9 Easy Steps to Get Rid of Carpet Odor From Water Damage

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: August 29, 2022

When you face water damage at the house, there’s so much to do.

You have to identify the problem, make repairs and start the recovery process. After several days of hard work, you’re done. You heave a big sigh of relief.

That’s when it hits you. You’re wondering out loud, “I’ve done all this cleaning, and my carpet smells like mildew. How can I get rid of this awful odor?”

We understand what you’re dealing with. It’s frustrating, but it’s manageable. You need to use techniques that eliminate smells without hurting your carpet

Here’s what you need to know.

How to Get Rid of Water-Damaged Carpet Smell

baking soda wet carpet

Let’s start with these nine effective techniques for removing unpleasant carpet odors.

1. Break Out the Baking Soda

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

For best results, sprinkle affected areas before you go to bed, and vacuum the next morning.

Power Tip: Spread fresh fragrance every time you vacuum by putting a cotton ball soaked in vanilla or a teaspoon of baking soda inside the vacuum’s bag.

2. Spritz Wet Carpet Smells Away With Vinegar

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 very fine mist over upholstery and drapes.

3. Combine Baking Soda and Vinegar

Deodorize tough carpet smells with a direct attack.

Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar with 2 cups of warm water.

Sponge directly onto affected areas, let dry, and then vacuum.

4. Banish Carpet Odors With 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 used incorrectly. Follow product recommendations for safe use.

5. Spray Odors With Peroxide and Vinegar

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

Mix a quarter cup of white vinegar with 1 tablespoon each of 3% hydrogen peroxide and a dye-free liquid soap.

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

6. Hand-Clean With 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.

7. Rent Carpet Cleaning Equipment

When we’re asked how to get rid of wet carpet odor, we sometimes suggest rental equipment for shampooing water damaged carpets.

It’s heavy work, but it’s an effective way to freshen up musty fibers.

8. Use Power Products

If you’re dealing with a combination of ground-in dirt and strong odors, consider attacking both problems with specially formulated cleaning solutions.

Be sure to match the product to your carpet type, and always follow label instructions.

9. Call a Water Damage Professional

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.

Extra Tips and Tricks

air movers carpet

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

Several of these tips are great for keeping rooms fresh long after you’ve cleaned up a water disaster.

  • As you work on deodorizing the carpet, open as many windows as possible, and avoid running the HVAC system.
  • 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 so that they can help absorb odors and brighten the atmosphere.

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 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 subflooring underneath carpets

Don’t Rule Out Mold

water damaged carpet

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.
  • 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.

5 Health Risks of Wet Carpet Smell

When you’re dealing with carpet odors after water damage, you’re focused on getting rid of them.

However, lingering wet carpet smells are more than an unpleasant nuisance. They can have a negative impact on the health of everyone in your home.

Consider these five health risks posed by water-damaged carpets.

1. Aggravated Respiratory Conditions

Individuals with chronic respiratory problems may see symptoms worsen after continued exposure to wet carpet odors.

This includes those who suffer from asthma, emphysema, cystic fibrosis or tuberculosis.

2. Illness Caused by Aspergillus

Aspergillus is a naturally occurring fungus that can breed in wet carpets and cause serious health issues.

Inhaling the airborne mold spores can result in aspergillosis, a dangerous fungal infection that affects the lungs.

3. Skin Irritation Symptoms

As mold in wet carpets releases airborne spores, their constant circulation brings the microscopic spores in contact with bare skin.

This can irritate skin cells and result in itching and swelling caused by conditions such as hives or eczema.

4. General Allergy Problems

The contaminants in air polluted by carpet odor can aggravate existing allergy problems. Symptoms often include scratchy throats, coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath and eye irritation.

5. Continual Mycotoxin Exposure

Smelly carpets can release harmful mycotoxin compounds that are believed to worsen a number of immune system disorders. Multiple sclerosis, bronchial conditions, rheumatoid arthritis and HIV infections are just a few examples.


1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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 carpet can quickly ruin materials and contaminate floors, subflooring, adjacent walls and baseboards. Never ignore the unpleasant odors coming from a wet carpet.

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