How to remove mildew/mold spots from clothes

Methods and precautions necessary to tackle mildew or mold spots, prevent further damage to your garments and restore your clothes to a clean and usable condition.

If you don’t know what mildew is and you are still reading this post, the photo below will enlighten you.

mildew mold spots on a towel

Any laundry horror photos I need, I never have to go anywhere – it will be in my cupboard. But in my defense, mold spots are all too common and every house will have one or two clothing with these dreaded marks. Especially if you live in humidity-high areas.

It occurs as grey or black spots or as patches on fabric – and looks vivid and uglier when the fabric is wet. It has a musty smell (in worst cases can also smell like urine) and can cause a lot of skin problems, allergies, respiratory problems etc and can go on to destroy clothes. Yes, if it was just the stain, I may have discounted it but it seems mildew can cause fabric to rot! That is below the belt!

leather mold

On leather /fake leather a white mold grows which is as damaging and as ugly. 

Use a mixture of white vinegar and baking soda. Apply the mix on the mold-stained area. Gently scrub with a toothbrush. Place the clothing item in direct sunlight. Wash with detergent. Repeat the process if the stain persists.

What causes mold ?

Mold loves damp, warm conditions. The main culprit of mildew is dampness. Mold is always present in the air – when there is moisture in a fabric the mold gets attached to the fabric and grow.

The most favorable place for mildew is the bathroom and the most frequently mildew spotted fabric is the bathroom towel. Cupboards /wardrobes with humidity and dampness inside are also breeding grounds.

Natural fabrics attract mildew whereas synthetic fabrics like acetate, polyester, acrylic, and nylon resist. Even protein fabrics like silk, wool doesnot attract as much mildew as natural fabrics like cotton, linen. But that is not to say that any fabric is immune to them. All are susceptible to mold to some degree.

Tips to prevent Mold and thus mildew spots

Attack the mold even before it forms. Control dampness and promote dry and cool atmosphere.

Use of machines efficiently

Use dehumidifiers in humidity high places. Or air-conditioning or a fan.

It seems air conditioning is a preventive measure against mildew – the cool air that circulates from it is said to be better than warm air. But the air conditioning unit should be serviced properly and cleaned. And close all windows when air conditioning is on.

Clean washing machines frequently. Mold can grow inside washing machines especially the front-loading washing machines. Keep the door open to dry in between washings.

Prevent dampness

Plug all dampness in your building construction with DIY tricks or calling the mason – I mean leakages from pipes, showers etc, dampness in the wall near water sources. Check underneath all peeling paint for dampness.

Maintain clothes properly

One of the best tips I have read to prevent mold spots is to hang towels or clothing outside in sunlight to dry as soon as it is wet – so after you have taken a shower first thing you should do is to hang it outside or even better, dry in your full dryer with heat. Do not hang them in the bathroom or toss it into the laundry basket to forget about it for a long time – the mildew will grow there and the towel will be useless before long.

In the case of clothing, wash the wet clothes /sweaty clothes immediately. Wipe the bathroom to dry after a shower and put on the exhaust fan after a shower to prevent moisture remaining. 

Do not keep washed clothes in the washing machine or a bucket and then hang them after a day or two. This may start the mildew growth. It does cause that smell, this I know from experience

If you are storing clothes and you wish to mitigate any chance of mildew inside your garment bags/trunks/basement cupboards, you can use a kind of crystals (mold inhibitors) available in shops – they are supposed to stop mold in their tracks.  You can also use the moisture absorbent silica gel packets (which you use for electronic storage) inside the wardrobe. Or an electronic humidifier for cabinets.

You may keep Paradichlorobenzene crystals (moth balls with this ingredient) inside warbrobe – it destroys mold. But it is toxic with exposure and can damage plastic. Do not touch it directly.

Use a light inside the wardrobe and use it frequently.

Get rid of mildew stains – some sure fire ideas

Mild spots may go if you wash in soap and water and air dry but these stains are, well, stains. They mostly remain. 

Bleach remedy for removing mold spots

Use chlorine bleach only on clothes/fabric which is colorfast/white in color/has embroidery. Unless you mind the mold spots so much you do not care if the color fades or not. You can use Oxygen bleach on non colorfast colored clothes.

Do not use chlorine bleach solution on wool /wool blends,silks/silk blends or anything marked “dry cleaning only” on the fabric care label.

do not bleach symbol
Do not bleach symbol on fabric care label

Take a cup of bleach. Take a cup of dishwasher detergent. Take some warm water. Mix all this thoroughly.

Soak your garment in this solution

You may have to soak them for 10-15 minutes for mild spots or many hours (2-3 hours) for hard stubborn stains. You can check frequently to see if the stains have budged. 

Wash as usual in the washing machine with laundry detergent. If possible wash in hot water to kill mold. Dry in sunlight to finish your work

Removing Mold spots from un-washable items

mold spots

With un-washable upholstery fabric /suede etc you can brush the surface with a stiff brush and try to remove the mildew stains. Do this outside so that it doesnot spread to other fabrics.

Wipe leather / fake leather with diluted methylated spirit (denatured alcohol) ( 70% spirit & 30& water) or Isopropyl alcohol (also known as rubbing alcohol). This will disinfect the mold. After this wipe again with a damp cloth (This is important as alcohol may damage leather if remained) and then with a dry cloth. Air dry. Do not use this remedy on painted leather or suede.

Be prepared for the garments/fabrics to never recover from Mold- it is something that never totally goes away.

Related posts : How to clean upholstered fabric; Stain removal solutions ; Basic fabric care instructions.; How to remove urine smell from clothes ; How to disinfect clothes properly. ; How to clean and disinfect clothes after a flood

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

1 thought on “How to remove mildew/mold spots from clothes”

  1. Thank you so much for this article you describe all that needs to be said
    I have a vintage Mac and it’s been hanging in my hall cupboard I noticed the mould on it and wondered, if it was worth saving. I will try now and also look into ways of Airing the cupboard
    Thanks again

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