Cleaning Moldy & Mildewed Items

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Treating mattress mildew?

March 2009

Our 4-yr-old stopped using night time pull-ups a few months ago, upon her vehement request. We take her sleepy to go pee when we go to bed, and we have a washable waterproof bed pad which seems to catch occasional night-time pees in her bed. If a little pee has got on the sheet or mattress pad, into the laundry it goes. Her other mother has a much more sensitive sense of smell than me, and remarks that she can detect a faint smell of mildew around our daughter's bed (I cannot). We are speculating that perhaps the odd pee leak has found its way down to the mattress and might have caused some mildew. If we air out the mattress on a sunny day, is there some non-toxic product you might recommend that we could spray on her upper mattress in case this hypothesis is right? (I'm also considering getting one of those zip-all-around-the-whole-mattress plastic covers to forestall future problems once alleged mildew is treated.) Kate

Probably time for a new mattress? If not I have a couple thoughts. You could mix up some bleach and water in a garden sprayer and mist it down thoroughly leaving it outside to air out a few days. This may cause discoloration and a long term bleach smell. You can also try buying a dust mite cover (if it doesn't breath)and seal the mattress inside the cover hoping to seal in the smell as well, or a plastic bag to seal out air and choke the mildew out without air. Use a vacuum to suck out as much air as possible. You might also inject some gas other than air in which mold can't survive (like Co2 from a fire extinguisher) or freon. I believe mold needs darkness, water, and air. Cut off one of those and it dies. Maybe just putting it out in the sun a few days or tie it on the roof of your car for a week flipping it every other day. Another thought is to buy an air mattress to put on top of the mattress as a topper (or a foam topper) to keep you isolated from the mildew if it is sealed in a bag or cover below. I love my air mattress on top my $1500 mattress! anon

Mildew odor in my favorite top

June 2007

I went hot tubbing at a friends and now my favorite top has a strong mildew smell that I have not been able to get rid of even after multiple washes and spraying w/ mildew remover... What do you folks suggest? I know there has to be a way. I tried airing it out in the sun, but I don't have a sunny place to hang for long (just a couple of hours depending on the weather).

You should boil it if the fabric can take it. I had some wash clothes that smelled like mildew because they had been wet too long and washing them in hot water and drying them in the dryer didn't work. Boiling killed the mildew. Also, I read that plain white vinegar works if you add it to your wash. I tried it and that seemed to work for one stubborn towel that was really thick and was too big to boil. I noticed the mildew smell came back and I don't know if that is because the vinegar didn't really work or if the towel is just to thick to dry between uses. good luck
try putting it in the microwave (that is, if there's no metal eyelets or anything in it). that's supposed to kill mildew. good luck! eyuw, hot tubbing

Mold/mildew on newspapers I'm saving

May 2007

I have a box of older newspapers and magazines that I've been keeping for historical value and some now have mold/mildew on them. Can I stop this from spreading, and if so, how? Or, is there a business that can do this? dana

Maybe try collecting those little silica containers that come with everything from shoes to vitamins, and keep those in an airtight container with the paper goods. You might also consider checking in with librarians (eg at UC Berkeley's historical libraries.)

Moldy mattress in rental house

May 2007

I have been living in a small house for 8 months (renting) and now have a very moldy mattress. I am wondering about some things.

1. Everything I have read says mold in furniture/porous things cannot be cleaned out and the stuff has to be thrown away - is it really true? It is about 65% covered with round growths - some very black - all on the bottom. What about moldy clothes and books? - throw them away too?
2. I read that mold can be very toxic - am I potentially in a dangerous situation? Is it urgent that I get rid of the mattress and other things?
3. Legal/Financial responsibilities. Is there any chance that my landlord is required to replace my damaged mattress? Would his insurance cover it?
4. Is it my fault? Over the winter I sometimes had the heat on high - no thermostat on the heating unit - and the windows got very steamy then. Now, even with some windows cracked open, the windows still steam up a bit.
A few other details - I don't think we are emitting an abnormal amount of moisture. There is usually only me and my 2 young children living here. The house is old and drafty -so I don't think it is too airtight and might let some moisture out. The walls are wet around my bed, bookcases, and shelves all on one side of the house. The owner lives in a house 10 feet away and used to live in this one - I would think he knows about the moisture, he walks by my steamed up windows and water stained curtains several times a day. But, if he did not know - would that mean that he would not have to replace the mattress? If anyone has some experience or knowledge about this either the mold part and/or the landlord/tenant part - I'd love to hear about it. worried mom

I was in this position several years ago and I would say to definitely get rid of the mattress-- when I finally realized there was mold on our boxspring and threw it away, I found that I stopped having headaches every morning and the weird smell went away. We were not able to file a claim either on our renters' insurance or our landlords' insurance and were told that our landlord was not responsible for damages, even though it was thought to have been caused by a leak in the pipe under the house. Perhaps we could have fought this, but we really didn't feel it was caused by any negligence on our landlords' part, so we just paid for the damage. On the plus side, we had a great landlord who was very diligent about trying to fix the problem and bought us a dehumidifier and even replaced our windows when the problem didn't seem to be fixed entirely by repairing the leaky pipe. I would recommend buying a dehumidifier-- they're sort of a pain, but not too expensive and so much better than mold! Formerly moldy
Many years ago our mattress became moldy but it was apparently from how we set up the bed. The mattress was on a piece of plywood that had been raised about a foot above the floor. It couldn't ''breathe'' and both the plywood and mattress became quite moldy. I learned you must place a mattress on well spaced slats, not a solid piece of wood. anon

Mildew on colored clothes

Sept 2004

I left my daughter's beautiful, but wet, dress in the hamper for too long, and now it has mildew. Does anybody know any way to clean her dress (without bleach) in oreder to remove the mildew? Dawn

I have no idea if this will work for mildew stains, but it was a miracle cure for fruit juice (blackberry) and wine stains, so it's worth a try: Mix approximately equal parts dishwashing liquid (I use Dawn) and hydrogen peroxide (the regular kind from the drugstore). Spread on the spots, wait a while (check every 10 minutes or so), and wash out. It doesn't seem to bleach like straight hydrogen peroxide, but of course, try it on an inconspicuous part of the garment first. R.K.
Try Biz (the powdered variety) - dissolve a scoopful in hot water and let it soak - go ahead and soak for SEVERAL days if necessary. That did the job for me on some really top-notch mildew stains (on the very first baby clothes I bought after I found out I was pregnant... so you know I was determined to get out those stains!). If that doesn't work, try Oxi Clean. I have less experience with that, but hear it works well for mildew. Just be sure not to run anything through the dryer until you're done - the heat of the dryer will set in stains. Sarah

Mildew in Breast Pump Tubing

Oct 2003

Kind of a nasty question -- I recently found mildew in the plastic tubing for my Pump In Style. I will replace it with fishtank tubing, that's not the problem. What I'm wondering is, does anyone have any thoughts about how to keep it from happening again? I have had real trouble getting water out of the tubes, which I'm sure is why I've got mildew (eeyuch). Sara

Hi there! I had the exact same problem with the Pump In Style tubing and this is what you do: After you finished pumping, detach the suction cups off of the tubes and keep the motor running with just the tubes on. The motor will basically suck fresh air into the tube and that will dry off any condensation left inside the tubes. It works like wonders! Amy
When this happened to us we called Medela. They said that we could boil the tubing to make it usable again and shake it out to get out as much water as we could. Then, run the pump with just the tubing to run air through it to dry it out. If you do this second part occasionally it should keep them dry and prevent future problems. L
I had the same problem, so Im very interested to hear the reason it happens. I ordered new tubing from ($4.50 + shipping--look under ''spare parts'') After that I got in the habit of running the pump for 2-3 minutes with just the tubes on it while I cleaned up. This cleared any accumulated moisture, and I never had the problem again.
To let the tubes ''dry out'', after pumping, I leave my pump on, with tubes in place, while I'm cleaning the attachments and dealing with the milk. The air that sucks into the tubes eliminates all of the condensation. This has worked well for me. I'm on my second child with the same breast pump and I haven't had to replace the tubes. Louise
I use an eyedropper with rubbing alcohol into each opening of the pump tubing, then hang dry. Also - Medela now makes a microwave steralization kit with directions for tubing. I used the microwave kit while on vacation - very handy! -Wendy Bell Wendy
I used my blow dryer on low setting. Seemed to work fine. Lori
A rep from one of the breastpump companies gives this suggestion gor cleaning tubing: pour a bit of rubbing alcohol into the tubing and then swing the tubing around to flush out the tubing. eve
I had the same problem. Now I just leave the pump going for a few minutes after disconnecting the tubes from the sheilds -- it circulates some air thru the tubes and dries out the condensation. christie
Here are the methods I have used for successfully getting rid of moisture and water in the tubing.

1. For the condensation that builds up during use - After you are done pumping open the suction up to the lowest and flip the speed up the the highest and run the pump with the horns disconected. For me, doing this whild I was packing up was long enough to get rid of the condensation.

2. For water in the tubes if you decide to wash out your old ones instead of tossing them - Hold your tubes at one and an swirl them around like a lasso... the water will move down to the ends and be flung out.

You can get mildew out of the tubes through washing with a bleach solution. You can also boil them for a few minutes to sterilize them. If you bought your pump new, you might not want to use fish tank tubing... Medela is pretty fussy about fixing pump parts if non-Medela parts are used with it. They say it voids the warranty. New tubes are pretty inexpensive. You can get them at local stores or buy them on line. Rose

Cleaning wet, moldy items from leaky garage

Jan 2003

My leaking garage left us with (now dry, but) moldy smelling suitcases. Has anyone dealt with recovering objects after flooding? Can suitcases be drycleaned? Where? Any advice for wet guitar cases, furniture, small appliances (in short, everything that can't be tossed in the wash) also welcomed. All wet in Oakland

Hi - Anything that has actual mold on it you may wish to toss, unless you can clean it with a bleach solution and then soap and water. michael

Cleaning a moldy mattress

May 2003

We need advice on how to clean our mattress, which we put on the floor to co-sleep with our baby. She has moved into her room, and when we picked up the mattress we found mold on the bottom. Is it possible to clean the mold off? Does anyone know any professional mattress cleaners? I don't want to get the outside cover dry cleaned because of the chemicals, and it is a fairly expensive mattress that we can't afford to replace right now. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

In response to this query, as discouraging as it sounds, the only answer I can give you is you just can't. Mold is very dangerous and some species common in they bay area are toxic even when dead. It is a potentially serious hazard, espcecially to your young child, and the best thing you can do is get rid of it right away. Sara

Getting Mildew out of diapers

December 2002

I was just wondering if anyone knows of a way to get mildew/mold (whichever it technically is) out of cloth. I managed to ruin half of my cloth diapers by letting them ''presoak'' for too long. I've tried vinegar and water and ammonia and water and neither worked. Also, would using ammonia be too harsh since it's a diaper and will be next to baby's sensitive skin? Or would all the ammonia wash out in the laundering process? Please help! This is even a stumper for my mom! (And I thought she knew everthing!) Thanks! Sarah

Oxyclean. It's amazing stuff. It even gets mildew out of brightly colored clothes without making them fade. You might have to use a lot and soak them for a while, but the mildew will come completely out. I regret all the things I ruined with bleach before I found Oxyclean! susan
I think I remember once having that problem with my diapers when they soaked too long as well. Since it's not sunny out, it's hard to let them dry in the hot sunshine. Aside from that, I have bleached my diapers a few times (also after a bad diaper rash that was yeast related). I am a big believer that vinegar is great at a maintenance level, but for big jobs, I always resort to bleach (or another strong equivalent). There is also the guarantee that nothing will live through that. After bleaching (gently), I wash more than once before using them (I smell to make sure that the bleach is gone). We have had no issues with our daughter's skin reacting to the daipers. The diapers have also held up just fine to the abuse (we have been using the same ones for 2 years now). As for soaking, we only soaked in the beginning, and have found that it is far easier to use a ''dry'' pail. We do the diapers about once every 4 days and they clean up fine (sometimes there are stains, but they fade). For smell control I sprinkle in some Borax occasionally. Freyja
Washing things in bleach will take mildew out. Sherri

Preventing mildew in diaper wraps

May 2000

I'm using a couple types of diaper covers: Biobottoms, which are wool, and Litewraps which are rubberized polyester or something. I can't figure out how to store them before washing them so that they don't get mildewed. I've tried putting them in a dry dirty diaper cover box without rinsing them, but there is still enough moisture that they get mildewed after two or three days while waiting to get washed. I've tried filling the diaper cover box with a non-chlorine bleach solution and soaking the covers before I wash them -- it didn't get rid of the mildew that was already there, and it turned the wool ones yellow. I really hope the answer isn't that I have to do the wash more frequently. Thanks, Alysson

we store our diaper covers in a small dry diaper pail. we do wash them about 3 times a week. we don't soak them. try not rinsing them out. just wash off the poop from the sections that are poopy and try to get the excess water out before putting them in the pail. if the wool ones are really wet i drape them over the top of the pail to dry out some before putting them in the pail. (actually, if they just had urine on them, sometimes after a day of airing out, they smell fine and don't need to be washed anyway.) hope this helps. Sternhickey
Rinse the dirty diaper wraps in the toilet. Then put them in an open bucket of cold water. It helps to fill the bucket with the non-toxic stain remover Mother's Helper or Mother's Miracle (there are others out there, I know -- it's the kind with enzymes and a very light fragrance). You can also use this bucket as a way to pre-rinse the clothing that soiled with spit-up, poop, etc. Once you have a small laundry load and depending on your tolerance for having this bucket around, throw out the water from the bucket into the toilet, wash the contents with hot water, and line dry. You may have to do laundry more often. Unfortunately, it goes with the diaper wrap turf -- at least when the baby's very young and soilding the wraps a lot. As the baby gets older, you can reduce the number of laundry loads. Jane
I have the Gerber EZ covers and the cotton covers which have one laminated side. I've never had a mildew problem with diaper covers. I did have that problem with breast milk spit up though. The towels and receiving blankets used to clean spit ups would be covered in mold after a couple of days in the hamper. So I let the towels air dry before tossing them in the hamper. It worked. I'm not exactly sure how you use the cloth diapers, some people do not use pins or use snappi claws to hold the diaper in place. If you just fold the diaper and let the cover hold it in place, the cover is probably catching a lot more pee and poop then it has to. So, if you are not pinning the cloth, I suggest you trying doing that, or maybe change the type of covers you use. The Gerber EZ covers are inexpensive and very effective. Marian
We used to soak them covered in water. But there would be a slight mildewy smell pretty often, especially if they were not COMPLETELY covered. Our best routine was to rinse them out, then put them in the diaper pail, completely covered with a solution of water and BORAX (you can get it at the drug store in the cleaning supplies section). This seemed to reduce the mildew to a minimum. Be forewarned, though that the borax is pretty hard on clothes--I found it wore our clothes prematurely when I tried to use it exclusively instead of a non-chlorine bleach. Good luck! Dawn
My ad selling wool Biobottoms in excellent condition was apparently the reason for this request. Reading through the responses I see that there are a couple of things we did that probably made a difference.

1. We never re-used a cover immediately. If a diaper had only been peed-on we hung it next to the changing table and used a clean--or dry--one. Every couple of days we washed all of them--usually based on getting poopy stuff washed asap.

2. We washed all covers and diapers every couple of days--but there were never enough for a full load. According to the cover washing dogma from Biobottoms, the agitation is less effective if the covers don't rub against something. So we always added heavy things--bath towels or bath mats.

3. We used Tide liquid. According to Proctor and Gamble, powder is better on dirt and liquid is better on grease. Breastmilk makes greasy (not dirty) poops. Also, after many questions on my part, I gleaned that using Tide (vs. Dreft--the P baby product) would be just as safe on a newborn's skin.

4. We also added Borax as a fake anti-bacterial (because we don't use bleach)--and we did a double-rinse (not to get bleach out but to get stray poop off). Did I say we have this awesome programmable hit the buttons and don't come until morning washer?

5. But here's the best laundry tip: according to Consumer Reports, Tide is great laundry detergent. The one way to boost its cleaning power is not additives--like Biz-- but to leave your clothes in the washer with the Tide for a long time--as long as overnight.

6. The best cleaner I have ever seen for already mildewed clothes is soda ash (lots of brand names).