For mildew removal, convention calls for using the strongest germ-killing solution available. This used to require lugging a smelly bottle of chlorine bleach, opening the windows for fresh air and engaging in various contortions to avoid getting the stuff on your clothing.
Aside from the noxious smell and the risk to your clothing, chlorine bleach can cause harm to bodily organs, including skin and eyes, and adversely affect the respiratory system. It typically takes more than just the occasional interaction to produce symptoms, but considering the potential risk, and with plenty of natural, non-toxic alternatives, there’s no reason to use bleach to remove mildew.
Parents should also be aware that cleaning supplies — namely bleach and other strong chemicals — are included in the top 10 list of hazardous household items. Because it is used so frequently, chlorine bleach is the most common cleaner ingested by kids. Interestingly, mold removal experts advise against using bleach as it may just take the color from the mold and not reduce its toxicity.
Mold and mildew are natural byproducts of summer. That doesn’t mean that you want to share your house with the spores, however. Rather than turning to harsh chemicals, such as bleach or borax, to banish mold, there are eco-friendly, natural ways to kill mold at home that won’t hurt your family, pets or the environment.
Non Toxic Mold and Mildew Removal
Vinegar: Though you can dilute it with water to cut the pungent scent, vinegar works best as a mold-killer when it’s sprayed straight up from a bottle onto the offending area. Leave on for a few hours, then scrub the mold with a brush. If the vinegar smell bothers you, add a few drops of essential oil, but otherwise, know that the powerful scent will be gone when you return from running errands or going to work. Studies have shown that white vinegar kills 82 percent of mold spores, as well as viruses and bacteria. Vinegar also can prevent mold if you spray it on surfaces and leave it to dry.
Vinegar and Borax: A solution of one-half cup vinegar and one-half cup borax in a spray bottle or on a sponge will work wonders at getting rid of mildew in the bath or shower.
Hydrogen peroxide: Another effective product for attacking mildew is hydrogen peroxide, typically sold in formulas of three to five percent, and used for a host of reasons in many households. These solutions contain a small percentage of hydrogen peroxide mixed with a large amount of water, as higher concentrations can be corrosive and irritating. According to the EPA, hydrogen peroxide is a known disinfectant that “breaks down rapidly in the environment to oxygen and water, and is not expected to cause adverse effects to humans or the environment when users follow label directions.” Spray hydrogen peroxide from a bottle onto the moldy surface and leave on for about 10 minutes. Scrub clean, then wipe with a damp cloth to remove residual mold spores. You can also use hydrogen peroxide and vinegar together, and then store the bottle in a dark area (as light breaks down the potency of the hydrogen peroxide).
Baking soda: Used with vinegar and water or alone with water, baking soda is effective at removing mold naturally. Dissolve baking soda into water or water-and-vinegar solution, and spray onto surface. Let it sit, then scrub and wipe with a damp cloth. Baking soda is a natural disinfectant and very mild, so this solution will clean mold without leaving behind a scent.
Tea tree oil solution: Tea tree oil, though effective as a natural mold remover, is more expensive than some other eco-friendly remedies, but just two teaspoons of tea tree oil mixed with two cups of water can last you a while. Spray the solution onto the mold spores but do not rinse. This broad spectrum fungicide does have a strong smell, which usually dissipates within days, so use the following recipe on moldy ceilings, musty bureaus and rugs or moldy showers.
Citrus seed extract and water: Unlike vinegar and tea tree oil, citrus seed extract (such as grapefruit) does not have an odor. Dilute about 20 drops of extract with 2 cups of water, mix in a spray bottle and spray onto the mold. As with the other solutions, do not rinse.
Lemon Juice and Salt: When garments are stained with mildew, make a paste of lemon juice and salt and rub it on the affected area, then dry the clothes in sunlight. Repeat the process until the stain is gone. This works well for rust stains on clothes too.
Commercial Mildew Killers
If you’ve had a hard time finding borax or want to purchase something ready to use, there are a limited number of commercial, eco-friendly products designed specifically to remove mildew. Some of the more popular eco-conscious cleaning product manufacturers haven’t found a solution that works for them, so it may be a while before you can buy a Seventh Generation, Ecover or Method mildew cleaner.
Thankfully, there’s a product available now called Moldoff. Originally formulated for the marine industry, Moldoff is chlorine and bleach-free and works fantastically to fight mold and mildew without scrubbing. It’s safe on a variety of surfaces, including wood, painted surfaces and clothing, and retards future mildew growth. Enviromagic offers a product called Mildew Stain Away.
How do you prevent mold naturally? Wipe damp surfaces frequently, run a cool mist humidifier, spray vinegar onto damp surfaces such as showers when you’re through, and, above all, be vigilant about leaks. Mold is natural, but in the house, not so much.