You left your favorite sweater in the basket for too long, and now it’s starting to go moldy. Do you throw away the sweater or do you try to save it? Even though mold can seep deep into fabrics, your closet can usually be saved if you know how to clean clothes exposed to mold spores.
Mold and mildew thrive and thrive in a dark, damp environment, such as a damp closet, sweaty clothes basket, or damp basement. If clothes are stored in one of these damp areas, microscopic mold spores that excel at finding ways to enter a home can begin to populate those clothes. Mold can introduce health risks into your home, including respiratory illnesses and skin irritations, so knowing how to remove mold from your clothes and other fabrics is imperative.
This guide explains how to remove mildew from clothing.
BEFORE YOU START
Dark, damp places are a breeding ground for mold. Try to stay above the laundry and add ventilation to any damp areas in your home to minimize the chance of mold growth in the future.
Each type of fabric has its own washing instructions, so always check the label before using any chemicals or cleaning products, lest you cause further damage to a garment. The washing instructions on the label should replace the instructions below.
If possible, try to tackle this chore on a sunny day, as exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light can help kill mold.
STEP 1: Pre-treat your clothes and rub the fabric in a well-ventilated room.
Once you find mold on your clothes, check the surrounding clothes to see if they’ve been affected, then gather all the moldy items. If the clothes are still damp, lay them out in the sun (if it’s shining) to start killing the mildew. If this is not possible, take the moldy clothes to a well ventilated room to the outside and open all the windows. Close all vents that lead to the rest of the house to prevent mold spores from spreading indoors.
Put on a mask and cleaning gloves to avoid breathing and irritating the skin during cleaning. Soak moldy clothes in a bucket of water and 1/2 cup borax or 1 cup white vinegar, letting it sit for at least an hour. After soaking, use the scrub brush to clean mildew stains from clothing. Rub hard enough to clean moldy areas but not hard enough to damage fabric.
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STEP 2: Add moldy clothes to the washing machine with borax or vinegar.
The next step in getting rid of mold on clothes is to use borax or white vinegar in the washing machine with your moldy clothes. For both methods, use laundry detergent (as directed) on a hot water cycle, as the heat helps kill mildew. Reduce the smell of mildew by adding 1/2 tablespoon of baking soda to the laundry, as this helps to naturally deodorize clothes.
If you use Borax, follow the instructions on the box. Another method is to mix 1/2 cup of borax with a cup or two of hot water until it becomes a liquid solution, then add it to the washing machine. If you have a top-loading washer, add the borax solution after the washer has filled with water.
The vinegar naturally helps remove the musty smell from clothes and can kill most species of mold, including those that usually live on clothes. Add clothes, laundry detergent, and 1-2 cups of vinegar (for small and large loads, respectively) to the washing machine to clean those moldy clothes.
STEP 3: Dry clothes completely, ideally in direct sunlight.
If possible, dry your freshly washed clothes in the sun. UV rays and extra heat from the sun help kill remaining mold.
On cloudy days, or if it’s a cooler season, use the dryer settings that work best for your fabrics, keeping in mind that warmer temperatures are more effective at removing mildew. Dry clothes completely and thoroughly, as any moisture on clothes can cause mold to return.
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STEP 4: Inspect clothes for mold and do an odor check to make sure they’re clean.
Examine your clothes once to make sure all visible signs of mold are gone. Sometimes mold persists through the first three stages, which can be repeated if necessary. The second (sometimes the third) time, soak longer and rub the fabric more thoroughly.
If you don’t see the mold, sniff the garment. A musty or earthy aroma means that there is probably still mold present. Depending on how strong or weak the odor is, repeat steps 1-3 or skip the pre-treatment and re-wash and dry clothes instead.
STEP 5: Put your clothes in a clean, dry and well-ventilated place.
After going through the cleaning process, don’t undo all your hard work by leaving your clothes in the dryer or laundry basket. Once you’re fully satisfied that your clothes are clean and mold-free, fold them up and put them away. A dry place, ideally with some form of air circulation, is the best place for clean clothes.
Never leave freshly laundered clothes in damp places where they can re-grow mildew. If you discover moldy clothes in your laundry basket, use a disinfectant to kill any lingering mold spores before putting more dirty clothes inside.
STEP 6: Treat all sources of mold to prevent further contamination of your clothes.
Hopefully, the only action item in this step is to remedy the habit of leaving damp or sweaty clothes in the laundry bin for too long. Any moisture in dark areas promotes the growth and spread of mold spores. Immediately wash your wet laundry or at least let the dirty and wet clothes dry before throwing them in the basket.
If a leaky pipe, window, or roof makes a closet or storage area damp, it can cause a moldy clothes problem. While treating and fixing the cause of the leak, move your clothes to a different location. There may not be a leak, but some closets or storage areas trap moisture. This can be solved with silica gel packets to suck out the humidity and additional ventilation with an open door, an air conditioner or a fan.
These six steps on how to remove mildew from fabric can help you safely remove mildew from your clothes, so you can continue to wear these items. The best way to prevent mold in clothes is to prevent it from forming in the first place. Store dry clothes away from wet or damp areas, and mildew is less likely to be a problem. If you find mold on your clothes, take care of it immediately with this easy-to-follow guide.
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