Solved! What Does Mold Smell Like?

What does mold smell like? Mold can cause a nasty, musty smell. Here are what those smells are and how you can identify them.

By Dan Casarella | Updated Apr 6, 2022 3:52 PM

What Does Mold Smell Like?


Q. There’s a strange musty odor in my basement. I’ve opened the windows, but the smell won’t go away. Is it mold? What does mold smell like?

It’s one of the homeowner’s greatest fears: a mysterious, lingering, musty smell. Where did it come from? How did it get there? And how do I get rid of it?

Most commonly, the issue tends to be some form of mold. But mold can take on different smells and spread to different places, depending on its stage of growth. Homeowners need to know how to identify and remove mold, as well as how to prevent it from spreading and reappearing.

Here’s how to identify mold based on the smell it produces and what to do if mold is discovered in a home.

Mold can have a musty smell, especially when it is just starting to form.

Mold can have a musty smell


The smell of mold is typically described as “musty.” It’s a stale and damp scent that lingers in the air. It’s one of the first and the clearest sign of mold or mildew.

If the initial scent is not very pungent, then it’s likely that the mold has just started to form. Mold spores can start to form in as little as 24 hours in the right conditions, so within a day, that musty “mold smell” might be present in the home.

Musty basement?
It's probably mold. Get free, no-commitment estimates from licensed service providers near you.

When this is the case, you’ll want to immediately find the root of the scent and eliminate it. The quicker mold is removed, the less time it has to spread. Be advised that, depending on the type that’s growing, the mold can also potentially be hazardous to your health. According to mold removal experts, mold is especially dangerous to those with allergies, asthma, or compromised immune systems.

Mold odor can be very pungent and is consistent.

When some homeowners smell mold, their first thought may be to open their windows to air out the odor and hope it goes away. However, even with the windows open and air circulating, the smell will still be there.

The longer homeowner takes to address the smell, the more it will spread and the stronger and more pungent the odor will become. It’s important for homeowners to isolate the source of the smell as soon as possible. If left untreated, it could spread to new places, which can result in a longer and more arduous removal process.

A stale and damp smell in the air is a definite sign of mold.

No number of open windows or amount of air freshener can fully remove the odor created by mold. These quick fixes may temporarily mask the scent, but if left unchecked, the mold will continue to spread.

Don't let mold spread
Get free, no-commitment estimates from licensed service providers near you.

A “damp” smell is a common sign of mold because mold and mildew thrive on moisture. Spores of the mildew fungus will linger in the air until they find a damp, dark, warm area for them to multiply and spread. This is why most molds and mildew are typically found in a basement or bathroom setting, as there is plenty of moisture and these rooms tend to be darker for extended periods.

The smell of mold can resemble the smell that rotten wood produces.

Those who have spent a fair amount of time hiking or camping in the woods or have spent time doing yard work may find the musty, damp smell of mold familiar. Mold can often resemble the scent of rotting wood particles. While this smell is commonly found outdoors, if a homeowner notices it in their house, it is an almost definitive sign that mold is growing.

The musty smell may irritate you and make you sneeze.

When mold is concentrated, sneezing and headaches are common symptoms that homeowners who may have a mold allergy can experience. Other common symptoms may include a runny nose, itchy throat, congestion, and dry skin. These symptoms are remarkably similar to that of seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever.

A mold allergy occurs when spores get into your nose and cause the symptoms. When they reach your lungs, they can also cause asthma. Sometimes these symptoms are delayed and may worsen over time.

If a homeowner is experiencing these symptoms more indoors than outdoors, it’s usually a sign they may have a mold allergy and that mold is present in the home.

Don't leave your health to chance
Get free, no-commitment estimates from licensed service providers near you.

Some forms of household mold are toxic and may cause additional health complications.

The biggest reason homeowners should take care of mold as soon as they smell it is that some forms of mold are toxic, and therefore could be potentially hazardous. Toxic mold typically causes neurological symptoms, such as dizziness, decreased focus, headaches, and memory loss. If you find yourself experiencing any of the above symptoms regularly, you may want to seek medical attention and have a professional assess the mold situation in your home.

What Should I Do If I Smell Mold in My Home


What Should I Do If I Smell Mold in My Home?

If you smell mold in your house, the first thing you should do is sniff around to locate where the growth is coming from. Because mold likes to grow in a dark area, it may not be visible right away. Bring a light source and look for surfaces that collect moisture, especially in corners and tight spaces without much airflow.

Once the scent and its source have been located, assess the severity of the mold. If a homeowner decides the problem is small enough to tackle on their own, they can follow these steps to thoroughly clean the affected area. However, if the mold has spread or if a homeowner has health conditions that might be worsened by mold exposure, it’s best to call in a mold removal specialist.

Leave mold removal to the pros
Get free, no-commitment estimates from licensed service providers near you.

After the mold is eliminated, homeowners can take different precautions to prevent it from returning. They should install dehumidifiers in any area where humidity is an issue. Having a ceiling fan on in a room that is mildew-prone is another way to keep the area dry and prevent the spread.

Understanding how to identify mold by scent can help homeowners detect a mold or mildew problem before it gets worse, and potentially save themselves from negative health symptoms and home damage.

Don't want to do it yourself?
Professional mold inspection may be the answer. Get free, no-commitment estimates from licensed service providers near you.