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Musty smell

Moldy vs. Musty Smell

When should I worry about the smell?

Every home has it’s own unique odors and smells that reflect the nature of the home and  those living in it. Sometimes, environmental factors also play a large role in the odor. For example, the weather. During heavy rain and seasonal changes, some houses begin to emit that “musty smell” that can make the home much less pleasant.

The Difference between A Musty Smell and a moldy one

The musty or moldy smell is a sign that something is not right. Similar in nature, they are both caused by the presence of mold or mildew; which are both fungi and grow in the presence of moisture, or water.

Mildew is a powdery or downy surface growth and is most often found on plant materials (fruits and vegetables, flowering or decorative plants).  Molds are usually thicker and can cause more structural damage since they penetrate deeper into the material they are growing on.  Molds can grow on plant materials as well, but are also commonly found on building materials like walls and flooring and most home contents (books, cardboard, clothing, etc.).

The primary difference between moldy and musty odors is in the strength of the smell; musty odors are usually not as strong as moldy odors.  Since both moldy and musty odors suggest mold growth, it’s important to take action quickly when you notice an odor to prevent extensive damage to your home and the lingering musty odor that can penetrate non-moldy materials in your home and prolong the unpleasant odor experience.

Preventing A Musty Smell and Mold Growth

Investigate Possible Sources of Moisture Buildup
  • Any water leak (plumbing, roof, walls, basement, etc.)
  • Air conditioning units or drain lines
  • Condensation, especially around windows or on exterior walls
  • Incorrectly installed flashing can allow water inside the walls
  • Freezer/refrigerator door seals and drip pans
  • Wastebaskets and trash cans
  • Materials that have been wet in the past (books, magazines, newspapers, carpet, cardboard, etc.)
Avoid Moisture
  • General dampness, repeated condensation, and high humidity can sometimes bring on a musty smell.  Since dampness can also facilitate mold growth it’s likely that mold is beginning to form once you start noticing a musty smell.
Clean Leaks Immediately
  • If you are not able to thoroughly dry everything within 48 hours it’s likely that mold will begin to grow in the areas that are still damp.

For more information on the causes of mold and mildew; effects of mold and mildew; signs of an infestation; remediation tactics; and prevention tips:

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