Just as on bathroom caulk, mould can grow on fabrics. Moreover, it can appear on practically any material when it gets damp or lacks ventilation. You can find it on your clothes, upholstery and even your bean bag outers if you’re not careful.
Mould is prolific because of its biological properties. These types of fungi are among the hardiest species on the planet, with some able to use bare rock as a food source, breaking it down to form soil for other plants.
As with other life forms, mould needs three things to survive: air, water and a source of food. Air and moisture are available in abundance in most homes, and so too is food in the form of certain fabrics. When the light and temperature conditions are optimal, mould can begin to grow, even on synthetics, such as polyester.
As mould grows, it sheds spores. These carry scent particles to your nostrils that smell unpleasant and can also cause allergic reactions and asthma in susceptible individuals.
Fortunately, there are several potent techniques that you can use to remove mould from your fabrics and get your home smelling great again. Here’s what you need to do:
Products For Removing Mould From Fabrics
While detergent is the obvious choice for removing mould from fabrics, there are many others. In fact, at some temperatures for some materials, certain cleaning compounds may be better than others.
Bleach is a highly effective mould killer. Combined with a detergent, it can completely rid fabrics of all microorganisms and prevent them from coming back.
Unfortunately, bleach has a downside: it causes colours to run. Therefore, only use bleach on whites or clothes with a “colourfast” label. Bleach is generally safe to use on solution-dyed fibres, such as high-energy polyester, acrylic, nylon, polypropylene and polyethylene-based fabrics.
Bleach works both as a scrubbing agent and a presoak. Therefore, you may want to soak your soiled items in bleach first to kill the mould before putting them in the wash.
Remember, bleach is a hazardous product. Ingesting it can cause serious illness so always keep it out of reach of children.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is a natural alternative to bleach that leaves clothes and upholstery smelling great after use. The oil contains plant compounds that the tea tree evolved over millions of years to prevent fungal and bacterial infections. It’s highly effective against mould, mildew and other unwanted biological contaminants.
To apply tea tree oil, fill a spray bottle with a cup of water and then apply a teaspoon of oil. Shake the bottle well and then spray on the area of the fabric you want to treat. You do not need to rinse.
Most manufacturers use chlorine-based bleach chemistry. While it is highly effective for cleaning bathrooms and killing bacteria, it can be harsh on fabrics. Therefore, some people prefer to use hydrogen peroxide-based bleaching agents instead.
Interestingly, hydrogen peroxide-based bleaches still work in the same way as conventional bleaches. Products oxidise chromophores, removing electrons from staining atoms and molecules, causing them to disintegrate. The stain isn't just removed; it’s permanently destroyed.
Distilled White Vinegar
If you’re looking for a natural cleaning product with no unwanted added chemicals, you might want to try using distilled white vinegar to remove mould stains. Research suggests that it can kill up to 82 per cent of mould species outright. As with bleach, you can apply it directly to the stain itself, or you can presoak items, making it easier for your regular detergent to remove them in the wash.
If you want to, you can go a step further and add one to two cups of vinegar to the wash. It removes stains and brightens whites at the same time.
Don’t worry about the smell. It quickly fades once you complete the washing cycle.
If you want, you can also try using household soap to remove mould from fabrics. Soap tends to be highly effective at removing mould from non-porous surfaces. However, it is not particularly effective on porous surfaces, such as clothing or beanbag cases.
To eliminate mould, you need to remove all the spores from a particular fabric. If you don’t, then the mould will simply grow back in the future once it gets the things that it needs: air, water and a source of food. Soap can remove some of the mould, but not all, allowing it to grow back in the future.
Borax is a water-soluble, natural mould-killer, available in powder form. Also called sodium borate, it’s a common booster for laundry detergents, using a combination of oxygen, sodium and boron to remove stains.
Borax is most commonly found in dry lake beds. Usually, it is what remains after all the water evaporates. It can be harmful if ingested, so always keep it out of reach of children.
Grape Seed Extract
Grape seed extract is an organic, all-purpose cleaner that you can safely use on most fabrics. Adding just a few drops to a washing bowl is enough to give the solution germicidal and fungicidal properties.
Please note, though, that if you decide to add it to your washing machine, you will need to apply more than just a few drops. A quarter of a cup should be enough for a 30-gallon cycle.
To make a grape seed extract spray, mix ten drops of grape seed extract per 250 ml (one cup) of water. Then pour it into a spray bottle capable of producing a fine mist.
Steps For Removing Mould From Fabrics
Once you find mould on your clothes or upholstery, you need to take steps to remove it. The techniques you use depend on the type of fabric and the degree of soiling. In some cases, you may want to apply preventative measures after cleaning to stop mould from returning in the future.
Check The Care Label
You likely have many different fabrics in your home, including cotton, polyester, silk, nylon, wool, velvet and spandex. Each of these requires different washing agents and temperatures. Too much heat or overly harsh chemicals can cause permanent damage.
Start by checking the garment label for care. The most common of these is the International Care Labelling System. Labels provide information in a uniform, standard way using symbols that make fabric care simple and independent of any particular language.
The International Care Labelling System uses five symbols that provide information on washing, bleaching, drying, ironing and dry cleaning. Besides each of these labels, you will find more information on what you need to do next. The symbols on the International Care Labelling System are the same as those on the European Care Labelling System.
In Australia, you may find that some garments follow the Japanese Care Labelling system. This is similar to the International Care Labelling System but provides more information on wringing and drying. Symbols combine with numbers to provide clear instructions to users. For instance, the image of a washing machine with the number “40” written inside tells customers to wash at 40 degrees (and no higher).
Some garments and fabrics require dry cleaning. In this case, you will need to take them to a professional dry cleaner. Do not use any bleaches, detergents or other cleaning compounds to remove unwanted mould.
Remove The Mould With Your Choice Of Stain Remover
The next step is to remove the mould with your choice of stain remover discussed above. For most fabrics, presoaking first works well. This process gives cleaning agents time to work their way into all of the recesses of the material.
For some tougher fabrics, using a toothbrush or other soft-bristled implement and removing the mould manually can also work. Remember, though, that this method will only remove surface spores. You will still need to put the garment in the wash.
When scrubbing the material, avoid pressing too hard. Too much abrasive action can damage the fabric and cause fibres to fray. Only scrub with approved products.
Allow The Mould To Dry In The Sun
At the beginning of this post, we said that mould needs three things to survive: water, air and food. Remove any of these, and it will die.
Putting mould out in the sun causes it to dry out. Moreover, UV rays break down the mould, causing severe damage that makes it disintegrate over time. This option is ideal for whites, but not suitable for colours as ultraviolet radiation can cause them to fade.
If leaving fabrics out in the sun is not an option, you can presoak them. Presoaking for up to an hour loosens mould stains and makes them easier for detergents to remove once you put them in the wash.
Wash At High Temperatures
Most people wash their clothes on a 30- to 40-degree cycle. However, for best results against mould, switch your machine to 50 or 60.
Be careful, though. Temperatures as high as these can damage many fabrics, causing them to shrink.
If you are concerned about temperatures, combine one of the additional cleaning agents mentioned above with your regular detergents. Doing this will kill any biologicals while, at the same time, removing any soiling.
Hang Fabric Out To Dry In The Sun
The last step is to hang the fabric out in the sun to dry. You can also use a dryer.
If you notice that mould stains are still there, repeat the above steps. In most cases, re-bleaching or using bleach instead of the other options will return the garment to its original colour.
Can Detergent Alone Remove Mould From Clothes?
In most cases, you can remove mould from clothes using detergent alone and putting the clothes through a long cycle. However, sometimes, you’ll notice that a lingering musty smell remains, even if you dry immediately after washing.
Because of this, mould removal typically requires a two-step approach: first, apply the mould-killing agent (described above), and then put the garment through the wash.
If you don’t apply white vinegar, bleach or any of the other methods mentioned above, you’ll notice that a mildew smell remains. That’s because the detergent doesn’t always kill mould spores. Most do not contain strong acids or bleaches toxic to biologicals.
Does Dry Cleaning Remove Mould?
Many garments are dry clean only, such as tuxedos, suits, and some costumes. Because of this, you can’t apply the methods discussed so far in this article to remove mould. Water and other cleaning products risk damaging the fabric and destroying it in the process.
To clean the mould away on a dry clean item, take a soft brush and remove any flaky, loose or powdered mould sitting on the surface of the fabric, disposing of it safely outside. Then take the fabric to the dry cleaner and ask them to remove the stain. They will be able to tell you straight away if they can deal with mould stains or not. In extreme situations, they may recommend that you dispose of the garment and buy a new one.
How To Get Mildew Smell Out Of Clothes
Removing mould stains from clothes is easy but, in many cases, the smell of mildew lingers on. It’s annoying and unpleasant.
Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem, too: combine vinegar and baking soda and then apply them to the fabric. These ingredients pack a one-two punch that kills any remaining biologicals while neutralising unwanted odours.
Placing garments out in the sun unprotected has the same effect. UV radiation breaks down compounds that cause bad smells, leaving clothes fresh.
If you don’t have space outside, you can use commercial laundry enhancers. These contain chemicals that react with odour-causing compounds, breaking them down into harmless, neutral-scented byproducts.
How To Work Out If Your Fabrics Have A Mould Problem
Usually, you can smell it if you have a mould problem. When you walk into your home, a musty odour greets you.
If you have good ventilation in your home, though, you might not detect it straight away. However, it could still be there. The trick here is to know what it looks like. Most species present as discoloured, fuzzy or slimy patches on the wall that grows in size over time.
Why You Should Remove Mould From Fabric
Exposure to mould can cause health problems in some people. Therefore, removing it is essential.
Tiny mould spores are everywhere in the air that we breathe. You’re probably inhaling and exhaling them right now. When concentrations are low, they don’t cause problems. However, when taken in larger volumes, they can cause health issues.
Those at the highest risk are those who already have respiratory conditions, such as asthma, emphysema, or allergies. Exposure can make these illnesses worse.
Mould can also be dangerous for people with compromised immunity. Chemotherapy patients, organ transplant recipients and people living with HIV/AIDS are all at a much higher risk.
You can often tell quite quickly if you are the victim of mould exposure. You may notice sinus and eye irritation, coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing, throat irritation, and headache. Some people experience symptoms on the outside of their bodies too in the form of skin irritation. If left untreated, it can develop into a painful rash.
How To Prevent Mould Growth On Fabrics
As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you can prevent your fabrics from becoming mouldy in the first place, you won’t have to deploy any of the cleaning methods outlined above. In this section, we run through some helpful tips to prevent mould from becoming an issue:
- Regularly check clothes you wear occasionally for mould
- Store clothes and other fabrics in a cool, dry environment with good ventilation. Keep relative humidity below 65 per cent
- Don’t throw wet or sweaty clothes into a hamper or clothes basket with other items. Instead, lay them flat or hang them out to dry first
- If you hang wet clothes indoors, make sure that you properly ventilate the space. For best results, install a fan to extract humid air from the room
- Don’t delay between washing clothes and hanging them out on the line or putting them through the dryer. Allow them to dry immediately
- Placing clothes in a tumble dryer immediately after washing will prevent mould from developing. Always check that clothes are safe for the tumble dryer
Removing mould from fabrics is surprisingly easy, once you know-how. To do so, you need a combination of a specific mould-killing agent, plus a regular detergent. When it comes to mould, though, prevention is the most effective approach. Never allow clothes to sit wet in a hot, moist environment. Instead, immediately transfer them from the washer to the dryer or line. Leaving them out overnight is long enough for mould to form. Lastly, always check that the mould removal process you want to use is suitable for the type of fabric you are cleaning. For example, bleach is great for whites but unsuitable for non-colour-fast clothes.