Eradicating Mildew from Fabric

Advice from Dr. Laundry
Q.

How do I get mildew off sheets and towels?

A.

The best question to first ask yourself is:  are these items bleachable?  If you are not sure, you can do a quick bleachability test to check: add 2 teaspoons Clorox® Regular Bleach2 to ¼ cup water; apply a drop to a hidden part of the items; wait 1 minute then blot with a towel; no color change means the items are safe to bleach.  If that is the case, the following approaches should work:

  • At a minimum, I would wash them immediately in hot water using detergent + 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular Bleach2.
  • If the mildew is very bad, consider doing a Clorox® Regular Bleach2 soak (1/4 cup liquid bleach per gallon of cool water; soak 5-10 minutes), then wash in hot water with detergent + ¾ cup Clorox® Regular Bleach2.
  • If the mold/mildew is heavy, you may need to repeat treatment for complete stain removal.

For non-bleachable colors (or non-bleachable fabrics like wool, silk, mohair, leather, and spandex for that matter) it’s difficult to remove mold and mildew completely since the best mold and mildew removers are products with sodium hypochlorite like Clorox® Regular Bleach2.  Even so, you can try the following:

I realize testing for colorfastness on towels is difficult because there isn’t a truly “hidden” area; applying a very small drop of the bleachability test solution on one side that will not be visible when the towel hangs on a rack is about the best you can do.  It may also be worth it to let the towels fade a little with a bleach treatment if it means getting the mildew off. 

Does anyone else have mildew on their towels or sheets?  This can easily happen if they are stored in a damp and dark location.