Dealing with musty smell in old apt

My niece has moved into an old wooden apartment building that has its charms, but her 1-bedroom apt seems to have a deeply embedded smell in the wood floors+walls that permeates the apt.

Are there aromatic herbs, spices, plant-derived material, etc, that might be strongly scented enough to counteract this smell? I’m thinking she might keep such stuff in an open bowl(s).

Burning incense is out, as is mist from a spray can; frequent fresh-cut flowers would be too expensive. Maybe a small potted plant/flower? Or a combination of things?

We appreciate tips! Thanks–

This page has some good tips on what to do. Really what would work the best is to get rid of the smell with a good cleaning, not just covering it up. If it is that deeply imbedded, then maybe get a dehumidifier so it at least doesn’t get worse.

Thanks for link–The place was thoroughly cleaned before move-in; I don’t think the problem is mold/mildew etc; and there are no carpets, drapes, curtains [it has venetian blinds]; it’s been a no-smoking building for years; the smell is just an old wood apt bldg smell–

I think this tip applies–the word I needed was “potpourri”

“Cover-up room odors with homemade potpourri. Simmer stick cinnamon, orange peel, and whole cloves in water on the stove. Remove when the water begins to boil and set anywhere in the house to cool. Tie blends of spices or potpourri in pantyhose and place next to a heating vent when the furnace is running.”

What causes “old wood apartment building smell?” Once you answer that question you can figure out how to eliminate it.

My point is you say it was thoroughly cleaned and you don’t think the problem is mold/mildew, but what is it then? Could there possibly be moisture trapped behind the walls that can cause a health problem? I personally wouldn’t want to mask that problem with potpourri.

I like Scentsy products. It’s one of those home-sales things but you can find a rep anywhere. The warmers aren’t expensive and they use a light bulb to melt scented wax. No open flame, no leaving a burner on the stove, and they give a nice light scent that will cover up “old house” smell without being overpowering.

I agree with this. I would at least try getting a look at the inner surfaces through wall switch-plates and such to see what is going on out of view. Or give it a good nose and try to see if I could isolate a particular source or wall. Too many of the things that can cause odd smells like that can also cause health issues down the road; I’m thinking black mold as an example.

Ventilation, after the cleaning.

These worked for me

I bought an old house and even though everything was cleaned and freshly painted, every now and then I would get a whiff of tobacco smoke or a little musty smell. A friend is using them in her musty basement. Both of us have problems with air fresheners and scented candles, these have worked great for us.

It may take a few days but the smell will be gone. When they stop working just lay them outside in the sunlight for an hour or so and they start working again.

Yep. If it truly is just the smell of “old” and not a mold/mildew/dead animal in the wall smell, cleaning all surfaces (walls, floors, everything) with a vinegar and water solution and then airing it out on a daily basis should help.

I once lived in a place that had been hermetically sealed by the oldsters living there, and it took me forever to get the old people smell out, but I did, using the above method.

It is pretty hard to get completely rid of musty old wood smell. It is definitely moisture related so keeping the humidity down and the place well heated and ventilated makes a big difference. The problem is the smell is often deep in the wood, and probably in the framing and sub floor. I have used reclaimed fir that I had dried out, ripped, planed, milled such that all old surface material was removed. When installed as built-ins in a closet I had to eventually rip it all out and do it over, due to the musty smell returning.

One thing you could try is renting an ozone generator, and treating the space with ozone for 12 hrs. These are used to destroy smoke odor from fires and work quite well. It gets deep into every thing and is very effective. Haven’t tried it on musty wood bt suspect it would work.

Another thing I would try for masking is aroma therapy lamps. There are some very powerful essential oils like cedar, sandalwood, peppermint that may work well, though that isn’t much different than incense.

I too live in an old wooden house that smells musty upstairs. It’s not a bad smell, just one that reflects the age of the house: it’s lined with wooden slats inside and out, and I suspect the ravages of time have given it that unique smell. Initially I thought it was a rug that graced one of the attic rooms…but even removing that did nothing to get rid of the smell.

Despite constant airing, incense, and all the other remedies proscribed here, nothing has helped. But I love this house, and am prepared to live with its shortcomings. :slight_smile:

Definitely replace 100% of anything fabric first. Somehow curtains are invisible to many people but they can be the source of a lot of old-place smell.

Then clean and ventilate like mad. Cabinet interiors can harbor a lot a smell-causing too, so be sure those get a thorough scrubbing with vinegar as suggested above.

Masking it all with noxious fake perfumes ought to be Step 147, not Step 1.