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.

17 Comments

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

    1. Katie Berry says:

      No.

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

    3. 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. I have a question? Just bought a house, it has been closed up for 2 years. had it inspected more mildew than mold on walls and wood work. White powdery patches the size of a nickel and musky smell. what would you recommend cleaning with? also the carpet in the bedrooms is really nice but needs to be cleaned . Should i get like Stanley cleaners to steam clean carpet or choose a different professional cleaners dealing with mold or mildew issues. The house was built in 2006 so its not that old and no water leaks .

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Helen,
      I’d start by airing out the house and cleaning it top to bottom. I ordinarily use vinegar-based natural homemade cleaners to deal with mildew and make sure there is proper ventilation. Here’s what I’ve written about how to steam clean carpets. Again, proper ventilation is absolutely essential.

      Although I now have hard flooring throughout my house, I’ve used Stanley in the past as well as a “Dry Chem” company and, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t very happy with either. Stanley didn’t pre-treat stains, so they all reappeared several days later os the carpets dried and the stains wicked back up from the padding. (They also tried to hard sell me on getting my air ducts cleaned, which I didn’t appreciate.) The “Dry Chem” company swore their products were pet-safe, by my oldest cat had seizures the day after they did my carpets. Plus, they raked their cleaning solution into my rugs and that left grooves that didn’t come out until I shampooed my carpets myself. Those are my personal experiences, though, and yours might vary.

      So, long story short, I’d start with opening windows, cleaning hard surfaces with vinegar-based natural cleaners (here’s where you can find all the ones I use) and shampooing the carpets yourself. Then, if that doesn’t solve it, contact pros — but look at Google and Yelp reviews before you hire anyone.

      Let me know how it goes!

  6. 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.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Charlotte,
      I’d love to provide help but need a bit more information. Are the areas you’ve described shaded? What type of materials are involved? Can you give me a rough idea of what part of the country (or which country) you live in, so I know the climate you’re dealing with, too?

      Best,
      Katie

  7. Sheila Marcotte says:

    My bathroom has a glued down indoor/outdoor carpet put in by a previous tenant. Recently I had a leaky toilet and had to have a new one installed, It took the rug many days to dry out completely. I worry about mildew being in/under it now. The rug is on top of tiles and a concrete floor.
    What can I do to prevent any trouble with mold or mildew.
    Thankyou.
    Sheila

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Sheila,
      Your best approach would be regular use of the bathroom exhaust fan to circulate air and remove humidity after bathing, and frequent vacuuming. Every so often, sprinkle some baking
      powder on the carpet to absorb excess moisture (and odors) and wait an hour or linger to vacuum.

  8. Hedda Szczepanski says:

    What is the difference between household bleach and hydrogen peroxide? I live in Spain.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Household bleach is chlorine bleach (lejía). Look for Tres Brujas or Estrella brands. Hydrogen peroxide is a different substance. You should be able to purchase it at the pharmacy or online.

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