A woman in curlers sits in a 1970s basement watching a TV while a load of clothes mildews in the washing machine

How to Get Rid of Mildew on Clothes The Next Time You Forget About that Load of Wash

Pinterest Hidden Image

It’s happened to all of us: you run a load of laundry, sit down to watch Netflix, and days later your nose leads you back to the laundry room. Those smelly gray or white spots are annoying signs of mildew that’s taken hold in your clothes, but they won’t become permanent stains if you handle them properly.

So read on, and I’ll explain how you can use vinegar, borax, chlorine or oxygen bleach to take mildew stains and smells out of your clothes. Then a few tweaks to your laundry routine or clothing storage will help keep it from returning

Why Clothes Develop Mildew

Mildew is a form of early-stage mold. Since mildew is often dark gray and happens in damp conditions, people sometimes confuse it for black mold. That’s especially true for those of us who get caught up watching Netflix on laundry day. But mildew spots can also develop on clothes crammed into damp closets or drawers.

One way to tell mold and mildew apart is by the texture: mildew is powdery and flat. Mildew will also develop faster, which is why it happens when we forget about the laundry for a few days. Mold typically takes longer to form — you’d need to watch several seasons of a show for it to develop.

Pro Tip

Mildew on wool, leather, silk or other dry clean-only fabrics need immediate professional treatment. Take the item in a plastic bag to your dry cleaner. They can get the mildew out using special solvents.

Steps to Remove Mildew on Clothing

Step 1: Sort.

Presoaking clothes and washing them in warm or hot water to get rid of the mildew also makes them more likely to bleed dyes. So, sort your clothes by color then check the care labels and group loads by washing temperatures.

Step 2: Presoak.

Use one of the following to do a 20-minute warm water presoak to loosen the mildew spores.

  • Vinegar: 2 cups added directly to the washer tub.
  • Borax: Dissolve 1/2 cup of borax in 1 cup of hot water then add it to your washing machine with the clothes.
  • Oxygen bleach: If powdered, dissolve 1/2 cup in 1 cup of hot water and add it to the wash. If it’s liquid oxygen bleach, add 1 cup to the load.
  • Chlorine bleach (white fabrics only): Add 1/2 cup to the washer using the bleach dispenser and use cold water. (Shorten the presoak to 10 minutes.)

Step 3: Wash.

Wash your sorted loads in warm or hot water using your regular laundry detergent. (If you used chlorine bleach, you can stick with cold.) Hold off using liquid fabric softener since it can keep mold spores from rinsing away.

After the cycle ends, shake out and check each item to make sure all the mildew spots are gone. If any are still hanging around, repeat the process.

Step 4: Dry.

Be sure the splotches are gone before you use the clothes dryer to avoid setting the stain. Line or air dry clothes any clothes you’re not sure about, keeping them out of direct sunlight, and check them again once they’re dry.

You can go back to your normal laundry routine, including the dryer, once you’ve got rid of all the mildew stains.

Treating Single Clothing Items that Are Mildewed

To get rid of mildew on small items, use a 20-minute soak in a bucket or sink of warm water and any of the following natural mildew removers.

After soaking, rinse and hand-wash the item in the hottest water recommended on the care label using a few drops of liquid laundry detergent or dish soap. Then let it air dry.

  • Vinegar: 1 part white vinegar to 3 parts water.
  • Borax: Dissolve 2 tablespoons borax for every 2 cups of water.
  • Oxygen bleach: If powdered, dissolve 1 tablespoon for every 1 cup of water. Or use 1 part liquid oxygen bleach to 4 parts water.
  • Chlorine bleach (white fabrics only): Add 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach for every 1 gallon of cold water. Don’t soak longer than 10 minutes to avoid weakening the fabric.

Keep Your Clothes from Getting Mildewed

  • Deep clean your washing machine monthly to eliminate mildew and mold spores.
  • Make sure your clothes are completely dry before you put them away.
  • Avoid cramming clothes into closets and drawers since that prevents air from circulating.
  • If you plan to rewear an item, let it air overnight before putting it away.
  • In humid areas, leave your closet door open slightly or switch to louvered doors to promote air flow.
  • Take immediate action at the first sign of musty closet odors.

And of course, don’t forget about that load of clothes in the washing machine — that’s usually the biggest cause of mildewed laundry.

Comment Policy

Comments are moderated. Not all are approved. Submitting a comment means you agree to the Terms of Service.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *