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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Removing Mold and Mildew

By Dr. Laundry January 8, 2009

Q. A couple of times I have left my laundry in the basket, without having dried the items completely. I now have been having trouble with mold and mildew on my clothes. How can I combat this? Also, what are your products that work best for colors? Can you give me other tips?

A. When your problem goes from an off-odor to visible black spots, then you have a much more serious problem that needs to be dealt with immediately to protect your health.

The best, most effective treatment is using a liquid bleach containing sodium hypochlorite like our Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 for whites and bleachable colors. Our color safe bleach, called Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster, is for use on colored fabrics.

So here are some tips for dealing with your problem:

  • Carefully brush away any black spots. Try and control the spores from being launched into the air and spread to other items.
  • You must get rid of the mildew/mold on the clothes/in the washer and change your wash habits to prevent the problem from recurring in the future.
  • For white clothes, wash in hot water using detergent and Clorox® Regular-Bleach1. You could also consider a short presoak (add 1/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 to a gallon of water. Immerse the garments for 5–10 minutes, then launder in hot water as mentioned above). Immediately dry or hang the items in the sun. You should do one of these liquid bleach washes as your first wash to remove any residual mildew/mold in the washer, and then again at the end after you have treated the colored clothes to prevent spreading the mold to future loads.
  • A little known fact is that a lot of colored items can also safely be bleached. You can do the quick Bleachability Test (add 2 tsp. Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 to 1/4 cup water; apply a drop on the colors in a hidden area, like inside seam; then wait 1 minute before blotting with a towel). If, after drying, there is no color change, this means it is safe to use liquid bleach on the item as described above.
  • For the colored clothes that are not bleachable, you have fewer and less effective options. Test the items (like above) to see if lemon juice can be applied. If so, apply it to the spots and spread some salt over the area. Place the items in the sun to dry, then rinse and launder. You can also try a direct application of either the Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster (wait 3–5 minutes, then wash in the warmest water recommended on the care labels). You might also try a diluted hydrogen peroxide solution on the spots, followed by laundering. You are attempting to kill the spores and remove the discoloration with these approaches.
  • After the cleaning process, it is most important to dry the clothes quickly and completely either in the dryer or hung out in the sun. Do not allow the clothes to sit in the washer or basket for an extended period of time as these are perfect condition for breeding mildew and mold. This along with the liquid bleach washes mentioned above should bring the problem under control. You will need to pay closer attention to when the clothes are coming out of the washer and get them into the drying phase ASAP.