How to Get Rid of Mildew for Good

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Knowing how to get rid of mildew, and keep it from returning, is something anyone with allergies — or who resides in a humid area — needs to know. You don’t need fancy equipment or expensive cleansers. You may already own everything you’ll need.

Whether you’ve just noticed slime growing in your shower, or a tell-tale smell wafting from your sofa, these tips can help you find and get rid of mildew and mold — and keep them from returning.

How to Get Rid of Mildew

How to Get Rid of Mildew

The Difference Between Mold and Mildew

Although we often use the words interchangeably, mold and mildew are two different types of plant fungi.

Mold is usually fuzzy and darker in appearance, like the dark growth typically found on walls, concrete, and the sandwich your kid left in his backpack for the last month.

Mildew is more powdery or downy in appearance. It typically starts gray or white but turns pink or orange, then eventually black, over time. It often grows in bathrooms, sinks, and laundry rooms.

What Mold and Mildew Have in Common

Drawn by damp: Both mold and mildew thrive in damp, humid areas.

Health issues: Mold and mildew can both cause serious problems including respiratory distress, joint pain and inflammation, skin lesions, and fatigue.

Structural problems: Since mold and mildew can spread throughout damp, rotting areas, they can both cause structural problems in your home. If you have undetected problems with one or both, you’ll also notice a pervasive and unpleasant smell.

Ways to Get Rid of Mildew

We’ve already discussed how to get rid of mold on walls and other hard surfaces, but what about places where mildew grows?

Mildew removal methods differ based on the type of surface you’re cleaning.

On Wood Furnishings

Dissolve 1/2 cup washing soda (not baking soda) in 1 gallon of warm water. Lightly apply to the affected area and scrub with a soft-bristled brush. Rinse with clean water and buff dry.

If the mildew has worked beneath the varnished or painted surface you’ll need to remove the finish from that area then, wearing gloves, scrub it with a solution of 2 tablespoons bleach to 2 cups warm water. Allow the item to dry before reapplying varnish or paint.

On Tile and Grout

Spray undiluted 3% hydrogen peroxide directly onto the surface. Let this sit for 10 minutes to kill the mildew spores. Scrub with a stiff-bristled brush, then rinse thoroughly with warm water.

On Fabrics and Clothing

For mildew on washable fabrics, see these instructions.

For items that you can’t wash (e.g., silk or other non-washable items):

  1. Take the piece outside and brush away as much mildew as possible.
  2. Hang the item in bright sunlight and very lightly spray with a solution of 1 tablespoon white vinegar combined with 1 cup lukewarm water.
  3. You do not want to saturate the item — barely mist it so the vinegar can kill mildew spores and deodorize the material.

For more expensive or irreplaceable items, seek the help of a dry-cleaner.

On Upholstery

Use a vacuum to remove as much mildew as possible. Next, combine equal parts rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol and water, and then lightly sponge the upholstery with this mixture to kill the spores. If in doubt about colorfastness, spot test first.

Once you’ve applied the rubbing alcohol mixture, let the area air dry.

On Leather

Combine equal parts rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol and water, then wipe the stained area with a cloth lightly dampened in this solution and allow it to thoroughly dry.

On Paper (Including Books)

For laminated surfaces, wipe the affected area using a cloth lightly dampened in equal parts white vinegar and water.

If the item is a book and several pages require treatment, fan them open then sprinkle with cornstarch to absorb excess moisture. Allow the cornstarch to sit in place overnight, then shake or brush it out of the book.

To remove mildew stains, dab them with a cotton ball dipped in hydrogen peroxide.

On Plants

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, and reapply as needed.

How To Prevent Mildew and Mold

As with most household challenges, prevention is the best approach. Follow these four steps to keep mold or mildew from growing.

1. Keep Things Clean

Dust, dirt, grease, soap scum, and other substances give mold and mildew food to grow on. Diligent weekly cleaning can stop mildew from growing. In bathrooms, use a daily shower spray to keep tubs and sinks mildew-free, too.

2. Keep Things Fixed

Regularly inspect your home for leaks before they become a problem.

  • Your roof needs a visual inspection after significant storms or hail.
  • Walls behind toilets and washing machines should be checked at least once a month.
  • Check your pipes after deep freezes, which often cause them to burst.
  • During very dry weather, examine your home’s foundations for signs of shifting or cracks. Do the same during very damp weather. Contact a foundation repair specialist at the first sign of problems.

3. Keep Things Dry

Warm, moist air breeds mold and mildew. That’s why maintaining proper indoor humidity is so necessary throughout the year. If you live in a damp environment, a dehumidifier can help remove excess moisture from the air while products silica gel or “DampRid” can keep closets dry.

4. Keep Air Circulating

  • Open your windows to allow fresh air to flow when the outdoor humidity levels are low.
  • If you live in a humid area, run your ceiling fans and bathroom exhaust fans for 15 minutes after performing tasks that add humidity to the air.
  • Leave the washing machine lid or door open, so the drum thoroughly dries.
  • Stretch shower curtains fully open after each use, so they don’t sit growing mildew.
  • Run your air-conditioner when relative humidity exceeds 60 percent, and consider installing an attic vent, so moist air doesn’t accumulate and spread mildew through the house.

Knowing how to get rid of mildew is only the first step in eliminating it. Make a point to examine potential trouble spots and address damp areas in your home to keep mildew from spreading.

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13 Comments

  1. Doesn’t mixing bleach and liquid soap release toxic fumes!

    1. avoid mixing bleach and ammonia
      mixing bleach & soap is ok

    2. Katie Berry says:

      Yes. That’s why I have not suggested using ammonia for this at all, nor would I. There are many other things you shouldn’t mix with bleach, though. I have an entire article about cleaning products you should never combine.

  2. Rhys Rawson says:

    Thanks for the information on how to clean mold from tile and grout. I’ve noticed some mildew and mold in my shower and want to get it cleaned as quickly as possible! I’ll definitely use your recipe of 1/4 cup bleach and 3/4 cup water to get rid of it today. Great article!

  3. What is the best solution to use for mildew on wallpaper.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Spot test first, but usually a wipe with a 50-50 vinegar and water mix should do it. Follow with a plain water wipe so the vinegar isn’t just sitting there.

  4. Hi there! I’m having a tough time finding solutions online to a black mold issue on my bathroom stone sink on a biweekly basis. I understand that acidic solutions are a no-no for stone surfaces. So I’m assuming vinegar and lemon juice is out of the question unless somehow I can adjust the pH. Any homemade suggestions remedies for black mold on stone surfaces?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Nadia,
      Are you sure it’s black mold? I ask because that’s a pretty odd place for it to grow. Just because it’s dark doesn’t mean it’s actually black mold — in fact, a lot of times the stuff growing on bathroom counters is just plain old mold, not the highly toxic stuff.

      You’re correct in thinking vinegar and lemon juice isn’t good to use on a stone sink. I’d suggest scrubbing with soap and water, then wiping the area with hydrogen peroxide.

  5. Charlotte Lyon says:

    I am having a mildew problem on my interior front door and wall by door under carport. I don’t know what’s causing it. Any help would be appreciated.

  6. beware of “household bleach” nowadays. some of it is diluted, usually the kind that has scents added or is thicker. So look for the ones that say, DISINFECTANT, kills 99.9% of germs, etc. This is a rather new development and i will say, very deceptive of them to NOT disclose this dilution outright on the front of the label.

  7. Linda Cloer says:

    Hi,
    My daughter’s bedroom ceiling is growing mold. Her master bathroom is connected to her bedroom. There is a new roof on the mobile home. I cleaned the mold once and it is starting to come back. Any suggestions why and what I can do to prevent the mold from coming back. It is only growing in her bedroom, all the other room ceilings are fine.
    Thanks
    Linda

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I have an entire article about how to remove mold from walls. The homemade mold killers should work on your daughter’s bedroom ceiling, too.

  8. I’m looking for something to seal bottom of dessert bowls that keep getting mildew on them. I removed with bleach but keeps coming back after dry completely. Can someone recommend something to put on bottom of dishes to keep away?

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