Mildew has a distinct smell, doesn’t it? Fortunately, you can can often get rid of mildew using simple household ingredients.
But there’s a big assumption there: mildew is often mistaken for mold, and that’s a bit more difficult to get rid of. So, your first step is making sure what you’re dealing with.
Telling Mold and Mildew Apart
Mold and mildew are two different types of fungi. Mold is fuzzy and dark, while mildew is flat and powdery. Although mold can be any color, in household settings, it’s usually brown, green, or black.
Mildew is usually white, gray, or yellow. Both mold and mildew grow in damp spots, so you’ll often find them together, but you need different methods to get rid of mold.
How to Get Rid of Mildew
On Wood Furnishings
Dissolve 2 tablespoons of washing soda (not baking soda) in 16 ounces of warm water. Use a sponge or spray bottle to apply this to the affected area, and scrub with a soft brush. Rinse the area with fresh water and pat it dry with a cloth.
If the mildew has worked beneath the varnish or paint, you’ll first need to use 150-grit sandpaper to remove the finish before applying the washing soda and water mixture.
On Tile and Grout
Spray undiluted 3% hydrogen peroxide directly onto the surface. Let this sit for 10 minutes to kill the mildew spores. Then scrub with a brush or sponge and rinse thoroughly with warm water. For stubborn mildew stains, use a homemade grout cleaner.
On Fabric and Clothing
For washable fabrics, wet the mildewed area with water then add a few drops of liquid dish detergent and a sprinkle of baking soda or salt. Rub the fabric together in your hand to work this mixture into the cloth, then launder it immediately at the hottest temperature allowed on the care label. Add 1/2 cup chlorine bleach to the wash for white or light fabrics, and 1/2 cup non-chlorine, oxygenated bleach for colors.
For nonwashable fabrics, take the piece outside and brush away as much mildew as possible. Then hang the item outside in bright sunlight for an afternoon so the sun’s UV rays can eliminate the remaining spores and mildew smell.
On Shower Curtains
To get mildew off of your shower curtain in the washer, put it in the washer with a couple of hand towels to act as scrubbers. Add ½ cup of baking soda with your laundry detergent and run the washer on the gentle cycle. Stop the machine before it reaches the spin cycle and remove your shower curtain. Wrap it in a dry towel and carry it back to your bathroom so it can drip dry on your shower curtain rod.
If the stain is stubborn or you also find mold growth on your shower curtain, remove it from the rod and fold it around the area so the mold spores don’t spread as you carry it outside. Spread out the shower curtain and spray the stain with hydrogen peroxide. After five minutes, sprinkle it with baking soda and use a scrub brush to rub away the mildew. Rinse both sides with a hose and let it drip dry.
To remove mildew stains on carpeting, sprinkle them with baking soda then spray equal parts water and white vinegar. The fizzing action will lift the stain. Wait for the fizzing to stop then dab the area with a clean, dry cloth and aim a fan at it to promote drying. Vacuum once the area is completely dry.
To get rid of mildew odors in your carpet or area rugs, use a homemade carpet deodorizer to absorb moisture then vacuum them thoroughly.
On Concrete, Cement, or Brick
First, sweep the area to remove debris then apply a solution of 1/4 cup oxygenated bleach mixed into 1 gallon of hot water. Let this sit in place for 15-30 minutes, then scrub the area with a stiff brush before rinsing.
On Upholstery and Furniture
Use a vacuum to remove as much mildew as possible. Next, combine equal parts rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol and water. Lightly sponge the mildewed upholstery with this mixture and let it air dry. If in doubt about colorfastness, spot test first.
Take the item outside if possible and wipe away mildew powder with a disposable paper towel. Next, very lightly wipe the area with warm water and a small amount of saddle soap or mild detergent. Let the leather air dry. To remove mildew stains on leather, wipe it with rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol, and once it’s dry use a leather conditioner to restore suppleness.
On Paper and Books
Use a vacuum cleaner with a dust brush attachment or a soft-bristled brush to dislodge the mildew. Then wipe the paper with a cotton pad or towel lightly dampened in hydrogen peroxide to remove mildew stains. To clean books with mildew, you’ll need to spread open the pages to treat two at a time.
Remove mildew from plastic by soaking it for 5 minutes in a solution of 10 parts water and 1 part bleach, then washing it with soap and water. For stubborn mildew stains that remain after washing, apply a little lemon juice and set the item in a sunny spot for an hour before washing. (Do not combine lemon juice and bleach.)
Water the plant well, then spray the mildewed leaves with a solution of 1 tablespoon baking soda, a half teaspoon liquid soap, and 1 gallon of water. Be sure to apply the mixture to both the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves. Reapply as needed.
How To Prevent Mildew
Once you’ve eliminated mildew from your household surfaces, there are three things you must do to keep it from returning: inspect for excess moisture regularly, reduce the humidity level, and improve air circulation.
Inspect Damp Areas Often
Keep areas where mildew is likely to grow clean and dry. This includes inspecting beneath sinks and behind toilets and washing machines for moisture. Don’t ignore drips or leaks, since they can cause structural damage as well as mildew or mold. Also, check your home’s foundations for cracks, since they can allow moisture to enter your home.
Keep Humidity in Check
Add a silica gel packet (the kind you find in the box when you buy new shoes) to musty drawers or cabinets. For closets, try hanging bags of calcium chloride particles to absorb moisture and damp odors. Run a dehumidifier with a humidity sensor in damp basements or laundry rooms, and empty it often.
Improve Air Circulation
Make a point of opening your windows daily for at least 10-15 minutes so fresh air can replace the damp, stale air in your home. During warmer months, run your bathroom exhaust fans for at least 15 minutes after bathing to remove steam and humidity. Also, keep ceiling fans going throughout the humid summer so they can circulate air even when you’re not in the room.