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7 ways to freshen up your basement for spring

John Morell | Improvement Center Columnist | September 6, 2013

It's been a mild winter in much of the U.S., but that doesn't mean your basement has been taking it easy these past few months. Around the same time spring flowers are beginning to bud, you may be noticing some unpleasant odors rising up from below.

Busting mold and mildew

The problem is probably twofold: moisture is getting inside the basement area, and the poor ventilation down there doesn't allow small amounts of water vapor to escape. The result is mold and mildew, which at best are an annoying problem to get rid of, and at worst can be a serious health hazard. Here are some tips to get your basement in shape for spring:

  1. If you detect a distinctly moldy or musty smell, focus on finding the source. Old water supply lines to the washer, a leaking dryer vent or a rusting hot water heater can create constant puddles that may not be obvious if you're not in the basement every day.
  2. With a basement that's fully or partially finished, pull shelving and boxes away from the walls and check the corners for any signs of moisture that could be dripping from water lines above or through cracks from below. A plumbing or wall repair may be needed to ensure that your basement stays dry. If you see water-stained walls or masonry, it may be best to call in a professional to check behind the surface for major mold damage. Remember that another common source of basement odor comes from pests and small critters looking for shelter from the cold of winter. If they've found a way inside your basement, your home isn't as insulated as it could be.
  3. Open your basement windows and outside door if you have one, and run a fan to circulate the air. In fact, try to do this whenever the weather is nice in winter, too. Spray your basement walls and floor with a solution of bleach and water to kill any stray mold or mildew spores. Check the windows and vents to make sure they're operating properly.
  4. Invest in a dehumidifier for the room. These can run $50 to $100, but they're effective at controlling humidity in closed-off spaces.
  5. If your basement floor is carpeted, this could be your biggest source of odor. When carpeting and the backing underneath get wet, it can lead to horrible mildew issues. If water seepage is a regular problem in the basement you may need to think about an impervious floor like tile or vinyl. If the carpeting is dry, clean and otherwise in good shape, sprinkle baking soda across the surface and then vaccum it up to pull out any residual odors.
  6. Sometimes people complain of "sewer" odors from their basement. This can be caused by a little-used basement sink in which the water in the trap evaporates and allows odors from the sewer line to drift up. The answer is simply to fill it with water. If that's not the cause, there could be a missing or badly aligned cleanout plug on a basement floor drain or a problem with a toilet or drain upstars that has worked its way down.
  7. Since it's spring, paint! Most modern paints have a mildewcide in their ingredients and painting the walls will kill most anything growing on them that is causing an odor.

This April, bring a little spring cleaning to the basement as well as the house. With a little care and some professional help, mold and mildew odors can be banished, making for a more pleasant and healthier space. Let the scents of budding flowers reign again!

About the Author

John Morell is a writer and editor specializing in home design, real estate and architecture.

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