Mold and mildew can affect many types of fabric, damaging them and in some cases ruining them completely. Unfortunately, leather is no exception to this rule, as it can become just as easily affected by mold and mildew if the circumstances are correct for it.
So, in this article, we will discuss why your leather item has grown mold in the first place, whether or not it’s dangerous, how to remove it (from multiple types of leather), and how to stop it from coming back in the future.
By the end of this article, you will have all the information you need to never have to worry about leather becoming moldy again, so keep reading.
To remove mold from leather, create a paste using baking soda and water. Spread on the affected area and wait till dry. Once dried, vacuum or wipe away to remove both the dried powder and mold residue. You can also sprinkle baking soda directly onto the mold and vacuum after 20 minutes.
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What causes mold on leather?
Mold grows on leather for the same reasons it grows on anything else. If there is plenty of moisture, a source of nutrients, a consistent temperature, and a lack of sunlight, mold will thrive.
Add on top of this that leather has a Ph of around 4.5-5.5, which is ideal for several types of mold to grow on, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for mold growth.
The vast majority of the time, (no matter what the type of leather product), storage conditions are to blame for mold growth, but as long as you keep your leather items in a dry environment (under 55% humidity), and keep them clean with consistent cleaning, mold will simply not be able to settle and grow.
Let’s take the example of mold growing on a leather chair. A leather chair stored in a front room with an open-plan kitchen within it can be subject to high levels of humidity. If you were to leave the room to go on holiday, for example, the leftover humidity in the room may well be just enough to allow mold to grow on the chair.
You may be wondering what mold could possibly use as nourishment, well, on any leather item, mold can live off microscopic organic material, such as dust, which is mostly made up of dead skin cells. So even if an item looks clean, it may still provide all the nutrients mold needs.
Is the mold on leather dangerous?
Unfortunately, molds under any circumstance have the potential to be dangerous to both humans and animals.
Certain strains of mold have the ability to produce mycotoxins as a defense mechanism whenever they are disturbed or feel threatened. These mycotoxins whether accidentally ingested or inhaled can be the cause of several health complaints, including:
- Breathing difficulties and asthma attacks
- Muscle aches
- Brain fog
In certain extreme circumstances, if people are subjected to large amounts of mold spores over a prolonged period, or if they are naturally susceptible to them, liver damage and even some cancers have been reported.
For these reasons, it is very important to make sure that if you decide to treat any mold yourself from your leather items, you wear the correct safety equipment (a list of which we will provide later in the article).
If you would like to know if the strain of mold growing on your leather item is potentially toxic before you begin to remove it yourself, you can have the mold tested. Sending a sample of the mold to a lab should get you results within 10 days.
How to remove mold on leather
The process you use to remove leather effectively and without damaging the material will be dependent on the type of leather that it has grown on.
Suede, for example, has a completely different texture to patent, they also have different levels of protection and therefore a different approach should be taken. Luckily, I have listed each type of leather below and how to effectively clean them.
To clean mold off leather you will need:
- Rubber gloves
- Breathing mask
- Eye protection
- Vacuum cleaner
- Soft-bristled brush
- Dry cloth
- Saddle soap
- Baking soda
From here on I will give you the tips you need to effectively clean mold off the different types of leather, let’s begin.
Unfinished leather (as its name would imply), has little to no protective coatings, therefore the cleaning methods used need to be delicate in order to prevent any damage from being caused.
To clean mold off unfinished leather, use the following steps:
Step 1. Vacuum
Using a vacuum, gently suck up as much of the visible mold as possible, this will prevent any mold spores from being disturbed and settling around the area the leather is being cleaned.
Step 2. Use a gentle cleaning solution
Using saddle soap, a little warm water, and a clean cloth, create a lather and gently work the soap into the affected area.
Step 3. Wipe away any soap residue
Using a cloth and clean warm water, wipe away any soap residue. Any leftover soap could cause damage if left on the material for an extended time.
Step 4. Make sure the leather is dry
After the leather has been cleaned, ensure it is as dry as possible. Any leftover moisture from cleaning can cause new areas of mold growth.
Bear in mind that unfinished leather will naturally change color in time, this is known as its “patina”, cleaning your leather may cause some slight discoloration, but avoiding harsh chemicals will limit this.
Suede leather is prone to damage from water, therefore using large amounts of liquids is best avoided to limit any damage.
In order to clean mold from suede leather, use the following steps:
Step 1. Clean the suede
Using either a soft-bristled brush or a specific suede brush, clean the affected area of any dirt debris, and the majority of the visible mold. Be sure to brush in the same direction as the natural grain of the suede, and preferably, do this outside.
Step 2. Apply a baking soda paste
Create a paste by mixing one tablespoon of baking soda and a few drops of water until you have a consistency similar to toothpaste. Apply this paste to the affected area and leave until it has fully dried.
Step 3. Remove the dried powder
After the paste has fully dried, break it up and use a vacuum to pick up any powder and mold residue. The baking powder will have got deep into the fabric, killed the mold, and will remove all traces once it is removed.
Faux leather is usually easier to clean mold from, as it has added layers of protection that materials like suede do not.
However, some harsh cleaning products such as bleach and hydrogen peroxide can still stain and damage these products, so caution should still be used.
As a result of the protective coating faux leather is given, in most cases, mold can be easily removed.
To clean mold off faux leather, use the following steps:
Step 1. Wipe the area clean
Using a clean, damp cloth, create a lather using saddle soap. The chemicals within saddle soap will still be able to effectively remove mold, but are not harsh enough to damage the leather.
Gently wipe the area affected by mold with the cloth to which you have applied the saddle soap. Make sure you work into the area to remove as much of the mold and its roots as possible.
Step 2. Wipe down
Using a damp cloth without any detergent or saddle soap, gently wipe the area clean to remove any soap and mold residue.
Step 3. Dry
Using a dry cloth, wipe over the area you have cleaned to ensure it is as dry as possible.
Before putting the item away (if clothing), make sure the item has had time to fully air dry, if the item has any moisture remaining after the cleaning process, you could find new patches of mold growing.
Nubuck leather was usually made from elk or deer hide, however, more recently it is commonly made from calfskin.
The leather is similar in texture to suede but tends to have greater detail and character as it is made from the outer layers.
In order to clean mold from Nubuck leather, use the following steps:
Step 1. Make a warm water and detergent solution
Nubuck has some slight waterproof properties, allowing for small amounts of liquids to be used to clean. However, you should try to limit the amount of water you use to prevent possible damage.
In a bowl, create a solution of warm water and dish soap (or use saddle soap).
Step 2. Work the solution using a suede brush
Specialist suede brushes are available to use to clean delicate leathers, so you can use one of these to work the saddle soap or detergent solution into the mold patch. You can also use a soft-bristled brush like a toothbrush if you don’t have one of these.
Step 3. Remove all residue
Using the suede brush or toothbrush and warm clean water, continue to work the area to remove any mold and soap residue.
Step 4. Dry
Using a dry and clean cloth, dab the area you have cleaned to make sure it is as dry as you can get it. Allow the item to dry fully before you decide to store it away again.
Patent leathers typically have a gloss coating and are often used for clothing products such as shoes.
The coatings these products have can be cleaned, but care needs to be taken to not use harsh chemicals that could once again, either stain or damage the leather and its coating.
To clean patent leather, use the following steps.
Step 1. Create a warm water detergent solution
Mix a mild detergent such as baby shampoo with warm water to create a solution.
Step 2. Remove the mold
Using a cloth, try to remove as much of the mold outside. If possible, also wear a breathing mask to avoid inhaling any of the mold spores, or do this outside to prevent mold spores from spreading through your property.
Step 3. Treat the affected area
Using a clean cloth that’s been dipped in the baby shampoo solution, gently wipe at the area where the mold was growing. You can use circular motions to remove as much of the mold’s roots as possible.
Step 4. Dry
Take a dry cloth and wipe at the area you just cleaned to remove as much moisture as possible.
For patent leather that has been heavily affected by mold, make a baking soda paste by mixing one tablespoon of baking soda with a few drops of water until the paste has the consistency of toothpaste.
Spread the paste over the affected area and leave it to fully dry. Once dried, wipe off the hardened paste. The ph of baking soda will kill the mold and lift the roots, but will not damage the leather underneath.
If you are unsure of any of the cleaning methods above, test on a small patch first to ensure there is no staining or damage to the item. The methods suggested above should be fine for the materials listed, but always check a small patch to be certain.
Which cleaners are safe to use on leather?
There are many methods you can use to clean mold from leather, but not all chemicals and cleaners can be safely used on all forms of leather. Special care must be taken when using the below products to clean mold off leather. If an inappropriate cleaner is used, you run the risk of damaging or staining the item.
Baking soda is generally well tolerated by leather, as its ph will not damage the fabric it is being placed onto. In most cases, you do not want to use too much water to clean mold off of leather, so it is best to make a paste by mixing the powder with a few drops of water until thick, then spread it on the affected area and wipe away or vacuum up the residue once dried. The mold residue will be removed with the powder.
For larger areas, you can mix a tablespoon of baking soda with two cups of water in a spray bottle. Lightly spray the affected area, leave it to dry, and wipe it off. Try to limit te amount of liquids used if possible.
Rubbing alcohol is often described as being useful to clean mold from leather. This is something that we certainly do not recommend, as the alcohol can dry out and damage the material it has been used on, leaving you with a potentially worse problem than you started with.
Baby shampoos are usually very mild detergents, so can be safely used to clean mold from your leather products. It is always worth remembering that you should try to limit the amount of water you are using to clean your leather products, so to use detergents, you are best off making a solution of warm water and detergent, dipping a clean cloth in it, wringing it out and gently working it into the leather.
Saddle soap is again a detergent that is effective at removing mold, but not harsh enough to damage the leather underneath. In most cases, saddle soap should be fine to clean mold off leather.
Take a clean cloth and dip it into warm water. Create a lather by rubbing it on the saddle soap, then gently work the soap into the affected area using a circular motion.
The soap is strong enough to remove the mold, but will not damage the leather or any of its coatings underneath.
To remove the soap and mold residue, use a clean, slightly damp cloth and wipe down the area that was worked. Remember to try to keep the amount of water you use as low as possible to prevent excess moisture from being left on the leather items.
Saddle soap often contains beeswax, so it may not be appropriate for some products, such as suede or nubuck.
How to prevent mold on leather
Like most mold prevention, stopping mold from growing on leather usually comes down to correctly storing the item.
Mold only needs moisture, nutrients, and an ambient temperature between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit in order to thrive. As long as where you store your leather items are kept dry and the items are kept clean, mold will not be able to grow.
For example, a leather jacket stored in a closet can grow mold if it is not cleaned once in a while, as the mold can feed off of dust particles on the surface. It may also become moldy if the closet it is stored in has a consistent humidity greater than 60%, so giving the jacket a wipe down every few weeks and putting some activated charcoal in the closet to absorb any excess moisture would prevent mold from growing on the jacket at all.
It goes without saying that all leather items should only be stored away when they are fully dried. For example, a leather skirt that hasn’t completely dried after being washed has the opportunity to become moldy in a matter of days if the circumstances are correct for it, so don’t rush to put things away if they are still damp, let them fully dry first. They will also contribute to the overall humidity wherever they are stored, which could lead to other items becoming moldy too.
It’s also preferable to store your leather items in a place with natural airflow. This airflow makes it difficult for mold spores to settle on your leather items, so if storing in a closet or cupboard, try to make sure it is well-vented so the air does not become stale.
Mold on leather can be bothersome, however, in many cases it can be removed fairly easily. It is only once mold has been allowed to become established that it is likely to cause any significant damage to the material. Keeping leather products clean and dry is the best way to prevent mold from growing in the first place.
What kills mold on leather?
White vinegar, baking soda, and rubbing alcohol will all kill mold that is found growing on leather products. However, it is important that you complete a patch test before applying it to the material, as some forms of leather and their finish can be damaged by vinegar and alcohol.
Can moldy leather be saved?
Leather products that have mold growing on them can be saved in most cases. For many types of leather, the mold can be removed using simple detergent, however, if the mold has been allowed to grow over several weeks or months, it may have begun to damage the surface or finish of the leather.
Does real leather get moldy?
Real leather can become moldy, just as faux leather products can. If the leather product is stored in a humid environment and is not kept clean, mold will grow quite comfortably. Leather also has a Ph level of between 4.5 and 5.5, making it comfortable for several strains of mold to grow on.
Does sunlight kill mold on leather?
Sunlight will kill mold growing on leather furniture and items such as couches and cushions. The sun’s UV rays will kill both mold and its spores on contact, however, bear in mind that direct sunlight can be quite damaging to leather products, and is known to cause dryness, cracking, and color loss.