Finding patches of mold growing on fabrics such as towels or bed sheets is a frustrating experience. Why has it grown in the first place, is it dangerous, how can you remove it, and importantly, how can you stop it from happening again?
In this article, I will be answering all these questions and a whole lot more, so if you want to know everything you need about mold on fabrics and clothes, keep reading.
To remove mold stains from fabrics, apply undiluted white (distilled) vinegar to the affected area, and if necessary, work into the fabric with a soft-bristled brush (such as a toothbrush). Leave the vinegar to sit for ten minutes, then place it into a high-heat washing machine cycle with detergent.
Why is mold growing on your fabrics?
Before I get into the specifics of why you may have found mold growing on fabrics in your home, I should explain what mold needs to live in the first place.
Mold is a fungus, and because of this it does not need sunlight in order to live, instead, it only needs three things, a source of moisture, nutrients, and an ambient temperature, usually between 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
If any fabric is not allowed to dry properly, the residue moisture can be just enough for mold to live off. Should the fabric also be left in a dark place, such as a wardrobe or closet, any sources of organic material such as dust will be perfect for mold to use as a good source.
Finally, once damp fabrics are stored away, they are usually kept at a temperature range between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, as this is the most common temperature range for American households to have their thermostats set to. As soon as the humidity levels within the room the fabric or clothes are in reach greater than 55%, mold and mildew will grow rapidly. In order to keep check of the ambient humidity levels in your home, you can place hygrometers through several rooms.
These small alarm-clock-sized units will constantly measure the moisture levels in whichever room they are placed, allowing you to know when doors and windows need to be opened to increase airflow, or if additional measures may need to be taken.
Can mold be washed out of clothes?
Yes, mold can be washed out of fabrics and clothes, however, if it is well-established, it may leave a stain that needs to be treated specifically.
In order to wash mold out of clothes using detergent alone, use the following steps:
Step 1. Vacuum off any visible mold
Before you put the clothes into the wash, it’s best to remove as much of the mold as possible. The easiest way to do this is to use a vacuum cleaner to suck up the larger clumps. Make sure you use the vacuum to carefully move over the area with mold, if you are too aggressive, you run the risk of disturbing the mold and spreading its spores further.
Step 2. Pre-soak the cloth
Make a solution of warm water and detergent in a large bucket or in a bathtub and place the clothes in, then let it soak for up to an hour. This should be long enough for the detergent to work on the stain and begin to lift it.
Step 3. Run it through a washing machine cycle
Check the instructions on the clothes you are washing to ensure you do not damage or spoil the material and run it through the recommended wash cycle.
Step 4. Allow to completely dry before storing
Remember that excess moisture on clothes is one of the most likely causes of mold growth. To ensure that mold does not begin to grow once again, make sure the clothes have completely dried before you store them away.
How to remove well-established mildew from cloth
Mold can be tough to remove from fabrics if it has been allowed to grow for several days or weeks, its roots will become deeply embedded, and after a short time, the mold can also cause stains which can be difficult to remove with detergent alone.
In order to completely remove and kill mold growing on fabrics, use the following steps:
Step 1. Vacuum away the mold
Before attempting to remove any mold stains, use a vacuum to gently suck up the majority of the mold. This will prevent the spores from spreading throughout your home. To be extra careful, you can also complete this step outside your property.
Step 2. Apply a baking soda paste
Baking soda is great for not only killing mold but also for lifting the stains it often causes. Create a paste of baking powder by mixing one tablespoon of powder with a few drops of water.
Spread the paste over the affected area and if there is already a stain, work the paste into the fabric using a toothbrush.
Leave the baking soda paste to work on the area for at least 10-15 minutes, but preferably until it has completely dried.
Step 3. Run the cloth through a wash cycle
Place the fabric item in the washing machine with detergent and run on a high-heat cycle to kill all residue mold, be sure to check the washing instructions beforehand to ensure it will not damage the item.
If you want to be absolutely certain you have killed all the mold on the item, you can also add a cup of white distilled vinegar to the machine.
*Do not be tempted to add vinegar and bleach together, as this can be highly dangerous as it can create a poisonous gas.
Step 4. Leave the item to air-dry
One of the key factors to ensuring that mold does not grow again is to make sure the item is completely dry before being stored.
Sunlight is also an excellent mold killer, as the sun’s UV rays will kill mold and its spores on contact. So, if at all possible, if you can hang the washed fabric in direct sunlight to dry, you will have done everything possible to kill the mold and prevent it from coming back.
How to prevent fungi growth on clothes
The easiest way to prevent mold from growing on clothes is to keep it as dry as possible. As soon as the clothing is cleaned, you should allow it to air dry, preferably in direct sunlight. Storing clothes in dark locations where there is excess moisture is a surefire way to encourage mold growth, so instead, store it in a dry location such as an airing cupboard.
Keeping items clean is another way to prevent mold growth, as previously mentioned, mold feeds off organic matter, so even dust and debris that accumulate over time can act as a source of nutrients. Washing clothing as intended by the manufacturer will take away these nutrients, and mold will not be able to grow.
Can moldy clothing make you sick?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is a resounding, yes, mold on fabrics and clothes can make you sick.
Some strains of mold have the ability to create mycotoxins as a defense mechanism whenever they feel threatened.
In the short term and in low doses, most people would not be harmed by mycotoxin exposure, but people sensitive to the spores, or with weakened immune systems can suffer from symptoms.
If exposed to mycotoxins over the long term, and or in larger quantities, symptoms are much more likely to present themselves. Common symptoms of mycotoxin exposure are:
- Fatigue (In rare cases)
- Skin irritation
These are some of the less serious symptoms, but again, for those sensitive to the spores, or with compromised immune systems, mycotoxin exposure over the longer term has been shown to cause liver damage and some forms of cancer.
Does vinegar kill it?
Yes, vinegar is very effective at killing mold and its spores on fabrics. Distilled white vinegar has less of an odor, so it’s better to use than other vinegar such as malt.
In order to kill mildew using vinegar, make a solution of one cup of white distilled vinegar to three cups of water, and dab it onto the affected area. Leave the vinegar to work on the mold patch for at least ten minutes to make sure it is completely dead.
You can then place the fabric or clothing item into a washing machine cycle to remove any mold and vinegar residue. For more established mold, you can add several cups of undiluted vinegar to a washing machine and place the fabric item in for one cycle.
Be careful to test a small area of the clothing that you are looking to clean to make sure that it will not damage the item you are looking to clean. For example, seatbelts should not be cleaned with vinegar, as the acidity of the vinegar can damage the belt, making it less efficient.
What else kills spores on cloth?
When it comes down to what products can actually kill mildew on fabrics and clothes, there are plenty of options to choose from, each with its own pros and cons.
The most popular and common products that can kill mold on clothing are as follows:
- Tea tree oil
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Washing detergents
- Baking soda
Whilst these products may be able to kill mold, it is always best to test a small patch of the material before committing to using the product to kill larger mold patches. Some of these products contain powerful chemicals that can either damage or stain clothes, so make sure the item won’t be ruined first, before trying to treat mildew with it.
Does bleach kill fungi?
Yes, chlorine bleach will kill mold, however, bleach is made up of several chemicals, including sodium hypochlorite, sodium hydroxide, hydrogen peroxide, and calcium hypochlorite. These are powerful disinfectant chemicals, and they also have the power to stain and damage certain fabrics.
As mentioned above, bleach is an excellent way to kill mold, but you should check on a small patch of the moldy clothing you are treating to see if it stains. Some of the fabrics that are not negatively affected by using bleach to clean them are as follows:
As you can see from this list, fabrics like wool or cotton that have mildew stains should not be treated with bleach or they are likely to be damaged.
How do you get fungi out of fabric that can’t be washed?
One of the most effective methods to fight mold and its stains from fabrics that can not be washed is to use baking soda, as no washing detergent should be required at all. Once applied, the powder will begin to rapidly oxidize which will not only break down the cells of the mold (essentially dissolving it) but also lift the stain from deep within the fabric.
There are no strong chemicals being used either, so the risk of damaging the fabric by using baking soda is minimal.
To remove mold and its stains from fabrics that cannot be washed, use the following steps:
- Create a thick paste using one tablespoon of baking soda to a few drops of water.
- Apply the paste to any of the affected areas. For areas affected by deeply established mold, gently work the paste into the area using a soft-bristled brush, such as an old toothbrush.
- Leave the paste to dry completely.
- Once fully dried, vacuum off the powder residue and the mold with it.
How long does it take for fungi to grow on laundry?
Unfortunately, clothes mold is quite the opportunist and if the conditions are correct, will begin to grow incredibly quickly.
For example, if clean laundry is taken out of the dryer on a Friday afternoon and is left in an area where it could not dry properly, and there are sources of nutrients such as dead skin cells, mold could begin to grow in as little as 24-48 hours, with patches of mold becoming visible to the naked eye within only a few days.
Mold growing on fabrics can damage the item over time. The faster the mold is noticed and removed, the less chance there is of permanent damage being caused. Distilled vinegar is an excellent way of both killing and removing mold, however, bleach should be avoided on most non-white fabrics, as it could cause staining to the item.