What Does Black Mold Smell Like?

Last Updated on by Dr. Hooper

How good is your sense of smell? Can you tell the difference between gardenia and jasmine, or do you think that they both just seem “kinda flowery?” Can you identify when the milk in your fridge is just starting to go bad, or does it not grab your attention until long after it’s become sour? And, perhaps most pressingly at all…how adept are you at finding the sources of certain bad smells in your domicile?

Often times, when folks have mold in their home, they see it before they smell it. However, that’s not always the case. On some occasions, it’s actually the “nose that knows” when there’s “a fungus among us!”

Does Mold Smell?

The short answer to this question is yes, mold does have a distinct odor. The best way to describe the scent is “musty” or “earthy.” Some individuals even compare it to the smell of sweaty socks. If you’ve ever had the unpleasant experience of opening a container of food and discovering that your strawberries or baby carrots seem to have sprouted a fur coat, you’ve probably also gotten a concentrated whiff of mold. And that fragrance can range in intensity from “Ugh, that’s gross,” to “OPEN A WINDOW; I’M GONNA BE SICK!”

It’s worth mentioning that different folks have different preferences (and sensitivities) when it comes to odors. Just as some people find the aroma of floral perfume to be pleasant while others find it nauseating, some people are more sensitive to mold smells than others.

Thus, if a person in your household insists that they can perceive mold lingering in the air but you can’t smell it unless you literally press your nose to the carpet, don’t assume that the other person is “just being paranoid” or imagining things. And that brings to our next point…

How do I get rid of mold smells?
Here’s the issue with that question: mold smells are often just one symptom a mold infestation in your home. Now, that doesn’t mean you should panic every time you smell something rotten; sometimes, eliminating the bad odor really is just a matter of deep-cleaning your bathmat or discarding items that were damaged by water the last time your basement flooded.

If you can pinpoint the source of the smell and eliminate it, then the scent may just dissipate naturally. You can help the process along by opening a window or venting the room with a fan, as well.

I can smell mold, but I can’t see it. Does this mean that I don’t have to worry?
Unfortunately, it’s not a wise choice to simply ignore a mold smell in your home. Certain types of mold (including stachybotrys chartarum, or “black mold”) are known to produce mycotoxins—substances that may cause illness and other issues in mammals

Negative health effects associated with chronic mycotoxin exposure include:

  • Gastrointestinal distress (IBS, nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, etc.)
  • Joint pain and weakness
  • Sinusitis, sneezing, and asthma
  • Headaches (including migraines) and brain lesions
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Cognitive dysfunction (“brain fog,” slurred speech, confusion)
  • Hearing problems
  • Rashes, hives, and bloody skin lesions
  • Anxiety and depression

If you and/or other members of your household have been feeling cruddy and you’ve noticed a musty odor lingering in your home as of late, then mold spores may very well be to blame!

Depending upon what sort of fungi you’re actually dealing with and how difficult it is to reach, mold removal can be a DIY process (vinegar, commercial mold remover, and a whole lot of scrubbing!) or something that actually requires professional help (and equipment, and safety gear). 

In any case, it’s not a bad idea to make an appointment with a licensed, reputable environmental inspector and have them examine the mold that you’ve discovered. A professional can also help you if you haven’t been able to find the offending mold growth on your own, as they’ll have access to tools and equipment that will help them trace the funk to its source.

Here’s the bottom line: if you think that there’s mold in your house, you should take the threat seriously and do what you can to eliminate the problem. Mold infestations almost never go away on their own; instead, they only get worse with time. And if you deny the problem for too long, a funky smell may eventually become the least of your concerns.

Smell can be a powerful trigger for memories and emotions. For this reason, most people strongly prefer to live in a house that’s not replete with a foul odor. And the scent of mold—that nasty, musty smell that’s evocative of dirt and dampness—definitely qualifies as “foul.” So, if you think you sense mold, don’t try to “just live with it.” Get rid of the stench by banishing toxic mold from your living space. Your nose will thank you!

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