You’ve recently moved into your dorm room, and have finally gotten it set up just the way you want. But you’ve noticed something, a musty smell that always seems to be there.

Is it something the previous occupant left behind – some balled up socks or a gym-soaked t-shirt? Did they not crack a window at all last semester?

No, it smells mustier than that.

What could it be?


You may not like the answer. While musty smells can be caused by old sweat and piles of dirty laundry, if you’ve recently moved into your dorm room, or have no obvious reason for the smell – it may be caused by mold or mildew.

Unfortunately, that musky scent, reminiscent of a damp basement or spoiled food, occurs when the mold in your room has been feasting – mold releases Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds (MVOCs) which reek1,2. MVOCs are byproducts of metabolizing its food. Yes, that’s right – you’re sharing your dorm space with mold farts!

There are other tell-tale signs to keep an eye out for:

  • A strange smell coming from the vents – In more than one university in the US, students have reported mold in the vents. Mold loves air conditioning ducts.
  • Discolored walls, or unusual patches inside cupboards, closet space, or stains around the window – Extensive mold colonies often are visible to the eye, and can be furry – but although black mold is common, it’s not the only color of mold. You may find patches of brown, green, or white.
  • Condensation on the windows, peeling wallpaper, or bubbling paint near the window – these may not indicate mold in itself, but it condensation can be a warning sign that mold may be on it’s way – mold loves a humid environment.
  • Water damage in communal areas or leaking pipes – any leak raises your chances of getting mold considerably.

Once you’ve identified that musty smell, it’s not enough to plug in an air freshener, light a candle, or spray Febreeze. These may mask the smell short term, but do nothing about the underlying problem – worse still, living with mold may have an adverse effect on your health.


Mold isn’t a plant or an animal, or even bacteria – it’s part of the fungi family3. So the life-cycle of mold is unlike other organisms you may have studied in biology class. For one, mold can’t exist singularly, it only works as a colony – relying on strength in numbers as it reproduces and spreads. Mold often looks furry because the colony is made up of thousands and thousands of filamentous cells4. The extended long shape of the cell enables a great number of mold cells to gather together on an appropriate surface.

Secondly, mold can only thrive in warm, humid environments containing plenty of the right food. In the wild, mold plays an important part in the ecosystem, munching on the cellulose-heavy dead matter on the forest floor, enjoying the sugars and starches, and using enzymes to help break it down into nutrient-rich soil5.

When there’s plenty of food and the conditions are perfect, mold can reproduce to create further colonies. To do so, the mold releases spores into the air which land and stick to favorable surfaces. These spores germinate, growing into the elongated adult form, ready to take over another surface and build a new colony!

Scientists have identified more than a hundred thousand types of mold. The notorious black mold (Stachybotrys chartarum) is considered the worst form to find in your living area, but this may be simply because it holds such visual impact6. In truth there are many, many species of mold that humans have lived alongside for millennia – and some are not visible to the eye. Often friendly bacteria deal with the worst of it, as it loves to feast on mold. But when conditions are ripe, mold can take over, creating smell and potentially giving you an allergic reaction. Mold can even be an issue for astronauts – the International Space Station has a mold issue and the strains aboard are resistant to high levels of radiation7!


While living with and trying to get rid of mold may seem like a losing battle, there are several ways you can improve your situation. If the area of mold is larger than 10 by 10 feet, or you suspect it’s growing in the air ducts, contact your dormitory maintenance department, because the infestation needs to be assessed and cleared up by professionals.

Here are 4 simple ways to reduce the level of mold in your dorm room:

  • Report any urgent repairs – leaky pipes, condensation, damp walls, and wet carpet all need to be sorted out ASAP. There is little point in following the other actions on this list before neutralizing the water source.
  • Reduce humidity – there are a number of ways to do this, some more high-value and convenient than others. Try lowering the thermostat a couple of degrees and keeping the window open a crack. There are a number of dehumidifiers on the market, and while we prefer the electronic units, there are a number of other more budget friendly options, including microwavable bags that absorb the moisture.
  • Think before reaching for a disinfectant spray – as tempting as it may be to scrub everything down thoroughly, you may do more harm to the friendly bacteria that make up the home microbiome of your dorm room! Bleach is not going to work on mold growing on porous surfaces such as wood or plaster walls – cleaning with hydrogen peroxide on hard surfaces, and a hot water & borax on soft furnishings is an effective practice.
  • Spray Homebiotic – after cleaning your room and the common areas, spray Homebiotic once a week to encourage the good bacteria to get to work on the mold. Keeping a balanced home microbiome keeps mold in check, and Homebiotic is safe, chemical-free, and eco-friendly!

Start protecting your home today, and get 5% off your next order!

Start protecting your home today, and get 5% off your next order!



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