Mold forms on clothing when the articles are left wet or damp for a day or more. This growth is especially likely in dark environments, such as when wet workout wear is tossed into a hamper and forgotten. Mildew is another form of mold-like fungus sometimes appearing on clothing, and the same techniques are used to mitigate it. Although mold is unsightly and creates a musty odor, tested methods for removing the spores exist, making the items fresh and clean once again.
Bleach kills just about anything, from bacteria to mold spores. It’s important to remember what items can be exposed to bleach, to prevent spotting and damage to colors. Bleach is preferable for use with whites; use a color-safe bleach with dyed clothing. Alternatively, soaking the article in a 1/4 cup oxygen bleach — widely used in the professional laundering industry and otherwise known as sodium perborate — and warm water for 30 minutes or more prior to washing is effective as a pre-treating measure.
From the Pantry
Baking soda is well-known for its odor-absorbing qualities, as well as being mildly abrasive. A cup of baking soda mixed in with regular laundry detergent during the wash cycle not only helps remove spores but absorbs the odor that sometimes lingers even after cleaning. Add 1/2 cup of vinegar during the rinse cycle for best results. Baking soda can be combined with standard laundry detergent to boost overall whitening, deodorizing and mold removal. Lemon juice has similar whitening and freshening properties and may be used to spot-treat moldy sections of clothing prior to laundering. Squeeze some directly on the mold spots, then rub it with your fingernail or an old toothbrush to set it in. Wash normally, repeating as necessary.
Finer fabrics and certain materials like wool do not respond well to water. Additionally, introduction of other cleaning compounds may discolor certain fabrics or change the texture. It may be time to bring these items to a good dry cleaner, making special note of the mold. Suits are good candidates for dry cleaning, as are trench coats and other apparel not suitable for the washing machine.
After working hard at removing mold spores, it’s important to understand why growth occurs. After wearing wet clothes or washing them, get them into the dryer or on an outdoor clothesline as soon as possible. The sun’s ultraviolet rays kill mold spores, so this is ideal. Note that the type or source of moisture doesn’t matter. The small extra effort needed to get wet clothes dry quickly is far easier than the effort needed to remove mold after growth.
References and ResourcesBlack Toxic Molds: How To Remove Mold From Clothes
Reader's Digest: Mildew Cleaning Solutions
Centers for Disease Control: Molds in the Environment
Boston Globe: Are Mold and Mildew the Same Thing?