Is a Musty Odor a Sign of Water Damage?

Walking into a garage, bedroom or bathroom and being hit with wafts of musty odors is rather unpleasant. The offensive smells are just one part of the problem—the other issue is that the home likely has suffered some degree of water damage.

Musty Smell - Water damage

Musty odors can be a telling sign, one that will likely compel a responsible homeowner to take immediate action. The homeowner’s functional olfactory sense picks up the unusual smells and alerts him to the presence of possible damage—in this case, water damage inside the home.

Detecting the must odors early on can prevent the spread of wide-scale water damage later. Although some water damage is readily visible, such as dark, circular water stains on the ceiling or bubbling wall paint, other forms of water damage can remain hidden to the untrained eye.

Fortunately, the unwanted musty smells send a clear signal to a homeowner that water damage has occurred. This is especially the case when the must odors appear suddenly. Despite most homes having their own unique smells, water damage will still be the likely culprit.

Where are the musty smells coming from?

Smelling stale and pungent, mold and mildew can be the cause of the pesky musty smells. Mold requires minimal nutrients to multiply: a constant source of moisture, darkness, and organic materials off which to directly feed. Basements, closets, and bathrooms provide mold spores with an abundance of food.

Moisture is one of the three primary forms of nourishment for mold spores. Mold can grow anywhere dampness has taken hold, and the moisture can come from common sources, such as humidity, condensation, leaky pipes, and unwashed, wet clothes thrown into the bathroom hamper.

Water damage can also develop as a result of toilet leaks or a leaky water heater. Outdoor causes of mold growth inside a home can include rain and snowstorms or gutter leaks. If the home caught fire, the water used to extinguish the flames can trigger a mold infestation.

As mentioned, water damage can be visible or concealed. Leaving a window open during a rain shower can bring moisture inside. When raindrops saturate the carpeting, mold can start to grow underneath within 24 to 48 hours. The mold may not be instantly seen, but it can be smelled.

Why does mold smell musty?

Mold is not only a nuisance to look at, but it is hazardous to breathe in. When mold spores form, they quickly spread, releasing gases called microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC). These chemical compounds are emitted during the various stages of the growth of spores.

Microbial volatile organic compounds occur naturally in the environment. Their odor threshold is low, which means a homeowner can detect the odors easily, and the smells will be strong. Hundreds of different MVOCs are produced by mold and mildew, and they present a health risk to homeowners.

What are the consequences of mold exposure?

Exposure to the microbial volatile organic compounds can lead to various ill health symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, nasal irritation, nausea, and fatigue. Asthma sufferers may experience worsened asthma symptoms, and people allergic to mold spores may have allergic reactions.

In addition to the undesirable health symptoms individuals may experience when exposed long-term to mold spores, the physical structure in which the mold grows can also become damaged. Mold eats away at building materials, thereby causing structural damage, and weakening building materials.

It is unsafe to remain inside a property infested with mold colonies. The occupants’ health and physical safety are at risk. Due to these concerns, homeowners are advised to clean up water damage and mold right away. Large areas of mold growth may necessitate the services of mold removal experts.

How do homeowners stop the musty odors?

Cleaning up the mold should be a priority for homeowners facing an infestation. The first step is to locate the source of the musty smells, whether it is mold growing under the sink in the bathrooms, inside the insulation in the attic, or between the window of the living room.

Removing the visible mold is useless without repairing the water leak. Remember mold thrives in damp areas; if the moisture flows uninterruptedly, the mold spores will continue to reappear. A homeowner can attempt a DIY repair task or consult a professional to fix the water leak.

Can I kill mold myself?Mold Remediation

Killing mold requires applying a solution of one cup household bleach plus one gallon of water. Scrub the mold off affected surfaces with the solution, then dry the area as quickly as possible. Run fans and dehumidifiers to increase airflow and accelerate the drying process.

Once the mold has been removed and the water leak has been fixed, ventilate the home further. Open windows, if weather permits, to introduce fresh air flow. Sprinkle baking soda throughout the odorous spaces and allow the product to absorb the last of the musty odors.

For more information see our blog: tips for removing mold from walls.

It is water damage or musty carpets?

Sometimes it is hard to explain where the musty smell is coming from. Many homeowners know that the most common cause for a musty smell is old and damp carpet. These carpets can sometimes be cleaned by professional steam cleaners. But when the damage is too bad the whole carpet might need to be removed. Carpet dries out easy enough, but when the pad underneath gets saturated it is not easy to dry and will lead to odor and mold.

My furniture got soaked in a small flood, now what?

If your furniture gets saturated by water you should look at the composition of the furniture. Natural wood based furniture has built in water pathways from when the wood was a tree that aids in the drying out process. Compressed or particle board based furniture does not have those same pathways so the dry out process is different. It also matters significantly what the classification of the water is that saturated your furniture. For example, if the water came up from any sort of drain, that is considered sewage water (or black water) and the owner should seriously consider replacing that furniture. Black water can be hazardous to your health because of the bacteria contained in it.

When to get help for restoration

Musty smells are indicative of water damage. When you notice unusual, stale odors and suspect water damage, consult the water damage restoration pros at ServiceMaster Disaster Associates, Inc. Our reliable services will put a stop to the water damage and the resulting musty smells.

The rapid response from our trained and certified water damage cleanup technicians will halt the spread of water damage. Upon assessing the extent of damage, we formulate a restoration plan. Our powerful water extraction and dehumidification equipment removes all excess moisture from the property.

Our comprehensive services include the restoration of structural goods and furnishings. In addition to cleaning and restoring personal items, we provide content cleaning and pack-out services. Specialists are also equipped to dry water damaged carpets and wood flooring and perform mold remediation.

Residential homeowners and commercial businesses in Stoneham, Massachusetts, are urged to contact ServiceMaster Disaster Associates, Inc, at the first sign of water damage. Crews stand by 24 hours a day to respond to flood damage emergencies. Call our professionals for fast and effective water mitigation.