Moving into a new house can be an exciting and exhilarating experience, especially if it is your first house. With that being said, many first-time homeowners will soon learn that there are many aspects to moving to a new house that are less than interesting. For instance, if you are moving into an older, pre-owned home, there’s a good chance that you are going to experience that dreaded “old house smell.”

The smell of an old house is a distinctly musty smell that never seems to quite go away, no matter how many candles and air purifiers you have in every corner and outlet. Understanding what causes this characteristic smell is going to be key in getting rid of the smell. First things first, there are a few things you should try before resorting to the extremes.

After all, the smell of an old house might simply be caused by the stale air that settled when nobody was living in the house. With that being said, there are a few things you should try if you notice that your home smells a little bit off when you first move into it.

What Is the Most Common Cause of Old House Smell?

While the smell of an old house can be caused by a number of things ranging from what the previous homeowner did to the house, to mold and mildew growing in a dark, damp corner, there is one culprit that is more common than any of the others. More often than not, the reason why traditional methods don’t work to get rid of the old house smell is because that scent is caused by mold and mildew.

Mold and mildew grow in dark, damp areas of houses, and because of the way most older houses were constructed, there are plenty of perfect spots for them to grow. Chances are that if the smell isn’t going away after some time of airing out the house, then you have a mold or mildew problem. Because the solution to mold and mildew tends to be more involved than other methods, you should first make sure that you try out other odor-eliminating methods first.

This will help you narrow down what is causing the bad smell in your house.

1 – Use Odor Eliminators

Sometimes, the “old house smell” is a combination of several different factors ranging from tobacco smoke to pet odors from the previous owner. Because of this, one of the first things that you will want to try using is a strong, all-purpose odor eliminator. This will give you a good idea of what you are working with if this helps you out.

There are a few different kinds of odor eliminators out there, but the most effective one you are going to want to search for are the carbon ones. Some filters will have a simple carbon filter in them, whereas others will be made entirely of activated charcoal. Both of these are acceptable and it depends on what your preference is between the two.

The carbon filter works by trapping odor-causing chemicals and pulling them out of the air. Many people have found that this works especially well for unpleasant smells such as various pet odors, fish, and tobacco smoke. These filters generally come in a variety of forms, so you can choose whether you want to have a filter that you can plug into an outlet, or if you would rather have a stand-alone version.

On the other hand, there are activated charcoal filters. These filters work by physically pulling the odor particles out of the air at a microscopic level. These are generally bags of bamboo charcoal that have a hole for you to hang it up around the mustiest-smelling parts of the house.

You can choose what size bag you need and, more often than not, you can use the bag for several years at a time before you need to replace it. This gives you plenty of time to make use out of the activated charcoal and see if it eliminates the old house smell from your brand-new house.

2 – Air Out the House

There are times when the old house smell is caused by stale air that has been sitting around for an indeterminate length of time. This can end up causing dry, stale air to fill up the old house, creating a musty aroma. Thankfully, this is pretty easy to take care of, if you believe that stale air is the main cause of the old house smell.

Airing out your house is very simple. All you really have to do is open the windows, get some fans going, and run the ceiling fans. This helps as much air circulate throughout the house as possible. If you can, you should try to angle the smaller fans toward the windows to help direct the air that way.

Not only will this help remove all the stale air from the house, it will also help lessen any odors that are caused by mold or mildew. While it won’t get rid of the stench completely, it will do quite a bit with making it more bearable while you work on cleaning up the old house. In many ways, airing out the house is the first step you should take when trying to get rid of an odor of any kind.

While you leave the windows open, you should make sure not to block them out with curtains, drapes, blinds, or any other window treatment that can impair the sun’s ability to shine into the house. There are a few reasons for this. Not only will it provide some natural lighting for your home while you are cleaning it out, but sunlight will help kill off any mold or mildew that is growing in your house.

Another part of airing the house out is going to include using a dehumidifier to remove as much moisture in the air as you can. This is especially the case if you have moved somewhere that is naturally humid. Mold and mildew thrive in humid environments, making it all the more important for you to do what you can to take that away so you have the chance to breathe in peace.

3 – Clean Out the House

While it might not be the first thing you had in mind when you first moved in, you should consider giving your house a thorough cleaning. This includes cleaning the walls, the floor, the upholstery, and anywhere else that you can think of. This process won’t take too long if you work diligently, despite the fact that your house smells musty.

The first area you should consider is cleaning the walls of the house, since this is one of the more common places that mold and mildew grow. Because mold cleaners can be rather harsh on what could potentially be an old wall, you should use regular disinfectants first. If this does nothing for the odor, you should consider moving on to grease cleaners and mold cleaners.

If you want to mix your own cleaner, you will want to dissolve half a cup of Borax in at least 32 ounces of hot water. Once you have done this, you should add two cups of distilled white vinegar and approximately 16 ounces of hydrogen peroxide. This concoction will get rid of grease, dust, and mildew that has embedded itself into the walls, wall paint, and wallpaper. Wherever you catch a whiff of that musty smell, you should use this solution to wipe down the walls with.

If you really want to get hands-on, you might want to consider cleaning out the deepest parts of the house as well: the air ducts. Depending on the climate of where the house is, the air ducts can be a prime place for mold to grow, and it can be the main culprit for why you smell mold in the house. If you believe that the air ducts are the source of mold in your house, you should consider contacting your local HVAC professionals, as they have the equipment to handle this kind of situation.

Just as you should think about cleaning out the air ducts of the house, you should also think about cleaning out underneath the sink. Even if you have just moved in recently and you haven’t stored much under there, you never know what could be growing on the pipes of the sink. At the very least, you should take a look to see if anything looks discolored or smells off. If you notice that there is, in fact, something wrong, you should contact your plumbing expert to come and remedy the issue.

4 – Clean the Flooring and Upholstery

The last two areas that you are going to want to pay attention to are the floor and the upholstery. These are two places where mold and mildew commonly grow. Additionally, the fabric and fibers of both of these locations tends to hold onto smells better than you might expect, which is something that nobody really wants. Thankfully, cleaning the floor and cleaning the upholstery is going to be pretty straightforward and simple.

When you are cleaning the floor, you are going to want to use a considerable amount of baking soda. Baking soda helps reduce and absorb odors and odor-releasing chemicals, making it perfect for musty houses. Keep in mind that baking soda works especially well on carpets as well. Once you have poured the baking soda onto the floor and rubbed it in a little bit, you will want to let it sit overnight to let it absorb as much as it can.

After the baking soda has absorbed as much as it can, you will want to either vacuum it up or sweep it up. There will be a noticeable difference in stench when you are able to do this, and it should be one of your go-to solutions for bad smells that originate from the floor. If you have carpeted floors in particular, you are going to want to keep baking soda in one of your closets for this very reason.

For hard furniture, you are going to want to use vinegar in a spray bottle. Vinegar is easy to obtain and it is usually reasonably priced, making it a wonderful way to reduce odors when you can. If you go with this method, you should make sure that you are not using the vinegar on anything extremely delicate or sensitive. For more sensitive furniture, you should look at its own specific cleaning instructions for the best way to get it clean.

Upholstery is another story. Upholstery, especially old pieces of upholstery, are a prime place for mold and mildew to hide, causing that old-house smell that nobody really wants to experience. Cleaning the upholstery is going to be quite simple.

The best thing you can do, unfortunately, is throw out moldy upholstery. If it is not important, relatively inexpensive, and generally not necessary, you can save yourself a lot of stress and work by simply tossing out the bad upholstery. Otherwise, you will want to think about washing it.

First things first, you are going to want to remove the upholstery and attempt to find the tag that usually has the washing instructions on it. You should go by the washing instructions if you are able to find them. If the upholstery is particularly musty or odorous, you can consider using extra detergent or leaving it in the washer for a little bit longer than you normally would. Keep in mind that with most upholstery, you can also use the baking soda method, although for the first time in a new house, you should go all out on cleaning.

Armed with these methods, you can rest assured knowing that one way or another, you are going to get rid of the old, musty house smell as well as many other odors that could be plaguing your house. Before you know it, your house will smell exactly like you want it to, and you will be able to relax in peace. Chances are that the home will end up smelling much better than it started out when you go through this list of things that you can do.

Author

I have a bachelor's degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies...I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house.

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