mold smell

rachelaJanuary 15, 2007

We closed on a loft in northwestern MA at the end of 2005. The building is a former textile mill, a brick structure built around 1820. There are 40 units, all new interior construction, since the building was just 4 floors of wide open space prior to 2004.

Everytime we go back to our apartment in NY, I am disturbed by the smell of mold on just about all of our belongings that were with us at the loft. DH doesn't notice it the way I do and it's bothering me. We have a new (miele) washing machine there, none in NY, so I was so happy to do laundry there. The clothes washed up there smell like mold when we get them back to NY. (No dryer, I hang the clothes to dry) I've hung them all over the loft to find a spot where they don't smell. Haven't found one. Constantly smelling the freshly washed laundry has definitely sapped the pleasure out of doing laundry. I'm embarrassed that someone will smell this on my clothes when I go to work.

Our neighbors don't smell anything and they go back and forth to Boston.

When I return to work, I smell it on the backpack that I take up there with me, and on the paperwork that's inside.

I don't know where to begin to look for the source of the smell in the loft.


Thank you!

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So, only the clothing smells but not the rest of the house? Maybe a dehumidifier would help? I hang my laundry as well and have experienced the same thing. I bought a window size fan and a folding wooden clothes rack ( walmart for 9.99) and put the fan on the hanging clothing in an extra bedroom and close the door. No more smell. There was dampness problem in the basement but the dehudifier took care of that. Good luck.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2007 at 12:29PM
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we had the same issue in a house built around about 1980. the problem isn't the house but the way you are dryign your laundry. We also did not have a dryer and we used to hand the laundry in the basement where it took a long time to dry. Anytime something is wet for a while it will smell like that. I would dry it with a fan set by it (like elanalv suggested) you need to dry your clothing faster and that may mean moving it to a different area, where the humidity may not have as high and using a fan.
Also running a dehumidifier in your loft may reduce the smell on things. YOu may be introducing too much moisture into your living area with the wet clothing. Do you have AC? Do you open the windows ever?

    Bookmark   January 15, 2007 at 2:47PM
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I think you should STOP drying your laundry by hanging it inside your loft at once. (Not that I am a foe of clotheslines, I live not far from you and I dry almost all my laundry on a line year-round, but only outdoors.)

Indoor laundry drying puts a tremendous amount of water vapor in the air of your loft and then you go away and shut it in. It's not surprising to me at all that you have developed a moldy/musty smell problem. I hope that it can still be cured by simply lowering the ambient humidity and cleaning the existing problems.

First of all you should get some dehus running whenever you are at the loft. If you can set one up to dump into a drain, you could run it when you are in NY.

It is likely that when the loft was converted it was tightened-up in a big way. That saves energy, but leaves any excess humidity trapped inside making the problem much worse if you are adding moisture.

If you must line dry then do so only on an outdoor line. I have one of those non-venting condenser-type dryers which evaporate the water out of the exhuast stream. I can easily "harvest" more than a couple of gallons per week. That's the same amount of water you're evaporating out of your laundry and leaving inside your closed loft while you're away. I also use Miele washing machines (and Askos) so my stuff which produces this amount of water is being washed in high rpm Euro machines, like yours.

Now to cure the problem of the smell, I would first make sure you haven't acquired a smell problem inside your Miele. Do you leave it open when you are away? That's a very good idea. I would run a rigorous clean-up cycle in the washer first thing when you return. Also consider running at slightly hotter temps on a routine basis. (And with a Miele, I know you can, ::smile::). Then make sure you are using the highest spin possible to extract more water inside the machine. Now about clothes drying, doing so in front of open windows might make a difference but that's probably out for the season. I do dry outside even at this time of year, but often have to leave my stuff outside for a day or so to sublimate all the moisture out. That probably isn't possible in a semi-public area like a loft conversion. Have you considered getting one of the conenser type dryers? I have mixed feelings about them. My model is an older Asko, and I think it isn't as moisture-tight as the current models from either Miele or Asko. It does add a perceptible amount of moisture vapor when I run it. But in a situation where you can't run a dryer exhaust pipe, condensers do work pretty well, though. And they are far better than drying indoors, especially in a modern tight structure.

Have you noticed any subtle moisture problems on books, paper or art work?

To remediate the current smell problem I would plan on doing a serious cleaning of most surfaces, including thorough washing of all bedding; steam cleaning mattresses, rugs and upholstery; washing walls and floors and vaccuuming everything else. All that should take place after a period of running dehus to get any existing moisture under control. That should take care of it, though it will be a big job. Basically you have to clean off all the surfaces that might have acquired a thin layer of fungal growth. I would use hot water and Dirtex powdered cleaner on washable surfaces. (Dirtex sometimes is hard to find, once source I know of that may be close to you is the Benjamin Moore dealer in Bennington.) You might also want to consider getting a vaccuum cleaner with a true HEPA filter so you inhibit spreading of spores when cleaning.

Finally, if you have breathing or other health problems you might wish to delegate this cleaning to someone else. Or at least wear one of those tight-fitting 3M filter masks (cost about $15 at HD or Lowes). (Not just the small dust masks).

When dealing with a fungal problem (mildew and its musty-smelling cohorts are fungal not bacterial issues), keep in mind that most environmental fungi need several conditions to thrive: Free moisture in the air, certain temp parameters (basically what we like, ranging to a little colder), lack of light, and still, unmoving, air. Many of them also need a certain amount of their preferred food, which can range from paper, to waxes and grease (like from not using an exhaust fan when you cook), to just plain old household grime and dust. These are exactly the conditions you may create in a space like your loft when you are away. Changing several of these factors will help enormously in discouraging the problem from reoccurring. Changing what you can will help, even if it seems like small changes. Don't think you have to sterilize or eliminate all of the mold spores. You couldn't do that effectively anyway, and the space would be recontaminated as soon as you opened windows or doors. You just have to lower the overall load and change the environment enough, and it will make a difference.

I once livid in a very humid area in the tropics, without reliable electrical service to run A/C or dehus. That required unceasing daily attention to modifying the environment to lower the fungal issues. And every now and then, I'll open a book, or long-closed carton, and poof, out blows a little wiff of the jungle. (I'm not terribly worried about reinfestation from that as those fungal beasties require torrid conditions to thrive; they'd expire of the cold up here in upstate NY. Tee-hee!)

I think if you make a big effort you can resolve this. Good luck!


    Bookmark   January 17, 2007 at 12:02AM
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First, thank you so much for your input!!

This sounds like a daunting task to address this issue!!! But! I feel as though I'm not alone in dealing with this.

1. Before we closed, we stayed numerous times in two other lofts in the building. I didn't do laundry in either of the lofts. I noticed the smell on returning to NY from the loft that is directly below ours, but not in a loft in a different location on the floor above ours.
2. I haven't noticed any subtle moisture problems. What would I be looking for?
3. Happily, we have a HEPA vac.
4. There is a small room that extends out past the rest of the building. It was added on in the late 1800's. It's entirely brick with cement floors. Maybe I can dry the laundry there, with a small fan blowing on it, since I have no other place to do it.
5. Possibly exacerbating the situation, is the Hoosic River right next to us. At the point where we are, it's just a channel. The Army corps cemented the sides and bottom of the river years ago to prevent flooding in the area, so it resembles a river less than my bathtub does. It looks more like the floor of a cement pool that has a little water left in parts of it.
If those fungal beasties need torrid conditions to thrive, what are they doing near the VT border? Actually I used to spend a lot of time in a tiny apartment in Paris. I never smelled anything while I was there, but when I came home, everything smelled of mold. That was how I knew what I was smelling when we came back from the mill.
Thoughts? Suggestions?

    Bookmark   January 17, 2007 at 10:58AM
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When I referred to the smelly beasties from the torrid areas I was referrring to species that thrive there but not here. Fungi are everywhere, but most are pretty specific regarding preferrred temps.

As an example, I have a large library and recently it was augmented by two additional collections. One came from my MIL's house in northern VT on the Lake Champlain, the other from my own Mother whose books spent many years living in tropical South America. In each case they have some minor issues with mildew or fungal growth, but both develop problems under different temperature conditions, notwithstanding that they now live in the same structure, under common conditions. When it's beastly hot and humid here in August I have to remember to redouble my monitoring of my Mother's books from the tropics, but in cool moist springs and falls, it's my MIL's books that are affected. Neither develops problems together, so what they're affected by are temperature-specific bugs, once the underlying condition of a certain level of atmospheric moisture, darkness and still air are in place.

Since you have experienced the smell in both your loft and one on a lower level, but not a higher one, I think that's important to note. I think your building may not be properly sealed from rising soil moisture, and/or affected by low-level atmospheric moisture. I keep my best books on the second floor where they have much an easier life, even though the height difference is only about 9 feet.

Regarding the Paris situation, I think the reason your stuff smelled was that while it was being shipped it was contained in a closed atmosphere in boxes or other containers. Remember fungal growth is controlled by moisture, temperature, darkness and still air. If those factors (in addition to the underlying "food" substrate) are altered then the ubiquitous fungal spores are held in check.

So what can you do for your loft? Well, of course ceasing inside drying will reduce your unit's ambient moisture more than you may think. How is your place heated? If from a common HVAC system I would insist on a check and perhaps cleaning of the ducts and filters, to clean up any recirculating problems. I'd invest in some hygrometers (about $35 for small ones) to monitor conditions. Even small cheap ones will record max/min of temp and humidity since last checked so they would give you an idea what was going on while you are away. More expensive ones, including ones that could be monitored remotely from your computer can be had. Museum catalogues would be a source for them.

I would definitely get some dehus going to lower humidity if you find it's above 50-60%.

Is your loft carpeted or does it have hardwood floors? Wall to wall carpet, and its padding, will be harder to get cleaned up, so I'm hoping for your sake that you have wood floors.

Drying your clothes in the little annex might help, providing it is not connected to your unit. A dryer would be much better.

Smile at your little trickle of the Hoosic. It wends it's way here and there, and finally flows not far from my farm in NY. Have you read Grace Greylock Niles' romantic account of the river's history?

Speaking of books there is an excellent, though in many ways depressing, academic tome on the management of fungal infestations in buildings and collections. I can look up the reference for you if you want.



    Bookmark   January 17, 2007 at 11:46PM
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I'm hoping that you'll still see this, although so much time has passed.

We returned last night from our second stay in the loft since I posted in January. The first time we were there after I posted, I purchased a dehu and ran it with a fan blowing on the drying clothes in a small bathroom. It's the only room that is completely shut off from the rest of the loft, I know not ideal but the best I could do. The other completely brick and cement offshoot room is sealed up until warmer weather begins.

I was disappointed with the results, much better than before but still smelled.
Then I reread your post, and thought okay have to do it an open space. This time I tried the main space. What a mess. I just rewashed all of my underwear.

We went to the dentist the day after I washed the first batch of laundry, in the car on the way there, I was mortified by the smell of my freshly washed shirt!!

Went back to the small bathroom for more laundry done later in the week. This is the best solution, but the still lingering smell is driving me crazy. I did one last batch of laundry before leaving, brought it home wet and hung it last night. It smells the way clean laundry should smell, no mold smell at all.

I read about a whirlpool dehu that goes up to 3200sq ft. Haven't noticed any smell or evidence of mold on books or papers, yet my clean unwashed cashmere sweater that spent the past week up there in a drawer, has a faint smell to it. A jean jacket that I wore and hung on the back of a chair in the main space smells too.

Molly, how did you acquire your impressive and extensive expertise on this subject?

AAaaghhhh! Please offer more suggestions. I'm ready to ditch the loft.
Thank you

    Bookmark   April 9, 2007 at 2:25PM
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Rachel: I sent you a PM - check your email. Molly~

    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 6:26PM
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So happy to hear from you!! However, all I've received is the email saying that you sent a PM - check my email.
Please tell me where to find your reply Rachel~

    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 7:53PM
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Help! I know this thread is old, but I have the same problem. We moved into a 1940s cape cod last year at this time--western PA. I noticed a musty smell when you enter our house, but did not think too much of it. BUT our clothes stink. I do not notice it in the house, but when we leave our house and go to a new environment, like my daughter's school or my office or my relatives' houses. We have tried all different experiments with washing clothes including buying a new washer. The problem is not related to washing or drying our clothes. We have mold in our house somewhere. I have called mold inspection companies, but the price is outrageous and they can only test what is visible or accessible. So, I would rather do things ourselves piece by piece to try to locate the problem. First, we have upgraded our dehumidifier--big difference in water being pulled out. We are also pulling up berber carpet, padding and carpet tack in basement tonight. There is pine paneling in the basement (do not know when installed, but guessing the 1970s) no vapor barrier was installed between cinder blocks and paneling, but it looks like they were painted with some green stuff--we only have a small access area to observe. No visible mold in the one part we can see. I hate to take all of the paneling down, we painted it, but was wondering if anyone had any advice. Also, the windows are the original Anderson windows in VERY bad shape. When I get down to the frames, I kind of smell a musty smell, but am not sure. Most of these windows are not functioning, so I am considering replacing, but not sure what to do first. Help! I need to get rid of our smelly clothes and solve the problem. FYI-chimney cleaned by sweep, no water problems that we know of--slight dampness in basement during heavy rains--but in finished basement it is hard to fully know what is going one, attic is only accessible in one place because it was converted to living space, slate roof with regular upkeep, gutters are draining properly.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2009 at 9:34AM
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