How to Make a Basement Smell Better

Although you might spend a lot of time and effort keeping your above-ground rooms clean, the smell from an unkempt basement can leak out and tarnish the feel and atmosphere of the entire home. Because basements are often fully underground, they have a tendency to build up a lot of moisture. Combine that moisture with a lack of sunlight and you're likely to have a problem with smells caused by mildew. Learning how to make a basement smell better will require a little effort on your part, but in the end can improve the quality of your home--in the basement and elsewhere, too.


  1. Image titled Make a Basement Smell Better Step 1
    Identify the source of the smell. Most basements suffer from a musty, earthy kind of smell caused by mildew, which is a type of fungus that thrives in warm, humid areas that don't have much lighting. Humidity can be caused by leaky pipes, or even hot and cold pipes that cause condensation under the right temperature conditions. Check behind your basement walls, in your basement's crawl spaces, along the ceiling tiles, and in the tiny nooks and crannies.
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    Remove all mildew- and mold-infected objects. When you've discovered the source of the musty smell, you have 2 choices: to try to clean out the mildew and mold smell from everything infected by it, or simply to throw away whatever has the smell embedded within. However, whichever choice you make, you'll have to clean out the basement by taking the infected objects outside, allowing the basement to breathe and be cleaned of that moldy basement smell.
    • If you had items in storage that are affected by the smell, you'll need to make a decision between keeping them and throwing them away. Cleaning out the musty smell from books and papers can be very difficult. If you keep them, the smell will permeate the basement again, undoing much of your work in cleaning it. If you don't want to throw them away, you'll need to keep them in an airtight container or find a new location to store them in.
    • If you had clothes in the basement, they will need to be laundered in order to get the smell out. In some extreme cases, the musty and moldy smell will be extremely difficult or even impossible to remove, in which case you might consider throwing them away.
    • If the musty smell is embedded into objects like furniture and carpets, you'll need to take them outside when the weather is dry; ideally, when the sun is out and humidity is low. Allow them to be aired out and sun-dried for a few hours and, if possible, give them a few good hits with a broom to free dust and other particles that might carry the smell as well.
    • Sometimes, even sun-drying and airing out will not kill the smell. In this case, it might be easier and more convenient to just start over by purchasing new carpeting and furniture for your basement.
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    Give the entire basement a thorough cleaning. Once the basement has been evacuated of all objects, you'll need to spend some time cleaning the walls and fixtures in order to get rid of all the mold and mildew and particles carrying the smell. Wear protective gloves, a face mask, and scrub everything with a heavy-duty brush and cleaning solution.
    • If you'd like to use a homemade solution for cleaning, consider the following combination: 2 parts hydrogen peroxide, 2 parts white vinegar, 1 part boric acid, and 4 parts water. Avoid using too much of the solution when cleaning, however, as you may build up excess moisture in your basement.
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    Deodorize and ventilate your basement. After the results of scrubbing have been mopped and wiped away, bring in some fresh air to aid in the drying process. If you have windows, open them up. If you don't have windows, open your basement door and place a fan downstairs to help with air circulation. This step is important and will go a long way towards preventing your basement from musty smells in the future.
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    Make sure you fix the initial cause of mildew. If you have a leaky pipe, make sure you get that fixed. If your pipes are causing condensation, wrap them in insulation. If your basement is naturally humid, consider installing a dehumidifier. For a more permanent solution, consider connecting your basement to your home ventilation system.

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Categories: Home Improvements and Repairs