How to Get Wet Smell Out of Carpet: 6 Effective Ways

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: February 1, 2024

After water damage, persistent carpet odors can linger, making your house smell musty and unpleasant.

It’s important to deal with this quickly – before the odors set in for good.

At ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, we have more than 85 years of combined experience helping Chicago residents recover from water damage.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll help you learn how to eliminate that wet smell from your carpet.

Before You Get Started

water damaged carpet

1. Assess the damage

Inspect the carpet and underlying padding to identify the extent of the water damage. 

Here are a few guidelines you can use to determine if water damage is mild or severe:

  • ​​Mild water damage can often be identified by discoloration on the walls or ceilings, a musty smell, or small spots of mold. The damage is generally confined to a specific area and doesn’t penetrate deeply into structural components. Peeling paint or wallpaper may also indicate a minor water damage issue.
  • Severe water damage is typically more extensive and potentially harmful to the structure of your home. It may include significantly warped or buckled flooring, sagging walls or ceilings, and widespread mold growth. If water has seeped into the structural elements of the home, causing them to weaken or rot, this is a clear sign of severe water damage. Serious health risks can also arise from unchecked water damage, such as respiratory issues from mold inhalation.

You should also assess the severity of the smell – is the room just a little musty or is the smell of damp and mold overpowering?

This can indicate how long the issue has been present and how deeply the water has soaked into the carpet.

2. Address underlying issues

Consider the source of the moisture. Did a family member spill water on the carpet, or did a pipe burst? If the water is coming from a recurring issue, such as a leak in your plumbing, address this problem first.

3. Consider whether mold and mildew are present.  

A damp carpet is a prime breeding ground for these fungi, especially when humidity, leaks, or water spills cause moisture to become trapped inside the carpet fibers. 

To check for mold, look for signs of discoloration (typically green, black, or brown) on walls, floors, and ceilings. It’s vital to check hidden spaces, such as behind appliances or furniture, as these damp and dark areas often provide an ideal environment for mold and mildew growth. 

In addition to the visual cues, you may notice a musty or earthy smell in the affected area. If the mold isn’t visible but you worry it may be present, hire a professional restoration company to help you identify and get rid of mold. 

4. Consider DIY vs. professional repairs

Make a decision about DIY methods vs professional services. 

While wet carpet due to small, contained water damage may be a DIY job, more significant underlying issues like leaking pipes or water damage require professional attention.

5. Rent carpet cleaning or extraction equipment

If there was a flood recently and now there’s a significant amount of water in the carpet, you’ll need to extract it before you clean the carpet fibers. 

Consider renting carpet extraction or cleaning tools to ensure a comprehensive, quality job. 

First Things First: Dry The Carpet

If your carpet is damp, proper drying is crucial to prevent mold and mildew growth and stop smells from worsening. 

How to do this:

  • Begin the drying process by removing as much water as possible. A wet-dry vacuum can be a handy tool for this task, sucking up water and reducing the overall drying time. 
  • If you do not have a wet-dry vacuum, towels or rags can be used to blot up water. Remember, the goal is to absorb as much water as possible – simply placing the towel on the wet spot won’t cut it. Firmly press down or stand on the towel to ensure it absorbs the maximum amount of water.
  • If the water damage is only affecting a small area of the carpet, you can use a hair dryer to get rid of the moisture. 
  • Next, create an airflow across the carpet to speed up evaporation. You can use house fans, or for a faster result, consider renting high-powered fans from a local hardware store. 
  • Position the fans to blow across the carpet’s surface, not just in one spot. Turn on the fans and let them run for at least 24 hours. If it’s a warm, dry day, opening windows can also help to increase ventilation and speed up drying.
  • Lastly, consider using a dehumidifier in the room. A dehumidifier removes excess moisture from the air, creating a dry environment that can help the carpet dry faster. Running a dehumidifier concurrently with the fans can accelerate the drying process and ensure your carpet is completely dry. Remember to empty the water in the dehumidifier as needed to ensure it continues to operate at maximum efficiency.

How To Get Wet Smell Out Of Carpet

baking soda wet carpet

1. Baking Soda

Baking soda on wet carpets helps absorb moisture while it neutralizes unpleasant smells.

For best results, sprinkle affected areas before bed and vacuum the following day.

Power Tip: Spread fresh fragrance every time you vacuum by putting a cotton ball soaked in vanilla inside the vacuum bag.

2.  Vinegar

While vinegar won’t clean your carpet, it can help remove odors.

To get rid of smells, mix half a cup of white vinegar with half a cup of water in a spray bottle.

Lightly mist any carpet that stinks after getting wet. Scrub stubborn areas with the mixture, but don’t re-soak fibers.

Power Tip: Extend your vinegar mix’s freshening reach by spraying a fine mist over upholstery and drapes.

3.  Borax

Borax is a natural mineral that boosts the deodorizing effect of baking soda.

Combine half a cup of each, mix well, and add a dozen drops of your favorite essential oil. Sprinkle over the smelly carpet, and wait at least an hour before vacuuming.

Power Tip: Borax isn’t toxic, but it can be harmful if misused. Follow product recommendations for safe use.

4. Peroxide And Vinegar

This recipe doubles down on removing smells from water-damaged carpets.

That said, peroxide can permanently damage carpets, so you should always have a professional assess your carpet before you take this step.

Mix a quarter cup of white vinegar with one tablespoon each of 3% hydrogen peroxide and a dye-free liquid soap.

Pour into a spray bottle, top off with warm water, and mist the affected areas.

Power Tip: Color-fast test your carpet first by applying a small amount of the mixture to an inconspicuous spot. Let it set for a few minutes, blot, and check again in 24 hours.

5. Carpet Shampoo

Purchase a commercial-grade carpet shampoo at the grocery store, home improvement center, or online.

Start by vacuuming the carpet. Following package directions, sponge the shampoo solution onto your water-damaged carpet.

Let it set for 30 minutes, and then vacuum again.

Power Tip: Check carpet shampoo recommendations before you buy. Some products are formulated for machine use only, while others are safe for sponge application.

6. Professional-Grade Products

For stubborn odors, a professional-grade carpet cleaner might be necessary. 

These cleaners often contain powerful enzymes that can break down and eliminate the bacteria causing the odor. To use, follow the instructions on the product’s packaging, but generally, you’ll apply the cleaner to the carpet, allow it to sit, and then rinse or vacuum it up. 

Remember to patch-test any cleaning solution in an inconspicuous area first to ensure it won’t fade or damage your carpet.

When to Call a Professional

air movers carpet

If DIY carpet odor removal doesn’t take care of the smell, bring in a team that specializes in water damage restoration, like ServiceMaster by Zaba here in Chicago.

Carpet odors that won’t go away after cleaning could be caused by something deeper than smelly fibers. Let a certified restoration pro identify and solve the problem.Power Tip: Homeowners insurance usually covers the cost of having restoration professionals clean, sanitize, and deodorize water-damaged carpets.

Tips For Preventing Wet Carpet Smell

Here are a few more ideas that make getting rid of carpet odor from water damage a little easier.

  • Set up fans and dehumidifiers to circulate fresh air through the room and control moisture.
  • Be sure to clean and thoroughly dry any baseboards adjacent to affected carpets.
  • Place uncovered bowls filled with vinegar at different levels on tables and shelves throughout the room.
  • Relocate house plants to the affected area to help absorb odors and brighten the atmosphere.
  • Control humidity levels – open windows and use electric fans to promote ventilation.
  • Ensure the floor is completely dry before putting the carpet back in place after cleaning.
  • If a carpet has suffered severe water damage or prolonged dampness, it may be necessary to replace it entirely. This will prevent mold growth and potential health risks.

Dealing With Carpet Water Damage In Chicago, Il? We Can Help

If you’re dealing with carpet odors that won’t go away, give us a call. Our teams solve the problem with state-of-the-art carpet water extraction equipment and industry expertise.

You can always count on ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba as your go-to water damage cleanup company.

We take care of the hard work, and we’re always here for you: 773-647-1985.

Can Water-Damaged Carpet Be Saved?

The answer depends on several factors. For example, storm flooding and sewage backup contaminate carpets with bacteria and chemicals. This makes it unlikely that the carpets can be saved. If water damage is caused by frozen burst pipes or an on-property plumbing failure, carpets can often be cleaned and restored.
Length of time is another consideration. Cleanup delays can complicate the restoration process. A certified water damage specialist like ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba is your best source for determining when wet carpets can be saved.

Will Wet Carpet Smell Go Away On Its Own?

When water soaks into a carpet, it forms a moist mixture of dust and organic compounds, including allergens and mold spores. The unhealthy accumulation makes a wet carpet smell musty. Without proper treatment, carpet fibers hold on to unpleasant odors indefinitely.

How Long Does It Take For Mold To Grow In Wet Carpets?

When airborne mold spores settle on damp surfaces, fungal growth takes hold and spreads within 24 to 48 hours. Wet carpet fiber, backing, and pad create an ideal environment for this organic process.
Mold in water-damaged carpets can quickly ruin materials and contaminate floors, subflooring, adjacent walls and baseboards. Never ignore the unpleasant odors coming from a wet carpet.

What Causes Wet Carpet Smell?

Regular vacuuming removes most of the dirt in carpets, but it doesn’t deep-clean fibers. Over time, microscopic debris builds up in carpet materials and accumulates in the backing and pad. These ground-in contaminants are usually the source of odors in water-damaged carpets. However, there are other situations that can leave a lingering smell, even after DIY carpet cleaning. For example: residue left behind by drink spills, such as milk, wine, and sugary sodas, odors caused by pet accidents resulting from pet urine or digestive issues, residual moisture left behind after DIY carpet cleaning with rental equipment, undetected water-damaged floors and subfloor underneath carpets. If you can’t get rid of the water-damaged carpet smell, it may be caused by mold. DIY water damage cleanup can sometimes leave behind hidden damp that sets the stage for mold growth in padding and subflooring. You can pull back the carpet to visually check for mold, but it’s best to call in restoration professionals who: detect hidden moisture in subflooring with special equipment, pull up carpet and padding to reach and clean affected areas, eliminate mold growth and follow up with preventative techniques, and thoroughly clean and replace padding and carpet that can be salvaged. We always recommend professional cleanup for large areas affected by any kind of flooding. This greatly increases the chances of saving carpets and making sure mold doesn’t ruin your flooring. Restoration specialists can make most carpets look and smell like new after a water disaster.

What Are The Dangers Of Wet Carpet Smell?

Lingering wet carpet smells, resulting from water damage, pose significant health risks. These include aggravating respiratory conditions like asthma and emphysema, causing illnesses such as aspergillosis due to the Aspergillus fungus, skin irritations like hives or eczema, exacerbating general allergy symptoms (coughing, sneezing, eye irritation), and exposing individuals to harmful mycotoxins that can worsen immune system disorders including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. These dangers highlight the importance of addressing wet carpet odors promptly to protect health.