How to Find Where a Musty Smell Is Coming From in My Basement


Opening the basement door and smelling a musty odor is not pleasant. Many homeowners choose to turn the basement into usable living space. A basement with a musty odor is not a place where a homeowner wants to entertain, relax or make a playroom for the children. A musty smell in a basement is a telltale sign of dampness. Dampness leads to mold and mildew growth, making the environment unhealthy. Mold and mildew harms a home and threatens the structure. Ridding the musty odor is necessary to improve the quality of a home.

Things You'll Need

  • Chlorine bleach
  • Mold killer
  • Spray bottle
  • Scrub brush
  • Hydraulic cement
  • Putty knife
  • Waterproofing material
  • Paintbrush
  • Vapor barrier
  • Pipe insulation
  • Water heater blanket
  • Eye protection
  • Rubber gloves
  • Respirator
  • Look for signs of mold and mildew on the walls, in closets and around windows and doors. Clean the mold with equal amounts of chlorine bleach and water, or a commercially available mold killer. Spray the mold killer on the moldy or mildewed areas and scrub them away with a scrub brush.

  • Examine the basement walls for cracks and holes. Apply hydraulic cement to the cracks and holes with a putty knife to seal them from water entry. If the entire wall feels damp, paint a coating of waterproofing material on the walls.

  • Inspect the plumbing pipes for drips, leaks and condensation. Repair or replace leaking pipes and insulate pipes with foam pipe wrap. Pipe insulation prevents the air from accessing the pipes, and stops or greatly slows condensation.

  • Scan the floor for signs of moisture. Paint the floor with waterproofing compound or install a vapor barrier and then install flooring material over it. Hydrostatic pressure forces the ground moisture through basement floors and walls, leading to a damp odor.

  • Wrap the hot water heater with a special insulating blanket to eliminate condensation formation on the exterior of the water heater. A thermal blanket also helps to lower the cost of heating the water.

  • Clean the basement and remove clutter. Concentrate efforts on removing cardboard and paper goods, which hold dampness. Store fabrics and textiles in a dry area of the house rather than the damp basement. Textiles also hold water and increase the musty odors.

  • Repair leaking gutters, replace missing gutter sections and clean clogged gutters. Gutter leaks allow water to run down the side of the house and next to the foundation. Water then enters the house through the foundation.

  • Grade the soil away from the foundation of the house, forcing water to flow from the house rather than toward it.

  • Keep plants, trees and shrubs a minimum of 24 inches from the foundation. The roots hold water and create excessive ground vapor, which then makes its way into the house.

Tips & Warnings

  • Limit a musty odor by setting up a dehumidifier in the basement.
  • Open windows and doors on dry warm or hot days to increase airflow and dry the basement.
  • Wear safety glasses, rubber gloves and a respirator when removing mold.


  • "Basements, Attics & Garages"; Creative Homeowner Editors: 2006
  • "Reader's Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual"; Family Handyman Magazine Editors; 2005
  • Photo Credit Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
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