Is there mold hiding in your clothes?

It has been one heck of a summer in the US!  More heat = more sweat, more sweat = more stinky wet clothes in the laundry hamper, and more wet clothes in the laundry hamper = more mold!   This is especially a problem with workout clothing or “outdoor work” clothing that get positively soaked with sweat.  My previous schedule of washing one time per week is not cutting it, because now I’m noticing that even after washing, my clothes are not smelling clean (I don’t use perfumed detergent).  Why can’t I get the mold out with just washing?

Mold is persistent.  Because we’ve been trained to save energy and that modern detergents and washing machines work well with cold water, I’ve basically gone to using cold water for all of my washing.  Cold water and detergent typically don’t remove mold, so after several cycles of letting them sit in my hamper, washing with cold water and drying, the smell intensified.  Something had to change!  This excellent article gives many non-toxic ways of getting rid of mold from clothing:

  1. First of all, the habit of leaving wet clothes in the hamper is not good.  If I can’t wash them right away, I need to hang them up to let the moisture dry out.
  2. If I can’t wash them right away, pretreating with a tea tree oil spray not only helps them smell better, but also kills the mold because tea tree oil is a fungicide!  Oregano Oil or Clove Oil will also work, depending on your fragrance preference.  Be sure to purchase pure oil without additives.  Here is how to make it: 
    1. Add one teaspoon of teatree oil to one cup of hot water; pour it into a spray bottle.  Shake the mixture.
    2. Spray the garment thoroughly, inside and out. 
    3. Let the mixture soak in for 10 minutes before washing.
    4. Pour the rest of the mixture into the washing machine or handwash basin.
  3. If you don’t like the smell of the essential oils (the smell does dissipate within a few hours), you can use hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle (3% dilution works well) in the same way as the essential oils. 
  4. Borax has been around a long time for good reason– it is a good disinfectant and low toxicity (just don’t ingest it, inhale the dust or get it into your eyes). (  When mixed with hot water, it turns water into hydrogen peroxide. 
    1. Mix ½ cup of Borax with hot water in a large basin, stirring slowly until its fully dissolved.
    2. Soak the clothes in the mixture for at least 20 minutes.
    3. Pour the clothes into the washing machine with the mixture and wash for 2 cycles. 
  5. Vinegar and baking soda:  You’ve probably used this powerful combination before and know that it makes a foamy cleaning agent, except this time use it in separate wash cycles.
    1. 1st cycle: add 1 cup white vinegar to the detergent dispenser, with no other detergent.
    2. 2nd cycle: add ½ cup baking soda to the detergent dispenser and finish washing.
    3. Don’t ever combine vinegar and bleach!  This combination generates toxic fumes.
  6. Closets can be perfect for growing mold, because lack of air circulation can allow moisture to accumulate in the clothes, making them the perfect food source!  We posted an article “Can I avoid mold with JUST ventilation?” and the answer turned out to be oftentimes, you can.  Here are some ways to prevent mold from taking root in the nice clean clothes in your closet:
    1. Leave the closet door open.  If you are keeping your home below 60% humidity, usually this step alone can keep the closet from smelling musty–that first telltale sign of mold.
    2. Try not to pack clothing or boxes tightly together, again because air circulation around items is necessary to keep the humidity down in the clothes. 
    3. If you cannot keep the door open, try adding small dehumidifiers:
      1. DampRid is a brand name that makes a number of desiccant products that you can hang or set on a shelf or on the floor, but there are many comparable products.  Remember that water will need to be poured off, and the chemical absorbing the water will replaced, every so often.  This chemical is usually calcium chloride, which comes prepackaged in the replaceable refills.  Alternatively, you can make your own desiccant dehumidifier by purchasing silica gel or calcium chloride at the hardware store and placing it in small plastic bowls with the tops pierced (just don’t knock them over or the liquid may spill on the floor!)
      2. Small dehumidifiers can make a big difference in closets.  You can get a model to hang on a wall, or place on a shelf (just make sure there is sufficient space above and around it for air circulation).  The condensate container in these will also need to be emptied periodically (although the unit should shut off when full) so put a little reminder on your calendar to do that.  Here are some models that won’t break the bank:
        1. Eva-Dry ($22) makes several “wireless” models, which use silica gel desiccant which must be replaced every 20-30 days. This is a good option for smaller closets (up to 333 cubic feet) without a power outlet, and larger versions are available too.
        2. Eva-Dry also makes electric dehumidifiers; this model ($27) will need to be emptied every 3-4 days but it’s ultra quiet. 
      3. Many customers know that even higher humidity areas like bathrooms and closets can be kept mold free with the Mold Guard/Germ Defender.  It’s a powerful unit that emits a dense blanket of ions that can break apart/deactivate mold spores at the cellular level.  Perfect for spaces of 100 ft2 or under, this unit requires very little maintenance and can be purchased with optional charcoal filters.

The next time you put on clothing from the clean laundry and it doesn’t smell so fresh, it’s probably not you (or your deodorant), it may be mold.  Arm yourself with some natural anti-fungals like vinegar, baking soda, teatree oil, hydrogen peroxide or borax, and banish the mold from your wardrobe!