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Odor Control

How To Get Mildew Smell Out of Carpet in 7 Steps

A closeup of a person wearing yellow rubber gloves scrubbing a gray carpet clean with one hand and holding a bottle of blue cleaner in the other hand.

A mildew smell in carpets often results from moisture exposure or poor ventilation. To combat this, ensure the area is dry, use a dehumidifier, and clean the carpet with a cleaning solution. Regular vacuuming and exposure to sunlight can also help prevent and eliminate mildew odors.

Carpets and rugs are an easy way to create a cozy environment, adding warmth and texture to any room. However, they can also attract odors, especially the stubborn, musty scents of mold and mildew. Whether it's due to spills, leaks, humidity, or lack of ventilation, it’s important to get that mildew smell out of the carpet as soon as possible, not just because it affects your comfort but also your health.

Has mildew taken up residence in your carpet? What should you do now, and how can you prevent it from coming back? Keep reading to learn how to get mildew smell out of carpet, what causes it, and how to prevent it from returning.

Seven steps for how to get mildew smell out of carpet.

Step 1: Identify and Eliminate the Source

Locating the source of the odor is the first step in eradicating the mildew smell. Make sure the carpet is not damp. Check the walls and ceilings for signs of water damage or leaks. Don't forget to check under furniture.

Once the source is identified, fix any leaks or spills and thoroughly dry the area. It may be necessary to pull back the edges of the carpet or remove baseboards to allow air to circulate. Consider using a dehumidifier to eliminate moisture from the air and carpet.

Replace any water-damaged carpet padding to prevent the smell from coming back. If sections of the carpet itself are damaged, it may be necessary to cut them out and replace them.

Step 2: Vacuum the Carpet

Vacuum slowly and thoroughly, going over the entire carpeted area in overlapping passes. The vacuum may have special tools like a crevice attachment that can also come in handy for hard-to-reach areas where mildew lurks.

Empty the vacuum and wipe the filters after each use to prevent transferring mildew spores back to the carpet. You may need to vacuum a few times to get it all.

Just vacuuming won't remove the smell, but it helps by reducing mildew in the carpet, making the rest of the process more efficient.

Step 3: Apply a Cleaning Solution

With the debris gone, the next step is to sanitize the carpet by applying a cleaning solution. Depending on your preference, you can use commercial carpet cleaning products or tried-and-true home remedies. If you prefer home remedies, here are some effective ones to try:

  • Baking Soda/Salt: Generously sprinkle on the carpet and let it sit overnight, then vacuum.
  • Alcohol: If the carpet isn’t too damp, high-proof cleaning alcohol is effective for addressing small to medium areas.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: Essentially a bleach, it must be diluted 20:1 with water and used on a completely dry carpet.
  • Vinegar: An acidic, inexpensive, nontoxic solution. However, it has a strong odor and may cause skin irritation, so it should be handled with personal protective gear.

Step 4: Scrub the Carpet

For small areas, use an old scrub brush, toothbrush, or scrub pad. For larger areas, rent an electric carpet scrubber or steam cleaner. Apply the solution and scrub in small circles, working from the outside in. Let the solution sit for at least 30 minutes unless the label's instructions say otherwise.

After applying the cleaning product, use a towel or a wet/dry vac to absorb as much moisture as possible. Rinse thoroughly with water to remove any remaining residue. You may need to repeat this step a few times for tough stains. Be careful not to oversaturate the carpet with liquid.

Once you’re done scrubbing, open windows to ventilate and speed up the drying time. Running an air purifier with a HEPA filter can also help eliminate any remaining musty smells in the room.

Step 5: Let It Dry

Now that as much of the water as possible is soaked up, it’s time to let the carpet air dry completely.

Leave the windows open and use fans to speed up drying time. The faster the carpet dries, the less chance the mildew smell has to settle in and spread. Continue to circulate the air around the damp area with fans. Turn on any overhead or portable fans to keep the air moving.

Aiming a fan directly at the damp area of the carpet will speed up evaporation. For small, isolated areas, it may take 8 to 12 hours to dry the area completely. Wall-to-wall carpet or carpet in rooms with little air circulation may take 24 hours or longer to dry completely.

While the carpet is drying, avoid walking in the area. Foot traffic can embed the mildew and musty smell deeper into the carpet. Keep pets and children away from the area as well.

Leaving the carpet damp for too long allows mildew to grow rapidly. Prioritize drying the carpet quickly to avoid a full-on mildew infestation. Speedy drying, combined with the suggested cleaning steps, should leave the carpet mildew-free and smelling fresh again.

Step 6: Deodorize

Baking soda is a natural odor absorber that can help freshen the carpet. Sprinkle baking soda liberally over the entire carpeted area. Let it sit for at least a few hours or overnight. The baking soda should absorb the mildew and musty smells from the carpet.

Vacuum the baking soda thoroughly using the hose or brush attachment on the vacuum. You may need to go over the area a few times to pick up all the baking soda granules.

For tough smells, try using activated charcoal, which is very porous and effective at absorbing odors. Place containers of activated charcoal around the room. Replace or refresh the charcoal every month or so.

Commercial carpet deodorizers and powders can also help eliminate odors. Look for natural, fragrance-free products, and always follow the directions carefully. Reapply as needed until the musty smell has disappeared.

Step 7: Consider Professional Cleaning

If carpet odors persist after trying the previous steps, it may be time to call in restoration professionals. Trusting your carpet cleaning to trained professionals is the best way to ensure you have the cleanest carpet possible — free of mildew smells and other odors. When you hire Rainbow Restoration® for professional hot water extraction carpet cleaning, you can expect our local professionals to perform the following:

  1. Thoroughly vacuum the carpeting using a vacuum equipped with high-quality filters to remove deep-set dirt and dust.
  2. Apply a specially formulated preconditioning solution to separate and suspend soil within the carpet fibers.
  3. Use a professional-grade, hot water extraction machine to deeply clean and thoroughly extract the water from the carpet’s fibers.
  4. Groom the carpet to restore its appearance.
  5. Provide instructions for maintaining a clean carpet.

Clickable graphic directing to Rainbow Restoration's blog How Does Mold Spread? 5 Common Causes [+ Prevention Tips].

How To Prevent Mildew Smells in Carpet

A few key things can be done to prevent mildew smells from building up in a carpet:

1. Maintain Low Humidity Levels

Moisture in the air can lead to mildew growth. An air purifier with a HEPA filter could help remove excess moisture and improve ventilation. It's also a good idea to use exhaust fans when showering or cooking.

2. Clean Spills Immediately

Make sure spills are cleaned up as soon as possible. Lingering spills, especially pet accidents or liquid spills, create an ideal environment for mildew and musty odors to develop, not to mention permanent stains. Blot the spill with an absorbent cloth and dry the area quickly. For larger spills, use portable and overhead fans to dry the area quickly.

Take proactive steps by keeping a stain remover in a spray bottle nearby and ready to use.

3. Vacuum Regularly

Dirt and debris trapped in carpet fibers can lead to mildew growth over time. Vacuum high-traffic carpet areas at least once a week and do a deep clean of the entire carpeted area once a month or so. Pay extra attention to corners and edges where dirt tends to accumulate.

4. Use Carpet Padding With Antimicrobial Properties

Antimicrobial padding releases silver ions that kill microbes, keeping carpets fresher for longer. It's especially useful in high-moisture areas. Though more expensive than traditional padding, fresher carpets often outweigh the cost. Look for padding with permanent — not topical — antimicrobial agents from reputable brands. Proper installation and maintenance will help keep your carpet looking and smelling fresh.

5. Consider Carpet Alternatives

If you’re replacing a carpet, consider a synthetic fiber like nylon or polypropylene, which resists mildew growth. Wool, while cozy, is a breeding ground for musty smells. A Berber-style carpet with loops is best for high-moisture areas like basements, as it dries quickly. If deciding between carpet and other hard surfaces, tile, linoleum, or vinyl are all great options that mitigate mildew issues. Area rugs can also serve as a practical alternative to traditional carpeting.

What Causes Mildew Smells in Carpet

Mildew is a mold that thrives in warm, damp environments. Several factors can contribute to mildew growth in a carpet.

Too much moisture is usually the main culprit. Excessive humidity, water leaks or spills, pet accidents, and damp basements can all create the perfect breeding ground for mildew.

Lack of ventilation is another common cause. Enclosed areas like closets, attics, or crawl spaces prevent air circulation, allowing mildew to flourish. Increase ventilation and airflow in these spaces when possible. Also, check that vents are clear and unobstructed.

Dirty or old carpet provides more opportunities for mildew to take hold. Vacuum the carpet regularly to remove built-up dirt and debris.

Following these tips should help prevent mildew growth and eliminate musty smells. Be proactive and take action as soon as any mildew is detected to avoid permanent damage to the carpet.

Choose Rainbow Restoration Carpet Cleaning Services

Removing the mildew smell from carpets doesn't have to be stressful. If tackling the problem seems overwhelming, don't hesitate to turn to the professionals at your local Rainbow Restoration.

These local teams use state-of-the-art equipment, proven techniques, and powerful yet safe cleaning solutions to provide great results every time. At Rainbow Restoration, your satisfaction is our top priority, which is why our work is backed by the Neighborly Done Right Promise. To learn more or to get started, request an appointment online or call us today to get started.

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and may not be applicable to every situation. You are responsible for determining the proper course of action for your property. Services should be performed by licensed and experienced professionals. Rainbow Restoration is not responsible for any damages that occur as a result of this blog content or your actions. For the most accurate guidance, contact a Rainbow Restoration professional for a custom, on-site assessment.

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