If your home or clothing smells musty, chances are you have mold or mildew hiding out. While other things — like a lack of ventilation or high levels of humidity — can make a musty odor more noticeable, they typically are not the primary cause of the smell.
While the term “musty” often brings to mind an old library or your grandma’s attic, mold and mildew can grow practically anywhere—even your modern home or apartment. Essentially, all mold needs to grow is the presence of mold spores, a surface to grow on, warmth, darkness, oxygen, and moisture.
The last ingredient — moisture — is the biggest problem. When all of the other environmental elements combine with condensation, moisture from humidity, or leaking water, mold begins to grow. As mold forms, grows, and spreads, it emits gasses known as microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs). So that musty odor you are smelling is not “just” mold but is a result of the chemical compounds released at different stages of the mold’s growth.
While volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are categorized as man-made or industrial chemicals, MVOCs are naturally occurring. They have a very low odor threshold, which means you may smell them easily and, when you do, the odor is strong. There are hundreds of different MVOCs formed by mold and mildew and many of them may pose health risks. Though more research is needed, some common symptoms of exposure to microbial volatile organic compounds may include:
- Nasal irritation
In a nutshell, the term mildew describes certain types of mold or fungus, and generically refers to mold that grows flat and remains on a material’s surface. Mildew likes to grow where moisture levels are high, like shower walls and windowsills. Thankfully, mildew can be treated easily and does not usually require hiring a professional. There are several ways to clean and remove mildew (we will go into more detail below) but no matter which you choose, it is best to wear a face mask and keep the area you are cleaning well-ventilated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mold are fungi that are found indoors and outside. No one is sure how many species of mold exist, but estimates range from the tens of thousands to maybe three hundred thousand or more.
You can find mold in many different places throughout your home — from the tiles in your shower to the crawl space in your basement. The majority of mold favor dark, damp, and warm environments, and anywhere that possesses those characteristics should be at the top of your list when you begin to look for the source of the musty smell in your home.
How mold affects your health and the health of your home
When left untreated for long periods of time, mold can cause structural damage to your home and the contents of it. Though moldy environments do not always cause health symptoms, the CDC says that exposure to moldy environments may cause nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing and wheezing, or eye and skin irritation. Those with mold allergies may have more severe reactions, and the EPA reports that for people with asthma who are allergic to mold, it can cause asthma attacks.