8 Products to Kill Mold and Mildew in Your Home
Here are great options for mold and mildew removal. Plus, the mistakes to avoid when cleaning mold and mildew so it doesn't come back.
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How to get rid of mold and mildew
No one enjoys cleaning out a clogged drain or a damp basement, but nothing is worse than reaching out your hand only to come back covered with black slime. Fortunately, this substance—usually mold or mildew—isn’t always as bad as it looks.
Mildew is an extremely common type of household mold that grows in moist places. Here’s everything you need to know about what it is, how it grows, how to clean it, and how to prevent it from coming back.
What is mold and mildew?
Mold is any species of microscopic fungus that grows in the form of tiny threads or multicellular filaments, called hyphae. Mildew is a nonscientific word used to describe that particular type of mold you find on surfaces in your house.
It’s generally nontoxic, grows in a flat pattern, is black or dark-colored, slick in texture, and may have a musty odor. Mold can appear in many different colors, including black, red, pink, gray, and green. It may have a musty or otherwise unpleasant odor.
There are more than 100,000 types of mold, but many people use “mildew” and “mold” interchangeably when talking about cleaning gunk in their home.
How mold and mildew can hurt your health
Most mold and mildew is nontoxic to humans and animals, but it can still affect your health, says Purvi Parikh, MD, allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network and a clinical assistant professor in the departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine.
Mildew can be very slippery, so when it grows on surfaces like shower floors, the sides of the bathtub, or on the sidewalk, it can lead to dangerous slips and falls.
Falling in areas with hard surfaces can cause many injuries like scrapes, cuts, bruises, broken bones, and concussions.
An allergic reaction is the most common health problem people experience with mildew, according to Dr. Parikh. This can be chronic or acute.
Chronic allergy symptoms may include sneezing, a runny nose, or a cough. An acute allergic reaction may present with hives, rashes, or anaphylactic shock—a serious condition that causes the airways to close and requires immediate emergency medical help.
Mildew is a very common environmental allergen, and most allergists include molds in standard allergy testing.
(Try these ways to get rid of mold if you have an allergy.)
It’s less common, but even people who aren’t allergic to mold may experience irritation from coming into contact with mildew, Dr. Parikh says.
Symptoms of mildew irritation include watery eyes, a scratchy throat, itchy skin, runny nose, and irritation in the lungs. The irritation can exacerbate existing conditions like COPD and asthma.
(Here’s what happens if you eat mold.)
The majority of asthma is allergic, which is triggered by indoor and outdoor allergens, including mold and mildew, Dr. Parikh says.
Uncontrolled asthma can have serious and even life-threatening consequences. Keeping asthma under control requires identifying which substances are triggering your attacks and finding ways to remove or avoid those triggers, she says.
This means people with asthma need to be particularly vigilant about preventing and cleaning mold and mildew.
Some mold species contain mycotoxins, substances that are toxic to humans on their own. “Black mold” is the most well-known toxic mold, but usually mildew is not a sign of black mold.
However, toxic molds should not be taken lightly, so if you are unsure whether a patch of mold is toxic, you should have it professionally tested.
Where you’ll find mold and mildew in your home
Mold and mildew must have some type of moisture to grow, and they thrive in moist areas with low airflow.
They grow best in warmer areas, between 60° F and 85° F and generally can’t grow if the air is below 40° F, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Mold and mildew can grow on any type of organic matter, including common household items like food, clothing, leather, paper, drywall, and wallpaper.
The most common places to find mold and mildew are damp and warm. These include:
- showers and tubs
- sinks, particularly the drains
- other surfaces of the bathroom like the walls, ceiling, countertops, inside cabinets, on shower curtains
- tile grout
- under or around the kitchen sink
- inside appliances that use water like dishwashers, washing machines, sump pumps, and air conditioning units
If you have leaks, flooding, or other issues with moisture management in your home, you may find mold or mildew in or on your ceilings, walls, doors, and floors. Moist areas with low airflow—like your basement or shower—are where mold thrives.
This is not an exhaustive list; molds are incredibly adaptable, and given the right conditions, mildew can grow almost anywhere.
It’s been found inside bath toys, water bottles, toothbrushes, face scrubbers, and even on cleaning supplies themselves, like on sponges and inside cleaning spray bottles.
How to prevent mold and mildew
In a word: dry. Step one in dealing with mildew, especially if it recurs, is to find the source of the moisture and eliminate it. “Moisture control is mold control,” as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) puts it.
Plug leaks, fix plumbing, remove standing water, air out carpets, install weather stripping, improve drainage around your home, and seal anywhere water is seeping into your home.
In rooms where dampness is unavoidable—like bathrooms and basements—open windows, turn on fans, or use a dehumidifier to lower the moisture in the air. (These are the best air purifiers for mold.)
If you live in an area with high humidity, you may want to consider ways to increase ventilation and lower the humidity in your home overall, like installing a whole-house dehumidifying system or putting in larger windows to allow for more airflow.
The dos and don’ts of cleaning mold and mildew at home
Mold spores are everywhere, all around us, so unless you live in the desert and never use water, mold and mildew will happen.
Don’t panic; while it can be really gross to look at it, it’s fairly easy to clean, especially if you catch it early, says Mary Cherry, a residential cleaning expert, and owner of Evie’s Cleaning Company near Houston.
Do wipe it up
Mildew generally occurs in small patches and comes back in the same spots. So when you see the corners of your shower starting to look gunky simply wipe it up with a rag, dry the surface, and move on with your day, Cherry says. It usually wipes up easily.
Do spray with vinegar or diluted bleach
To help eliminate odors and slow the rate of regrowth, fill a spray bottle with diluted bleach or white vinegar and spray the mildewy area before wiping. Both bleach and vinegar are disinfectants.
Vinegar has natural antifungal properties and can be effective against the two main species of mildew on hard surfaces, according to a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Note: Never combine bleach and vinegar, since that can create toxic chlorine gas. Also, avoid using bleach or vinegar on unsealed stone counters or wood floors, as they can damage them.
Don’t worry about sterilizing
The bleach or vinegar likely isn’t killing the mildew, however. Most disinfectants, including bleach and vinegar, don’t work to clean mold from porous surfaces, according to the EPA. And nearly all the places that mildew likes to grow are porous.
“Bleach does not kill mildew on [porous surfaces like] grout; it just whitens it, making it look like the problem is gone,” Cherry explains. “Mold has roots (called hyphae), and bleach will not get to the roots.”
Vinegar also cannot penetrate deep enough into porous surfaces to kill the roots, according to the EPA.
This isn’t a huge problem, though, as mildew isn’t toxic and is simple to clean. “In most cases, it is not possible or desirable to sterilize an area; a background level of mold spores will remain, but these spores will not grow if the moisture problem has been resolved,” the EPA states.
Do toss mildew-damaged items
Some water-damaged items, like books, carpet pads, and drywall, may not be adequately dried and will need to be thrown out and replaced. Even if you clean the visible mildew off of them, it will likely regrow, according to the EPA.
Don’t cover it up
Note that you should never try to cover it up; painting or caulking over the top of mold or mildew won’t kill it and will make the problem worse.
Do prevent it from coming back
The same things you do to prevent mold and mildew in the first place (see above) are the same things you should be doing after cleaning to prevent it from growing back. The more you prevent it by eliminating moisture, the less cleaning you’ll need to do and the easier it will be.
Do use cleaning products judiciously
It is fine and can sometimes be helpful to use commercial mold-killing products in your home, particularly if the mildewed area is large, hard to clean, or is in a high-traffic area, the CDC says.
Mold and mildew remover products
Here are some products for dealing with mold and mildew that get rave reviews from customers and experts:
Best mildew-killing cleaner overall: RMR-141 Disinfectant Spray Cleaner
It’s one of the few sprays approved by the EPA for home use, and professionals and homeowners alike swear by this product. This spray from RMR is easy to use, works quickly, and eliminates odors.
It’s a broad-spectrum fungicide, which makes it highly effective against mildew, but this means you need to take precautions while using it. Avoid getting it on your skin, and keep it away from kids and pets. It works best on hard surfaces.
Best disinfectant for spot cleaning: Mold Armor FG502 Mold and Mildew Killer
This targeted spray from Mold Armor works quickly to remove old mildew stains on hard, nonporous surfaces.
Spray it on and leave it for 30 seconds to kill more than 90 percent of household bacteria, viruses, and fungi, including mildew.
Best cleaner for sensitive people: EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate
Made with botanical ingredients, this Micro Balance Health cleaner is safe to use around children and pets, and gets rave reviews from people with chemical sensitivities.
It’s designed to work on hard and soft surfaces, including fabrics. It’s concentrated, so you’ll need to dilute it with water in a spray bottle before using.
Best for cleaning large areas: Concrobium Mold Control Household Cleaner
This gallon-sized bottle from Concrobium provides enough solution to clean a whole home, and can be used in a fogger to cover large areas quickly.
Simply spray onto the mildewed surface and let dry completely; it does not have to be scrubbed or rinsed off. It works on hard or soft surfaces and is safe to use around children and pets.
Best for cleaning inside machines: Borax
This household staple has long been used as a laundry booster, but it also has some antifungal properties, making it a safe, natural, and cost-effective mildew remover.
Add Borax to hot water in your washing machine and run an empty cycle to reduce and prevent mildew growth. It’s not as powerful as some of the other cleaners, but it’s great for routine cleaning and for people with chemical sensitivities. Bonus: It can help make your whites brighter, too.
Best for removing stains: RMR-86 Instant Mold and Mildew Stain Remover Spray
Once you’ve removed and killed as much of the mildew as possible, you’re often left with unpleasant stains and smells. This EPA-approved spray from RMR gets high marks for getting rid of stains and odors without scrubbing. This is safe to use on hard surfaces, including wood.
Best for recurring mildew: Lemocide Professional Disinfecting Mildew, Virus & Mold Killer
This industrial-strength disinfectant spray from Total Solutions is a cleaning staple in many hospitals, schools, and hotels, and it’s very potent. Its broad-spectrum formulation kills most molds, bacteria, and viruses. It works on hard surfaces and should be kept away from children.
Bonus: Clorox Tilex Mold and Mildew
This Tilex and Clorox mold and mildew remover reportedly kills 99.9 percent of household mold and mildew. It works well in all the most common areas where mold and mildew form, including in bathtubs, on tiles, and more.
When to call in a professional
Usually, mold and mildew can be cleaned safely yourself, but there may be times when you want or need professional help. You may need professional mold remediation if any of these are true:
- You are unable to find the source of the moisture.
- The mold or mildew covers an area larger than 10 square feet.
- The mold or mildew is causing health problems.
- You suspect the moisture comes from a sewage system.
- The mold comes back quickly after cleaning, or is seemingly impossible to clean.
- You suspect the mold or mildew is in the HVAC or ventilation system.
- You suspect the mold is toxic black mold.
Experts specializing in mold removal can test the mold in your home, and can create a targeted plan to clean the mold and prevent it from coming back.
- Purvi Parikh, MD, allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network and a clinical assistant professor in the departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine
- Mary Cherry, a residential cleaning expert and owner of Evie's Cleaning Company
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control"
- CDC: "Mold control"
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): "Mold cleanup in your home"
- EPA: "A brief guide to mold, moisture, and your home"
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: "An Evaluation of Antifungal Agents for the Treatment of Fungal Contamination in Indoor Air Environments"