By: Licensed Mold Assessor Brad Fishbein
August 7, 2018
If you are like me you have a low-key wardrobe and are not big of fashion.
More realistic though, you are not like me and actually take pride in your appearance.
Ok, ok I’m not that bad, but this isn’t about me, this about you and how you now have these little white spots on your brand new suede shoes and leather coat.
Is it mold?
Yes, it’s very possible!
Have no fear, I am going to show you how to remove mold from clothes the right way and inform you of when you actually need to get rid of them.
It’s not as complicated as you may think either!
In this guide, we will go over:
If you suspect you may have mold on your clothes, there is only one way to be 100% sure if it is mold and what kind of mold.
You have it tested.
Here’s the problem:
You are not a mold inspector and if you want to send to sample the clothing and send it to a lab yourself, it can cost money.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be 99.9% sure you have mold on your clothes and shoes.
I want you to look at this picture and tell me what you see.
It almost looks as if somebody poured gray baby powder on that blue hat.
But that my friend is mold…
More often than not, if you see a white powdery substance on more than one item it is likely mold. This type of mold species is usually called Penicillium/Aspergillus or Cladosporium.
There are also times where the spots will be green or black, but the most common color is white.
I don’t want to get too scientific with you, but mold will typically grow on cellulose-based clothing material. That doesn’t mean mold can’t land on non-cellulose based materials.
Cellulose-based clothing that mold growth can thrive on include:
These two types of materials are very common for mold to appear on. Typically on shoes like this:
A rule of thumb you should go by is that if you have a powdery substance on more than one item of clothing in your closet, chances are it is some form of mold growth.
So you have identified what you suspected was mold on some of your clothes or shoes, now it’s time to clean it up right?
Slow down there, buddy…
First, we have to determine what caused the mold to start growing on your clothes. This is important to figure out because without knowing the source, the mold can come back.
Mold will generally grow in warm, humid and wet environments. The warm part is not a rule of thumb and I’ll explain more on that below, but it does need to be wet and humid
Let’s look at some scenarios that will cause mold grow on clothes:
Air conditioning units nowadays whether it be central air conditioning or split A/C units will work to pull moisture from the air and dehumidify the area.
If the AC system does not run, the relative humidity can increase to over 60% and that is where mold can really start to thrive.
This may not be all that big of a deal in dry places such as California or Nevada, but in some of the wet and humid states like Florida or Louisiana, the HVAC unit being left off for an extended period of time can really be a mold wish.
I can’t tell you how many times over the years, snowbirds will leave the AC unit on 80-90 Degrees for the summer to keep their electric bill low only to return to their home after the season and discover mold growing on all their clothing and furniture.
That money that they were trying to save by keeping the AC system not running wound up to them spending thousands of dollars on mold remediation.
Here’s The Thing:
I have seen many times where insurance companies will not cover this because it will be considered owner neglect.
Your HVAC thermostat has two positions: the “On” position and the “Auto” position. Well, actually it has three positions because as we discussed above, it could be turned off completely.
The “On” position means that your air conditioning unit will run continuously until it is shut off. It will not cycle when left in this position.
The “Auto” position means that you will set your AC unit to a certain temperature and once the temperature in your home reaches that milestone, it will shut off until the temperature once again rises above the threshold. At that point, the cycle will continue and it will all over again.
Here is the problem with the AC being left in the “On” position:
Cold air will continuously be blowing into the environment. This can cause condensation to start forming on surrounding building materials and contents such as clothing. This increases especially on hot and humid days.
Once some of the contents are now wet, mold spores will land on and start to grow if the material is porous.
Think about it like this:
If you are anything like me, you enjoy having it cold when going to sleep at night so you turn your air conditioning down. When you wake up in the morning, you may see condensation on windows like this
That is due to cold air being blown into the living space and it humid on the exterior.
That was just after one overnight with the HVAC blowing extremely cold. Now imagine the AC unit running like that for weeks or even months at a time.
It will just cause so much excess condensation.
In turn, it will allow mold to start growing on some contents in the unit.
This also may not be covered by insurance companies.
This is an issue that doesn’t really land in the same category as the two other situations above.
Why is that?
Because this is not really a neglected issue and may be hard to identify.
Some people are under the impression that just because it is cool in a unit it cannot be humid. That is simply not true.
The temperature can be cooling even into the 60’s but the relative humidity can be high (over 60%).
Here’s Why This Is A Problem:
Blowing cold air into a humid environment can cause condensation. So if you don’t notice the high humidity you may not discover anything is wrong until you see some white spots start to creep up on items.
Normal sized closets tend to be pretty small unless you, of course, have a larger home. The main cause of mold growing on contents can be related to a problem with ventilation.
If a closet has a door that does not have louvers on them, there may not be proper air exchange.
You can do one of two things:
Keeping the door open may not seem like a fun solution. You may not want people seeing the inside of your closet
It is the cheap solution.
Mold doesn’t have discrimination against clothes and furniture in the living room or any other areas of the home. Any area where is humid and moist mold can start growing on your contents.
I get it…
It can be super scary having mold growing on your clothes. It may be a psychological thing that because a piece of clothing may have had mold on it at one point in time it is now garbage to you.
If that’s how you feel, then that’s how you feel and unfortunately, I can’t do anything for you.
Here’s the thing:
Most of us do not have money to just start discarding our whole wardrobe.
Well, I have good news, if you can get past the mental aspect of knowing you had mold on your clothes…
For the most part, you do not have to throw your clothes out. In the mold remediation industry, we refer to items needed to be disposed as items that have classified as Condition 3. For the sake of this article since you are not a mold remediation professional I will break it down for you.
Here are the only two times it is suggested that you discard your mold damaged clothing:
If your home has been flooded and not dried out in a timely fashion chances are you will start seeing mold grow on your clothing.
There is a difference between mold on your clothes and actively growing.
An example of this would be if your home was affected by Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Most of the people’s homes were flooded and not dried out in a timely matter, therefore the clothes are not habitable anymore.
Stachybotrys is the scientific name for what the media refers to as “Black Mold”
This type of mold can produce something called mycotoxins which can affect human health. If you had a chronic leak that was unattended for an extended period of time, there is the possibility that black mold has grown.
If these mold spores have been airborne, chances are they have landed on your clothes. This can be very risky to clean, especially if somebody has an immune system that is compromised such as an infant or elderly person.
I’m not saying that you absolutely have to throw out your clothes or furniture if they are in an area of the home with black toxic mold.
Black toxic mold does not grow in short period of time which means that you likely have been dealing with a leak in that area for a long period of time. Ultimately, it is a decision only you can make.
So you determined that you do not need to get rid of clothes that have mold present on them, how exactly can you properly clean those clothes?
How do you clean the clothes to ensure that mold never comes back on the clothes?
One thing you need to know is that you can’t guarantee that mold doesn’t grow back on your clothes until you ensure the source of the mold growth has been resolved.
So if you haven’t done that yet, please re-read the sections above.
Here’s the good news:
If you resolved the source of the mold and you properly cleaned your clothes, once it’s gone, it’s gone!
Assuming that you had mold remediation performed, the first step of the “Well That Was Easy” Method should be completed by the mold abatement professional.
During remediation, the mold professional will have a special kind of Vacuum that can remove mold particles from clothes. It is called a HEPA Vacuum.
The first step is for the remediation company to go over each affected piece of clothing with the HEPA Vacuum.
The second part involves just putting the affected clothes in traditional laundry machines for two cycles with regular laundry detergent. More times than not, just by doing this will kill microorganism growth as well as kill the mold odors if present. You can also add chlorine bleach or if the clothes are not chlorine bleach you can just add oxygen bleach. The laundry machine water should be set on hot.
and that’s it!
*** Ensure to follow manufacturer label recommendations
This process involves sending clothes to the dry cleaners.
But be careful:
Not all dry cleaners know how to properly clean mold damaged clothing. There are dry cleaners that specialize in cleaning mold and smoke damaged contents.
You can put the clothes through the regular dry cleaning process, it’s not going to hurt your clothes and may very well do the trick.
Some companies go through a process called liquid carbon dioxide cleaning. It involves pressuring Carbon dioxide into a liquid and cleaning the clothes through dry cleaning with the liquid.
The process is environmentally friendly and also very effective in removing mold from clothes.
You can probably guess what this involves…
In case you are still lost, yes it involves washing your clothes with vinegar!
You really just need to add 1-2 cups of vinegar to traditional wash and it will kill most of the mold spores as well as take out the mold odor.
After you wash it one cycle with the vinegar, wash it again with just regular detergent to take out of the vinegar odor and Wa-La!
As you see, removing mold from clothes is not that difficult. Removing mold from shoes,
A little more work, but still manageable…
Shoes are made of different materials including both suede and leather. Because of this, it is not recommended that you put your shoes in the laundry machine.
So, how do you clean them?
I am going to share with you a ninja trick that I like to call The Toothbrush Shoe Method
The Toothbrush Shoe Method is one that works on just about every kind of material but I want to warn you that if you do not follow the instructions it can leave spots on Suede.
What you will need:
Take one of the cups of water and the cup of vinegar and mix them into your large empty cup. Mix the cup with a spoon for approximately a minute
Dap your toothbrush in the cup with the vinegar and water mixed. Get it wet but make sure it is not dripping.
Gently scrub the affected areas for a few minutes. Do not put too much pressure. Let the shoe sit wet for approximately one minute (don’t let it sit on suede, proceed to the next step right away)
Dampen half of the washcloth and start scrubbing off the vinegar and water from the shoe.
Dap the shoe with the dry side of the washcloth.
Repeat steps 1-5 if there is any visible evidence of mold remaining.
If you have your own tricks to removing mold from clothes or shoes, I want to hear it!
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.