How To Get Rid Of Mildew Smell

The lesser evil of the two brothers. Mildew is at pesky allergen but not to the extent of mold. It is less toxic, produces milder odor, and easily removable. Still, if you constantly greeted with the musty smell of mildew and still can't figure out what is causing it, we have the perfect solution for you. In this post, we are solely focusing on how to get rid of mildew smell for good. Whether the mildew is on your clothes, towels, foods, furniture, or wall, the below tips are easy to execute and will work with a few of the pantry items. Let's begin.
Short answer
Mold and mildew are the reason for musty home.

What is Mildew?

Mildew is a multinucleate fungus with a fuzzy, powdery, downy appearance. It is closely related to mold but with a more distinctive white, blue, green, or yellow patches that will turn into darker tones over time. Mildew has a flat grow pattern and will not penetrate deep into porous material. Common mildew growing spots include laundry room, bathroom, clothes, upholstery, leather, closet, and food. Mildew has a milder musty smell than mold and it is less harmful to humans. The fungus thrives on high humidity (above 50%) and dark environment with little sunshine. Learn more about the differences between mildew and mold here.

How Do I Get Rid Of a Musty Mildew Smell In My House?

Pungent odors be gone! Rather than relying on artificial air fresheners or chemicals like bleach to mask the musty odor, there are other safer ways to consider. You do not have to follow every steps below, just pick the one that is most convenient to your situation.

  1. Locate where does the mildew comes from – Before we begin the cleaning process, we need to sniff around where is the source of the musty smell. If the smell is originated from the laundry room, it might have to do with the excessive moisture from the wet clothes. If the mildew smell is coming from the basement, it may have to do with poor airflow circulation with limited ventilation. You’ll get the picture.
  2. Air it out – Arguably the easiest way to remove mildew smell from your air space. You just need to open more windows, doors or exhaust fan to let the smelly air out and fresh air in. Turn on a ceiling fan or ventilation to improve airflow circulation and move the stagnant odor out. For places with limited windows e.g. attic, crawlspace, basement, air purifier + dehumidifier is your best friend.
  3. Scrub the mildew area with white vinegar – Our favorite non-toxic solution that is safe and effective. For this method, you will need distilled white vinegar for the best result. Then mix 2 parts of vinegar and 4 parts of water. Spray or pour the mixture on the mildew affected area and let it soak for 10-20 minutes. Finally, scrub it thoroughly with a cloth and make sure it is completely free from mildew. Ideal to use on the wall, furniture, ceiling, and even tiles. You can also apply the vinegar mixture on clothes with mildew and don’t worry about the vinegar smell. It will go away together with the musty odor.
  4. Essential oil, tea tree oil, or grapefruit seed, or vodka – Ideal for those that prefer not to use vinegar due to the vinegary smell. Get a small bowl of water, mix a few drops of essential oil, tea tree oil, or grapefruit seed depending on the concentration level. Then spray the mixture onto the mildew spot and let the solution soak in for 10-20 minutes. Once the mildew is isolated, wash everything away with hot water and leave it air dry. Not only the musty smell will go away, but the essential oil will leave a pleasant, relaxing scent in the room.
  5. Use baking soda – Another popular kitchen item to remove mildew smell and it is children and pet friendly. Just sprinkle a fair amount of baking soda on mildew affected area and leave it overnight. It will work as an antimicrobial while absorbing the musty smell released by mildew. Wash off the powder with the mildew the next day.
  6. Wash it away – Mildew smell coming out of clothes, towel, bedsheet, mat, or carpet? Toss it inside a washing machine and wash out the stinky mildew. We recommend using normal detergents but homemade remedies liquid could work as well. As long as the item is small enough and washing machine friendly, just toss it inside. For large items like carpet or rug that will not fit into a standard washing machine, just send it to a dry cleaner.
  7. Get an air purifier – There are 2 things an air purifier could achieve. First, it can swiftly remove musty smell from mildew via its activated carbon filter. All nearby odors will be absorbed into the filtration leaving only clean air out. Second, an air purifier with a HEPA filter can capture airborne mildew and other fungi. This reduces the chances of mildew spreading its territory and diseases.
  8. Get a dehumidifier – Mildew prospers on high dampness environment and we need to counter that. A good dehumidifier can reduce the room humidity level by taking in excess moisture. Perfect for laundry room, basement or crawlspace use. With less mildew sticking around, there will be less odor released into the air. A dehumidifier may not be the most economical way, it is still the best way to remove mildew smell for good.
  9. Odor Absorbers – A poorer substitute to a dehumidifier. For those that need a cheap odor eliminator that has limited capacity. Most of the odor absorbers in the market are made with either zeolite, charcoal, baking soda or renewable desiccant. They have a relatively short lifespan and it’s used to capture close-range moisture like shoe rack, bathroom or closet. Keep in mind that odor cleaners will temporarily remove the musty smell, but it will not stop the mildew from dishing out more.
  10. Replace or toss it away – There are times when cleaning is not worth the effort anymore. Let say you have a cabinet that is beyond rotten with mildew growing on it, why bother cleaning it when you can’t salvage the damage parts. Get a new one but make sure the cause of the mildew infestation is rectified. The same goes for furniture, cabinet, wallpaper, or even small items like a leather bag, books, toys. Unless it is an attic or something memorable, don’t risk your health inhaling to the mildew odor over an item.

Here's a simple rule. Never ignore the musty smell. There must a reason for the odor to stick around and it is likely to do with the growth of mildew. If left unattended, we are at the risk to the toxicity of mildew via touching, inhaling or consuming. Prolong exposure to mildew can lead to all kinds of health issues and respiratory diseases. If you are a hyperallergic person, have asthma, or little one at home, do look out for the following symptoms.

Mildew Exposure Symptoms

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose/ sinus
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing/ breathing difficulty
  • Watery/ red eyes
  • Sore throat/ itchy throat
  • Skin irritation/ rash
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Asthma attack




Max Fernandez

A loving father and a dedicated reviewer for airfuji.com with more than 1000 air purifiers under his belt. Max Fernandez is also one of the million patients currently suffering from asthma. Feel free to nudge him if you have any questions.