Q We visited our daughter recently, and she said that our clothing smelled musty. Could this come from our house? If so, how do we know if our house is moldy?
A It's more likely to be what's happening in your house than the house itself.
Mildew, a mold that's a plant, has spores everywhere. Floating unseen in the air or sitting on surfaces, they wait for the right conditions -- moisture, warmth and a little nourishment -- to take hold and grow. Fibers themselves offer spores the food they need, even more so when soiled. So when clothing is damp and homes are warm, mildew takes root, giving off that characteristic musty odor as it grows. Even when clothes are "dry," the musty odor can linger.
To get rid of the musty odor on your clothing, start with your laundry routine:
• Clothing must be dry when it's put into hampers or baskets for washing.
• Do not let wet or damp towels or linens lay around.
• Remove clothes from the wash machine promptly and dry them thoroughly.
• Avoid hanging clothes in a basement to dry. Basements often have a musty odor, which can be picked up by clothes. Use a dehumidifier or add heat to the basement to dry it out and remove the odor. Or hang your clothes elsewhere to dry.
• Check that the water supply is fresh. When a water heater malfunctions, water can take on an odor.
• Check closets and drawers where clothes are stored to make sure they are clean, dry and not musty. Clothing and linens must be thoroughly dry before storing. At this time of year, central heating will dry the air in a home. Keep doors to rooms and closets at least slightly ajar to let air circulation keep them dry.
• If stink lingers on clothing, and rewashing and drying doesn't help, try to hang them outdoors on a sunny day (that gets harder at this time of year). Sunshine and fresh air destroy mildew and remove the odor. Dry cleaning also works.
If you still suspect your home is musty:
• Look for obvious signs of mold and clean it up. The likely places are bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms. Don't overlook cabinets, especially near sinks or drains. Check the attic. Sometimes undetected leaks or condensation can create a mold problem.
• Buy a hygrometer (a device that measures the relative humidity in your home). They can be found at home and hardware stores for around $20. Keep indoor moisture levels below 50 percent at all times, and lower than that as the outdoor temperature gets colder. Generally, the colder it is outdoors, the lower the indoor humidity should be. A simple indicator is window condensation. If windows consistently have more than a thin strip of condensation on the interior glass pane, moisture levels are too high in your home.
• If you have a humidifier, turn it off or operate it less frequently to keep moisture levels low and prevent mold growth.
• Operate the bathroom exhaust fan while you shower or bathe and for 15 minutes afterward. Same for the kitchen exhaust fan; have it on while you cook and for 15 minutes afterward.
Remember, our noses become accustomed to odors, which can make us poor judges of the stink that may be in our house. You might suggest that your daughter visit to see if you have solved your musty clothes problem.
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