16 answers

Getting Rid of Musty Smell in Closet

Hi everyone,
Our downstairs closet, which houses most of our coats (except for a very few we keep outside on hooks), has the most disgusting musty smell. We use moth balls in it to "help" the odor, and that's in quotes because we're not sure what to call the true effect the moth balls have on the smell in there. Weird, worse, definitely not improved at all. One of the worst things is that when I wear one of the coats from the closet I walk around giving off this odor. Hate it. I'd appreciate any suggestions for making that closet smell pleasant. I suspect that is a two-part project: first, getting rid of the horrid odor; second, getting a pleasant fragrance in there to STAY. Any ideas? Thanks.

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

This is a bit late, but I had the same problem and after I cleaned it out (there was some mold on the inside of the door), I hung Damp Rid. The crystals absorb the odor and it is working very well. No more smells. I found it at Bed Bath and Beyond.

Don't know how to get rid of the smell, but Damp Rid will keep the smells at bay.

Actually, Bac-Out cleaner by Biokleen is great for eliminating odors. Might try that!

More Answers

Hi, when we were looking for a dehumidifier we found these packs you can hang in closets called UltrZorb. Our hardware store carries them. They absorb humidity and you throw them out after while. This website has them: http://www.dampsolutions.com.au/catalog/index.php/cPath/6
I would clean out the closet, wash or air out the coats, leave it empty for a few days to see if the smell goes away. If not, you could have a dead rodent in the walls. Could also be mold inside the framing if there is some way for moisture to get in there (a leak from a bathroom above). Then you might have to break through the plaster to check what it going on. Good luck!

You can purchase cartons of moisture absorbing crystals at Walmart. The musty smell probably comes from too much moisture in the closet. If you eliminate the moisture, the musty smell should disappear.

I suggest investing in some cedar planks, it will both get rid of the smell AND give it a subtle pleasant fragrance. Best of all, no chemicals involved (unlike mothballs). You don't have to refinish the whole closet in cedar planks, but of course just putting in some cedar balls or hangers would not be enough. Depending on the size of your closet, I would put anywhere from 5-10 square feet of cedar there. Hope that is a helpful suggestion.

T., first take everything out of the closet to determine if it is something in the closet, or the closet itself. It's possible there is an old coat or shoe (that you forget was in there) that is the offender. If that's not it, then once everything is out, clean the closet and see what it is like the next day. If the odor is still there, you might have a problem under it in the basement or crawl space.

Good luck!

So after reading your question and the 2 responses, at the time there were 2, I think both ideas are great but for keeping a nice smell in there I would put drier sheets in the closet. I personally love the way they smell and if you get the ones mixed with febreeze it's just a bonus. I have a small boxes in my closets and they all smell amazing and I never run out of drier sheets. :)

This is a bit late, but I had the same problem and after I cleaned it out (there was some mold on the inside of the door), I hung Damp Rid. The crystals absorb the odor and it is working very well. No more smells. I found it at Bed Bath and Beyond.

First you have to clean out the closet by removing all the coats, jackets , etc... out of the closet. Then gets some pure fresh Pine Sol and wiped down the closet real good and after you finish then spray the inside with Licesol germs, smell removal spray! Before you put all the coats and Jackets back in the closet either wash them or take them to the cleaners so the old musty smell can come out the coats and jackets! Let me know how things go!!

First, empty the closet out totally and make sure there is nothing growing in there from wet stuff, like if you stick boots in the bottom of the closet, or if wet mittens or scarves got thrown in etc. Clean the closet walls and floor with a solution of 1/2 white vinegar and 1/2 hot water. Let it try completely before you put anything back. Unless you really like the smell of mothballs (I hate it!) I would stay away from those because that smell really clings to clothes. Next, wash the jackets you can, spray the ones you can't with febreze and hang them outside for a while if you can.
You can get air fresheners for closets that hang on the bar, use boxes of baking soda in the corners, or both.

Our closet in the front hall got that smell and we discovered that the porch roof was leaking into the closet and there was actually mold growing in the back where we couldn't see it! Gross! Vinegar works great to get rid of odors and it's really inexpensive. If you find you have a bad and visible mold issue, use bleach and water 1/10 solution. DO NOT mix your chemicals, use either bleach or a cleanser, not both! That can make toxic fumes! You sure don't want to do that. Good luck.

Don't know how to get rid of the smell, but Damp Rid will keep the smells at bay.

Actually, Bac-Out cleaner by Biokleen is great for eliminating odors. Might try that!

I'm not sure if this would work in a closet, but it sure works on musty books.

For a book, you take a catbox and fill it with kitty litter, and place the book on top. Put the whole pile of stuff in a trashbag and close it and leave it for a few days - and the smell has been absorbed by the litter.

Maybe if you empty the closet and clean it (and if it still smells, obviously) you could put a pan of litter on the floor and one on a shelf, if there is one, and close the closet for a few days, that would work?

You could also put some bits of cedar in there, maybe those hangers with cedar on them?

Good luck!


I don't know if this will help - obviously you have to first figure out if the musty smell is actually some kind of mold - but if not, a few years ago I had to take my daughters' bunk beds out of storage - where they had been for maybe 20 years. They weren't moldy - but boy, did they smell musty!!!! What I did was wash them down good - then began a heavy duty treatment of Febreeze. I sprayed them every day for about a week with Febreeze. It's not supposed to be for wood, but I did it anyway. It did work - eventually got rid of the smell, and actually the smell of Febreeze eventually went away after a couple of months, so now there is just no smell at all - the most pleasant of all! Good luck!

First of all, I would think you would want to get to the "bottom" of the smell. I think you would need to totally clean the closet out of all the coats, Maybe there is a leak in there to maybe cause the drywall or the carpet to be wet and stinky. If that is not it, since you have all the coats out of there, maybe you could hang them on a clothes line outside to air out. It could be that you have too many coats in there. Do you think it is possible to cut about 1/4" off the bottom of the door? This will help with the circulation of the air. That's what we had to do in our house. Best of luck to you.

Is it musty or just stuffy? I have a linen closet that when I remove something from I need to wash it because it just smells like stuffy closet. There is no air flow in there and I have yet to find a way around it. If it's musty tho, definitely find the source as others have said, then once totally cleaned put some baking soda or white vinegar in there to absorb the odor (I find vinegar faster). Moth balls just stink; I'd ditch those. I also don't like stinky smells to cover existing odors so I wouldn't use Febreeze or fabric softener or anything like that but cedar blocks are good for keeping out moths and they aren't too smelly (the clothes definitely don't stink).

To remove the existing stinky smell in the clothes (unless they are infested with mold) you can put vodka in a spritz bottle and spray them well and let dry. My friend is a costume designer and this is her no-fail trick for removing attic, basement, smoke or other smells from clothes from storage.

I would be inclined to agree that it will be a multi-part project. As for the musty smell in that closet, maybe you could try washing it out with either bleach and water or vinegar and water (do not mix vinegar and bleach, it is toxic). As for the smell on the clothes, most Family Dollar stores (or stores like it) carry a cheaper version of Febreeze that works just as well. It will be time consuming, but you could always pick up a few bottles and spray the clothes in there every day to help keep the clothes smelling nice. If you decide to wear one of the jackets out of that closet, you could always spray it again just before you go out. Maybe even a couple of "stick up" type air fresheners to keep in there will help as well. Though, my dad often raved about these scented orange things you can pick up at home depot that he found cancelled out a lot of bad smells, even if they were very strong. I wish I could remember the name of them, but I don't. I just remember that it comes in a tub, is a pleasant orange scent and helped with a funk that came from one room of his house prior to his passing. Hope any of this helps.

If there's a carpet in the bottom of the closet I suggest removing it. putting wet boots and whatever in there may have contributed to a mold problem and the smell will never go away. I also suggest wiping down the walls and floor with a bleach solution. (1/4 cup to gallon of water). Allow it to air out and dry for a couple days with the door open.

You could also try putting some activated charcoal (you can buy this at the pet store/department...it's for aquarium use)in an open bowl in the closet with the door shut for a few days to absorb the odors. Then discard it.

I would also use the closet dehumidifier cups that are sold in the houseware dept. after the smell is gone of course to help keep your closet dry.

hope this helped :)

oh the wonderful smells of musty moldy ick! i feel your pain. We also had the same problem...but learned that we had water seeping into our home and after having someone who specializes in water restoration we found we had black mold...then after ripping out carpet, cutting out walls...our foundation had a crack the whole length up and down. We just finally completed the project and the guy we used (water restoration) put this cube like thing in our closet and the smell isnt that great but is better than the musty moldy smell. He can test if you have any moisture in the area....which is a common problem in a downstairs area. His name is John Gokey at Zoots (yup thats right, Zoots the dry cleaners) I highly recommend him, he has also been cleaning our carpets for over a year. Good luck...i know exactly how you feel.

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