How to remove mould and mildew from fabrics

Wet towels or a forgotten load of laundry can be breeding grounds for mould & mildew. This article explains how to get rid of mould & mildew stains on fabrics!

Updated 19 September 2019

Socks hanging on a washing line

Key steps

  • Pre-treat by scrubbing with a toothbrush
  • Put clothes in the washing machine on a high heat to kill the mould spores
  • Bleach, white vingear or Borax are all good as a pre-treatment or in the washing machine for mould removal

Ever found a damp sock that fell behind the bed a while ago? Or wet towels that have lurked at the bottom of the laundry bin for too long? Mould and mildew can often grow on clothes, and cotton and organic fabrics, in particular, provide a food source for mould to flourish. Thankfully, even the most unsightly mould and mildew can be removed from your clothing with the tips below.

A great way to follow up any of the mould removal tips below is to hang your clothing out to dry in the sun: sunlight is another great way to kill mould, as well as brighten your whites. Keep an eye on dark or brightly coloured clothing to prevent fading.

How to Remove Mildew From Fabric: Basic Tips

A number of different solutions can work to remove mould and mildew from clothing, but here are some general suggestions to follow.

  • Check the garment care tags first. As always, you should refer to the wash care lables before attempting to clean a garment. In particular, pay attention to the suggested water temperature to find out how hot a wash cycle you can use without damaging the fabric. Here is a comphrensive guid to wash care symbols
  • Use a clean toothbrush to scrub away at the mould. If you choose to pre-treat the stain, you can gently scrub away at the fabric with a clean toothbrush and any of the cleaning solutions below. You will still need to launder afterwards to kill the mould spores.
  • Wash at the hottest temperature possible. Hot water has the best chance of killing mould spores. With cotton and organic fabrics, you should be able to wash at quite a high temperature without damaging the fabric.

Products to Remove Mould on Clothes

Here are three solutions that have all proven effective at removing mould from fabric:

1. Bleach

A very strong chemical, bleach can be very effective at killing mould and removing mildew stains. However, it will also fade any colours, so use bleach only on whites, or test your garment first on an inconspicuous part of your clothing (such as the inside hem). Buying a commercial bleaching detergent saves you from having to mix your own bleach and water solution; but if you do decide to dilute your own neat bleach, follow the instructions on the label of your chosen product to get the concentration right.

If your clothes are colourfast, you can pre-soak the mouldy clothing for a few hours in a solution of bleach, mixed according to the instructions on the label. Alternatively, follow the instructions to add the bleach to your washing machine and launder as normal. When using bleach, be sure to wear rubber gloves and work in a well-ventilated area away from any children, as the fumes can be quite strong.

2. White Distilled Vinegar

Vinegar is an excellent mild mould-killer, and also removes mildew smells from your clothing. Mix one cup of white vinegar in a bucket of water, and pre-soak the clothing for at least an hour. Then launder in your washing machine at the hottest temperature possible with your regular detergent, such as Persil Non-Bio. Alternatively, you can directly add 250 ml of vinegar to your washing machine per cycle and wash as normal. It is essential that you do not mix vinegar with any product that contains bleach, as this can create a toxic gas.

3. Borax

This water-soluble mineral is also a natural mould-killer, which you can buy as a detergent or in powder form. If you get it as a powder, mix with water as per the instructions on the label. Then add the solution directly into the drum of your washing machine, and launder the clothes as normal.

How to Prevent Clothes from Getting Mouldy

Mould can begin to grow on clothes when left damp or wet in a pile. To avoid this you should:

  • Empty your washing machine as soon after the cycle has finished as possible.
  • Hang wet clothes to dry on the washing line, clothes rack, or radiator as soon as you take them out of the washer.
  • Alternatively, place clothes in the tumble dryer (after checking they are tumble dry safe).
  • Sweaty clothing or wet swimwear should also not be left to sit and fester. These should be hung up to dry before placing in the laundry basket.

Looking for more tips on how to remove mould and mildew in your house? Check this video to know how to make your walls mould-free!

Originally published 19 July 2018