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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Mildew Stains on a Lamp Shade

By Dr. Laundry August 24, 2011

Q:  I have a few mildew stains on a lamp shade. The shades cannot be immersed in water, I have to spot clean them. I have already tried a dish washing soap/water mixture to no avail as well as Oxiclean. I have heard a dishwashing soap and/or bleach might work.

A:  This sounds like quite a problem and I wish I had a more encouraging reply for you.  When cleaning an item with mildew that can’t be immersed, it becomes difficult to rinse away the detergent solution you applied.  The residue left behind will become a dirt magnet, causing stains to “reappear” in the same spot over time.  Also, there is the chance that a bleach solution will alter the color of the lampshade in addition to removing any mildew.  Keep in mind, you have a lampshade that if you can’t get clean, you will need to throw away, so you don’t have much to lose if you experiment with trying to restore it.  You could try the following:


  1. Apply a water mist to the entire surface of the lampshade until it is slightly damp (a spray bottle works well for this).

  2. Use a sponge to apply a bleach solution of ¼ cup bleach diluted in 1 gallon cool water to the entire surface of the lampshade.  To catch any drips, you should do this while working over a white towel spread out over a bleach-safe surface, like a kitchen countertop or the top of your clothes washer.

  3. Gently brush the mildew spots with a soft tooth brush.

  4. Wait 5 minutes, then quickly rinse and immediately blot dry with a few more clean towels.


It’s possible that the reason the lampshade can’t be immersed is that glue was used in its construction and the shade manufacturer wants to prevent it from dissolving.  The shape of the shade (if it’s pleated, for example) may become distorted, too, so I would only attempt a bleach treatment if you have decided you have nothing to lose.  You could also contact a fabric restoration service and see what they charge—if it’s expensive, then it could be that replacing the lampshade is actually a more cost effective option.  Good luck!

Readers – how do you go about removing stains from a lamp shade?