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How to Remove Mold From Clothes

Updated
Don’t let mold take over your clothes and home.

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 wet 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 the clearest 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 mold’s nutrient source, region, or age (1).
  • Allergies: Sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes when putting clothes on can also signify 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. The smell might not be as strong when spores are only present in small amounts. 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 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 More Mold Growth

You might think that mold growing on your garments is a localized issue. In reality, 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 removing the bacteria is critical as soon as you suspect its occurrence.

Bear in mind that spores can survive and hibernate under inhospitable 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, but 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 to wash clothes? Do you prefer to hand wash? Maybe you visit the dry cleaners. For each technique, here is how to best remove mold.

Machine-Wash

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).

  1. Separate the infected clothes: As spores spread, don’t mix moldy garments with clean ones.
  2. Select the hottest mode: Cold or warm water won’t affect mold (7). Ensure that the temperature won’t damage the fabric.
  3. Pour detergent: You can use your regular laundry detergent.
  4. Optional: Once the machine is filled with water, open it and add bleach, vinegar, Borax, or other ingredients mentioned below. For front-loading machines, use the separate receptacle beside the one dedicated for the laundry detergent.
  5. Wash: Let your machine run for two full cycles.
  6. Dry your clothes: The sun is a natural fungus killer (8). Hang your wet clothes outside under direct sunlight.
  7. Drier alternative: Transfer the clothes to your dryer immediately after the second cycle has ended.

Warning

If the smell remains after washing, do not dry as spores are still present. Try soaking your clothes in vinegar or baking soda for 20 minutes and wash again.

Hand-Wash

If you only have one garment or towel to wash, a large bucket of hot water might be enough.

  1. Fill: Pour hot water into a large bowl or bucket.
  2. Add detergent: One cup of laundry detergent.
  3. Mix a natural or commercial mold remover: One or a combination of the ingredients described below can be used.
  4. Soak: Place the fabric inside and leave it for at least 20 minutes.
  5. Rinse and dry: Follow the same instructions as per machine wash.

For Strong Mold Infections

Use hand-washing alongside the washer. Let the mixture soak through the fabric for 20 minutes to an hour before starting your machine load.

Dry Cleaning

If your garments can only be dry cleaned, use a gentle brush to remove as much mold as possible. 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, you can try several natural cleaners.

Borax

In contact with hot water, Borax converts water molecules into hydrogen peroxide, a natural mold remover (9).

Not only is Borax an efficient fungicide, it even removes bad smells.

Borax, however, doesn’t mix easily with water and requires a little preparation.

  1. Mix: In a large bowl, blend hot water with half a cup of Borax.
  2. Dissolve: Stir slowly until it’s fully dissolved. You can use plain Borax or a detergent containing it.
  3. 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.

Caution

Borax can irritate eyes and is toxic when ingested.

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.

Caution

Do not combine vinegar and bleach. This combination can create poisonous fumes.

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 you’re purchasing pure oil, not synthetic, and without additives. Otherwise, you could end up with other types of oily stains on your clothes.

  1. Mix: Combine one teaspoon of tea tree oil with one cup of hot water. Place the mixture inside a spray bottle.
  2. Spray: Spray thoroughly over the cloth, inside out, and on both sides.
  3. Soak: Let the mixture do its magic for at least 10 minutes before washing.
  4. 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).

Warning

The smell can be overpowering at first but will dissipate within a few hours after washing. Keep the bottle away from children and pets.

Hydrogen Peroxide

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 three 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.

  1. Brush: Choose one with soft bristles to avoid damaging the fabric. If you’re cleaning a small area, use a toothbrush instead. Try to remove as much mold as you can.
  2. Spray: Apply a commercial detergent or stain remover generously onto the clothes.
  3. Soak: Wait for 30 minutes until the liquid fully penetrates.
  4. Wash: Machine or hand wash with hot water.

Using Bleach

Bleach has been recognized as an efficient solution to kill mold and 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. You can also use commercial products containing bleach.
  • 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.

Warning

This is only suitable when washing white clothes. Colored clothes can discolor or fade. Check the care label and avoid if you read “do not bleach.

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 immediately and dry them 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.

Good Ventilation

Keep your home and closets well ventilated. Turn on ceiling fans and open windows to let fresh air circulate. We also advise positioning your furniture a few inches away from the wall to allow better airflow.

Remember that mold spores aren’t static. So make sure to keep your carpets clean and dry, so 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.

Check Filters

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.


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About the Author

Amy Anthony

Amy is a stay-at-home-mom, seasoned writer, and a home cleaning and organization aficionado. Amy enjoys having an absolutely spotless home and has worked hard to develop strategies to keep it that way, despite having 2 kids and 3 dogs!