How to Remove Mildew Stains and Odor from Clothes and Upholstery

How to Remove Mildew Stains and Odor

The Spruce / Alison Czinkota

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 15 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hr - 2 days
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0

Mildew or mold is a live, growing organism that lives in the air that can attach to most surfaces, including fabrics leaving stains and damage. It can cause pesky stains that are difficult to remove if you don't use the correct cleaning agents. Still, you can remedy it with store-bought detergents, common household supplies, and washing in temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

The fungus can be easily identified as a patch of gray or white lying on the fabric's surface. It may also look like black or green spots, appearing almost "fuzzy" or slimy. The odor of mold or mildew is musty, pungent, and often putrid. Even if you can't see any spots or growth, the smell indicates that spores are growing, and removal treatment is needed.

Whatever type of fungus growth you see or smell, never ignore it because it can eat away at natural fibers damaging and weakening fibers and leaving stains on all kinds of clothes and fabric furniture.

Stain type Fungus
Detergent type Heavy-duty detergent, chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach
Water temperature Hot (if possible based on the fabric)
Cycle type Varies depending on the type of fabric

Before You Begin

Isolating a mold or mildew spot will be the best idea to contain the spores. Take the item outdoors to shake or brush off the spores. You don't want it to spread to the rest of your home, clothes, or fabrics.


Use a dust mask like an N95 respirator to avoid inhaling the spores. Other recommended protective gear includes gloves and goggles or eye protection.

If you have dry-clean-only items needing cleaning and use a home dry cleaning kit, treat any visible stains with the provided stain remover before adding the garment to the dryer bag.

Similarly, remove and discard the fabric and the interior padding if the mold is extensive on the upholstery. You may be able to save the wooden or metal frame of the furniture piece.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Soft bristle brush
  • N95 respirator mask
  • Cotton or plastic bag


  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Chlorine bleach (white fabric)
  • Pine oil or phenolic disinfectant (colored fabric)
  • Oxygen bleach


How to Remove Mildew Stains and Odor From Washable Clothes

  1. Brush Away Spores Outside

    To remove mold or mildew from machine-washable clothes, take the affected items outdoors to shake or brush away the spores. Remove as much of the powdery substance as possible to brush both sides of the fabric. Go outside to prevent spreading the spores inside your home, where they can continue growing.

    Green shirt with white mildew stains brushed off

    The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

  2. Spot Treat, Wash, and Disinfect

    After brushing, each spot should be pretreated with a 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. Use pine oil or phenolic disinfectant if the materials are synthetic or colored.

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

    The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

  3. Inspect Stain

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

    Green collared shirt checked for stains after soaking

    The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

  4. Soak in Oxygen Bleach Solution

    For persistent stains, use oxygen bleach by following 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. If the stain 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.

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

    The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

How to Remove Mildew Stains and Odors From Dry-Clean-Only Clothes

  1. Brush Away Spores Outside

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

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

    The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

  2. Prevent Spores From Spreading

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

    Garment placed in cotton bag before taking to dry cleaning

    The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

How to Remove Mildew Stains and Odors From Upholstery

  1. Use Anti-Mold Spray

    If the mildew stain is small and manageable, use the same cleaning solutions and techniques recommended for cleaning the carpet. Apply an anti-mold spray to the area, saturating the area. Allow it to dry completely.

    Furniture upholstery with mildew stains sprayed with anti-mold spray

    The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

  2. Spot Clean With Oxygen Bleach

    Make an oxygen bleach and water cleaning solution and apply it to the discolored upholstery. Air dry between applications. Repeat until the stains are gone.

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

    The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

Additional Tips to Remove Mildew Stains and Odor

If the stain or odor does not come out after one or two times trying these steps, continue to repeat the steps. Eventually, these methods will kill and remedy mildew stains and odor. You can also try a few other household materials for a gentler, perhaps slower, attempt at removal:

  • If you don't use bleach or pine oil to eradicate mold, you can also use hydrogen peroxide. It is less harsh than chlorine bleach. Hydrogen peroxide (3% to 10% solution) will kill mold and lighten stains. It has a bleaching effect but works more slowly than chlorine bleach, has no fumes, and leaves no residue. Test on an inconspicuous spot to ensure you don't discolor the material.
  • Distilled white vinegar is mildly acidic and can also be used to break down the structure of mold and kill it slowly. Vinegar will eliminate odor but not remove mold stains, so you might need to scrub it away using another household cleaner. 
  • Baking soda, borax, and alcohol are other household ingredients that you can use to inhibit the growth of mold and mildew—although they don't kill spores.
  • Front-load washers can sometimes develop mold in the door seal, resulting in clothes that smell bad after being washed. Mold growth is often behind the rubber door seals or within the inner washer drum. If you have a front-load washer and your laundry has developed a moldy odor, give your washer a complete cleaning and wash it regularly.

When to Call a Professional

If you're unsure if you can clean the mildewed clothing article on your own, consult a dry cleaning professional. They may give you more tips or launder the garment for you. If the item that needs cleaning is silk or vintage furniture, consult a furniture cleaning professional to preserve it safely.

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