How do I remove the musty smell from objects stored in a damp basement?
Q. Dear Donia,
If items (holiday decor, furniture, 35mm film negatives, etc.) have been stored in a damp basement and have a musty smell but no visible mold, what should be done to them before moving them into the main floor of a house? Thank you!
A. Dear Andrea,
Damp basements are a big problem for a lot of us and, unfortunately, it is often the only place we have for storage. The good part is you don't have any visible mold! The bad part is you have an odor. The first thing to do is to take all the items out of the boxes they are in, especially if they are cardboard, and put them into new boxes. This will help the odor problem a lot and allow you to assess for any active mold again. The next thing to do is consider your options for decreasing the odor.
One option is to get some MicroChamber paper from Conservation Resources. This paper absorbs odors and traps them within the paper so that your decor and film don't smell as bad and it doesn't escape the paper and make the house smell. This may not be the cheapest option, but it is the one that I have found to be the most effective.
Another option is to get a plastic bin and some of the closet deodorizers. Put the items in with lots of space around them (you may need multiple bins and deodorizers) and add the deodorizer so it isn't touching. Leave them in the bin a month and then check on the progress. Replace the deodorizers as needed. This is a much slower process (6 months to a year depending on how bad the odor is) so if you need the holiday items sooner, you may want to go with the MicroChamber paper option.
Finally, the least expensive option is to do as above with the bins but use bowls of baking soda in place of the deodorizer. Don't sprinkle the soda over the materials as this will just create another problem. Again, this will be a lengthier process but if you have time, it will be the least costly.
The furniture is another matter. If it is upholstered, you can try something like Febreeze or put it out successive days in the sun. Often, the act of drying something out completely will help with the odor. However, when it gets damp again (like in July and August) the odor may come back. It may be best to either re-upholster the furniture or dispose of it if you cannot get rid of the smell.
I hope this give you enough information to decide what is best for you. If you find you do have mold, be sure to write back since that just adds another layer of things you need to do to keep yourself safe.