Answers to Mildew Cleaning Questions

A grouping of cleaning products including a bucket and spray bottle.

In any region of the country, and any season of the year, mildew can spring up and announce itself with musty odors and discoloration. Whether you own or rent, here's six ways to get the upper hand on this common and persistent problem.

Q. A couple of years ago my father painted the siding of our house using latex paint and we are expecting to repaint soon. What do you recommend we do as it is mildewing?

A. Mildew grows where the conditions suit. The right combination of surface chalk or dirt, moisture, and temperature will allow it to grow. To remove it, wash the surface with a solution of bleach 25 percent in water with a bit of detergent. The bleach will kill the mildew and the detergent will wash it off. Wet the surface with the solution, let sit for about five minutes, then rinse. Wet any nearby plants beforehand and rinse afterwards. Wear protective clothing and eyewear. A solution of bleach in this strength is caustic.

Use this to wash your house annually, and it will look good for years to come. Once the mildew is removed, you will be ready to paint. Some additives for paint are supposed to prevent mildew. I do not know how effective they are.

Latex or alkyd paint for exterior applications is better suited because it is flexible when dry and allows moisture to transpire through the film to reduce any problems from moisture behind the film. Periodically washing the exterior of the house will keep the mildew at bay and keep the paint looking fresh for many years. Paint with mildew-ides may help minimize mildew for a while. As indicated, keeping surface clean is most helpful. Cut back overhanging branches and thin trees to allow more sunlight and ventilation. Cut back or remove overgrown shrubs. Mildew spores are everywhere in the air. They tend to settle in on damp, shady, poorly ventilated surfaces. If the sun does not shine on this side of the house until afternoon, it will stay wet longer, and will need to be clean frequently.

Q. I have mildew on my bricks. I live in the country with trees all around. I have a brick patio that has minimal sunlight. Mildew has become a big problem on and between the bricks. I have been power-washing them and wire-brushing them each year, but the problem returns in a very few months. Do you know of a specific product that will help?

A. It sounds as if the bricks are in the ideal environment for the growth of mildew. In order to control it, you might mix a solution of bleach 25 percent in water with a dash of detergent and spray the solution on the patio. After it sits for five minutes or so, hit it with a stiff brush. This should kill and remove the mildew. Rinse thoroughly.

For maintenance, spray this solution on whenever you notice any mildew starting to show. This will kill it. You can get to the point that you can spray the solution on the mildew, wait five minutes, and then hose it off. Bleach is a caustic material, and will damage skin and exposed plants. Prior to use, wet any plants that might get the spray on them. Afterwards, rinse the plants to remove any residue. Wear appropriate protective clothing. Bleach will deteriorate quickly in the environment, so it does not post a hazard beyond initial contact.

Q. For Christmas my husband and I received a beautiful wooden travel trunk. This had been his grandmother's for several years and she always used it as a coffee table. We plan to do the same. It is in beautiful condition. The inside looks great but smells badly of mildew, which I am allergic to. The inside is covered with a brown calico fabric all around. I am not sure if it is the original fabric but the rest of the trunk is all original. I would like to be able to store things, perhaps blankets for curling up with on the couch, inside the trunk. How do I get rid of the mildew smell and spores without harming the fabric or the trunk?

A. Sometimes things that are old smell musty. This is often interpreted as meaning that there is mildew present. Mildew requires a certain amount of moisture to grow. If this is just a musty smell, then vacuuming it out and masking it with potpourri or airing it out for a while might help. You might try setting it outside on sunny days and let the sun shine inside the trunk and lid. It will take a while, but it should help. When you are ready to use it, put some cedar blocks inside. The smell may be in the liner irretrievably. Things that sit around closed for long periods tend to develop this musty smell. It may be that the only way to remove the smell from the inside will be to remove and discard the liner, then seal the interior surface with lacquer or shellac to seal in the odor, then install a new liner. If this antique has any value, removing the original liner may seriously reduce the value.

Q. There is a mildew smell coming from sink drain. How can I get rid of it?

A. Dump some baking soda into the drain and pour some white vinegar in to foam and clean the drain. You may find that with regular use of the drain that odors will dissipate.

Q. I've got black mold/mildew in the nooks and crannies around the bottoms of my shower doors. These are places where a brush can't get. What's the best way to clean this stuff out knowing that I'll not be able to get a brush on it?

A. Hand-held steamers have become popular cleaning gadgets for small but tough cleaning jobs in the bathroom and kitchen. One would be ideal for cleaning shower door tracks, tile and grout, around tub jets and fixtures. Tracks, nooks, and crannies can be cleaned with an old toothbrush. Make sure drain holes in track are not clogged. Pour water into track to flush. Pouring water from one of those little plastic houseplant watering cans would be helpful for keeping water in track when rinsing.

Never use cleaners containing abrasive cleansers, ammonia, bleach, acids, waxes, alcohol or solvents for cleaning metal shower doors as they may damage the finish. Do not let cleaners sit or soak on metal surfaces. To avoid soap deposits or lime buildup in hard water areas, make a point to wipe the door dry after each use. Keep shower doors ajar and enclosures open so that air can circulate to reduce mildew growth.

Q. I've recently purchased an older sofa from an auction with down filled cushions, and the musty smell is making me crazy. It seems the warmer weather may be causing the smell to be stronger. Does anyone have any ideas on how to eliminate or minimize this smell?

A. Musty odors usually indicate mold and mildew. While you can clean the upholstery, you cannot clean the down inside the cushions. You might minimize odor with an enzyme deodorizer.

Mildew can happened anywhere. With these six fixes, you'll be ready to eliminate it.

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