How to Clean Moldy Leather Clothes and Shoes

how to remove mold and mildew from leather

The Spruce

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 mildew colony, so it's important to remove mildew as soon as possible. If the problem is not addressed quickly, the growth can permanently damage leather surfaces, discolor white leather, and easily spread to other items.

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 Treatment  Clean outside 
Iron Settings Do not iron

Project Metrics

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.

Work Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours

Skill Level: Beginner

What You'll Need

Supplies

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

Tools

  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Vacuum
  • Buckets

Instructions

  1. Head Outside

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

    If the items were stored in paper storage boxes, discard those right away. If the pieces were stored in fabric storage containers, they should be washed in hot water and dried at high heat to kill the mildew spores. Plastic storage containers should be cleaned with a solution of chlorine bleach and 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 chlorine bleach/water solution. Allow the area to dry completely before using again.

  2. Kill the Spores

    In a clean container, mix equal parts plain 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 address crevices.

    Finish by wiping down with a clean cloth dipped in plain 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 to help them hold their shape. Don't use newsprint or you might get ink on your socks and feet later!

  3. Wipe Down Surfaces

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

  4. Air-Dry

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

  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 finish to a supple touch.  Follow the product instructions for use.

Storing Leather and Mildew Prevention

The keys to preventing mildew growth on leather goods are to control the temperature, airflow, and humidity where these items are stored and keeping everything as clean as possible. Mildew is a mold that loves natural products as a food source. Any leather that is stored with a food stain or mud is a target for mildew growth.

In addition to reducing moisture in your home by using a dehumidifier, waterproofing foundations or damp areas, and increasing air circulation, you can keep leather goods from becoming mildewed by inspecting them often. Twice a year when you switch wardrobes with the season, remove leather articles from their storage space and take them to a well-lit area for a close inspection.

Treating Stains on Leather Clothing Lining

If the leather item has a removable fabric lining, follow these tips to remove any mildew stains. After the lining is completely dry, treat any dark spots using a solution of oxygen-based bleach and water.

In a non-metallic container, mix two tablespoons of dry oxygen bleach (OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener or OXO Brite) with one cup water. Dab the stained areas with the solution and allow it to work for at least one hour or longer. Next, sponge the area with a clean cloth dipped in plain 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.

Tips for Removing Mold and Mildew from Leather

  • If you can detect a mildew odor after the leather items have been cleaned, airing them outside can help. You can also try putting them 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 follow specific cleaning instructions for the finish.