There’s something very relaxing about sprawling out on the carpet after a long day and just laying there in the plush fibres. However, this peaceful moment can easily be ruined by that awful musty smell that comes from a carpet full of mould or mildew.
In severe cases, you may even notice the odour without even being close to the ground. Your carpet might look incredible, but that nasty smell is a sign that mould or mildew is lurking nearby and needs to be removed before it becomes a health issue.
You might be wondering how you’re supposed to get rid of it, especially as carpets are not always the easiest to wash and dry, but that’s where we come in.
Within this detailed guide, you will find everything you need to know about mould and mildew, most importantly how to get rid of the stinky damp smell that carpets ouze once they get wet.
From the mild to the severe, everything is covered here.
Mould vs Mildew
Both mould and mildew are types of fungi, with the former usually being black or green and the latter grey or white. There are quite a few differences between them, but both need to be removed from the home quickly if they are spotted.
Mould is a fungus with a fuzzy appearance that comes in a number of colours and shapes. While the most common of these colours are black and green, you may also find it in purple, orange, brown, and pink.
Mildew, on the other hand, is a specific type of mould. It has either a downy or powdery appearance, and the former of these will usually start as yellow spots that slowly turn a shade of brown. Unlike mould, it has no uses and there aren’t any safe forms for things like food production.
Mildew thrives in moisture, and it can even infect plants. If this happens, it is best to remove the affected plants from your home or at least prune the diseased leaves.
Both mould and mildew have the same musty odour, so you’ll know when they are around. As an interesting additional note, mould and mildew can exist in the same place together.
If you have areas where, for example, there is both green and white mould, you likely have a combination of each in the affected area.
The Dangers of Mould and Mildew
What’s the big deal with mould and mildew? Well, the main issue is that they can actually negatively impact your health - especially when they have been left to grow for long periods of time. However, it can also depend on the type of mould and whether or not you are allergic.
“Mould & Mildew can Impact your health, so it's important you deal with it a quickly and efficiently as possible”
If you are not allergic to mould then you are unlikely to feel any of the effects of mildew on your body. If you are, however, you may experience some of the following symptoms:
- Respiratory issues
- Skin rashes
- Runny nose
- Memory loss
In many ways, it feels like a constant flu bug. Those who are most at risk are people who have allergies, the elderly, infants, asthma sufferers, and those with compromised immune systems. Mildew tends to be a classic case of allergenic mould, but what about the toxic and more severe stuff?
Black mould is a classic case of the toxic variety, and it can cause the aforementioned symptoms in anyone - healthy or not. You’ll often find that it is quite thick, and almost tar-like on the surface, and this is a tell-tale sign of something more dangerous.
“When you find black mould in your home, it needs to be removed quickly to avoid health issues”
When you find this in your home, it needs to be removed quickly to avoid health issues. In its most severe form, it can become fatal after prolonged exposure, and it’s not something you want to risk, so it’s important you know how to kill mould.
What are the Common Sources of Mould and Mildew?
Mould and mildew thrive in damp places. If your carpet gets wet and remains damp (water damage), it is only a matter of time before mildew makes a home there. Without moisture, they can’t break down the material around them. This is something that they both have in common because mildew is a type of mould.
These are some of the most common causes of mould and mildew in the home:
- Roof leaks
- Indoor plumbing leaks
- Outdoor drainage problems
- Damp basements and crawl spaces
The above issues will usually need to be worked on by a professional in order to be rectified. Unless they are fixed, you can expect to find that mould and mildew will become a continuous problem for you.
- Steam from the bathroom or kitchen
- Condensation on cool surfaces
- Wet clothes drying inside the home
- A clothes dryer venting indoors
These issues tend to be quite easy to resolve yourself. A lot of it comes down to properly ventilating the room, or your home as a whole. Additionally, it may be useful to invest in a dehumidifier so that you can get rid of any excess moisture in the air and prevent mould/mildew.
What Kills Mould and Mildew on Carpet?
There are a few ways you can kill mould and mildew, but the biggest question is which of these methods works best?
Hydrogen Peroxide. This is quite similar to bleach, but it is also a lot less toxic. So, if you are more into eco-cleaning, you will find this the better product of the two. After diluting it, you can spray it onto the mould/mildew, leave it to sit for a few minutes, and simply wipe clean. If the mould/mildew is particularly bad you can apply more and really scrub the affected area.
White Vinegar. This works much like bleach in that the mould and mildew will die as you wipe the cloth across. However, vinegar is different in that it also soaks into the material and kills it at the root, thus ensuring that it doesn’t grow back. Interestingly, it can kill 82% of mould species, and this number increased when combined with baking soda. Again, you should finish the job with a coat of mould-proof paint for the best results.
Baking Soda. The great thing about baking soda is that it also absorbs moisture, which means that mould and mildew will lose their ideal environment. You can combine it with white vinegar or water in a spray bottle, leave it to sit, and then scrub it away with a brush and rinse for a clean surface. You can also spray the surface again and allow it to dry, killing the roots and additional mould/mildew.
Best Mildew Smell Remover
White vinegar is our top pick, especially if you want something natural instead of harmful chemicals. There are several different ways you can use it, most of which are listed throughout this guide.
However, there is an additional method for odour removal that you might want to try out using this common household ingredient.
Take several bowls and add a 250 ml(maybe a drop more if the smell is really bad) of white vinegar to each. Then, place them in different locations around the affected room. They will help to neutralise the smell and keep it that way once the mildew has been removed from the room.
You can also do the same with clean cat litter, although the vinegar is more visually appealing.
Does Charcoal Remove Musty Smell?
Interestingly, yes, charcoal can remove musty smells from your home. You don’t even need to do a lot in order to make it happen. All you need are a few charcoal bricks in a dish, and you can place several of these throughout the affected room. The charcoal will absorb the odour, and leave it smelling much nicer. You will need to replace the bricks every few months.
Will a Dehumidifier Get Rid of Musty Smell?
Yes, a dehumidifier can help you to get rid of that musty smell. They are excellent in that way, as they work to remove excess moisture from the room and neutralise smells. This also includes things like pet smells and smoke, and can even be used to filter allergens like pollen and pet dander for those who suffer from asthma and allergies.
Precautions to Take Before Removal
If the mildew has become so severe that dangerous mould has formed and the carpet needs to be removed, there are some precautions that you should take before you undertake the task:
- Wear a good mask that will filter out the mould so that you don’t breathe spores in
- If your floor has flooded you should ensure you dry it as much as possible within the first 72 hours to avoid mould/mildew becoming established
- Ventilate the room as opening all the doors and windows will allow for good airflow that will reduce potential irritation to your eyes and lungs
- Remove everything from the room in question asap
- Work very slowly to avoid disturbing the spores
- Double-bag/wrap all of the carpet and materials that you are throwing out
- Scrub the remaining floor with one of the solutions/methods found in this guide
Here are The Best Ways to Remove Mildew Smells from Carpet and Rugs
The Natural Way to Remove Mildew Smell
First, get a wet/dry vacuum (you can hire one from your local DIY store if needed) and run it over the carpet. This might take you a few hours depending on how flooded the flooring is. You must not stop sucking the moisture out until the vacuum stops collecting water or you risk the problem repeating itself later.
Dry it Out
Now that you have vacuumed all the moisture up, allow the area to dry naturally for a day or two. You can speed up the process by setting up fans or a space heater throughout the room that will help to dry the floor.
White Vinegar and Baking Soda
Take 250ml of white vinegar and mix it with 500ml of warm water. Then, put it in a spray bottle and lightly mist the affected areas of carpet (this prevents it from soaking the floor and causing the mildew to return). Once sprayed, pour a generous amount of baking soda on top and leave it to dry (Ideally up to 24 Hours). Vacuum the baking powder up, and your carpet will no longer smell.
The Chemical Way to Remove Mildew Smell
Vacuum and Dry
As soon as you discover the mildew, vacuum the carpet. If the carpet is damp or wet, make sure you use a wet/dry model that can cope with the moisture. You can hire one if needed. Once this is done, ensure the carpet is nice and dry before you begin the shampooing process in the next step.
You can use two different methods for this step.The first is buying or hiring a carpet cleaner that will do the shampooing for you. You will need to buy the shampoo yourself. This is quite quick and takes a lot of the work out for you. The second method is buying a foam carpet shampoo and using a sponge to rub it into the carpet before leaving it to dry. This method does tend to take longer, but it is also cheaper.
If you are using the carpet cleaner method, you will find that the carpet is rinsed after the shampooing and you can either leave it to dry for a few hours (or overnight) or you may have a model that dries the carpet for you. If you have chosen the sponge method, once the carpet has dried (after around 20-30 minutes) you can use a vacuum cleaner to suck the dry shampoo up. After either of these methods, you should find your floor smells much nicer.
Things to Keep in Mind
Chemicals can be harmful when inhaled, and many of the mould removers used for carpet cleaning contain chlorine dioxide. Therefore, you should only apply it when you are in a well-ventilated area, and preferably while wearing a facemask for added protection.
Additionally, chemical products (including bleach)may cause discolouration to the carpet. Before you use it on a large area, test it on a small spot of carpet that is hidden away first.
The Professional Way to Remove Mildew Smell
Sometimes we simply don’t have the time (or the desire) to go through getting rid of that wet carpet smell ourselves. Or, you have tried the above methods and it still doesn’t seem to be working. In cases like this, the professional way is the best.There are loads of professional carpet cleaners out there that are able to remove mould, mildew, and the awful smell that comes with it from your flooring. It is the most expensive method, but it can also save you a lot of time, effort, and potential stress. A quick call to one of your local carpet cleaning companies and you will find that the majority are happy to carry this out for you.
How to remove mould from Carpet
Make Sure the Carpet is Dry
Ensure the carpet is nice and dry, and then vacuum it to remove any loose debris. If the carpet is still wet or damp, this can encourage the mould and mildew to return quite quickly after you have cleaned it.
Step Two: Vinegar
Take a spray bottle and pour some undiluted white vinegar into it. White vinegar works best because it doesn’t discolour anything or leave a strong odour. Once this is done, spray the vinegar over the affected area (without soaking it). Then, leave it to sit for about an hour, maybe a little longer, so that it can really get to work and ensure the roots are killed.
Get a good scrubbing brush and really work it over the vinegared area, working it into the fibres to ensure that it reaches as deep as possible. Next, leave it to dry (likely overnight). Once dry, you can vacuum over it to get rid of any debris that might be left behind, and also pick up loose grime. Repeat the process if needed, but the mould, mildew, and smell should be gone after this.
Tips and Warnings
The most important thing to remember is to keep the area ventilated. We’ve mentioned this before, but it gets forgotten so quickly. Open the windows and doors, and wear face protection to prevent inhaling spores. This is especially important if you’re not sure how bad the mould/mildew problem is.
Steam cleaning your carpet might seem like a great way to kill the mould (after all, steam cleaners do kill a lot of dirt and bacteria). However, they can actually just end up leaving your carpet even more soaked and damaging the fibres due to the heat.
If you want to use a steam cleaner, ensure it is one that has been designed for use on carpets and dry the area immediately after. Or, just use a professional company to save yourself the stress.
Drying under the carpet can be a real pain, but there is a handy little tip that might help you out when you have a really soaked floor. Some people have been known to cut a slit in the carpet and use the ‘blow’ function on the vacuum cleaner to help dry the area out. The video below provides a fantastic visual demonstration of the process.
If you’re not careful, it may cause some ripples in your floor, but it will also save you money if you can’t afford to rip out and replace the carpet.
You have to know when it’s time to quit, and there are times when the mould will be too severe for you to remove completely. In these situations, you will have to remove the affected area of carpet from the home and dispose of it quickly. If it is a small section that is being cut out, we recommend cutting an additional 5-10cm out just to ensure you get all of the mould spores out.
WHAT ARE THE COMMON SOURCES OF MILDEW ON CARPET?
The most common source of mildew on carpet is moisture. This could be caused by someone spilling a drink on it and not cleaning it up, or even from moisture that has been rising up from the ground and settling into the base of your carpet - rising damp. You can further explore the common causes of mould and mildew in the home in the above sections.
WHY DOES MY CARPET SMELL WORSE AFTER CLEANING IT?
If your carpet smells worse after cleaning it, the most common explanation is that the back padding (underside) of the carpet is damp and home to mildew. In order to dry it properly, you can use heaters or a wet/dry vacuum (even a combination of both) to remove the excess moisture and help the area dry completely.
HOW DO YOU GET THE SMELL OUT OF WET CARPET?
If you’re looking at how to get the smell out of wet carpet, then white vinegar and baking soda tend to be our top picks. However, you can learn more about each of the methods we recommend in the sections above - including some chemical solutions.
DOES FEBREZE KILL MILDEW?
Febreeze does not kill the mildew, but it does remove the odour it leaves behind. So, while you can treat the smell with some Febreeze, you still need to sort out the actual issue. Our methods in this guide can help you with that, and the Febreeze makes a nice after-touch.
IS CARPET MOULD DANGEROUS?
Yes, carpet mould can be dangerous. It all depends on the type that is in your carpet, something we looked at a little earlier on. If it is just mildew, then only those who have a mould allergy are likely to be affected by the spores. Black mould is much more severe, however, and can have negative health effects on anyone - even those who are completely healthy.
CAN YOU PUT BAKING SODA ON A WET CARPET?
Yes, you can put baking soda on a wet carpet. It is actually very good at absorbing moisture. However, this is only recommended for small areas of wet carpet. If you have an entire room that has been soaked, you should use a wet/dry vacuum first to collect the excess water and then baking soda to ensure the last of the moisture has been collected.
CAN MOULDY CARPET MAKE YOU SICK?
Yes, a mouldy carpet can make you sick. This is especially true if there is black mould in and under the carpet as it is the most dangerous. For mildew, only those with allergies and weaker immune systems are likely to be impacted.
HOW DO I KNOW IF THERE IS MOULD UNDER MY CARPET?
The smell is the main way you can tell if there is mould under the carpet. Mildew has a very musty odour, and it can’t be missed when you are in the room. The stronger it is, the worse the mould situation is likely to be. You can also check for yellow, black, and white spots. However, if the mould is primarily under the carpet, you may need to pull it up for further inspection.
WHAT KILLS MOULD AND MILDEW IN CARPET?
There are quite a few things that kill mould and mildew in carpet, each of which have been listed in this guide. Some of the most popular, however, are white vinegar, bleach, and baking soda.
HOW DO YOU GET RID OF MILDEW SMELL?
There are many ways to get rid of the mildew smell, and if you want a more detailed look at the methods, you can find them all in the previous sections. Things like white vinegar and Febreeze work wonders, and baking soda can be equally excellent and neutralising those foul musty smells.
WILL SHAMPOOING CARPET GET RID OF MILDEW SMELL?
Yes, you can get rid of that awful mildew smell by shampooing your carpet. You can find a great little step-by-step for it in the chemical cleaning section earlier in this guide.
WHAT CAUSES MUSTY SMELL IN CARPET?
Mildew is the cause of that musty smell in your carpets, and it is a type of mould. Generally speaking, it is harmless to those who do not have a mould allergy, but it can quickly evolve into dangerous mould if left untreated.
HOW DO YOU GET THE SMELL OUT OF WET CARPET?
There are loads of fantastic ways you can get the smell out of wet carpet, but before you do anything you need to make sure it is dry. Using a wet/dry vacuum is the best option for this. Afterwards, you can use things like baking soda to neutralise the odour, or you might want to try and air freshener like Febreeze if that is more your style. You can find some helpful steps and advice for the process in earlier sections.
We hope that this guide has helped you to tackle the mildew smell in carpet, allowing you to live in a home that actually smells good again. It’s not particularly hard, and many of the methods include ingredients that you tend to find in the kitchen cupboard.
No one deserves to live in a mouldy home, and as soon as that mildew smell appears it is important to sort it out as quickly as possible. Mould can become dangerous, and the more it grows the harder the carpet becomes to save. Whether you want to go it alone or hire some professional help, this guide is here to lend a hand every step of the way.
What did you think of our guide to getting that awful mildew stain out of your carpet? Did it help you achieve cleaning success, or are there areas that still need work? We love hearing from you, so drop us a message in the comment section below.
Gemma Tyler is a freelance journalist with 15 years of experience writing for consumer publications. She has tested and reviewed a wide range of household items from vacuum cleaners to washing machines and dehumidifiers to steam irons. Her attention to detail and exhaustive testing certainly makes her an expert in her field.