5 Tips for Home Sellers to Get Rid of Musty Basement Smell

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By Clever Real Estate Updated March 8, 2023


A musty basement won't make home buyers flock to your listing. In fact, they'll assume there are problems with mold. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to fix the issue. Discover five tips to help you get rid of musty smells once and for all.

5 Tips for Home Sellers to Get Rid of Musty Basement Smell

Selling your home is an exciting time but it can also be very stressful. You want your home to be as appealing as possible without breaking the bank. Sometimes there are high-impact improvements you can make that are inexpensive, but other problems are more difficult to solve.

One difficult issue is a musty smell in the basement. No one wants unpleasant smells in a home they buy, so you can be sure the odor will put off potential buyers. At the same time, it's very hard to get rid of — in fact, some homeowners are scared off by the mystery of what's causing the smell.

Here's what you can do to understand and eliminate that musty smell once and for all.

Why Do Basements Smell Musty?

A musty smell comes from moisture that gets trapped in the basement due to poor ventilation. This moisture causes mold and mildew that has a foul smell.

Home buyers will see this scent as a sign of problems that can be expensive to fix, and they may either lose interest in the home or demand a major concession.

When you work with an experienced realtor, you can get great tips on how to make your home more appealing to buyers. They can give you additional tips on how to remove the odor and underlying issue.

Need help getting your home ready for the market?

A Clever Partner Agent can help you market your house for local buyers.

Check Moisture Barriers

If you have an unfinished basement, you may not have the moisture barriers you need. A dirt floor needs a layer of plastic, then wire mesh, and then a thin layer of concrete. A concrete floor should be sealed to avoid extremely expensive concrete slab water leaks that can compromise the home's foundation.

A finished basement should already have vapor barriers to keep out moisture. Check the drywall to make sure there aren't any cracks or crevices where mold may be growing. You'll also need to check behind drywall, which may require a contractor.

If you find concerns, it's worthwhile to redo the moisture barriers. You can advertise the home as having a secure basement and you may be able to ask more. Your listing agent can help you understand how much of a difference it makes.

Clean the Source of the Mildew and Deodorize

Most of the time mildew and musty smells come from actual mold in the basement. If you find the source, you can clean it thoroughly and disinfect and deodorize the area.

If you find mildew or mold, scrub the area with diluted bleach. Any fabric items, like carpets or furniture, that smell musty should be removed from the basement and cleaned. You may want to store them if you're getting ready to sell the home unless they are necessary for staging.

Once you've cleaned the mildew, use odor absorbers like baking soda, charcoal, or even kitty litter in the parts of your basement that are musty.

If you find a major mildew or mold problem, you'll want to contact a professional mold removal company. They can take care of the issue so you can get your home on the market.

Look for Sources of Moisture

How is water getting into your basement to cause mildew? Solving that issue will take care of the root of the problem. Look for leaks in your basement plumbing, problems with your HVAC ducts, or other similar issues.

Also, walk around the outside of your home and see if there are areas where water is pooling around your foundation. Those are prime places for leaks, and you may want to landscape to direct water away. Downspouts can also cause water pooling issues, so be sure the water is able to run away from the house.

Dehumidify and Circulate Air

Humidity in a basement shouldn't be above 50% if you want to impede mold growth. Rather than getting an expensive built-in dehumidifier, simply get one that will let you choose the desired humidity and will turn on automatically.

You can route the drain to a floor, sink, or tub drain, or even your A/C condensate pump.

It's common for air in the basement to not circulate much. The temperature is often fairly constant, so the HVAC doesn't activate to air things out. Consider setting the heat and air temperatures a few degrees different to get more HVAC activity in the basement.

Consider Alternate Causes

Did you know that unused basement bathrooms can cause odors? The water from the P-Trap can evaporate and allow sewer gas in. That gas doesn't always have the rotten egg smell, so you might mistake it for mildew.

Be sure to run water in basement plumbing and flush toilets at least once a week to keep the P-Traps full.

Make Your Home Appealing for Buyers

Once you take care of the musty smell in the basement, you may still have a few steps to take to make your home as attractive as possible to buyers. A low-cost listing agent can give you the expert advice you need.

A Clever Partner Agent will give you the full-service, high-quality assistance you need while keeping more of your profit in your pocket. You'll pay a low flat fee of 1.5% ($3,000 minimum).

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