Mildew appears as a white -- or sometimes black -- outgrowth of mold colonies that have settled onto damp tiles, painted surfaces or fabrics. In most cases, it can be eradicated with the aid of some common household cleansers. Some varieties of mildew, however, will require more aggressive treatment with commercial mildewcides which include ingredients that may be harmful to humans. For most families, it's best to battle mildew problems with the less harmful and less expensive remediation products first before resorting to a commercial product.
The best mildew remediation products for clothing may already be in your laundry room. Pairing ordinary chlorine bleach with your regular laundry detergent is an effective first step in stopping the growth of mildew in machine-washable fabrics. Set the washing machine for hot water washing, then tumble-dry the fabric items or hang them outside to dry in the sunshine. If the fabrics are not bleach-safe, use a borax detergent booster in the hot water cycle. Mildew can be removed from carpeting and upholstered fabrics by mixing borax with hot water and spraying directly to the affected surfaces.
Floors and Walls
Bathroom floors and shower stalls are frequently affected by mildew. Chlorine bleach will not only kill the underlying mold but also helps lift the moldy residue off these nonporous surfaces. Other cleaning products that are effective for this use include white vinegar, borax and ammonia. None of these chemicals is 100 percent effective against all varieties of mildew and mold, however. If the mildew returns within days of one chemical's use, try again with a different chemical.
Hardware stores and home centers offer some more robust chemical mildew remediation products. Many brands contain chlorine bleach with a masking fragrance as their active ingredient but at a much higher price than laundry-grade bleach. Others may list a variety of ethanol compounds, caustics and trisodium phosphate, with silicates used as an abrasive. Many of these chemicals require a warning advisory on the label. Products labeled as "Environmentally Safe" usually contain some mix of citrus extracts and tea tree oil.
Stronger mildew remediation products are only available to professional mold abatement specialists for projects where gentler chemicals proved unsuccessful. Professional products may contain quaternary ammonium chloride (quat), an EPA-registered mildewcide that has been tested and proved effective against virtually every type of mold. As it happens, a chemically similar version of quat is tough enough to render pressure-treated lumber mildew-resistant for 10 or more years.
- Environmental Working Group: EWG's 2012 Guide To Healthy Cleaning
- Housekeeping Channel: What's the Difference Between Mold and Mildew: Dr. Thad Godish, Ph.D.
- University of Minnesota Extension: How to Remove Mildew: Diane Corrin
- University of Missouri Extension: How to Prevent and Remove Mildew: Wanda Eubank
- Paint and Coatings: Breaking The Mold; Tamela Adamson-McMullen
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images