From Clammy to Clean: 9 Ways to Fight Mildew

Photo: perkmeup

Yech, mildew. How many shower curtains have I replaced? How many pairs of shoes or leather coats have been rendered unwearable? How many paint jobs ruined with mildew's tell-tale spots seeping through? Below are some of my favorite mildew fighters. (See also: Household Cleaning Hacks That Save You Money)

1. Externally Vented Bathroom Exhaust Fans

These are a tremendous help in drawing away one of the greatest sources of moisture in your house. In my childhood, I remember having to wipe down the mirror after a shower. A bathroom fan would have been a huge boost to our family’s bathrooms, as well as the rest of the house. When I get out of the shower now, the mirror and windows are dry. Our fan is also on a timer switch, so that no one can waste energy by forgetting to turn it off.

2. An Externally Vented Range Hood Fan

Almost every night, I cook rice, noodles, or potatoes. Boiling these dishes introduces a lot of moisture into the air. A range hood, vented to the outside, carries much of this moisture away, reducing the humidity in the entire house. Reduced humidity results in reduced mildew.

3. Ceiling Fans

When we bought our current house, we did not have a single ceiling fan. Now, we have one in each room. For circulating air and controlling the temperature in your home, they are invaluable. You can purchase them for well under $100 at home improvement centers. Not only can ceiling fans look great, but properly-sized fans keep the air moving along floors, walls, and ceilings, which is a useful weapon against mildew.

4. Dehumidifiers

Every time I plug in this appliance, I am fascinated by the sheer volume of water it collects. Dehumidifiers condense moisture from the air and hold it, lowering the humidity in a room. The collected water drips into a reservoir (unless you have your dehumidifier plumbed to drain outside). You periodically open the humidifier door and empty out the reservoir. I am always amazed at how much water is collected and how much warmer the house seems while I am running it. I usually plug it in when we have a series of rainy, high-humidity days.

Closet heaters/dehumidifiers are also great. When I first heard of these, I envisioned a bulky unit and had no idea how it would fit in my already-crowded closet. Thankfully, they are rod-shaped and mount near the floor of the closet, in the back. The rod warms up, drying and circulating the air in the closet via convective heating. I was also concerned that, being an electrical appliance, our bill would escalate. However, its cost is not even noticeable. It even keeps leather jackets and shoes dry. You have to remember to close your closet doors in order for it to effectively work, though.

5. Keeping Wet Clothes Out of Closets

Speaking of closets, never put away damp clothing in your closet — allow it to dry completely before hanging back up in an enclosed area (even with the closet heater/dehumidifier installed). This also goes for shoes.

6. Desiccant

The last time you bought shoes or electronics, you probably noticed the little packets that were in the shoebox. Usually a silica gel, they help to absorb moisture. You can purchase small packages of it to tuck into shoes or put into the corners of your closet.

7. Good Old Bleach

Once a week, I spray our shower curtains with bleach solution. For a while I had an automatic sprayer mechanism which, at the push of a button, would spray the entire shower area with a bleach solution. It was wonderful while it lasted. Alas, it gave up the ghost, and I am back to manually spraying my curtain. For really tough spots, I use Tilex, which contains bleach. It works really well. Use ventilation and gloves.

Mildew on your walls? If you are ready to paint, give your paint job a fighting chance by wiping down the walls with a bleach solution and letting it dry. (Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves and eye protection). Use a paint that contains a mildewcide, or purchase separately and add to your paint.

8. Alcohol Rubdown

If you have mildew-y leather coats or shoes, give this a try. Mix one cup rubbing alcohol and two cups of water. Dip an old washcloth into the solution. Squeeze out most of the liquid. Wipe down the coat or shoes; allow to dry. It may take a couple of applications. I have saved three leather coats using this cleaning method.

9. Cleaning

Like writer Peg Bracken, “I Hate to Housekeep.” I hate mildew more, though, and that forces me to do it. Dust, sweep, vacuum, scrub, and do your laundry.

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Meg Favreau's picture

In my old house, the kitchen would flood during any strong summer storm, so we always kept fans around to get the mop boards dry.

Does anybody else have suggestions for avoiding mildew?

Andrea Karim's picture

I am so torn on the issue of de-humidifiers. On one hand, I live in a somewhat moist climate, and I would love to be able to suck some moisture out of the air on a muggy day. On the other hand, my doctor actually told me to use a humidifier (!) next to my bed to help with my rather severe case of dry eye (how this would help me while I am alseep, I cannot tell you).

I haven't used a humidifier since I was an asthmatic kid in the desert of Eastern Washington, but I'm sort of torn on how to live comfortably in Seattle without sucking all the moisture from my body.

Oh, my tip? Avoid wall-to-wall carpeting, which catches and holds moisture, and keep your home well heated in the cooler months. Yes, I know, that's not frugal, but most apartment complexes in Seattle actually have rules about keeping your apartment at or above a given temp (65F) to avoid mildew growth.

Guest's picture

Also if you notice your clean clothes are starting to have a mildewy smell, it could be in your washer.
Start your clothes washer on a wash cycle on hot. Then add a few cups of white vinegar and stop the washing cycle. Let the vinegar set in the washer for about an hour and then finish the washing cycle.

Marla Walters's picture

Cathy, that is an excellent suggestion. Vinegar is good for so many things! Thanks for adding that one.

Guest's picture
Thrifty Writer

What comprises your bleach solution for keeping the mildew off the shower curtain? I am SO sick of having a bathtub full of black mold, however much I scrub, and the curtain also looks gross. I recently tried a paste of white vinegar and baking soda - applying it to all the mildewed surfaces, let it sit for about 1 hour, then scrubbed. Some came off, but so little. And there's no vent in the bathroom (can't install one - it's the first floor rental of a house). I do my best to remember to leave the window open post-shower - we'll see if this is still viable in the winter, when it's cold in NYC.

Guest's picture

My place is always growing mildew , spray on bleach and water in bathroom stall and change the shower curtain with a mildew resistant one , I am going to do that right now ! Have a nice winter !