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
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):
- Take the piece outside and brush away as much mildew as possible.
- Hang the item in bright sunlight and very lightly spray with a solution of 1 tablespoon white vinegar combined with 1 cup lukewarm water.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
If you need help establishing a consistent, effective weekly cleaning routine, find one on my cleaning checklist page.
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.
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.