Loo Academy

Why Does My Bathroom Smell Musty? Causes & Solutions

The tell-tale smell of stale bread in a bathroom can mean only one thing—mold!

A musty smelling bathroom is not only offensive to your senses, but it can also indicate a potential health risk.

Knowing what is causing the stale smell can help you decide how to take action to eliminate the musty smell and have a fresh and clean bathroom in no time.

moldy bathroom

Why Does My Bathroom Smell Musty?

When a bathroom has damp walls, towels, flooring, ceilings, or other bathroom fittings, it creates an environment where mold and other spore-producing organisms thrive.

These organisms create a range of gasses called mycotoxins, which are responsible for the stale or musty smell.

If you can smell musty and stale air in your bathroom, you have mold, and you are breathing in these mycotoxins, which are harmful to your lungs and overall health.

The lack of ventilation in your bathroom makes the smell of mold much more pronounced, and this also creates a damp environment where mold thrives.

In a vicious cycle, the dampness makes mold, which then creates further dampness by trapping soap scum and hard water deposits, thereby making more mold.

Soon, your bathroom is a disaster zone.

How to Find Where a Musty Smell Is Coming From in My Bathroom

To deal with mold and the resulting musty smell in your bathroom, you need to find the root cause of the mold. Once you know where to act, you can begin the process of mold removal which will also provide you with clear bathroom air.

Standing in your bathroom, start at the water sources.

Check taps for leaks, splash marks against the walls where fixtures like taps and showerheads are.

If you have a shower, check the corners of the shower cubicle for any signs of mold.

Check the edges along the bathtub for any signs of leaks or running water that may have stained the tiles or wall.

These are all prime areas where mold will thrive. Where there is mold, there will be a musty smell.

If your bathroom smells musty after a shower, chances are that the mold patches release mycotoxins in reaction to the water and steam.

Sometimes, mold hides away in quite devious places.

Mold may form on the shower silicone, hide in the hinges of your shower door, form on the underside of your shower drain cover, and even infiltrate your bathroom vanity.

If you open your bathroom vanity and smell mold, then you are close to the area of moldy invasion.

Pull away bathroom vanities, check the underside of the shelves in the vanities, remove vanities from the wall to check the back panels.

Somewhere you will see the tell-tale fluffy green-gray patches of mold.

When the Musty Smell Is Worse and Why

Mold requires heat and moisture.

In summer, this is exactly what your bathroom offers. Winter is also a good time for mold if your bathroom is warm enough.

Since bathrooms are often damp, mold thrives there and reproduces at an exponential rate by scattering spores that can be airborne or carried by running water.

When the mold colonies are agitated by cleaning efforts, they will go into a self-preservation cycle of making more spores, and this releases more mycotoxins into the air—creating more musty and stale smells.

If an unused bathroom smells musty, then there are existing mold colonies from leaking taps and drains that aren’t sanitarily maintained.

Mold spores can even set up shop in your bathroom taps, mixers, and faucets. When you turn the tap, the smell of mycotoxins is released.

Mornings are usually the time of day when mold smells are the strongest.

This is usually because the mold spores have been released during the night, and the bathroom door was probably closed, limiting air circulation and leading to a damp bathroom.

Mold also prefers darkness, so when your bathroom light is off at night, it creates the ultimate mold-growing environment.

How to Get Rid of Musty Smell in the Bathroom

There are a few ways to get rid of the musty smell in a bathroom, and these all focus on removing the mold that is causing the stale smell and preventing the mold from returning.

Remove Damp Towels

Bath towels smell musty when they are damp and have begun to provide an environment for a mold colony.

Remove damp towels, hang them outside to air, or launder and dry them.

Shake Out Bathroom Rugs

Bathroom rugs are there to trap water when you step out of the shower or bath, but they also provide the moist fluffy surfaces that mold thrives on.

Get into the habit of shaking your bathroom rugs after a bath or shower and hang them near the bathroom fan so they can dry quicker.

Better yet, hang them outside or drop them into the washing machine every day or two.

Fix Leaking Taps

Since the problem is a damp bathroom, you need to stop water wastage.

A leaky tap will create a micro spray on all the surrounding surfaces, causing damp and eventually musty smelling mold. 

Dry the Bathroom Walls and Floors

Wipe down surfaces after a bath or shower.

Install a dehumidifier, a bathroom fan, or an exhaust fan to help dry surfaces quicker.

Even leaving the bathroom door open after a bath or shower can help dry out the bathroom surfaces.

Spray Showers and Bathroom Fixtures

By cleaning your bathroom surfaces, shower doors, fixtures, taps, bathtubs with a solution of water and white vinegar, you can prevent the buildup of soap scum, which is a prime environment for mold.

Keep a premix of water, vinegar, and even some bicarbonate of soda in a spray bottle.

When you are done showering, simply spritz your shower to ensure that no nasty deposit forms on your bathroom surfaces.

This will discourage mold and limit any musty smell.

Install a Hard Water Filter

Many states in the U.S. have hard water, which creates a limescale deposit on your bathroom surfaces, shower doors, taps, and fittings. 

Installing a water filter to remove the minerals that cause limescale can really help prevent the deposit of these minerals on your bathroom surfaces.

In turn, this will prevent soap scum from building up and cultivating mold.

Recommended read: How to Fix Hard Water in the Shower


Does a musty smell in the bathroom always mean mold?

Most often, a musty smell in a bathroom indicates the presence of mold. An alternative explanation for a musty smell is a laundry basket filled with sweaty clothes that need to be washed that you may store in the bathroom. Rather keep the laundry basket in the laundry as this will eliminate a stale sweaty smell in your bathroom.

Will a dehumidifier get rid of a musty smell?

A dehumidifier will help to dry out your bathroom, which will reduce the ambient moisture that mold needs to live on. The musty smell will still linger until you have removed any existing mold and practice good bathroom hygiene.

Mandy Phillips

As a frequent contributor to top US magazines and publications in the home improvement niche, Mandy has been known for sharing her expertise on how to clean, organize, and decorate bathrooms.

Additionally, Mandy has immense experience offering lifestyle tips and tricks to her readers.

About Loo Academy

At Loo Academy, our mission is to offer trusted advice for everything related to bathrooms (design ideas, plumbing advice, showering & bathing tips, remodeling guides, and more) — a place where we all spend a great deal of time.

We work closely with qualified experts and follow a thorough editing and fact-checking process before publishing content.

Published content is regularly fact-checked and revised so that the information we provide is accurate and up-to-date.

Legal Info

Loo Academy is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate Loo Academy is compensated for referring traffic to Amazon.com.

The information contained in this website is provided for informational purposes only.

The inclusion of links from this site does not imply endorsement or support of any of the linked information, services, products, or providers.