How to Get Rid of Musty Smell in Basement

Last Updated on May 10, 2024 by Peter Simmons

So you finally inherited the Queen Anne home your great-grandparents built in the 1900s. It’s a nice old home that houses your treasures and hundreds of family secrets and memories.

Your basement spans 1,100 square feet, offering plenty of space for your gym equipment and more. However, there’s a persistent musty smell that you can’t seem to conquer, no matter what you do. This post offers you 11 practical tips on how to get rid of the musty smell in your basement.

Related: Best basement air purifiers

Many Basements Stink Whether Finished or Unfinished

Each time you step into the basement, you catch that musty, dusty smell. It’s not unbearable, but you’d prefer a fresher atmosphere. So, how can you improve the air quality in your basement to create a more enjoyable workout space?

This Idea Probably Won’t Work Well

air scrubber sitting in a small basement with moldy walls

Running a regular consumer air purifier is hardly the smartest approach. To be clear, air purifiers work, but they’re not the best way to purify extremely large rooms like musty, unfinished basements.

In my experience, most air purifiers are inadequate for spaces that large. Even when the manufacturer says their product is a large-room air purifier.

The Medify MA112 or one of those high-CADR IQAir units could work, but they’re not cheap. For example, the IQAir GC MultiGas costs $1,000+.

And the filters? Be ready to replace them every 3–4 months. Their replacement filters are pricey, sometimes costing as much as a decent air purifier!

5 Ideas to Help a Sick Basement

1. Deep-Clean Your Unfinished Basement

Why, you ask? Well, odors and dust have a way of teaming up! Plus, temperature and humidity changes can often make odor problems worse.

Consider hiring a professional cleaning service to work on the entire space, including the ductwork. As someone with experience in HVAC systems, I can attest that this approach works effectively.

2. Replace the Furnace Filter

Or even replace the entire heating and cooling system if it’s old and inefficient. Installing a new filter may be necessary, although it might not be enjoyable. However, nothing circulates basement air and keeps unfinished, musty basements fresher than a properly functioning HVAC system.

3. Keep Relative Humidity Low

Keep the relative humidity below 50% to control mold and mildew growth by running a dehumidifier. Use a hygrometer to monitor RH.

A good dehumidifier removes excess humidity, making your space more comfortable while discouraging mold and mildew, which often cause musty odors in damp areas.

4. Install a Ceiling Exhaust Fan

And run it all the time. Running the humble fan around the clock will help keep the air circulating. Also, it will quicken the escape of carbon monoxide and radon gas.

The basement needs a fresh air duct so that fresh air can come in from outside to counter the negative pressure created by the exhaust fan. Replacing old cellar windows with vented glass blocks or vents is a great way to improve basement air circulation.

Even though radon can be found anywhere around the house, it’s a pretty common basement pollutant. The CDC says there’s no safe level of radon gas, so try to reduce it as much as possible. Let a ceiling exhaust fan help with that.

5. Seal up Cracks and Improve Insulation

Maybe your walls have all kinds of little cracks and openings that need sealing. Did I hear you say your walls are painted? Even painted walls can have moisture issues.

So, have someone look at them and seal up wall, window, door, and floor cracks. And, of course, get your basement finished and fully insulated.

6. Deal with Mold and Mildew Issues

If you suspect mold issues, it may be time to request an IICRC-certified mold inspector to inspect that basement.

7. Invest in a Powerful Hepa Air Scrubber

They’re similar to air purifiers and help remove airborne pollutants, including musty smells in unfinished basements.

I suggest you buy a commercial-grade air scrubber. These are insanely good when it comes to moving air. I am certain you won’t regret your decision.

The Downside of Air Scrubbers

Air scrubbers can be quite noisy. On the strongest and fastest setting, it’s like having a powerful lawn mower or power tool roaring away the whole time.

Some might say it’s deafening. I say air scrubbers are okay, provided you run them on the loudest setting for too long.

And the best part? A ripped-abs air scrubber doesn’t cost too much. Consider the BlueDri BD-AS-550-BL air scrubber, for example. This rugged air scrubbing pro costs around $600. And it should be adequate to clean your 1,100-square-foot basement.

8. An Inexpensive but Powerful Idea: Corse-Rosenthal Box

Don’t have the money to buy an air scrubber or a set of air purifiers? Don’t worry. Instead, get creative and set up a Corsi-Rosenthal box.

With a budget of under $100 and basic skills, you should be able to set up this DIY air purifier. And keep stuffiness out of your man cave.

9. Use Activated Charcoal

Ancient Egyptians and sailors were onto something with activated charcoal. The Egyptians used it to mummify dead bodies, thinking it helped keep things fresh.

Sailors took it onboard to clean up drinking water and stop food from going bad during long sea trips.

They knew the charcoal’s tiny holes could soak up all the yucky stuff and bad smells. Today, we can use this same trick to kick out basement stink. And the best part? Charcoal isn’t expensive.

10. Using Vinegar and Baking Soda

Mix equal parts of vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Then, liberally spray the affected areas. The vinegar’s acidity helps eliminate basement odors by neutralizing them.

For baking soda, sprinkle it on carpets, upholstery, or surfaces. Then, let it sit for several hours before vacuuming it all up. Baking soda absorbs odors and leaves a fresh scent behind.

11. Use a Basement Odor Eliminator

Using a basement odor eliminator freshens the air instantly. However, these deodorants only mask odors temporarily without addressing the root cause. A long-term basement odor solution involves identifying and tackling the root of the problem.

How to Build a Corsi-Rosenthal Box?

Here’s a video on how to put together a Corsi-Rosenthal Box to keep your stuffy hobby corner smelling clean and fresh. At least when you’re not exercising. And here are Corsi-Rosenthal Box instructions in case you prefer written ones.

To build a Corsi-Rosenthal box, you’ll need:

  • Four 20’’x20’’x2’’ HEPA air filters
  • A box fan, duct tape
  • Cardboard (cut this out from the fan’s box)
  • Clear and accurate assembling instructions
  • Your hands, brain, and eyes

And who says you can’t use your DIY air cleaner to face next spring’s pollen surge with confidence?

Remove Basement Musty Smell FAQs

How Do You Remove Musty Basement Smell Naturally?

The best way is to improve air circulation. To improve air movement, set up an exhaust fan and install an efficient HVAC system with a HEPA filter.

Also, replace old cellar windows with glass block vents, seal leaky windows and doors to reduce drafts, seal walls and floors, tackle mold and mildew, and improve insulation.

Will a Dehumidifier Help Get Rid of the Musty Smell in the Basement?

Yes, a good basement dehumidifier can help remove excess moisture and reduce the musty smell. Damp basements don’t smell fresh, and drying them out with a dehumidifier helps.

However, using this machine alone may not be sufficient to fully address the problem. Use it to keep moisture levels lower, but combine it with other smell elimination strategies.

How Do I Permanently Get Rid of Musty Smell in My Basement?

To permanently remove musty basement smell, eliminate the source. Start by controlling moisture levels through dehumidifiers and waterproofing.

Improving ventilation and using air scrubbers and air purifiers with HEPA filters can also help. Also, cleaning the floor and walls with mold-killing solutions and sealing surfaces can prevent future odors.

Can a Basement Smell Musty Without Mold?

A basement can smell musty even if there’s no mold or mildew. Factors like high humidity levels, compounded by poor basement ventilation, can lead to a bad smell. Stagnant air can also cause a musty odor even when there’s no mold growth.

Other sources of mustiness include water leaks or organic debris. Regular inspections can help identify these issues so you can correct them before they worsen.

How to Get Rid of Musty Smell in Basement: Final Thoughts

An inexpensive but effective way to keep the air in an unfinished basement nice and clean is to use a DIY system. Assembling a Corsi-Rosenthal box isn’t difficult.

What if money isn’t tight? Get a commercial HEPA air scrubber or a bunch of air purifiers. Use a dehumidifier alongside these devices. To ensure the odor vanishes, deal with the root cause: excess moisture or dampness.

Thoroughly clean the place, improve air movement, and seal cracks in walls, floors, and around windows. Improve insulation, too. Install a ceiling exhaust fan along with a vent to counter back-drafting. Activated charcoal also helps, but basement odor eliminators and deodorants do little besides masking the smell.

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