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What is mildew and how to deal with it

Confused about what mildew is? Wondering how to get rid of mildew & prevent it from coming back? You're not alone. Read on for helpful advice from Cleanipedia.


Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Cleanipedia Team

mildew odours: blue and white beach bag containing yellow towel and blue swimming goggles
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Key Steps:

  1. Removal: You can buy specialised mildew removers but bleach is just as effective at removing mildew. Try Domestos Bleach Spray, which is suitable for some surfaces – just read the directions on the label, and remember to always follow the safety instructions on any cleaning product, especially a strong chemical solution like bleach.

  2. Prevention: Keep a dehumidifier in the room to remove moisture and prevent mildew spores from growing. Read on for more prevention tips.

Few people are fortunate enough to never encounter mildew in their home. Mildew can grow on any organic matter, including wood, wall, and wallpaper, and is caused by humidity and moisture. During the damp winter months, when the heating goes full blast and the windows stay shut, mildew can flourish – and, as the weather warms up, humidity can help the process along. While it doesn’t look particularly pleasant and leaves behind an undesirable smell, mildew can also grow through material and cause decay if left untreated. Now that you can finally open your windows to let some sun in, there’s no better time to crack down on mildew and freshen up your home.

But in order to tackle the issue, it is important to know exactly what it is that you are up against; read on to find out what mildew is, and watch thsi short video to learn how to get rid of it!

Watch out for leaks! Mildew thrives in damp areas so as soon as you notice a water leak take immediate action to fix it – either by getting your toolbox out or calling a professional. Once the leak is fixed, run a fan to help dry the area and prevent mildew spores from growing.

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What is Mildew?

Mildew is usually a thin dusting of a black, grey, or (rarely) white growth, appearing on fabric, upholstery and occasionally walls. Mildew is a type of mould, which in turn is a category covering a very small kind of fungi. Indoors, grey-black powdery mildew is the most commonly encountered kind of growth and is easily recognisable.

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So, what is mildew doing in your home? Thriving on warm and damp surfaces, mildew particularly likes spreading across natural fabrics like cotton, linen and silk – it can also discolour leather and paper. A lack of ventilation and low lighting in a heated, humid home makes a paradise for mildew, but in general it’s most common in bathrooms and kitchens.

If you’re looking at a garment or cushion and wondering exactly what is mildew damage, and what may just be the natural decay of old fabric, mildew does have some distinctive characteristics. Check for a musty smell, change in colour, and (sadly) any areas of the fabric that mildew might have eaten away at. Mildew spores feed off the organic material they nest in, and can ruin books as well as clothing and upholstery.

Safety Warning

Use biocides safely. Always read the label and product information before use.

How to Prevent Mildew

In order to prevent mildew, you will have to prevent excess moisture – it really is as easy as that.

  • Keep indoor spaces – especially bathrooms – ventilated, and use a dehumidifier if necessary. This will certainly pay off in the long run.

  • Avoid trapping steam when you cook and bathe. Install exhaust fans in the kitchen and bath, and keep doors open to air rooms out and keep from trapping water vapour.

  • Keep your home clean – greasy surfaces are a feast for mildew, as they harbour the necessary nutrients to help it grow.

How to Get Rid of Mildew

The following guide will help you get rid of mildew on surfaces, fabric and upholstery. Just remember: whenever using a cleaning product, be sure to read the directions and test it on a small area first. Also remember to take any recommended safety precautions, and that you should never mix cleaning products.

Removing Mildew from Surfaces:

What do I use? When it comes to removing mildew, using a product with bleach is usually a good choice. Domestos Bleach Spray can be used on several different kinds of surfaces in the bathroom and kitchen – just read the directions on the label and test it in a small area first. There are also cleaners designed specifically for mildew removal that get rid of the unpleasant smell and grey growth. Just check the label to make sure that your product is appropriate for the surface you’re working on. Use gloves when handling bleach, protect your eyes, and make sure the room is well ventilated.

What do I do? Mix one part bleach to three parts water, and apply it to the affected area with a brush. Then, you can rinse it off with clean water.

Removing mildew from fabric:

What do I use? Possibly nothing. If you catch mildew spotting early, you should be able to vigorously brush it off and wash the garment on the highest temperature the fabric can manage – just check the label to make sure you’re not going to shrink or damage it.

For most serious cases, where the mildew has had time to properly embed itself in the fabric, you can use oxygen bleach – click here for our guide. Once again, check the labels of you fabric and the bleach to ensure they’re compatible.

What do I do? Following the measurements recommended on your oxygen bleach product, soak the area in a mixture of water and powder before washing the item as usual with a good quality washing detergent. Always make sure to test any solution on a small area first to avoid any damage to the fabric.

How to Get Rid of the Musty Mildew Smell

To get rid of mildew smell, use a fan rather than an air freshener. While the latter might make the unpleasant odour less noticeable, it merely covers up the smell when you should aim to get rid of it altogether. For more information on getting rid of the musty odour, check out our article on getting rid of mildew smells.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to make sure your house stays cool and dry to stop mildew from spreading and growing at all. If you remember to provide proper ventilation, avoid condensation, and apply bleach to affected areas, your house should swiftly be rid of mildew.

For more information on the ingredients in products mentioned in this tip, visit What’s in Unilever Products here.

Originally published