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Q: What can I do about the musty smell in my basement? —Phyllis Taylor, Minneapolis, MN
A: There are a number of things, starting with a good old-fashioned airing out! Throw open windows and doors and turn on fans. Basements are typically damp, and a musty smell is a telltale sign of mold or mildew, which thrive on moisture from leaks, standing water, or humid air. The spores, which can lurk concealed between inner and outer walls and beneath carpets, can trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions.
In addition to ventilating and letting in sunlight to dry things up, find and fix any leaky faucets or pipes. Perhaps a rain gutter spout is feeding the basement instead of diverting water the garden. Feel walls for damp spots and blow them with your hair dryer. Kill and wipe off visible mold with white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide or a paste of borax and water; you can also use a chlorine-free, oxygen-based commercial bleach. f it smells musty, damp wall-to-wall carpet should be removed.
If the musty smell persists, the coup de grace for mold is a dehumidifier; invest in a machine bearing the U.S. EPA’s Energy Star seal and save at least 15% on your electricity bill. Find products at energystar.gov.
Mindy Pennybacker is Whole Living’s “Econundrums” columnist. See her answers to reader questions and ask your own here. She is also editor of GreenerPenny.com and author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.