Mildew is a foul-smelling, annoying (and, in rare cases, dangerous) type of fungus that can grow on fabric and many other parts of your home. Mildew loves to grow in wet places without proper ventilation. While the best policy is to prevent mildew in the first place by keeping your clothes, upholstery, and carpet clean and dry, once it's already set in, it's usually possible to remove it with a few easy steps!
Method One of Four:
Washing Towels, Clothing, and LinensEdit
1Dissolve 2 cups (408 grams) of borax in 2 quarts (2 liters) of warm or hot water. This method of removing mildew from fabric uses a borax soak to pre-treat your laundry before washing it. To start, make a mixture of borax and water with a ratio of about 1 cup (204 grams) of borax per 1 quart (1 liter) of water, then add more borax and water if needed. Use a clean bucket or tub to hold your mixture.
- Borax is a cheap, readily available laundry additive. You can find it in more grocery stores alongside the other laundry detergents.
- If you can't find any borax, use an ordinary detergent or non-chlorine bleach that's safe for your fabric.
- In general, hot water cleans stains (including mildew) better than cold water, making it a good, default choice for laundry. However, not all fabrics may be safe for hot water cleaning. If your fabric can't be washed in hot water, allow the mixture to cool first. Don't mix borax into cold water; it will most likely clump up.
2Add your mildew-stained fabric into the solution and let it soak for 5 to 10 minutes. Use a stick or spoon to agitate the fabric. Make sure all of—not just the mildewed portion—gets a chance to absorb the solution.
- If your fabric won't stay under the solution, you can weigh it down with a jar.
3Gently brush your normal detergent into the fabric. Once your fabric has had a chance to soak, remove it from the solution and gently squeeze it over a sink or drain to remove the excess water. Next, apply a small dot of normal detergent to the mildew stain and use a soft-bristled brush (such as an old toothbrush) to scrub the stain away.
- It's a good idea to scrub the stain from the opposite side of the fabric when possible. Doing this can work the stain away from the fabric, rather than driving the stain further into it. It also reduces the appearance of wear-and-tear on the article.
4Wash on the highest setting allowed for your fabric. Your fabric is now pre-treated and ready for the wash. In general, hot water and a long, high-powered wash will be most effective at cleaning your fabric. However, these conditions can damage some fabrics, so obey all instructions on your item's care label.
- Unless your item is seriously soiled, you can safely do an entire load of laundry at this point without fear of harming the other clothes, so don't be afraid to toss in similar fabrics with your soiled item.
- For whites, you may add bleach to the wash. For colored fabrics, use only colorfast bleaches or similar detergents that won't cause them to bleed.
5Air-dry the item, and repeat the cleaning process if necessary. When your wash is done, hang the clothes up on a clothesline to dry. Don't put them into a dryer, as heat will set in the stains—including mildew. Once the clothes are dry, inspect them; if you notice any mildew, repeat the cleaning process.
- Try to dry your clothes in the sun. This will help further kill any mildew.
- If you must use a clothes dryer, use the no-heat setting.
Method Two of Four:
1Start by vacuuming the affected area. This method for treating upholstery uses the cleaning power of rubbing alcohol to eliminate mildew colonies that have taken root in your furniture. To begin, first use a vacuum cleaner to remove as much of the mildew as possible. Most vacuums should come with a hose or similar attachment which should make it easy to remove mildew even in tough-to-reach cracks.
- If possible, move the furniture to an outdoor area with good ventilation before beginning to reduce the danger of inhaling mildew spores.
- It might be a good idea to wear a dust mask for this step, so as to avoid breathing in any microscopic mildew spores.
2Gently scrub with rubbing alcohol and water. Next, mix 1 cup (240 milliliters) of rubbing alcohol with 1 cup (240 milliliters) of hot water. Soak a sponge in this solution. Wring most of the liquid out of the sponge, then gently rub the solution into the affected area of the upholstery. Avoid using too much moisture. hen you're done, the fabric should be damp, but not soaking.
- Note that rubbing alcohol can damage some fabrics. To make sure your upholstery can stand the rubbing alcohol used in this method, try dabbing a little of your solution in a hard-to-see spot on your upholstery, then letting it sit for 15 minutes. If you observe any discoloration or damage, use one of the alternate cleaning solutions in this article (like the borax soak above or the home-made remedies below.)
3Let the solution sit for 30 minutes. When you've thoroughly applied your water/alcohol mixture to the mildew-affected spots on your furniture, give it a chance to do its work by leaving your upholstery alone for about 30 minutes (or longer). Over time, the alcohol will gradually soak into the fabric and kill the mildew colony.
4Rinse, blot dry, and repeat if necessary. Dampen a sponge or rag with clean water and dab it onto the affected area to partially rinse the alcohol solution away. Next, use a dry paper towel to blot up as much moisture as possible. If the mildew appears to be completely removed, allow your furniture to dry. If not, you may need to re-apply your cleaning solution and repeat the cycle.
- If possible, dry your upholstered item outside in the sun. If not, open a window and/or use a fan to circulate the air in the room. Good ventilation is important while the furniture dries—without it, it's more likely for mildew to re-appear.
- If there is a lot of moisture in the fabric, you can try using a wet-dry vacuum cleaner to soak up the excess moisture.
5Be ready to discard badly soiled items. Unfortunately, not all mildew is treatable. If the mildew in your upholstery is so bad that it's made its way deep into the padding or has left a permanent stain, it may be impossible to get your furniture back to normal. In this case, you may need to throw the affected furniture away to keep your home's air free of dangerous mildew spores. While professional cleaning services are also an option, these are seldom cheap.Advertisement
Method Three of Four:
Treating Carpets and RugsEdit
1Sweep the affected spot with a broom. To start treating a mildew-infected carpet or rug, remove as much of the mold from between the tightly-packed fibers as possible by sweeping or beating the carpet with a broom. Make sure to wear a dust mask and, if possible, perform this task outside away from children and pets; inhaling mildew can be hazardous to your health.
- For a deeper clean, you can also use a hand brush rather than a broom. Carpets and rugs are typically tougher than the fabrics listed above, so you can get away with using slightly stiffer bristles, but your should still take care not to scrub too hard or you may damage the carpet fibers.
2Vacuum. Next, use a vacuum cleaner to suck up all of the of the mold you've just dislodged in the last step. Any standard hose attachment should work, but for extra cleaning power, you may want to use a vacuum head with mechanical rollers or brushes.
- It's a good idea to empty your vacuum after using it to treat mildew. If you don't, mildew spores can be blown into the air the next time you vacuum. To reduce the health dangers of inhalation, empty your vacuum outdoors in a well-ventilated area.
3Dab with soapy water. Soak a sponge or a small rag in a mixture of soap and warm water. Wring the soap or rag out, then dab at the formerly mildew-y spot to let the cleaning solution soak in somewhat. Don't scrub or grind the sponge or rag into the carpet, as this can force mildew spores deep into the fibers.
- Avoid using excess water. If you soak your carpet, you'll be creating the sort of moist conditions that led to the growth of the mildew in the first place. Your goal here is to gently clean the carpet fibers, not give them a bath.
4Vacuum once again. After you apply soap and water, to remove any excess moisture, give the affected section of carpet another quick vacuuming. It will probably be impossible to remove all of the moisture, but the more water you're able to suck out of the carpet before you leave it to dry, the better.
5If possible, run a dehumidifier while the carpet dries. Mildew, like many molds, thrives in dank, dark, wet conditions. By removing these conditions, you can make it less likely for mildew to set in. For example, if you have a dehumidifier, running it after you apply your soapy water can help decrease the ambient moisture in the air while the carpet dries. The less moisture in the air, the less likely mildew will be able to survive in the long run.
- Dehumidifiers can be expensive. The best time to buy them is towards the end of summer or fall, when they are the cheapest. Remember to take advantage of sales and coupons as well.
- If you live in a dry place, you can open up some windows. If you live in a humid place, keep the windows closed and turn on a fan. This won't decrease the ambient moisture, but it will give the carpet much-needed ventilation.
6For serious mildew, consider removing the carpet. If you're having a hard time removing mildew from your carpet with conventional methods, it may be necessary to take drastic measures and remove the carpet itself for a professional cleaning or disposal. For wall-to-wall carpeting, this may require special tools like a pry bar and/or carpet knife. See our article on taking out carpet for detailed instructions for this task. In most cases, you will want to wear a dust mask for safety.
- For rugs, on the other hand, you should be able to roll up the rug and hang it outside in a well-ventilated area without much difficulty. Here, you can give the rug a deep cleaning without fear of encouraging further mold growth.
- Be sure to check any padding under the carpet for the presence of mold. Dispose of any padding with signs of mold growth—leaving it can encourage mildew growth on future carpets that are laid over it.
7Use a carpet shampoo or a vinegar spray to remove lingering odor. Even once you remove troublesome mildew from your carpet, its dank odor may remain. There are a number of ways to deal with this. The simplest is to buy a bottle of carpet shampoo and follow the manufacturer's instructions for use. Usually, you'll need to scrub the shampoo into the carpet, let it sit, and then vacuum it up, though this isn't always the case.
- An alternative homemade solution is to put a little white vinegar in a spray bottle, spritz the affected area, wait 10 minutes for it to set, then sprinkle baking soda on top and vacuum when the solution is done reacting. See below for more information on this home remedy.
Method Four of Four:
Using Home-Made SolutionsEdit
1Use lemon juice and salt for a natural cleaning rub. Though the methods above should work well for most cases of mildew, there are a wide range of alternative home remedies that may also work well. For instance, lemon juice, which is sometimes used as a natural fabric cleaner, can be paired with ordinary salt to make an effective yet gentle abrasive cleaner. Follow the simple steps below:
- Mix 1/3 cup (80 milliliters) of undiluted lemon juice with enough salt to form a loose paste.
- Pour or scoop your lemon/salt paste onto the affected fabric.
- Scrub gently with a soft-bristled brush.
- Wash and dry your fabric in the laundry machine or use a vacuum to remove excess paste and air-dry.
2Mix hydrogen peroxide with water for a mild bleach. With dealing with white fabrics, you have more cleaning options available to you than with colored fabrics because you don't have to worry about causing your fabric's dye to bleed or fade. For a natural bleach solution that's great for removing old mildew stains from white fabrics, try using hydrogen peroxide (which should be very cheap at most grocery and department stores) with the following steps:
- Use a cotton swab or a clean rag to dab hydrogen peroxide directly onto the stain.
- Allow the hydrogen peroxide to set for 15 minutes.
- Wash as normal. For extra stain-fighting power, add about 1/3 to 2/3 cup (80 to 160 milliliters) of hydrogen peroxide to your laundry in addition to your normal detergents.
3Try a foamy baking soda/vinegar mixture. As noted above, vinegar can be a potent natural cleaning agent and odor-fighter. However, if you use this method, it's important to remember only to use white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and so on are colored liquids that can cause stains. Use the steps below to treat your fabric with vinegar:
- Make a half-and-half mixture of vinegar and warm water in a small bowl.
- Dab this mixture into the affected fabric with a clean rag or add it to a spray bottle and spray it onto the fabric.
- Let the vinegar set for 10 minutes, then generously apply baking soda to the wet spot to neutralize the vinegar.
- For clothing, wash and dry as normal. For upholstery and carpet, vacuum and allow to dry.
4Dry fabrics in the sun for a natural stain-removing effect. If you're lucky enough to enjoy clear, sunny days where you live, you have an opportunity to remove pesky mildew stains from your fabric with minimal effort. The simple act of drying your fabrics in the sun (rather than in a mechanical dryer) after washing has been proven to have a noticeable lightening effect on stains. Use a drying rack or a hanging wire for best results.
- Use caution with colored fabrics, however; leaving them in the sun for long periods of time can cause their dye to fade.
How do I get mildew out of clothes?Answered by wikiHow Contributor
- Soak the clothes in white vinegar. (If the clothes cannot be bleached, do not leave them soaking overnight.) Additionally, add vinegar to every wash in your washing machine bleach and softener tanks. Vinegar will take out mildew, odors and will leave your clothes feeling soft.
What do I do if I don't have any access to borax?Answered by wikiHow Contributor
- Depending upon the fabric, use mild soap, with no moisturizing ingredients added, such as aloe, shea butter, coca butter etc. Use a baby toothbrush to gently scrub. If you can, put the fabric in the washing machine with vinegar, and wash on gentle cycle in the hottest water allowed for the fabric. You may have to repeat. If the item cannot be washed - chair or sofa - blot, or rent a rug cleaning machine. Regardless of method or product used, always test a small spot for colorfastness in an area that will not be noticed. Use the hottest water it can take first.
How do I remove a few mildew spots on the back of my fabric curtains without taking them down? Only one or two small areas are involved so don't want to take them down.Answered by wikiHow Contributor
- I've used white vinegar on small spots. Test the fabric in the hem or another non-visible area, first.
How do I remove the smell from a leather sofa?Answered by wikiHow Contributor
- If possible, move your furniture outside, particularly when we have cooler weather. Fresh air is the best way to remove odors from all leather goods. Alternatively, keep the room aired with open windows and clean the sofa with a good leather cleaner/leather wipes. Repeating this process a number of times will help remove the smell, but it takes some time.
I have orange spots on my sofa, curtains and other surfaces - are these a type of mildew or mold? And any suggestions for removing them?
How do you get mildew spores out of fabric without using bleach?
How do I remove mildew from vinyl upholstery?
To remove mildew from fabric, such as towels, clothing, and linens, dissolve 2 cups of borax in 2 quarts of warm water. Add your mildew-stained fabric to the solution and soak for 5-10 minutes. Then, gently brush detergent into the fabric and machine wash. Dry your fabric in the sun to further kill any mildew. Another home remedy that also works on carpets and furniture is to mix ⅓ cup lemon juice with enough salt to form a scrubbing paste.
- Keep borax handy for vacation homes, boats, camping equipment, etc.
- If you just need to get rid of the smell of mildew (and not any stains), see wikiHow's article on removing mildew smell from clothing.
- If you live in a humid area, be sure to close the windows. This will prevent your home from getting too damp. Remember, mildew thrives in a damp environment.
- If your home is prone to mildew, keep the windows closed on rainy days. This ensures that your home stays dry and mildew-free.
Things You'll NeedEdit
Washing Towels, Clothing, and LinensEdit
- Warm or hot water
- Bucket or tub
- Old toothbrush
- Laundry detergent
- Washing machine
- Bleach (optional)
- Jar (optional)
- Dust mask
- Vacuum cleaner
- Rubbing alcohol
- Hot water
- Mixing bowl
- Paper towels
- Wet-dry vacuum (optional)
Treating Carpets and RugsEdit
- Dust mask
- Broom or hand brush
- Vacuum cleaner
- Soapy water
- Dehumidifier or fan (recommended)
- Carpet shampoo or vinegar water (optional)
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About This Article
Reader Success Stories
"I have a very old white handmade blanket that I had stored, forgotten for 8 years in a badly moist basement. On moving last week I found it, and the whole part at the bottom was black! I used the vinegar and baking soda, then sun-dried and it's just as beautiful as ever! Thank you!"..." more
A"Using Borax and vinegar and lemon/salt helped. "
SA"Vinegar and baking soda method did the trick. Thanks!"
JS"Kitchen and dining room linens, towels, and lots of backpacking and bicycling gear have mildew, smoke, and soot stains/odors following a fire at our storage facility. The multiple methods here have expanded my range of options beyond bleach and lemon juice. Thanks!"..." more
HR"The borax worked great for getting mildew and other stains out of my insulated Costco bag! I couldn't use bleach because bright blue straps are sewn all the way around each side. I used 2 gallons of HOT water with 4 cups of borax. "..." more
RM"We're renting an older home which tends to hold moisture and we've discovered problem areas in the closets, etc. We wanted to avoid toxic chemicals and this article gave us some great ideas. Thanks!"..." more
A"Using the lemon juice and salt paste worked wonderfully after brushing off the mold/mildew. Great tip! Thanks."
AS"I needed to remove mildew stains from old and interesting table linen. I appreciate the suggestions."