How to Quickly Get Rid of Old House Smell on a Budget

Old houses have a lot of character and charm, but they also have a unique, distinctive smell to them. It’s kind of a damp and musty odor, and it can be very pervasive and hard to remove. Here are some of the best – and most economical – ways to get rid of that “old house smell”.

Best Odor Eliminators for Houses with an Old Musty Smell

Hamilton Beach Odor Eliminator

The Hamilton Beach Odor Eliminator uses carbon filter traps to pull odor-causing chemicals out of the air, removing even the most stubborn smells quickly and effectively. It’s great for that musty “old house” stench, as well as other unpleasant smells like stale tobacco smoke, fish, and pet odors.

It’s available in three different styles, including two plug-in wall versions, and a larger stand-alone version. At just eight inches tall, it’s compact and discreet. It’s also energy efficient, and runs very quietly. If you’re living in an older house with a musty smell, it’s a great buy.

Activated Charcoal Odor Remover

Activated charcoal does wonders for common household odors, physically pulling them out of the air on a microscopic level. These air purifying bags are made from sustainable, eco-friendly bamboo charcoal, contained in sturdy cloth bags with a reinforced hole for hanging them up around the house.

They come in sets of four 200 gram bags, and you can reuse them for up to two years before you need to replace them. They’re affordable, safe, and very effective, making them a great choice for household odor removal.

How to Get Rid of Old Musty House Smell

Older houses often have relatively poor ventilation, which is one of the main causes of that distinctive sour, musty smell. If you’ve purchased an older home to move into, or you’re trying to fix up and flip one, you’ll probably want to get rid of the odor as best you can.

Here’s what you can do to freshen things up inside the house.

Open up the windows. This helps circulate fresh outdoor air in, and let the stale air flow out in turn. You can also set up some small fans facing out the windows to help push the air outward.

Clean the interiors thoroughly with antibacterial products. Some elements of the odor may come from bacteria that can be present on surfaces around the house. You may find that antibacterial products help get rid of it.
Put out bags or bowls of activated charcoal. The porous charcoal will pull various molecules out of the air, including the chemicals responsible for various undesirable odors.

Sprinkle baking soda around on the flooring, especially carpets. Let it sit out overnight to absorb the odors, then sweep or vacuum it up the next day.
Spray a fine mist of vinegar around on the furniture. Vinegar is another household compound that can help reduce odors.

Keep a dehumidifier running. Moisture can contribute to musty smells, and humid interiors tend to have more noticeable odors. Also, if you have any leaking faucets or other water pipes or fixtures, get them fixed as soon as you can.

Clean your upholstery. Furniture upholstery can absorb moisture and various smells.

Clean the walls. Even walls can sometimes trap and retain odors, but you can remove them by cleaning off grease, dust, and mildew.

Get the house inspected for mold. Mold can damage surfaces in your home, but more importantly, some species release compounds that can cause allergic reactions or illness if you’re exposed to them over a long period of time.

What causes a musty smell in the house?

That distinctive musty “old house” smell comes from a variety of different underlying causes. Usually, it’s more pronounced if the indoor humidity is relatively high, and it’s associated with moisture.

In some cases, there could be mold or mildew hiding somewhere in the house, contributing to the smell. Fungi are very resilient, and can grow just about anywhere. All that their airborne spores need to take hold is a firm surface, oxygen, and moisture. The smell itself comes from what are known as “microbial volatile organic compounds,” a variety of complex chemicals that human noses can detect.

Water leaks can also breed musty smells, so if you’re noticing it inside a house, you may want to check around and make sure there isn’t any dripping water pooling behind pipes or fixtures. In particular, water heaters and washing machines can be a common cause of these kinds of musty, smelly leaks.

Odor Elimination: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best thing to absorb odors?

One of the best ways to absorb unpleasant odors from indoor air is activated charcoal. Activated charcoal has been treated with oxygen, making it more porous and creating more surface area to trap odor-causing chemicals.

Other things that absorb odors well are white distilled vinegar, baking soda, and cat litter.

Is musty house smell dangerous?

In most cases, musty house smell is generally benign. With that said, it can sometimes indicate the presence of mold and mildew. Some types of mold that can grow in houses release toxins that can cause allergic reactions or illnesses, particularly for people living in the building who are exposed to it on a daily basis. If there’s a constant musty smell that won’t go away, you may want to have your home inspected for mold.

Does a bowl of vinegar absorb odors?

Yes. Setting out a bowl of vinegar can be a great way to help absorb unpleasant odors from kitchens, closets, refrigerators, and other areas of your home.

What are the most common sources of a musty smell in a house?

Musty smells come from a variety of causes, but usually, they’re associated with moisture and humidity. They can indicate that there’s a water leak somewhere, that the air is too wet and humid, or that there is mold or mildew present somewhere in the house. Dampness is not something you want in your house as it may also introduce other problems like the presence of household pests including ants, crickets, and roaches.