How to Clean and Care for Moldy Leather Clothes and Shoes

Brown leather shoes with cleaning implements

​The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 4 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Although they're quite luxurious, leather clothes, shoes, and accessories are prone to mildew and mold growth if stored in an area where moisture and heat levels are too high. It only takes one spore to start a colony, so it's important to remove mold as soon as possible. If the problem isn't addressed quickly, the growth can permanently damage leather surfaces, discolor white leather, and easily spread to other items.

How Often to Clean Moldy Leather Clothes and Shoes

Twice a year, when you switch wardrobes for the season, remove leather articles from storage, and take them to a brightly lit area for a close inspection to see if there is evidence of mold or mildew. If so, follow the steps below. It's a good idea to set aside at least an afternoon for mold and mildew removal, as you'll need to clean your entire storage area in addition to the affected clothing and accessories.

An infographic about removing mildew from leather

​The Spruce

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Vacuum
  • Buckets
  • Portable fan (optional)

Materials

  • Saddle soap or mild detergent
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Leather conditioner
  • Tissue paper
  • Cotton swabs
  • Clean cloths or sponges
  • Oxygen bleach (optional)

Instructions

Various materials to clean leather shoes
The Spruce / Ana Cadena
How to Clean Moldy Leather Clothes and Shoes
Detergent Saddle soap or mild detergent
Water Temperature Warm
Cycle Type Do not use washer
Dryer Cycle Type Do not use dryer
Special Treatments  Clean outside 
Iron Settings Do not iron
  1. Head Outside

    If possible, always take mildewed leather clothing and shoes outside for the initial cleaning to prevent spreading the spores in your home. Use a soft-bristled brush or a dry clean cloth to brush away the spores on your leather.

    If the items were stored in cardboard boxes, discard those right away. If they were stored in fabric storage containers, wash the containers in hot water, and dry them at a high heat to kill the mildew spores. Plastic storage containers should be cleaned with a solution of 1 cup chlorine bleach and 1 quart water and allowed to air-dry in the sun.

    The closet or area where the mildewed items were stored should be emptied of all contents and vacuumed thoroughly. Then, the walls (and floor, if not carpeted) should be wiped down with a bleach-and-water solution. Allow the area to dry completely before using again.

    Someone brushing leather shoes
    ​The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  2. Kill the Spores

    In a clean container, mix equal parts cool water and rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol). Use a clean white cloth dipped in the mixture to wipe down the leather. For shoes, use a cotton swab to clean crevices.

    Finish by wiping the leather with a clean cloth dipped in water. Allow the items to air-dry away from direct heat or sunlight. For shoes and boots, it may be beneficial to stuff them with plain white paper, such as tissue paper, to help them hold their shape. Don't use newsprint or you might get ink on your socks and feet later.

    Someone dipping a cotton swab in alcohol
    ​The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  3. Wipe Down Surfaces

    In a small plastic container or bucket, mix mild detergent or leather saddle soap with warm water. Use a clean cloth or sponge to wipe down all leather and faux leather surfaces (don't forget the insides of shoes). Use a separate cloth dipped in water to wipe away any soapy residue.

    Someone wiping leather shoes with a cloth
    ​The Spruce / Ana Cadena
  4. Air-Dry

    Hang leather clothes on a sturdy hanger to dry, or place items on a flat surface. Don't place near direct heat or in the sun. It's helpful to have a fan circulating air to speed the drying process.

    Brown leather shoes sitting on a counter with a fan
    ​The Spruce / Ana Cadena
  5. Recondition the Leather

    Leather is a natural product with oils that must be maintained or the surface may crack. Once the leather item is completely dry, use a leather conditioner to return the supple finish. Follow the product instructions for use.

    Someone reconditioning leather shoes with a sponge
    ​The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

Storing Leather Clothes and Shoes

To prevent mold and mildew growth on leather goods, control the temperature, airflow, and humidity where the items are stored, and keep everything as clean as possible. Control mold and mildew by reducing moisture in your home with a dehumidifier, waterproofing foundations or damp areas, and increasing air circulation. Mildew is a fungus that loves natural products as a food source. Any leather that's stored with a food or mud stain is a target for mildew growth.

Someone storing leather shoes in cloth bags
​The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Treating Stains on Moldy Leather Clothes and Shoes

If an item of leather clothing has a removable fabric lining, remove any mildew stains. After the lining is completely dry, treat any dark spots with a solution of oxygen bleach and water with the following method. In a non-metallic container, mix 2 tablespoons dry oxygen bleach (e.g., OxiClean, Nellie's All-Natural Oxygen Brightener, OXO Brite) with 1 cup water. Dab the stained areas with the solution, and allow it to work for at least an hour or longer. Next, sponge the area with a clean cloth dipped in water. Allow to air-dry. Be careful not to splash the solution directly on the leather because it can harm the finish. Repeat until any discoloration is removed.

If you still see mold stains on leather shoes after cleaning them, rub an equal mixture of water and rubbing alcohol onto the area with a clean cloth. Rub in a circular motion. Use another clean damp cloth to rinse the area. Let the shoe completely air-dry.

A measuring cup of oxygen bleach solution
​The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

Tips for Cleaning Moldy Leather Clothes and Shoes

  • If you detect a mildew odor after leather items have been cleaned, airing them outside can help.
  • Another way to eliminate mildew odor is to put items in a plastic container with a dry odor-absorbing product or a box of baking soda. Leave the container sealed for a week to help absorb the smell.
  • To remove mold from suede or sheepskin boots, use a soft brush to remove the visible mold and then thoroughly clean them.
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. You Can Control Mold. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention