Mold is a fungus that grows on every surface. Spores are found both indoors and outdoors and thrive when moisture is present. Not only can it cause health complications, but it also emits a strong and unpleasant smell.
Did you forget your clothes in your washer? Have you maybe left a wet towel in a closed bag, or folded a moist T-shirt in your closet? Mold expands at the slightest opportunity and getting rid of the odor and growing organism requires a few tricks.
Thankfully, various natural and commercial solutions are available. Also, you can either use a washer, hand wash or dry clean your clothes. For either option, we’ll give you several tips on how to get mold out of clothes.
Recognizing the Signs of Mold
The strong, foul smell is generally the most apparent indicator that tiny inhabitants have taken over your clothes. There are, however, a few more hints to identify the presence of spores:
- Stains: Although mold is often green or black, some spores can show a red or orange color. The shade depends mainly on the nutrient source, region or age of the mold (1).
- Allergies: Sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes when putting clothes on can also be a sign that foreign invaders are present (2).
- Skin rash: A reaction on your skin can occur when in direct contact with moldy clothes.
Why Remove Mold on Clothes?
The moldy odor itself is generally motivating enough to take action. When spores are only present in small amounts, the smell might not be as strong. In this case, it can be tempting to ignore its company or delay its removal.
1. Avoid Health Complications
Individuals are affected by mold differently. While some people may not show any symptoms, others might suffer from severe allergic reactions, asthma and other respiratory conditions (3).
Children are particularly sensitive to mold. Studies have shown that young kids have an increased risk of developing asthma by the age of seven when exposed to the fungi (4).
2. Prevent Expansion
You might think that mold growing on your garments is a localized issue. In reality, though, spores travel through the air, and can, therefore, spread faster and further than you may think. Your clothes might only be the entryway to your home. So it’s critical to remove the bacteria as soon as you suspect its occurrence.
Bear in mind that spores can survive and hibernate under inhospitable environmental conditions — such as sunny and dry weather. When winter or humidity arrives, they’ll thrive and expand within 24 to 48 hours (5).
3. Keep Your Clothes in Good Condition
Not only do these bacteria smell and look dreadful, they also degrade clothes made of natural fibers. As a result, over time, colors fade and fabric weakens.
How to Get Mold out of Clothes
Whichever washing technique you choose, you’ll have several options to remove mold from your clothes.
1. Washing Techniques
Are you regularly using a machine, hand wash or a dry cleaner to clean your clothes? For each technique, here is how to best remove mold.
If the infestation isn’t out of control, washing and drying the clothes might be enough. Most fungi species can be killed when exposed to water over 140-degrees Fahrenheit (6). Luckily, most machines include a “hot washing mode” reaching this temperature.
- Separate the infected clothes: As spores spread, don’t mix moldy garments with clean ones.
- Select the hottest mode: Cold or even warm water won’t affect mold (7). Ensure that the temperature won’t damage the fabric.
- Pour detergent: You can use your regular laundry detergent.
- Optional: Once the machine is filled with water, open it and add vinegar, bleach, borax or other ingredients mentioned below. If your washer comes with a front door, you’ll need to do this differently. Use the separate receptacle beside the one dedicated for the laundry detergent.
- Wash: Let your machine run for two full cycles.
- Dry your clothes: The sun is a natural fungus killer (8). Hang your wet clothes outside, under direct sunlight.
- Drier alternative: Transfer the clothes to your dryer immediately after the second cycle has ended.
If you only have one garment or towel to wash, a large bucket of hot water might be enough.
- Fill: Pour hot water into a large bowl or bucket.
- Add detergent: One cup of laundry detergent.
- Mix a natural or commercial mold remover: One or a combination of the ingredients described below can be used.
- Soak: Place the fabric inside and leave it for at least 20 minutes.
- Rinse and dry: Follow the same instructions as per machine wash.
For Strong Mold Infections
If your garments can only be dry cleaned, use a gentle brush to remove as much mold as you can. Place the clothes in a plastic bag and let a professional handle it. Make sure you inform your dry cleaner of the issue. It may also help to point out any specific mold stains you wish to remove from your fabric.
2. Natural Helpers
If keeping your home chemical-free is important to you, several natural ingredients can be used.
Borax was discovered 4,000 years ago and is a common substance used to remove mold. In contact with hot water, borax converts water molecules into hydrogen peroxide, a natural mold remover (9).
Not only is borax an efficient fungicide, but it’s also an herbicide, insecticide, and a disinfectant. Multi-purpose, it even removes bad smells. This can come in handy when trying to get rid of those smelly bacteria.
Borax, however, doesn’t mix easily with water and requires a little bit of preparation.
- Mix: In a large bowl, blend hot water with half a cup of borax.
- Dissolve: Stir slowly until it’s fully dissolved. Plain borax or a detergent containing it can be used.
- Wash: Soak your clothes for at least 20 minutes. If you’re using a washer, pour the liquid into the machine and run it for two cycles.
Baking Soda and Vinegar
Vinegar is antifungal and antimicrobial (10). Unsurprisingly, it is an efficient and natural remedy for most molds.
On the other hand, by modifying the fabric PH level, baking soda helps absorb moisture and remove smells. As a result, both ingredients work as a team in removing mold from your clothes.
- First washing cycle: Add one cup of white vinegar to your washing machine. Do not add detergent.
- Second washing cycle: Add half a cup of baking soda.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil might be one of the most efficient remedies to remove fungus and mold (11). The oil may first seem an expensive investment compared to other cleaning products. However, a small concentrated bottle will last you for many mold removal sessions.
The quality of this essential oil can dramatically differ from one brand to another. So ensure that you’re purchasing pure oil, not synthetic, and without additives. Otherwise, you could end up with other types of oily stains on your clothes.
- Mix: Combine one teaspoon of tea-tree oil with one cup of hot water. Place the mixture inside a spray bottle.
- Spray: Spray thoroughly over the cloth, inside out, and on both sides.
- Soak: Let the mixture do its magic for at least 10 minutes before washing.
- Wash: The remainder of the bottle can be poured inside your hand-wash bucket or washer.
If you’re not fond of the tea-tree odor, replace it with clove oil which is just as effective (12).
The use of hydrogen peroxide has shown excellent results in fighting fungus (13). It’s antimicrobial and a disinfectant. Generally, it’s used in low dilution — around 3 percent — to remove mold from clothing. Simply use the same application method as described for the essential oils.
3. Commercial Helpers
If you don’t have any of the ingredients above at home, the following methods can be as efficient.
Brush and Detergent
To use this method, set-up your workshop outside, or in a well-ventilated room. Remember that spores can quickly relocate to other surfaces or even inside your lungs.
- Brush: Choose one with soft bristles to avoid damaging the fabric. If you’re cleaning a small area, a toothbrush can be used instead. Try to remove as much mold as you can.
- Spray: Apply a commercial detergent or stain remover generously onto the clothes.
- Soak: Wait for 30 minutes until the liquid fully penetrates.
- Wash: Machine or hand wash with hot water.
Bleach has been recognized as an efficient solution to kill not only mold, but also its allergens (14). Because bleach only removes mold from non-porous surfaces, it’s often mixed with borax for added efficiency.
- Machine wash: Add one cup of bleach. Commercial products containing bleach can also be used.
- Hand wash: Mix the cup of bleach in a large bowl of hot water. Let the solution soak for a few hours before rinsing with regular detergent.
How to Prevent Mold on Clothes
The easiest method to remove mold on clothes remains to avoid them in the first place. Here are a few tips:
1. Dry Quickly
Don’t keep your clothes wet after washing them. Take them out of your washer right away and dry them either outside or in a dryer. The longer they stay wet — or even moist — the more likely mold will grow.
Keep in mind that mold expands wherever there’s moisture, not only in your washing machine. It can also be found on sweaty clothes, shoes or a wet swimming suit left in a plastic bag. As soon as you get home, take them out, and if you can’t wash them right away, hang them to dry.
2. Prevention Spray
Every two days, spray clothes with a mixture of tea tree oil and water, as described above. It’ll leave a fresh smell behind, for one. And, if mold spores managed to find their way inside your closet, they’d be killed before spreading.
3. Keep Moisture Levels Low
Are moldy clothes a recurring issue inside your home? Unsure of the root cause? Mold thrives when the humidity level surpasses 60 percent (15). Therefore, maintaining moisture at its minimum is key when it comes to prevention.
Keep your home and closets well ventilated. Turn on ceiling fans and open windows to let fresh air circulate. When possible, to allow better airflow, we also advise positioning your furniture a few inches away from the wall.
Remember that mold spores aren’t static. So make sure to keep your carpets clean and dry so that they don’t become a source of the invasion.
On rainy days, close all windows to keep humidity at bay.
Use a Dehumidifier
A dehumidifier is a simple and efficient way of controlling humidity levels inside your home. Place the dehumidifier near your garments. You can do this whether you’re storing your clothes in your basement or inside your room’s closet. If you need to dry your clothes indoors, position it by your drying rack.
Lastly, check your HVAC filters. Screens are typically found in any ventilation, heating or cooling system. Replace the filter every one to three months to prevent mold and allergens from accumulating and growing.
Mold is always present, both indoors and outdoors. So, maintaining a mold-free home is challenging to achieve. Keeping the bacteria’s growth under control, however, is possible.
Limit moisture by drying your clothes properly and using a dehumidifier. Ventilating and replacing air filters are also key to preventing its growth.
Various methods can be used to remove mold. Try hand washing, dry cleaning or using a machine to clean your clothes.
Borax, baking soda, tea tree oil or using hydrogen peroxide are common and natural ways of killing the spores. Alternatively, bleach and regular mold-killing detergents can also be used.