4 Reasons Why Your Carpet Smells and What You Can Do About It

Nick P. Cellucci
Written by Nick P. Cellucci
Updated October 14, 2021
A little girl with her dog eating nut and drinking juice on the carpet
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When your home is plagued by an unpleasant odor, your carpet might be the culprit—even if you think you effectively cleaned up your kiddo’s last spill or that accident from the new puppy. But the cause could be something else you’re not thinking of. 

Here are some common causes for carpet odors and how you can keep your home smelling fresh.

1. Moisture, Mold, or Mildew

Does your carpet smell musty? Whether from humidity in the air, water dripping from indoor plants, flooding during a rainstorm, or simply a spilled drink, moisture can soak into your carpet and the pad underneath. If not dried thoroughly and quickly, this can cause issues—everything from odor to growing harmful mold or mildew.

Along with the musty odor, here are some other warning signs that you have mold lurking in your carpet:

  • Unexplained allergies: If a member of your household is having breathing problems, allergy symptoms, or a chronic cough, they may be reacting to mold

  • Dampness: If you notice your carpet is frequently damp, you may have a leak underneath. Left wet for more than a day, your carpet is likely to grow mold.

  • Discoloration: In its advanced stages, mold may manifest as a white, black, or green area on your carpet

  • Positive results from a mold testing kit: You can reliably test for mold with a special kit

Left unchecked, mold or mildew can pose health risks for you or your family. Having your carpet cleaned by a local professional may remove the mold and eliminate the unpleasant smell you’re experiencing, but you might also need to replace the carpet completely.

If you’ve tried or plan to try an at-home steam cleaner, you might want to think again. Steam cleaners use water, but cannot extract it all after cleaning, leaving behind excess moisture. Professional carpet cleaning techniques use less water, making them better for your carpet.

2. Organic Material From Pet Accidents, Food, or Drinks

Some of the most common carpet messes are household spills. You may have cleaned up these accidents when they occurred, but the smell can really linger—even when you can no longer see the stain.

If you have pets and suspect the odor may be from a training accident, or if the smell in your carpet is reminiscent of a specific food spill, it may be from gases released by bacteria that feed on that organic material. Any trace of these materials left in your carpet will allow that bacteria to keep growing, feeding, and producing smells.

If your odor is truly from an organic source, make an enzymatic odor remover your go-to. Also called “enzymatic cleaner” on store shelves, these products break down the enzymes (that’s the organic material) that attract bacteria, eliminating the smell at its source.

3. Smoke From Cigarettes or Fire

A bedroom with a wall-to-wall carpet
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Unlike liquid stains that concentrate in one spot, smoke tends to pervade every inch of your carpet and padding. If you smoke, live with a smoker, or purchased a home that a smoker lived in previously, you’ll likely notice the cigarette smoke smell no matter how clean your home is. Smells may also linger in a carpet if there’s been a fire.

On top of that, your carpet may not be the only culprit. When it comes to smoke, odors are common in the following areas:

  • Walls and paint

  • Hard surfaces like counters, cabinets, appliances, doors, and window frames

  • Hardwood or tile floors

  • HVAC vents

While there are some DIY solutions for removing cigarette smells, a pro will be best equipped to remove it completely. But in cases where the damage is severe, the carpeting may need to be replaced.

4. Old Age

As with any floor, your carpet won’t last forever. Fibers break down over time, and sometimes the funny smell in your home is simply a sign of old carpet that needs to be replaced. Depending on the type of carpet, the padding’s cushion, and how much use it gets, the average lifespan of a carpet is anywhere from 5 to 15 years.

In addition to lingering, unpleasant odors, here are some signs of a carpet that has exceeded its useful lifespan:

  • Large tears: While some small tears can be repaired, large tears often indicate irreparable damage

  • Faded colors: If your once vibrant carpet now looks dirty no matter how much you clean, it may be time to replace it

  • Wrinkles: If your carpet is uneven or wrinkled with areas that sit higher or lower than others, this could be a sign of damaged carpet padding that needs to be replaced

  • Matted carpet: Areas that get a lot of foot traffic may have carpet that lies flat. It can be tough to bring these matted sections back to their original shape

If you’ve had your carpet in place for more than 20 years, it’s time for a new floor. 

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