Packing away clothes for a long time or leaving them wet in the laundry basket can lead to fungal growth on the clothing, known as mildew. In fact, any area with excessive moisture becomes susceptible to mildew growth, which can easily get transferred to your clothing. No matter how many times you wash the garment, the awful smell just doesn’t seem to budge.

Towels, linens, and clothes made of cotton and other organic fabrics can hold in moisture for a long time and, therefore, are the common breeding grounds for mildew.

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Apart from the annoying smell that gets embedded in the fabric, mildew can also pose a threat to your health. When mildew comes into contact with your skin, it can lead to a skin rash. Also, the mold spores stay suspended in the air and can cause respiratory trouble. People living in humid climates have to deal with this menace quite often.

learn how to remove mildew from clothes
Learn how to remove mildew from your clothes

However, mildew is not actually difficult to get rid of. A number of household cleaning agents can help kill the fungal growth and treat the funky smell, too.

If you have a load of forgotten damp laundry that’s now infested with mildew, use one of the methods below as a presoak to remove mold and mildew from clothes.

Note:

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  • Since different garments have different cleaning requirements in terms of water temperature, wash cycle, type of detergent, etc., do read the garment label before proceeding with any of the cleaning methods.
  • Do a patch test first on an inconspicuous part of the garment to check for any color bleeding or fading.

Method 1: Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is an effective cleaning agent and can also be used to kill mildew growth on clothes. The unstable oxygen molecule present in hydrogen peroxide oxidizes the fungus and eliminates it effectively. Food grade 3% hydrogen peroxide is also safer to use on clothes compared to other commercial disinfectants.

Note: Hydrogen peroxide is also a natural bleaching agent. Therefore, use only the mentioned quantity or it could fade your clothes.

Single-Step Method: Soak the garment in diluted hydrogen peroxide before washing it

use diluted hydrogen peroxide to remove mildew from clothes
Soak the garment in a solution of hot water and hydrogen peroxide to remove mildew
  • Fill a small tub with 2 to 3 cups of water. Use hot water if your garment label allows. The high temperature will aid in killing the fungus.
  • Mix in ½ cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide.
  • Soak the smelly garment in the solution for 15 minutes, then rinse the garment with water.
  • Launder the item like you normally do.
  • Hang it outside or in a ventilated area and let it air-dry completely.

Method 2: Bleach

Common household bleach is also a powerful disinfectant that can be used to remove mold and mildew from clothes. While bleach treats the mildew spots completely, it can also fade a colored garment. Thus, this method is best for white clothing. Also, check your garment label to ensure that it is bleach-safe. If not, stick to the other methods.

Single-Step Method: Soak the garment in diluted bleach before washing it

use a diluted bleach solution to remove mildew from clothes
Soak the garment in some water and bleach to treat the mildew spots
  • Mix ½ cup of bleach into 1 gallon of water. If the mildew smell is not too strong, you can reduce the quantity of bleach to 1 to 2 tablespoons.
  • Soak the garment in the solution for 1 hour.
  • Rinse the clothing with water and run it through a normal wash cycle.
  • Allow the clothing to air-dry completely before you put it back in the dresser or closet.

Method 3: Ammonia

Ammonia is a fairly common laundry stain remover that can also help get rid of an extremely persistent mildew smell in clothes. Since ammonia gives off powerful fumes, make sure that the area is well-ventilated before you use this cleaning agent.

Note: Never mix ammonia and bleach, as it could lead to a toxic reaction. The resultant fumes, if inhaled, can lead to severe respiratory troubles.

Single-Step Method: Soak the garment in diluted ammonia before washing it

use diluted ammonia to remove mildew from clothes
Dilute ammonia in water and soak the garment to break down the mildew stains or spots
  • Mix ⅔ cup of ammonia into 2 cups of water.
  • Soak your smelly garment in the solution for 30 minutes.
  • Rinse it with water and launder the clothing as usual.
  • Let it air-dry completely.

Method 4: Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol can also help kill mold and deodorize the garment to get the musty mildew smell out. Like other cleaning agents, you will first need to dilute the rubbing alcohol with water to prevent any damage to the fabric of your garment.

Single-Step Method: Soak the smelly garment in diluted rubbing alcohol before washing it

use diluted rubbing alcohol to remove mildew from clothes
Soak the fabric with mildew in a solution of rubbing alcohol and water
  • Mix 1 cup of rubbing alcohol and 1 cup of water in a large bowl or bucket.
  • Soak the smelly garment in the solution for 15 minutes.
  • Wash the clothing in the normal wash cycle and let it air-dry.

Method 5: Vinegar & Baking Soda

Vinegar and baking soda is a popular combo that can help eliminate almost all kinds of pathogens and can also be used to remove mold and mildew from clothes. These ingredients are safe to use and are readily available in almost every household. In fact, both vinegar and baking soda can be used together and independently for various cleaning purposes around your home.

Things you’ll need:

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things needed to remove mildew stains from clothes

  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda

Step 1. Soak the clothing in white vinegar

use white vinegar to remove mildew from clothes
Soak the musty garment in white vinegar to break down the mold spots
  • Place the smelly garment in a bowl.
  • Pour enough white vinegar over the garment so that it is completely damp.
  • Let it sit for 10 minutes.

Step 2. Apply baking soda on the soaked garment and wash it as usual

use baking soda to remove mildew from clothes
Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda over the cloth and spread it around
  • Spread out the soaked garment on a flat surface.
  • Pour baking soda on the garment and spread it around to cover the entire smelly surface.
  • Let it sit for 10 minutes. The baking soda will work as an abrasive agent to slough off the embedded fungi. It will also help neutralize the strong vinegar smell.
  • Throw the garment directly in the washer and run a complete wash cycle.
  • Hang the garment out in the sun and allow it to air-dry.

Method 6: Lemon & Salt

If you’re not a big fan of strong cleaning agents, an alternative home remedy is lemon and salt. While lemon works as an antibacterial and antifungal agent, the common salt will help slough off visible fungal patches on the fabric. Salt also acts as a natural disinfectant.

Note: Since lemon is also a bleaching agent, do a patch test first if using it on colored clothing.

Things you’ll need:

things needed to remove mildew from clothes

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  • Fresh lemon juice – ⅓ cup
  • Table salt – ⅓ cup

Step 1. Prepare a paste of lemon and salt

use salt and lemon juice to remove mildew from clothes
Mix table salt and freshly squeezed lemon juice to prepare a cleaning paste
  • Put ⅓ of a cup of table salt in a bowl.
  • Add ⅓ of a cup of fresh lemon juice.
  • Mix well until you get a runny paste.

Step 2. Scrub the mildew patches with the paste and wash the clothing as usual

apply salt-lemon paste and scrub to remove mildew from clothing
Apply the salt-lemon paste to the mildew patches and scrub
  • Apply the lemon and salt paste on the mildew patches on the garment.
  • Let it sit for 1 to 2 minutes, then use an old toothbrush to gently scrub the area.
  • Launder your clothing as you normally do, then let it air-dry.

Method 7: Borax

Borax is a safer cleaning agent when it comes to removing mildew as compared to ammonia and bleach, as it does not give off harmful fumes. It is an effective laundry booster and deodorizer. Borax is also safe to use on colored garments.

Single-Step Method: Soak the garment in a borax solution before washing it

use a borax solution to remove mildew from clothes
Mix water and borax; soak the garment in this solution to get rid of mildew
  • Put ¼ cup of borax and 1 cup of warm water in a large bowl or bucket.
  • Mix well until the borax is completely dissolved. It’s best to use warm water, as borax will clump up in cold water. However, if your garment cannot withstand warm water, let the solution cool down first.
  • Soak the garment in the solution for 30 minutes, then launder it as usual and let it air-dry.

If you have a hard water supply, you can also add 1 cup of borax to your laundry load to keep your garments clean and mildew-free.

Tips

  • Always ensure that clothes are completely dry before you fold them and store them in the dresser or hang them in the closet.
  • Drying your clothing out in the sun helps prevent mildew growth. The strong ultraviolet sun rays can effectively destroy the fungus.
  • Retrieve your clothes from the washing machine as soon as they are done. Leaving them in for too long can build up a musty smell.
  • Leave your washer open after doing your laundry. This will prevent any mildew buildup inside the machine.
  • If you live in a humid area, keep your rooms well-ventilated to avoid mildew and mold growth.
  • Keep your washing machine mold-free using vinegar and baking soda. Pour 1 to 2 cups of white vinegar in the detergent drawer. Add 1 cup of baking soda to the fabric softener section or directly into the washing drum. Run a wash cycle on the hottest setting, followed by another rinse cycle.
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