Leather’s worst enemy is moisture. Wet or damp leather can lead to mold, mildew and difficult to remove stains. Mold and mildew will grow on leather items if they are kept in dark and damp spaces. If a favorite purse, leather jacket, coat, car seat or couch gets infested with mildew, don’t panic, we have some simple procedures to get rid of mildew on leather.
Mold can carry some serious health risks for some individuals. I may be advisable to simply through away some mold infested items rather than trying to rescue them. This is particularly important if items have been in contact with black water or sewage. Please refer to our article Water Damage Repair for more advise on health risks from water damage.
Cleaning mold from leather
Before undertaking any cleaning process, it is essential to understand that not all types of leather are the same, nor do they require the same approach to cleaning. Some leathers are smooth and shiny; others are soft with natural textures . General cleaning tips may share similarities, but unique stains can mean that a different cleaning process is warranted.
Most importantly, read the manufacturer’s label that came with the product. They know the type of leather you purchased and how best to care for it. Stores that sell leather products often sell leather cleaning kits. Many of these products are very effective, just be sure that the ingredients on the product do not contain any water based cleaning agents. Some products have fungicidal agents to deal with mold removal specifically. If you no longer have the instructions, there are general tips that can work on most types of leather. It may be advisable to test the cleaning procedure first on a less seen area of your product.
The first step is to remove loose mold with a soft bristle brush. Do this outdoors, if possible, to prevent scattering mildew spores in the house. Thoroughly wash the brush before re-using. Run a vacuum cleaner attachment over the surface of the leather and fabric panels to draw out more of the mold. The mold spores are being drawn into the the vacuum cleaner, so if the vacuum has a disposable bag, remove and dispose of it immediately. Otherwise empty it carefully (preferably outdoors) to avoid scattering mold spores in the house.
Next, dry the leather in the sun and air or use an electric heater and a fan to carry away moist air.
Use a clean, damp, soft cloth or sponge to remove the surface mildew. When the rag is dirty, get a clean one. Reusing the rag or simply rinsing it out in the same bucket of water will continue to spread the mold spores. Clean the rags with bleach when you’re finished or throw them away.
How to remove mold/mildew from finished leather
On finished leather (leather with a topically applied pigment coating) you can actually use a little soap and water for a light overall cleaning. This technique calls for a mild soap, such as dish washing liquid with a ratio of one part soap to five parts water. Sponge lightly with thick suds of soap and wipe with a clean damp cloth. In doing this, avoid getting the leather wet with excessive amounts of moisture. Do not use this strategy unless you are sure the leather has a finish on it. In all cases, do a test in a non-obvious area of your leather to ensure that the suds will not darken, stain or discolor the leather.
Another soap and water technique that works best on finished leather uses moisturizing bath soap like Dove on a damp cloth that has been worked into a light lather. Without making the leather too wet, rub the lather on the product. Then take a fresh, damp cloth and wipe off the lather. Follow this by polishing the leather with a dry towel. Let it dry completely before applying a leather conditioner.
How to remove mold/mildew from unfinished leather
For unfinished leather, a damp cloth or sponge can be used with saddle soap rubbed into the item. Finish with a leather preservative product like mink oil.
To keep leather soft mix one part white vinegar with two parts linseed oil. Shake in a covered container. Apply to the leather with a soft cloth and then let dry for at least 12 hours, then buff. This solution may be stored and used again.
Extra Care with Leather furniture
If you have cushions with zipper access, and you suspect the fungi or bacteria have migrated into the internals of the cushion, remove the cushion cores and treat accordingly, or replace with new.
If mold has grown into the inner part of your furniture frame, open the underside dust cover, then dry and air out the internals as best as possible. You may need to send it to a reliable disinfecting and fumigating service. Such services are often listed under “Exterminating and Fumigating” or “Mold Remediation” services in the yellow pages of the telephone directory. If they have an “ozone chamber,” have them put your furniture into the chamber for at least 48 hours.
Store your leather items wrapped in an acid free tissue paper. This will help slow down the oil oxidation process.
Keep leather away from UV light. If in display cases, try using a film that shields UV or lights that have covers to reduce UV.
Keep the humidity around 50%. Do not let the humidity go above 70%. Leather will mold at 70% humidity and above. Storage of leather in conditions where the humidity is below 30% will dry out the leather over time.