What is that smell? Moldy vs. Musty Odors

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Each and every home has its own unique odors that reflect the nature of the home and those living in it. At times, environmental factors also play a substantial role in this odor. For example, the weather; during heavy rain and seasonal changes, some houses emit that “musty smell” that can make the home much less pleasant.

So, what is the difference between a musty odor and a moldy one? A musty or moldy smell is a sign that something is not right. Similar in nature, both are caused by the presence of mold or mildew. Both mold and mildew are fungi that grow in the presence of moisture or water.

Mildew is a powdery or downy surface growth most often found on plant materials such as fruits and vegetables or flowering and decorative plants. Molds are typically thicker and increase the risk of structural damage since they penetrate deeper into the materials they are growing on. Molds can grow on plant materials as well but are more commonly found on building materials like walls and flooring, along with home contents like books and clothing.

The primary difference between moldy and musty odors is the strength of the smell; musty odors are typically not as prominent as moldy odors. Since both musty and moldy odors suggest mold growth, taking action quickly when noticing an odor is imperative. Acting swiftly prevents extensive damage to your home and the lingering musty odor that penetrates non-moldy materials in your home, prolonging the unpleasant odor experience.

How can you prevent a musty smell and mold growth?

Investigate Possible Sources of Moisture Buildup

  • Any water leak (plumbing, roof, walls, basement, etc.)
  • Problems with air conditioning units or drain lines
  • Condensation, especially around windows or exterior walls
  • Incorrectly installed flashing can allow water inside walls
  • Freezer/refrigerator doors 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 also facilitates mold growth, it’s likely that mold is beginning to form once you start noticing a musty smell.

Clean Leaks Immediately

  • If wet items are not thoroughly dried within 48 hours, it is likely that mold will begin to grow in areas that are still damp.
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