Re: Musty smell in clothes closets
Most often, closets become smelly because they get zero air circulation. Even with a brand new house, with new walls, new paint, and new carpet will become "dank" or "musky" from the lack of air movement in the closet. In the case of a coat closet, if we coats are put in there, then the moisture can cause a musty or mildew aroma.
If you or the previous owners were smokers or there were pet accidents, that's a whole other set of smell issues that will be fun to eradicate.
Directly to your problem. If you've got a mildew odor, then that would indicate that there is moisture entering the closet from somewhere. Is it sharing a plumbing wall with the bathroom or kitchen? Leaks from the pipes can cause mold/mildew within the wall, which will increase moisture and odors in the closet. Other sources of moisture in this area could be from roof leaks, or excess moisture on the outside of the wall, say where a sprinkler is hitting the side of the house.
In a home as old as yours, it's not uncommon to find holes into the crawl space or attic, both within the wall and outside of the wall. It's very common in older homes to roll back the carpet and see the ground under the house (raised foundation homes, obviously ). Moisture and odor can be coming from these areas.
Eradication of the odors is somewhat difficult. In the case of moisture issues, the moisture source must be found and eliminated, then any damaged wall or flooring needs to be replaced. If no moisture issues are present, then sealing up air infiltration points (other than the door to the closet) will be necessary. Walls can be primed (at least 2 coats ) with a BIN primer such as Zinsser red label primer and then painted. Flooring can be replaced.
Prevention - frequent airing out of the closet and not letting the clothing be left dormant, meaning if you're not washing and wearing it regularly, then it's going to attract and propagate odors that will infiltrate everything within the closet. You can also use aromatic sachets, potpourri, etc around the closet to keep odors minimized, though be forewarned that any aromas, good, bad, or indifferent, will migrate into clothing. You could also try a room ozone generator. Ozone attacks odors at the cellular level and neutralizes them, as well as kills mold and mildew.
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