How to Remove Mildew Stains and Odor from Clothes and Carpet

White mildew stains on green colored shirt held up

The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

Mildew, or mold, is a live growing organism that can attach to most surfaces including fabrics leaving stains and damage. The fungi can be easily identified as a patch of gray or even white fungus that is lying on the surface of the fabric. If you see black or green spots, that is mold which can appear as almost "fuzzy" or slimy. The odor of mold or mildew is pungent and often putrid. Even if you can't see any spots or growth, if an odor is present there are spores growing and treatment is needed.

Whatever type of fungus growth you see or smell, it should be removed because it can eat away at natural fibers damaging and weakening the fabric and leave stains on all types of fabric.

Washable Clothes

To remove mold or mildew from machine-washable clothes, first, take the affected items outdoors to shake or brush away the spores. Remove as much of the powdery substance as possible being sure to brush both sides of the fabric. You should go outdoors to prevent spreading the spores inside your home where they can continue to grow. Spores can also cause allergic reactions and breathing problems like asthma.

After brushing, each spot should be pretreated with a bit of heavy-duty liquid detergent (Tide or Persil contain enough enzymes to break down the stains). Allow the detergent to work for at least 15 minutes before washing the stained items in the hottest water recommended on the care label.

To disinfect the fabric and kill the spores, add chlorine bleach to the wash cycle of white 100 percent cotton fabrics. If the fabrics are synthetic or colored, use pine oil or phenolic disinfectant.

If stains remain after disinfecting the clothes or linens, oxygen bleach can be used on all types of white and colored fabrics to remove the stains. Note: Oxygen bleach will not kill mildew spores.

To use oxygen bleach, follow the package directions to mix a soaking solution. Completely submerge the stained fabric and allow it to soak for at least eight hours or overnight. Check the stain. If it is gone, wash as usual. If it remains, mix a fresh solution and repeat. It may take several soakings to remove the mold and mildew stain but it should come out.

If you have a front-load washer and your laundry has developed a moldy odor, your washer needs a complete cleaning. The mold growth is often behind the rubber door seals or within the inner washer drum and the washer should be cleaned correctly.

Green shirt with white mildew stains brushed off

The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

Heavy-duty liquid detergent spot treating mildew stains on green shirt

The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

Green shirt placed in sink and soaking in water with oxygen-based bleach solution

The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

Green collared shirt checked for stains after soaking

The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

Dry Clean Only Clothes

Fabrics labeled as dry clean only that have mildew spores should be brushed outdoors using a soft bristle brush. If the fabric is napped like velvet or faux fur, brush gently in the direction the surface should lie.

After brushing, place the garment in a cotton or plastic bag to prevent spreading the spores and immediately take the garment to a professional dry cleaner. Point out and identify the stain to your cleaner.

If you decide to use a home dry cleaning kit, be sure to treat any visible stains with the provided stain remover before adding the garment to the dryer bag.

Soft bristle brush passing over mildew spores gently on dry clean only fabric

The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

Garment placed in cotton bag before taking to dry cleaning

The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu


For small rugs or carpets that are washable, follow the instructions above.

If you have wall-to-wall carpet with extensive mildew or mold growth, the best solution is removing the carpet and the padding from the area. At that point, the moisture problem that caused the problem should be resolved. Always wear proper protective gear and breathing protection when cleaning large areas of mold and mildew.

However, if there is only a small area of mildew, you can attempt to stop the growth and remove the stains. Wearing protective breathing gear, the carpet should be pulled up around the affected area and any wet or mildewed padding removed. The carpet and floor should be dried out completely by using a fan and dehumidifier for at least 48 hours.

Next, spray the carpet with anti-mold spray. Follow the directions on the product. Make sure to completely soak the carpet on both the front and back. Spray the flooring with anti-mold spray as well. Since most anti-mold sprays should not be rinsed away, allow it to dry completely. Soap and water will not kill the spores so you must use an anti-mold product.

After the carpet has dried completely, if there are dark stains, use a solution of oxygen bleach and water to treat the discoloration on the surface of the carpet. Follow package directions and repeat until the stains are gone. Keep a fan going to be certain that everything is completely dry between steps. When everything is clean, replace the carpet padding and reinstall the carpet.

Tan carpet with mildew growth being pulled up forn affected area

The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

Tan carpet soaked with anti-mold spray

The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

Bowl with oxygen bleach and water solution soaking tan carpet with dark stains

The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu


The same cleaning solutions and techniques recommended for carpet can be used for upholstered furniture. If the mold is extensive, get rid of the fabric and the interior padding. You may be able to save the wooden or metal frame of the piece.

If the upholstery is silk or vintage or you need more stain removal tips, consult a cleaning professional.

Furniture upholstery with mildew stains sprayed with anti-mold spray

The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

Dark stains on furniture upholstery soaked with oxygen bleach and water solution

The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

Article Sources
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  1. Basic Facts About Mold and Dampness. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention