By: Licensed Mold Assessor Brad Fishbein
February 8, 2023
If you have ever had an unfortunate humidity issue in your home, you may realize that your leather items are prone to mold growth. Whether it be your shoes, furniture, or coats, leather items always appear to be the ones to get affected the most from mold or mildew.
The reason being:
Materials used to keep leather flexible and shining is a food source for mold.
Mold spores are part of every indoor environment. They are floating around in your home as we speak. But they generally only grow on leather in an environment with a relative humidity of above 60%. More specifically, in dark, damp, and humid areas. While having mold on personal items can make you feel as if it needs to be discarded, that is not necessarily the case.
In this article, you will learn how to remove mold off leather items such as coats, couches, shoes, car seats, and more.
In some cases, leather items cannot be saved due to mold damage. Determining whether you should discard the leather contents should come down to one thing:
If your leather belongings have gotten wet by a flood in your home and it was not dried up immediately, there is a strong possibility it will not be able to be salvaged. Quickly really means within the first 24-48 hours. Time is of the essence if you would like to save leather.
And even if you can save furnishings such as leather couches from mold, the leather may be ruined regardless.
A flood is not always needed to cause unsalvageable damage to the leather. Often, if leather items are subjected to high humidity for a very long time, it can cause reprehensible damage to them. If mold is more than 1/12th of an inch in thickness on an item such as a leather boot, it's likely not only too damaged from mildew, but it's likely experienced extensive damage due to humidity, and the leather will never be the same.
While contrary to mold not being able to be salvaged if badly water damaged, if mold has grown on leather just on the surface, it can likely be cleaned. White mold on leather in small, not condensed spots is a sign that it can be cleaned. Sometimes green mold will appear inside leather shoes in light powder form and can often be returned to reasonable condition.
If you see small, not highly concentrated areas of mildew, chances are using the process below will save your leather possessions.
So, how to clean mold from leather assumes importance. There are several "treatments". Many products on the market today are dedicated entirely to remove mold from leather. However, there is a more straightforward process that uses solutions you may already have in your home. Not only is it more affordable, but you can also get great results.
It's a four steps process. And requires these supplies: 1 cup denatured alcohol. 1 cup of water. A piece of cloth.
Keep in mind that denatured alcohol is a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) so you should wear proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which should include a mask. And under no circumstances should you drink that alcohol, even if it's Saturday night!
The best way how to remove mold from leather is the following:
Step 1: Make a solution of equal parts, 1 cup denatured alcohol and 1 cup of water. Mix the two in a vessel.
Step 2: Soak a cloth in the alcohol-water solution. Once the fabric has thoroughly soaked in the solution, wring it out to the point where it's not dripping the liquid solution at all.
Step 3: Two, place the moldy leather and lay it on a flat surface. The tabletop is best. Next, gently scrub the moldy spots with the wrung-out solution-soaked cloth. Do not scrub too hard. That will be prescription for harmful treatment of the leather. Be sure not to miss any of the mold spots.
Step 4: Allow the treated leather air dry. Drying should be done out in the open, preferably outdoors or in a garage. Out under the sunlight is the best air-dry, but don't let it sit too long.
If there is still small mildew residue, repeat the entire process for assured effect and desired results.
If you have cleaned the mold off leather shoes and other items with denatured alcohol, terrific!
But if you have seen a vast improvement and not quite to the point where you want it to be, there are products that can make your previously moldy items look brand new.
There are times where the products should not be used though, as it can ruin the leather.
Saddle Soap- Saddle soap is only to be used on heavy leather items such as heavy leather couches, work boots, saddles, etc. It is not recommended that saddle soap be used on leather dress shoes because they can dehydrate the leather.
Leather Dye- Leather dye is very sensitive. Test a minimal area before applying to the entire region.
Leather Cleaner- Many vendors have products on the market today specialized for certain leather items such as leather shoe cleaner, leather couch cleaner, etc. Some of these products work better than others.
Each type of leather furnishing will react differently for mold removal. Some will be easier to clean than others.
Here is a list of items and what kind of results you should expect when cleaning off mold on the surface of leather:
The most infamous type of mold is Stachybotrys, which people refer to as black mold. Black mold tends to grow over a long period with lots of water damage. Black mold will not generally grow on leather; however, if it does, the leather items must be discarded and cannot be salvaged.If it gets to the point where black mold is actually on your items, you have a larger problem in the building. Mold on leather items will be the least of your concern.
In most cases, mold on leather is not dangerous. While it may cause allergy type issues, the more significant problem is that if mold is on some of your leather valuables, it may also be airborne within your home and indicate a larger issue is present. If you are noticing mold on leather, it may make sense to hire a licensed mold inspector to ensure you don't have a larger issue at hand.
Determining whether you should hire a mold remediation professional to remove mold from leather versus doing yourself will be a judgment call.
If you have mold on any kind of mold issue in your home, it's best to hire a professional. A professional mold abatement professional can remove mold from leather items easier and more effective than you can because they have something called HEPA vacuums. However, if you have simple mildew on a few leather objects, you should be able to hand it yourself.
So you've cleaned all your leather items, and they are looking like they are brand new.
Now you want to prevent mold from growing on it again. You must first correct the issue, which is likely humidity and/or ventilation. Fixing these issues often go hand in hand.
As stated earlier, mold tends to grow in high relative humidity above 60%. The higher the humidity, the quicker mold can start to appear on the leather. Removing relative humidity from the air can be as simple as installing a dehumidifier in the area.
While this is quite effective, it's just putting a band-aid on the issue. Emptying a dehumidifier can be a pain, and your utility bill will most certainly go up. Because mold loves dark, damp areas, ensuring your home has good natural lighting can be helpful.
Open the blinds in rooms that you generally keep closed.
If you are having mold appear on leather items in the closet, try keeping the closet door open to get sufficient airflow.
A licensed HVAC professional may need to be consulted with to discuss the airflow within the home and determine if the HVAC unit is appropriately dehumidifying.
When it comes to mold on different types of materials, the leather may be one of the first places it grows, but removing is very simple in most cases.
Ensuring you don't have a more significant issue is the real challenge.
There is more than one way to clean mold off leather, but whichever process you use, be sure to use safe solutions that won't affect the leather.
Meet the author: Brad Fishbein is an ACAC council-certified Microbial Investigator. In the fall of 2012, he became a Licensed Mold Assessor in the State of Florida through the Department of Business & Professional Regulation. Brad has helped homeowners with over 5,000 successfully completed Mold Inspections since 2009.