Damp is a common problem affecting more than a fifth of UK homes. So, if you find yourself wondering how to get rid of dampness, don’t worry; you’re not alone!
Let’s look at what can cause dampness in the home, how to prevent it, how to get rid of dampness in a house, and when to call in the professionals.
What are the signs of damp in a house?
If nothing else, a musty smell when you step into a room is a clear sign something is going on!
Beyond that keep an eye out for:
- Condensation on the windows or walls
- Soft, crumbling or rotting woodwork like skirting boards
- Peeling or lifting wallpaper
- Discolouration or dark wet spots on walls and plaster
Aside from unsightly marks on your walls and damage to your home’s structure, dampness and the mould that follows can both cause and worsen respiratory conditions like asthma, as well as skin conditions like eczema.
Luckily damp is fairly easy to spot, and as soon as you do it’s important to identify the cause and take steps to remove it. And remember, when buying a home, be sure to ask the estate agent about any current damp issues.
What causes dampness in a house?
Simply put, dampness in the home is caused by excess moisture.
This excess moisture can be caused by various factors. Structural problems with the home itself, such as burst gutters or poor cavity insulation can allow water to enter the property causing mould and physical damage.
Day-to-day living can also cause a build-up of moisture in the home. Condensation created by cooking, showering or bathing, tumble drying, steam ironing or simply drying wet clothes indoors, is one of the most common causes of damp.
Knowing what kind of damp you’re struggling with is key to understanding its cause and how to go about fixing it.
What are the different kinds of damp?
Damp caused by condensation is probably the most common cause of that musty smell in many homes. Especially bathrooms and kitchens.
Condensation is caused by warm moist air cooling quickly, forming water droplets. You’ll often spot it collecting on surfaces colder than the surrounding air, like the windows or walls in the bathroom after a hot shower.
2. Rising damp
While fairly rare, rising damp can create serious problems for your home if left untreated, damaging plaster, flooring or even the very structure of your building.
Rising damp is caused by moisture travelling up your walls from the ground, through what is known as capillary action. This capillary action can be compared to liquid being sucked up through a straw through pore-like spaces in brickwork.
Most often found in older homes, those without a DPC (damp proof course) or those in modern homes with a damaged DPC, rising damp can be expensive to correct, so it’s important to sort it out as soon as you spot it.
3. Penetrating damp
Also known as lateral damp. Penetrating damp is caused by moisture travelling from the exterior walls of a property through to the interior walls.
Penetrating damp most often affects older properties, and can strike at any level of the building.
Water enters through a defect in the exterior wall, or through porous bricks and degrading masonry. Other structural defects like overflowing and damaged gutters, flashing, leaking pipes, missing roof tiles or even poorly installed windows can also see moisture making its way into your home.
Lateral damp can lead to wet and dry rot, dank plasterwork as well as both structural and aesthetic damage to floors, walls and ceilings.
How to get rid of dampness?
It can be tempting to just deal with the visuals of damp, painting over unsightly splotches on the wall, for example.
However, the reality is that the underlying damage caused by untreated damp is often far more expensive to fix in the long run. It’s always better to solve the root cause of the problem sooner rather than later.
Step one is to identify the cause, followed by taking corrective steps and finally, once that is done, to dry damp quickly, increase ventilation, and make use of a moisture absorber or dehumidifier.
How do you permanently get rid of damp walls?
- Installing air extractor units in common problem areas like bathrooms and kitchens can go a long way to dealing with condensation.
- Open a window to let excess moisture escape. Trickle vents which are built into some windows allow for constant airflow, so resist the temptation to close or cover them up in the colder months. If you notice water pooling on your interior window sills, wipe it down with a towel to prevent mould from forming or damage to the window itself.
- Dry your wet clothes outside if possible. If you can’t move your drying rack outdoors, make sure it’s near a window, and the door is closed to other rooms.
- Double and triple-glazed windows go a long way to reducing condensation, by providing a barrier between the colder exterior and warmer interior pane of glass. If your home is not fitted with insulating glass, upgrading to double or triple glazing could help reduce condensation.
- If you find condensation on your walls, you could consider anti-condensation paint. Make sure to address any complicating factors like penetrating damp first, rather than relying on paint alone. Likewise, an anti-mould paint containing a fungicide will protect against unsightly black mould.
- Make use of indoor plants to dehumidify the air. A little-known fact about some house plants is that they can contribute meaningfully to extracting excess moisture from the air. Not just pleasing to look at, but functional too!
- If plants work, you may find yourself wondering, “Well what about a dehumidifier? Will a dehumidifier get rid of damp?”. Dehumidifiers take in humid air, remove the water and release dried air back into the environment. They can be effective at removing not only moisture but also dust mites, pollen and other allergens from the air. Be sure to buy an energy-saving model though, to avoid a hefty increase on your energy bill.
The first sign of penetrating damp is often wet or leaking walls. They may be discoloured, the plaster may have begun to blister, or you may see mould spots popping up.
Before dealing with the visual damage, however, you need to be sure to address the cause of the damp and stop it from coming through external walls in the first place.
While some causes of penetrating damp may be simple enough to tackle yourself, others may need a professional to come in and have a look. If you do decide to leave it up to the professionals, be sure to get 3 comparative quotes and check out any online reviews to ensure you get the best price and workmanship.
- Check your gutters and roofing for damage and your exterior walls for any cracks.
- If it’s porous old bricks that are allowing water into your home, you could consider a damp-proof paint before replacing them. Be sure to choose a paint suited to the age of your home and its materials. Another option may be to use an exterior silicone water-repellent sealant or lime wash to seal the exterior walls. This creates a breathable membrane whilst preventing water from travelling through into the interior.
- Check window frames and doors for gaps.
- Check your flashing for leaks, which is where the roof meets the wall of a chimney.
- If the penetrating damp is due to faulty plumbing or piping, calling in an expert may be the best course of action.
- If you find signs of wet or dry rot, it’s also time for a specialist.
If you suspect rising damp, chances are that you either do not have a damp-proof course (DPC) and damp-proof membrane (DMP), or it has been damaged. Rising damp often calls for professional attention.
- Before going ahead to repair or replace the DPC and DPM, be sure to check that the outside ground has not built up above your DPC. Digging away the additional soil above the DPC (typically the DPC should be 15 cm above ground level) may solve the problem.
- A builder or damp-proofing specialist will either drill holes into your wall to inject damp-proof cream creating a new DPC or cut into the brickwork to install a physical piece of DPC. This layer prevents moisture from seeping in from the ground and travelling up the walls into your home.
- A DPM on the other hand is a thin membrane, commonly a polyethene sheet laid under a concrete slab to prevent water from coming up from the ground. If the repair is only needed on a small section of flooring, you can apply two coats of bitumen latex waterproof emulsion under the floor covering on the affected section. You may also want to add a layer of reflective foil building paper, foil side up before the paint is dry.
- In cases where the damage is more widespread, you may have to replace the whole DPM.
How to get rid of that damp smell?
Firstly take the time to carefully wipe or wash away any mould that is smaller than around one metre squared. A larger surface area or mould caused by sewage or contaminated water will require a specialist.
Always wear goggles, a mask and rubber gloves when removing mould and ensure proper ventilation by opening windows and keeping inner doors closed to prevent the spread of spores.
Wash the wall off with soapy water containing either bleach or a dedicated mould removal solution, being careful not to brush the mould as it may release spores. Dry thoroughly with another separate dry rag. Throw both rags away and vacuum the room to ensure all spores are removed.
Once the root cause of the smell has been identified and dealt with, and any mould spots cleaned, you can begin to tackle any residual musty smell.
- Home remedies like charcoal in a jar, boiled lemons in a pot or even a tray of cat litter placed near the problem area can help with smells.
- A damp smell in your washing machine can be dealt with by adding a cup of white vinegar to the empty drum and running the machine through a hot cycle.
- Sprinkling baking soda or bicarbonate of soda onto a damp-smelling carpet and leaving it overnight before vacuuming can help with smells. As can leaving an open box of bicarb in your musty-smelling cupboard.
If you’re having no luck with these home remedies, it may be time to call in the professionals who can advise you on how best to tackle the unpleasant odour.
Hopefully, these tips will help you tackle the causes of dampness in your home.
Because most rising or penetrating damp is seen as the result of gradual deterioration, it’s often not covered by home insurance policies.
So it’s vital to keep on top of damp as soon as it appears in your home. It’ll save you money and heartache in the long run.