Mildew Removal for the Eco-Conscious Cleaner

Mildew isn't normally this pretty, but you still need to know what to do with it. M.Markus [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

For mildew removal, traditional cleaning convention calls for using the strongest germ-killing solution available to mankind. This used to require lugging a smelly bottle of chlorine bleach, opening the windows for fresh air and engaging in graceful calisthenics 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 Cleveland Clinic's list of hazardous household chemicals. Because it's used so frequently, WebMD says chlorine bleach is the most common cleaner ingested by kids.

Safe alternatives for mildew cleaning

A simple 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. If you've got mildew on fabric, use strong soap and salt on the stain and place in sunlit area of the house. Keep the stain moist and repeat as necessary followed by a machine or hand wash with laundry detergent and warm water.

Tea tree oil and grapefruit seed extract are also effective at killing mold, and require only a few drops added to water in a spray bottle. Found in health food stores, these products tend to be expensive, but considering the effects of mildew on health, the cost is well worth it. Tea tree oil has a strong scent, so check it out in the store to be sure you can handle it. As with vinegar, you can add essential oils to your natural cleaning solution to mask strong odors. If you do use vinegar or tea tree oil, the odor will typically take anywhere from a few hours to a couple days to dissipate.

Another commonly found 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."

Other mildew killers

Like chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide is an oxidizing agent, sans health risks and noxious odor. It should be applied with a brush or strong scrubber directly to the mildew, scrubbed, and then allowed to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before wiping away.

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. There's one tried product available now called Mold Off. Originally formulated for the marine industry, Moldoff is chlorine- and bleach-free and works well 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. In addition, Enviromagic offers a product called Mildew Stain Away, which was available on Amazon.