAMAGE vs MOLD DAMAGE
FLOODS IN BUILDINGS-mold
FOXING STAINS on books & papers
FUNGICIDAL SPRAY & SEALANT USE GUIDE
GAS DETECTION INSTRUMENTS
GAS EXPOSURE EFFECTS, TOXIC
GAS EXPOSURE LIMITS & STANDARDS
GAS TEST PROCEDURES
HOUSE DUST ANALYSIS
HOUSE DUST COMPONENTS
HUMIDITY CONTROL & TARGETS INDOORS
LAB PROCEDURES MICROSCOPE TECHNIQUES
LIGHT, GUIDE to FORENSIC USE
MEDIA BLASTING for MOLD REMOVAL
METHANE GAS SOURCES
MICROSCOPE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
MEDIA BLASTING for MOLD REMOVAL
METHANE GAS SOURCES
MICROSCOPE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
MILDEW ERRORS, IT's MOLD
MILDEW REMOVAL & PREVENTION
MOISTURE CONTROL in BUILDINGS
MOLD: A COMPLETE GUIDE TO MOLD
MOLD EXPERT, WHEN TO HIRE
MVOCs & MOLDY MUSTY ODORS
MYCOPHOBIA, STAINS MISTAKEN for MOLD
MYCOTOXIN EFFECTS of MOLD EXPOSURE
ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE
RENTERS GUIDE TO MOLD & IAQ
ROBIGUS & Wheat Rust Fungus
SMELL PATCH TEST to Track Down Odors
STAINS on & in BUILDINGS, CAUSES & CURES
THERMAL IMAGING MOLD SCANS
TRAPPED MOLD BETWEEN WOOD SURFACES
UV LIGHT BLACK LIGHT USES
VAPOR BARRIERS & CONDENSATION
VENTILATION in BUILDINGS
Volatile Organic Compounds VOCs
WATER ENTRY in buildings
Mold & Musty Smells Explained: this web article summarizes the common sources and causes of moldy and musty odors in buildings. Here we explain the causes & cures of moldy smells & odors in buildings. We discuss how to track down a moldy smell to its source, possible health hazards where there are mold smells & MVOCs in buildings, and we describe how to clean out or remove moldy odors from buildings, furnishings, clothing, etc. This website provides articles on to diagnose, test, identify, and cure moldy musty odors in buildings.
Readers should also see MVOCs & MOLDY MUSTY ODORS and see MYCOTOXIN EFFECTS of MOLD EXPOSURE. Also see How to Find & Remove Odors, Gases, & Smells in Buildings - our article covering all building odors and smells.
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Single individual mold genera/species may produce different moldy musty odors
There are some mold genera/species that produce a variety of odors (MVOC’s) depending on varying conditions of moisture and also what the molds are growing on, as well as producing odors only under certain conditions (particularly with variations in temperature and humidity, and perhaps light).
Our photo (left) illustrates that the source of a mold smell in a building may be hidden from view - in this case there was extensive mold found growing on the back (hidden side) of kitchen cabinets. The cabinet shown was removed to show the problem.
Different mold genera species may produce different moldy musty odors
There are building conditions that produce a variety of growing mold species - in a moldy building it is very likely that there are multiple species growing on various mold-friendly materials. Some mold colonies can be hard to spot. Certainly different species of mold respond differently to temperature, moisture, and nutrients they find. For example, one mold species is referred to as the "moldy gym socks" mold since it produces that odor.
Buildings with a moldy smell may have other odors or hazards not related to mold
Most people have a pretty good idea of moldy or musty smell as associated with mold. If you smell mold or find it at important levels in screening samples of air, dust, or vacuumed surfaces, (by quantity or by particle type in samples) it is probably there.
But it would be no surprise to find a variety of odors in a building coming from mold problems or from other problems there.
There can be lots of other odor sources in a building, including potentially dangerous ones such as heating appliance flue gases (which might include very dangerous but odorless carbon monoxide along with smelly combustion products) in a building. Other possible concerns that might produce strange smells include chemicals such as pesticides that may have been improperly applied. To identify other building mold odors see Odors, Smells, Gases in Buildings-Diagnosis & Cure.
Since lots of building conditions can cause odors (ranging from dead animals to sewer backups) and since some of them can be tough to track down (sun-heated plastic windows, window screens, or vinyl siding), also take a look at the links along the left of this page.
Variations in Conditions at a Building Cause Wide Variation in Mold Odors
One cannot tell from smell alone whether the mold is a large or small area, nor can one tell by smell alone if the mold we smell is allergenic or toxic.
What to do about moldy odors in buildings
Knowing something about the history of the building and its prior occupants and uses can help point to directions of investigation. This is especially useful since there are no simple economical “catch-all” tests for chemicals or gases that cover every possible hazard.
Find the problem mold source
Follow your nose, use your eyes, but also think: where has there been a building moisture problem, roof leak, plumbing leak, sewer backup, or other moisture source. Investigate these areas by visual inspection. Mold tests can be useful but are no substitute for a careful visual inspection and history-taking if you want to find odor problems in a building. Our website provides in-depth guidance on what to do about mold. See in particular
Individual odor sensitivity varies widely
It is certainly true that individuals’ sensitivities to odors varies quite widely. Often one person in a building or family notices odors more than everyone else, just as sometimes only one family member is bothered or made ill by mold or allergens or other building contaminants.
For example some pregnant women experience an acute increase in odor sensitivity. I’ve conducted field experiments that demonstrated a remarkably accurate ability of a pregnant woman (who complained of odors in the home) to correctly identify materials emitting a particular odor even when others in the home didn't’t notice a thing.
Illness or even medicines can cause variations in odor perception
It’s also true that some illnesses can cause perception or misperception of odors (imagining smells) while other illnesses can interfere with one’s ability to sense an odor. So a thorough approach to odor complaints would include consulting with a physician. This is particularly appropriate if there were not an obvious in-building source, when only one person in a building perceives a problematic odor, or when someone already knows that they have an illness or complaint that may be odor-sensitive, such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or when someone is under particular medical treatments that may cause odor sensitivity problems to manifest themselves.
Return to Mold/IAQ Action Guide: What to do about mold, mildew, and other indoor allergens an environmental testing guidance website explaining what to do about mold, mildew, and other indoor allergens or go to More Information on Building Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, and Repair Alternatives
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Mold Odor Troubleshooting in Buildings, Furnishings, Clothing
Question: black mold in my garage wall left a musty smell in clothing - will the smell go away ?
I have black mold in one wall of my garage, due to a leak. It is now being repaired. It smelled musty for about a year and I finally am getting around to fixing it. I use my garage as a closet for some clothing. I notice that the ones that have been there for a long time smell musty.
Do I need to throw them all away, or will the smell and any danger from the mold in the air that got onto the clothing simply go away in time? Many of these are clothes are vintage and have been in there for 10-20 years. I am not going to wash them- it's either they will be fine in time or I will sadly throw them away. There are too many to wash, iron etc. and some are too delicate or ornate to wash. Thanks, R.P.
Our photo (left) illustrates a leather jacket covered in heavy white mold growth. This item was beyond economical restoration.
Reply: clean clothing to get rid of mold odors; you may have to toss out carpets & some upholtered furnishings
A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem that you haven't discussed such as making sure the mold cause is repaired and making sure you don't focus just on "black mold" missing other more toxic or harmful molds that can be present where wet conditions occur in a building.
That said, here are some things to consider:
The mold smell will dissipate but it is unlikely to go away, certainly not quickly and possibly never in clothing that remains enclosed, boxed, or in closets in a moldy or recently moldy smelly area. This is so even if there is no visible mold on the clothing, as fabrics absorb MVOCs - volatile organic compounds produced by many mold species under the right conditions.
Occasionally we can successfully deodorize a fabric or even a carpet by leaving it outdoors in sunlight for enough hours, but in my experience moldy-smelling clothes can best and most reliably be deodorized by being laundered or dry-cleaned successfully to remove mold and odors. On occasion I've had to run clothes twice through a washer. Or have them cleaned professionally.
If there is clothing that would be less costly to buy new than to have professionally cleaned, the choice is apparent: replace those items.
In contrast, moldy smelling upholstered furniture or carpets can be difficult or impossible to clean successfully and are usually tossed out.
Questions & answers or comments about finding & removing mold odors in buildings, furnishings, clothing, other items..
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Technical Reviewers & References
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