Clothes that smell like mold and have a little growth on them are not something you even want to have in your home — much less wear. Your first thought might be to get rid of moldy clothes quickly, but we want to tell you there's hope. In many cases, you can get mold out of clothing with a bit of time and effort, as well as the right tools and methods. We know it's not something you're looking forward to, but we want you to focus on looking forward to wearing your favorite clothes again instead.
While we cannot mention every method under the sun (sunlight helps with mold removal, by the way), here are some of the best ways to get rid of that nasty mold on your clothing:
First things first: If you have white cotton clothing with mold in it, then you will want to start with bleach (though be safe about it). It's relatively simple to use, cheap to get and often works wonders on mold and mildew.
You may also be able to use bleach if you know your clothing can tolerate bleach despite not being white. There may also be color-safe bleach options, but we recommend you do your research when it comes to these products. If bleach is on the table, use bleach with the machine or hand washing method outlined below. If bleach isn't an option, then choose another cleaning method.
2. Machine Washing Clothes
Part of the equation in most cases is running moldy clothes through a washing machine. Fundamentally, there isn't too much difference from regular washing here, though you will likely add some additional cleaning products or detergent. Also, don't mix non-moldy and moldy clothes.
For best results, go by the following steps:
- Pick out all of the moldy clothes and place them in the wash separate from your other dirty clothes.
- Select the hottest washing mode possible for your clothes. Check the care label to determine the hottest water temperature you can use without damaging your clothes. Cold water won't have much impact on mold, so balance this with preventing color bleed or damage to your clothes.
- Place some laundry detergent in the wash as usual.
- Add bleach, vinegar or other cleaning agents you're using into the wash. The exact agents will depend on your preferences as well as the care instructions found on the garment’s tag.
- Some of the most common cleaning agents (both natural and not-so-natural) include borax, essential oils, bleach, white vinegar, lemon juice, diluted hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil and baking soda (best used in the cycle after vinegar). The exact amounts will depend on the size of your washing machine and how much clothing you're trying to clean.
- Do not use vinegar and bleach at the same time. They will react and can create toxic fumes.
- If you choose to use commercial stain removers made to eliminate mold, read the instructions carefully. Avoid using products intended for upholstery as they are often too harsh to use on regular clothing.
- We recommend running the wash for multiple cycles to deal with mold. The clothes will need it, and you want to ensure there are no spores or remnants of the mold. Be sure to add detergent and your mold remover of choice to each cycle.
- Check to see if mold is still present. You can usually check by smell. If the moldy smell is still there, do not dry them. Instead, rerun the wash cycle, perhaps after applying vinegar or baking soda this time. Do not get discouraged after just one run. Sometimes, patience is required when it comes to cleaning mold off clothes.
- Air dry your clothes in the sun if at all possible. Sunlight kills both mold and bacteria and can be great for your clothes (though be wary of color fading). If air drying is not possible, immediately transfer your clothes to the dryer and dry using the highest heat setting that’s safe for the garments you just washed. This varies depending on the type of fabric. Leaving wet clothes in the washer is the worst possible thing at this stage since it can lead to additional mold growth.
3. Hand Washing
If you are dealing with a single article of clothing or something delicate, then hand washing your clothes might be an option. Do so with the following steps:
- Put hot water into a large bowl or bucket, or you can use your sink. Use whatever will fit the moldy clothing and water with room to spare. Just ensure it's clean.
- Add some detergent. One cup will do in most cases though this may vary depending on how much water there is. Err on the side of too much rather than too little.
- After putting in the laundry detergent, add the cleaning agent, whether it's chlorine bleach, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, some essential oils or borax. The exact amount depends on the size of the bowl.
- Pre-soak the clothing for at least 10-20 minutes in the solution. After this, hand wash it as you would normally. If you need to do some scrubbing, use a soft-bristled toothbrush to avoid damaging the fabric. Rinse and dry when done, checking to see if the mold is still present. If the mold is gone, dry the garment immediately. If not, repeat the process until you have removed as much of the mold as possible.
Naturally, if you are dealing with harsher chemicals or things such as bleach, be careful. We recommend using proper gloves to protect the skin on your hands. You may also want to use this method in addition to machine washing to let the clothing soak in the cleaning solution longer.
4. Let the Professionals Handle It
Sometimes, the amount of work you'd have to put in to remove the mold is not worth handling things yourself. Plus, you risk causing serious damage if you try to remove mold yourself. Instead, it might be better to have a professional cleaning service or dry cleaner tackle the problem, especially if you are dealing with a valuable piece of clothing or something that would take a lot of work on your end. They have tools and methods you don't have access to and can handle matters much more efficiently.
Before you send it off, see how much mold you can brush off yourself (gently, though — no need to damage the clothing). Also, let the professional know what they're working with (although they are likely to notice themselves). We promise anyone worth your money will not judge, and they'll be well prepared to tackle the problem. Being upfront about the problem just allows them to avoid spreading the mold to other garments. Plus, it helps them formulate the right plan for eliminating mold.
Mold Prevention Tips
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure for laundry and mold. So here are some things you can do to prevent mold and keep this all-too-common laundry woe at bay: :
- Pay attention! A little mold is a lot easier to deal with than a lot of it. Quarantine the problem so it doesn't spread to other clothing, and act sooner rather than later.
- If your clothes get wet, make sure not to leave them all bunched up. Even if you might not wash them right away, hang them on the edge of the hamper or give them air to prevent mold from developing.
- Remove clothes from the washer and put them into the dryer (or onto the clothesline) as quickly as possible. The longer you leave your damp clothes in the dryer, the more time mold has to develop.
- Some people like to spritz their clothing with a mixture of tea tree oil and water using a spray bottle to make them smell nicer. This combo also happens to kill many mold spores and is effective at mold prevention. Tea tree oil is also a natural disinfectant. Just be careful not to use too much as the oil can cause stains on clothing when not mixed with a sufficient amount of water. We recommend using about 12 to 15 drops of oil per cup of water to ensure the best results.
- Try to store your clothes in a cool (at least relatively), dry place in your home. Make sure your closets, etc. have good airflow and pay special attention during humid summer months. Avoid storing seasonal apparel in your basement or attic unless these areas of your home have climate control.
- For the most extreme environments, investing in a dehumidifier can work wonders when it comes to preventing mold and mildew stains.
Additional Tips and Reminders
- Under no circumstances should you mix in your moldy clothes with any other garments. The last thing you want is for the mold spores to spread, potentially ruining your entire wardrobe.
- Do be safe when removing mold from your clothing. In some cases, you might be able to do some of the work outdoors or in a well-ventilated room. We encourage you to do this as well as wear protective clothing (at least gloves) if you're doing something like hand washing with bleach. It will help with both the mold (which does not agree with many people) and the cleaning agents themselves.
- Some methods or variations listed above might work better than others when it comes to your moldy garments in particular. Try multiple things before getting too discouraged.
- To help make things easier, you may be able to brush off or manually remove some of the mold from your clothing before trying one of the methods above. Be careful when you brush. Tweezers might be helpful in limited circumstances.
Some Clothes Might Not Be Salvageable
As much as all the tips above might help, sometimes clothing might be too far gone to really help. No amount of bleach or other products will save them, and it's best to consign them to their fate rather than waste products and your energy — especially if there's no sentimental value involved. Remember that dealing with mold can be dangerous, especially if you are someone who tends to be sensitive to mold or mildew. No matter how much financial or sentimental value an item has, you should never put your health in jeopardy over an article of clothing.
Alternatively, in some cases, you might just want to have a professional do it. Given the cost of such services compared to most clothes, we only recommend this in rare cases and in situations in which the value of the clothing outweighs the cost of professional cleaning.
However, we are talking about only the most extreme cases here, where clothes have been neglected for months or years. So if it's just a patch, keep on trying!
Why Is It So Important?
Some people might be ok with a bit of mold in their life. It might not be noticeable yet, or you might just tell yourself you don't care. Yet you need to get on this as soon as possible for the following reasons:
Preventing It from Spreading: Once mold shows up somewhere, it likes to spread. A tiny bit today can become an infestation next week. You need to tackle it, and without delay, if you want to save your favorite clothes from becoming an unsalvageable moldy mess.
It Can Trigger Allergies: Some people are allergic to mold, and it can cause intense reactions. You don't want to be responsible for those reactions, and you don't want anyone in your household (including yourself) to be miserable because mold is on their clothing.
It Smells Awful: You know what mold smells like, and that is a smell you want to avoid. An unpleasant moldy smell was probably the trigger that led you to this article in the first place. While you might be able to bear it, you also might be used to it. Other people notice it much more quickly, and the last thing anyone wants is to show up for work, an important meeting or a date smelling like mold.
It Looks Awful: It takes a lot of confidence to pull off the moldy clothing look, and we don't recommend trying it. You want to look your best, and even just a spot of noticeable mold ruins that. Don't ruin your confidence and give others the wrong impression by not addressing mold!
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