Ask a stranger on the street what mold smells like and you likely will get a response akin to “a damp basement,” “musty,” or “an old house.” While these descriptions can be accurate, they only really scratch the surface of what mold can smell like.
But wait – is that really mold that you are smelling?
In some cases, yes. In most cases no. What you are actually smelling are the mycotoxins produced by mold. (If you aren’t sure what mycotoxins are all about, I suggest you read What Makes Mold Toxic before finishing up this post.)
Mycotoxins typically produce rather pungent odors that range from everyday odors that are out of place to nearly indescribable odors. For example, stachybotrus which produces trichothecene has been described at smelling like cat urine. I personally got a whiff of cat urine in my home from time to time. But mainly, our house smelled like burnt chorizo. That is literally the only way I can describe it. Super odd odor that never went away and something I could never find the source of. I wrote it off to our house holding onto cooking odors.
Some mycotoxins are known to produce specific odors but there are quite a few “common” odors that can be attributed to any type of mold and mycotoxin. Let’s look at some specific ones first and then dive into the “all-inclusive” odors.
Stachybotrys and its mycotoxins have been described as smelling like:
- Cat urine
- Mowed grass
Aspergillus and its mycotoxins have been described as smelling like:
- Car exhaust
Chaetomium and its mycotoxins have been described as smelling like:
Non-species specific odors include:
- Old Cheese
- Dirty Socks
- Exhaust from a lawnmower
- Locker Room
- Sour milk
- Stale sweets
- Ammonia like
- Maple Syrup
- Wet Dog
- New Paint
- New Drywall
- Cigarette Smoke
- Baking Bread
It is important to note that a lot of mold and mycotoxins have no discernible odor at all. Just because you can’t smell them, does not mean they are not there. If you have any unusual health symptoms that seem to have no root cause, be suspicious of mold always.
Have you experienced toxic mold in your home, workplace, or elsewhere? What did it smell like to you>