Garage Smells Musty? 5 Tips to Eliminate Odor

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Is there a musty smell lurking in your garage that doesn’t seem to go away? It’s a common problem many homeowners face.

That characteristic dank, moldy odor is more than just a nuisance. It can indicate issues hiding underneath the surface. If left untreated, negatively affect your health and the value of your home. 

A musty smell in your garage often points to the presence of moisture, creating an ideal environment for mold and mildew to grow. 

Besides the unpleasant smell, it can cause allergies and other respiratory problems over time. 

Fortunately, it’s a fixable issue, and this article will guide you through the process.

This guide will explore practical and effective strategies for tackling that stubborn musty smell.

We’ll discuss how to identify and eliminate sources of moisture and how to deodorize when your garage smells musty. Finally, we’ll provide some tips to prevent the musty smell from making an unwelcome comeback.

By the end, you’ll have a solid plan to reclaim your garage’s freshness and keep it that way.


How to Find the Source of the Musty Smell in Garages

As I mentioned, moisture is often the culprit behind that persistent musty smell in garages. Moisture creates the perfect environment for mildew and mold to grow, contributing to the unpleasant smell.

Let’s explore some common sources of moisture in the garage and offer practical solutions for each.

Leaks

Leaks can come from pipes, faucets, water heaters, or appliances in your garage. Left unchecked, they create damp spots and puddles on your garage floor or walls.

What to do: Regularly inspect your garage for signs of leaks. A plumber’s tape, epoxy, or sealant might do the trick for small leaks. Replace any damaged or corroded parts. It’s best to call in a professional plumber for more severe leaks.

Remember, promptly addressing leaks helps prevent long-term water damage and that persistent musty smell.

Spills

Spills of liquids like oil, gas, antifreeze, or paint can also create moisture and leave unappealing stains on your garage floor.

What to do: Clean up spills as soon as they happen. Use absorbent materials like paper towels, rags, or even kitty litter to soak up the liquid.

Dispose of these materials properly to avoid creating a fire hazard. Then, use a degreaser or detergent to eliminate residual stains or slick spots on your garage floor.

Condensation

Cold surfaces, like metal tools, windows, or doors, can cause moisture to condense in your garage, mainly when the garage temperature is lower than the outside air.

What to do: Aim to reduce the temperature difference between your garage and the outside. A heater or thermostat can help warm your garage during colder weather.

Installing insulation or weather stripping can keep the cold air from creeping in. Lastly, keep a dry cloth handy to wipe off any condensation on metal tools, windows, or doors.

Poor Ventilation

A poorly ventilated garage can trap moisture and humidity, especially if it’s well-sealed or insulated.

What to do: Improve air circulation in your garage. Use fans, vents, or simply open windows to bring fresh air in and remove stale, damp air. A dehumidifier can also help lower the humidity level in the garage.

Remember to avoid storing damp items in your garage, which contributes to the moisture problem.

Improper Draining of a Water Softener or Water Heater

If you have a water softener or water heater in your garage, improper draining could lead to unnecessary moisture and, thus, that unpleasant musty smell.

What to do: Make sure your water softener is properly drained. Connect it to a floor drain or a utility sink using a PVC pipe or a hose. This will ensure that any water from the softener is safely and cleanly drained away, reducing the chance of creating a damp environment.

Water Seepage Under the Garage Door

Water seepage under your garage door is another common source of unwanted moisture. This can be due to faulty seals, weather stripping, or uneven surfaces where the door comes into contact with the floor.

What to do: Inspect the bottom of your garage door for any signs of water seepage. If you spot any, you can use weather stripping, caulking, or a threshold seal to prevent water from sneaking into your garage.

These simple measures can make a significant difference in keeping your garage dry and fresh.

High Humidity Levels

A high humidity level in your garage can trap moisture in the air, leading to a damp, musty environment.

What to do: Monitor the humidity level in your garage with a hygrometer or a humidistat. If you find the humidity level consistently high, consider installing an exhaust fan to reduce it.

By controlling the humidity level, you’ll keep your garage environment drier, reducing the chance for mildew and mold to flourish.

These preventative steps will contribute significantly to maintaining a moisture-free, fresh-smelling garage.


How to Deodorize When Your Garage Smells Musty

Everyone hates it when our garage smells musty. Here in hot and humid Florida, I’ve had my fair share of experiences with it.

Deodorizing is the key to eliminating these unpleasant odors and making your garage a more inviting space. Here’s how to do it.

Natural Deodorizers

Don’t underestimate the deodorizing power of household items like baking soda, vinegar, charcoal, coffee grounds, and essential oils. They’re inexpensive, easy to use, and excellent at absorbing or neutralizing odors.

Place these substances in open containers around the garage or sprinkle them directly onto affected areas. For instance, I sprinkled baking soda across my garage floor during a particularly damp spring, effectively neutralizing the musty smell.

Chemical Solutions

For areas suffering from mold or mildew growth, chemical disinfectants like bleach, ammonia, or hydrogen peroxide come in handy. Not only do they kill mold and mildew, they also deodorize the affected areas.

I’ve diluted bleach with water and sprayed it on mold-infested patches in my garage with good results. Be careful, as mixing bleach with ammonia or vinegar can produce toxic fumes.

Ozone Generator

For stubborn odors, consider using an ozone generator. This device produces ozone gas, known for its ability to oxidize and eliminate odors.

I know a homeowner who faced a severe odor issue in their garage. Running an ozone generator for a few days completely eradicated the smell. However, remember to keep the garage clear of people, pets, and plants while the device is running, as ozone can be harmful to inhale.

Deodorizing your garage is an ongoing task, not a one-time effort.

By adopting these strategies, you’ll be well on your way to maintaining a fresh, pleasant-smelling garage.

mold and mildew on garage wall

Prevent the Musty Smell from Coming Back

We’ve all heard the saying “prevention is better than cure,” which certainly applies when your garage smells musty. It’s significantly easier to prevent the smell from returning once you’ve eliminated it.

Let’s review some tips and tools that will help keep your garage smelling fresh.

The key to a fresh-smelling garage is good airflow.

Regularly opening doors and windows can help circulate the air, pushing out stale, musty air and allowing fresh air in. Consider installing vents or exhaust fans if your garage lacks windows or doors in strategic places.

By keeping your garage dry, you’re depriving mold and mildew (which love damp conditions) of their preferred environment. Use moisture absorbers like DampRid, silica gel packets, or rock salt in locations prone to dampness, such as near windows or doors.

Ensure stored items in your garage, especially fabrics, are clean and dry. Damp things contribute to increased humidity levels, creating a breeding ground for mold and mildew.

Several products can also help maintain a fresh and odor-free garage:

  1. Air purifiers: Depending on the cause of the musty smell in your garage, an air purifier with a HEPA filter or an ionizer can help. They can filter out allergens like dust, pollen, and mold spores, improving air quality and reducing musty odors.
  2. Odor-neutralizing sprays: Go for sprays that neutralize odors rather than merely masking them. These can be used on a variety of surfaces and in the air.
  3. Deodorizing bags or pouches: These often contain natural ingredients like activated bamboo charcoal or zeolite and are excellent at absorbing and eliminating odors.
  4. Scented sachets or air fresheners: Choose products that neutralize odors while adding a pleasant aroma to your garage. Consider natural options like lavender sachets or essential oil diffusers.
  5. Odor-neutralizing paints or coatings: Some paints are specifically formulated to neutralize odors. Applying these to your garage’s walls, floors, or other surfaces can help combat musty smells.
  6. Anti-mold and mildew products: Look for products designed to inhibit mold and mildew growth, such as mold-resistant paints or sprays. These address the root cause of musty odors and help prevent their return.

Implementing these preventative measures will help ensure your garage remains a must-free zone.

The secret lies in consistent upkeep. Once you establish a routine, you’ll find it’s easier than you think to maintain a fresh and inviting garage.


Wrapping it Up

It might seem overwhelming when your garage smells musty, but with some knowledge and the right tools, it doesn’t have to be.

Moisture, stemming from leaks, spills, condensation, or poor ventilation, is usually the cause of musty odors in your garage. Identifying and addressing the source with repairs, clean-up efforts, temperature management, and improved airflow can do wonders in eliminating that damp, musty smell.

But the work doesn’t stop once the smell is gone.

Deodorizing your garage with natural absorbents like baking soda or vinegar, chemical cleaners like bleach or hydrogen peroxide, or even an ozone generator is a proactive step toward maintaining a fresh and inviting garage.

You’ll want to stay ahead of the game to keep that musty smell from making an unwelcome return. Ensuring good airflow, keeping your garage dry, and practicing proper storage habits are effective preventive measures. Utilizing moisture absorbers, air purifiers, odor-neutralizing sprays, deodorizing bags, and anti-mold products can further safeguard your garage from a musty relapse.

Transforming your garage from musty to fresh might require some effort, but it’s an investment that pays dividends. Not only will you enhance your garage’s functionality and appeal, but you’ll also be creating a healthier environment for you and your loved ones.

So, gear up, plan your strategy, and bid farewell to that musty garage smell once and for all!

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Tim Wells

Tim Wells, the founder of Garage Transformed, has been featured in dozens of home renovation publications, including BobVila.com, Home Stratosphere, House Digest, Livingetc, and SFGate. Since 2018, he has helped over two million people transform their everyday garages into something they can be proud of. He lives in Central Florida with his wife and bulldog.