Get rid of musty closet odor

How to Fix Musty Closet Odors

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Is your closet smelling a bit off or musty? That’s usually a sign of damp conditions or poor air circulation. While I’d love to tell you there’s an easy fix to musty closet odors, it’s not that simple.

See, several things can contribute to that smell and if you don’t play researcher to find the cause it can grow from just smelling musty to actual mildewed clothing. Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Overcrowded clothing
  • Damp clothes
  • Smelly shoes
  • Pests
  • Pets
  • Poor ventilation
  • Excess humidity

Steps to Fix Musty Closets

The size of your closet determines how long this process takes. This may take as little as an hour for a small hallway closet or as long as an afternoon for a large walk-in wardrobe.

Equipment and Materials You’ll Need

  • Boxes or bags for trash and donations
  • Bucket or bowl
  • Spray bottle
  • Cleaning rags
  • Soap
  • Water
  • Disinfecting wipes
  • White vinegar
  • Fan (optional)
  • Moisture absorbers (see below)

Step 1. Empty Your Closet

You can’t look for the cause of musty smells in a crowded closet, so the first step in dealing with the odor is pulling everything out of it. This is an excellent time to purge clutter by setting aside items for donation and discarding things too worn out to wear or give away.

Step 2. Inspect It

Check items as you remove them. If you find signs of pests, you’ll need to stop and disinfect things. Wash items with hard surfaces in soapy water then wipe them with a fresh disinfecting wipe. Launder affected clothing using the hottest settings permitted on the care label. Drying in sunlight also aids disinfection. Inspect the empty closet for plumbing leaks and remove mold on the walls before proceeding.

Step 3. Clean It

Dusty closets smell bad. Get rid of dust by wiping light fixtures, ceiling, walls, doors, and baseboards with a clean, damp microfiber cloth. Then combine a deodorizing solution of 1 part white vinegar and 3 parts water in a spray bottle. Lightly mist this on the same surfaces and let them air dry — the acetic acid in vinegar helps eliminate odors. While things air dry, vacuum and mop the floor.

Step 4. Wait to Put Things Away

Wait until every surface in your closet is completely dry before you put things back — you can aim a fan at it to speed up the process if needed. In the future, make sure all clothing is completely dry before you fold or hang it. Damp clothes will develop mildew and make your closet smell musty.

Step 5. Avoid Overcrowding

Don’t crowd a closet floor to ceiling with stored items. When hanging clothes, leave a finger’s width of space between hangers so air can circulate, and put longer clothes toward the sides of your closet to avoid impeding airflow. Store out-of-season clothing in containers on your shelves, leaving space between and above them for air circulation.

Step 6. Absorb Moisture

In large closets with electrical outlets, use a dehumidifier to control dampness. For smaller closets, try leaving an open bowl of crystal cat litter on the shelf — it’s silicon dioxide, which is the same moisture-absorbing stuff that’s in the silica packets you find in packaging. Or make homemade closet deodorizers by combining dried herbs and silica gel beads in cloth bags.

Step 7. Improve Air Flow

The best way to reduce musty odors in your closet is by improving airflow. Make sure nothing is blocking cold air returns and vents. Leaving your closet door slightly ajar helps air circulate, or swap solid doors with louvered or barn doors or beaded curtains to promote good airflow. In basement closets, add a two-way vent to the wall above closet doors so air can flow freely.

More things that help

Once you’ve addressed the cause of the mustiness, here are some ways to keep your closet smelling fresh.

  • Vacuum frequently. Clean your closet floor every time you clean your room, and if you have carpeting, consider replacing it with hard flooring, which collects less condensation.
  • Keep shoes smelling fresh. Sweaty, smelly shoes are a common cause of closet odors. Use shoe deodorizing spray between wearings, and wash your shoes when those methods alone aren’t enough to control the smell. You might even consider using a separate shoe storage closet altogether.
  • Try a dryer sheet. Clip a used dryer sheet to your closet rod or install it over an air vent to release the fragrance.
  • Use activated charcoal. Buy hanging charcoal sachets or keep a bowl of activated charcoal on a top shelf to act as a natural deodorizer.
  • Try potpourri. Hang a muslin bag filled with potpourri and change it monthly. Using herbs like rosemary and bay leaf will also deter moths.
  • Use cedar hangers for heavier items. Although they’re too bulky for every garment, consider using cedar hangers for heavier things like coats. The smell of cedar repels pests and adds a clean scent to your closet.

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