What Does Mold Smell Like In A House?

What does mold smell like in a house? No one likes to think about mold but it’s something that you need to be aware of, especially if you own a home. The thing about mold is that it can go undetected for months at a time. This is because it can start out very small so there are virtually no visual signs of a mold infestation. Once you notice mold on your walls or in your vents, the problem is already widespread. Therefore, you need to rely on your other senses and some additional clues to figure out if mold is making its way into your living space.

What Does Mold Smell Like In A House?

The Many Smells of Mold

It sure would be convenient if mold had one telltale odor that anyone, anywhere could recognize. Unfortunately, there are some variations in how mold might smell, depending on what it’s growing on, where it’s located, and how long it’s been there. Mold gives off microbial volatile organic compounds, or MVOCs, which can waft into the air in a room, intermingling with the scents that are already present. That’s why mold might smell different for you compared to your neighbor.

That being said, mold will smell quite unpleasant most of the time. It might not be overwhelming or intolerable but it will be an odor that makes you think twice and wonder what it is. Sometimes mold might smell similar to damp ground or leaves. It might also take on a scent similar to a decaying tree or sweaty gym clothing that has been left in an enclosed space.

Mold might also give your nose a tickle, making it feel as if you’re about to sneeze. Some people describe the mold smell as similar to an old book that was left in a humid, dingy room. If you have ever smelled stale bread, this is another example of how mold in your house may smell. There are even some types of mold that can emanate an odor similar to cat pee.

Factors That Affect Mold Growth

Again, this isn’t something that most people want to think about but it helps to understand why there are so many different variations on the mold smell. Temperature and humidity levels play a role in how the mold will smell. The more humid an environment is, the more robust that moldy odor will be. In addition, warmer temperatures will encourage mold growth. In fact, many types of common household molds can’t be produced below 39 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why people tend to freeze foods that they aren’t going to eat for a while.

Furthermore, the presence of water or moisture can create a breeding ground for mold. It thrives on moist, humid surfaces and mold can grow as long as there is moisture and oxygen. Moisture speeds up the process in which the mold releases spores that cling to other surfaces, thereby encouraging mold growth. It’s crucial that you are aware of the temperature and humidity levels in your home in order to stave off mold growth.

The bacteria and microorganisms around the mold will also affect how fast it spreads and even how it smells. The mold might release an MVOC that another microorganism interacts with, thus spreading the mold and creating a unique odor. That’s part of the reason why mold can smell differently depending on its location.

A Moldy Smell Might Not Be Mold

To make matters even more confusing, there are times when something smells moldy but it’s actually perfectly fine. Cheese is the first thing that most people will think of. Some types of cheese smell of stinky feet but they are actually perfectly fine to eat. Brie can have that odd smell as can Camembert, Stilton, and Roquefort. Some of the finest French cheeses smell absolutely horrid but are considered delicacies.

On the other hand, there are some instances in which mold won’t give off an obvious odor. For example, if the temperature and humidity levels in the area aren’t allowing the mold to give off MVOCs, it might not release a bad smell but this doesn’t mean that it’s not still there.

Musty vs. Moldy vs. Mildewy

While mold can show up in all kinds of places, you are most likely to find mildew in your bathroom. Mildew is a thin, white fungus and while it can give off a nasty, sour odor, it’s usually less pronounced than mold.

If you walk into a room or open a closet door and it smells musty, this is simply a description for an odor caused by mold or mildew. The words musty and moldy are often used interchangeably, although musty usually refers to a more manageable, less offensive smell. In contrast, if something smells moldy, everyone is going to notice.

It’s important to point out here that you don’t want to go “nose blind” to musty or moldy smells. As a term that was popularized by Febreze air freshener, nose blindness refers to the phenomenon when a person becomes accustomed to a particular scent, so much so that he or she doesn’t even smell it anymore. This can happen to anyone, especially if he or she ignores a bad odor in the house. Over time, you may forget that the smell is there but the culprit (mold) could be growing and spreading. If you suspect that you may be going nose blind to a certain scent in your house, spend some time outdoors and then return home. You might notice that there is a lingering smell that you weren’t attuned to before.

Common Mold Hangouts

If you know where mold typically grows, you can be proactive in keeping that area clean as well as temperature- and humidity-controlled. Basements and attics that are prone to water leakage are common places where mold can develop. In addition, underneath sinks and behind the fridge as well as areas of the walls that have plumbing are common mold hangouts. Pay attention to your home after a heavy rain because mold can appear beneath wet rugs or carpet and on windowsills or panes that were exposed to the elements.