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I'm sort of embarrassed to admit it, but mildew got its spotty little grip on my bedroom curtains this winter. The fabric was sort of bunched up against the window pane a lot. Little did I realize it, but every sunny morning was like a mildew fiesta back there.

When sunlight and warmth hit the cold glass, condensation formed on the inside of the pane. The curtains soaked up the moisture and the warmth. Lo and behold, a big ugly patch of mildew was the result. Yikes!

What makes mildew so revolting is its sheer persistence. Once it gets its hooks into any household surface--whether it be a painted ceiling, an item of clothing, or a home fabric such as curtains--removal is genuinely tough.

Remove mildew from fabric(click thumbnails to view gallery)

Ugh. Mildew.Gently brush fabricCheck the tagsLaundry timeHang to dry

For tips on mildew removal I found the University of Missouri Extension's advice and suggestions from the University of Illinois Extension to be both extremely helpful resources. After reading up, I took the following steps to rid my curtains of mildew spots. If you have a similar problem, I hope this guide is helpful to you!

1. Preliminary Steps. Start by vacuuming your fabric. Bear in mind that if you do so, you will need to chuck the vacuum bag afterwards, since it will likely be contaminated by mildew spores. If that seems like a pain (yes, it does!) skip that step (I did) and try brushing the fabric with a stiff-bristled brush. This may get some of the mildew off. Okay, that definitely did not work in my case, but you should try it anyway. Do this outside because, again, you don't want to be spreading mildew around the house.

2. Tag Talk. Locate the manufacturer's cleaning instructions. Hopefully there will be a tag somewhere telling you what the fabric is made of and how it should be washed. What you want to know most of all is this: are you dealing with cotton or a blend? For household fabrics, you're almost certainly dealing with a blend of some kind. For example, my curtains are a poly-cotton blend with an acrylic foam backing.

Unfortunately, blends are a lot tougher to clean. You can't use really hot water and you can't use the strongest stain removers either. Likewise, you won't be able to resort to chlorine bleach. Well, you can do all of those things, but the manufacturers don't recommend it in case your fabrics end up totally ruined. Ask yourself: how much of a risk are you willing to take?

If there are no tags on the fabric, try contacting the manufacturer or visit the company's website. My curtains are from Country Curtains. Because the tags didn't have a whole lot of detail on them, I went to the website and found a ton more information there. Being better informed definitely gave me confidence about choosing cleaning products to try.

3. Machine Wash. Put your curtains through a wash cycle as directed on the tags. Hope and pray that this, alone, will remove a lot of the mildew spots.

Curtains dry clean only? That's okay. Take them to your dry cleaner and ask if they can help. This bears repeating: make sure they know about the mildew first. That's because the dry cleaning process will bind the mildew to your fabrics even more stubbornly, so the mildew stain must be tackled before anyone attempts a dry cleaning.

4. Hang to Dry. Okay, if you were super-lucky, maybe the mildew came right out. In my case, no dice. At this point, if the mildew remains but you aren't ready to proceed with further stain removal attempts, do not put the curtains through the dryer. Blasting the mildew with air, particularly hot air, will make it harder to get the spots out. Hang them to air dry instead.

5. The Citrus Solution. Next up is an old-timey stain removal tactic: rubbing the mildew spots with a paste of lemon juice and salt. Saturate the fabric with lemon juice, then pour over plenty of salt. Rub with a soft cloth. When you're done, rinse very thoroughly and put through the wash again. The rinsing is mighty important because any remaining lemon juice could cause a yellowish stain.

Sadly, the lemon and salt paste did not work for me either. Do I have some stubborn mildew or what?! But it's what the experts recommend, so definitely go for it. Maybe you will be more fortunate. As for me, that citrus-and-salt combo just left me with an urgent Margarita hankering. Oh, and it made the kitchen smell very nice.

6. Oxygen Bleach. If your fabric can take it, the next step is to try oxygen bleach. Before proceeding, do a patch test according to the product's directions. All clear? Okay, start with an oxygen bleach soak: while your washing machine is filling, add a cup of oxygen bleach powder. Add your fabrics and leave for about thirty minutes. Then put them through a regular wash cycle again.

If you're using a pretty tough fabric, you can try soaking your curtains in oxygen bleach overnight. I was afraid to try that, however, in case it damaged my curtains' acrylic foam backing.

7. Time for the Big Guns. If nothing else has worked, it's time to get really tough. If your fabric can survive it (say, if you are working with white cotton), try chlorine bleach. If not, try some of the commercial products out there designed specifically for stain removal from upholstery and other household fabrics. I have heard that Axion and Biz are two products to look for when it comes to mildew stains.

Finally, I found that repeated vigorous machine washing helps a lot. So if your fabric will tolerate it, just keep putting the curtains through the wash cycle over and over. This will likely eradicate any remaining mildew spots.

See my photo gallery for a visual tour of these steps!


  • Paul Flynn

    I sell a completely natural cleaner at that is guaranteed to safely remove odor-causing fungus from all washing machines.
    It also removes mildew smell from curtains, towels and clothing by simply adding a tablespoon to a hot setting instead of detergent. One order of Smellywasher Cleaner has enough cleaner for 24 treatments.

  • theresa harned

    to prevent mildew from recurring or even if none can be seen but the smell is present rub in baking soda. It instantly kills the smell. Also works for any fabric, carpets, upholstery, etc. and is nontoxic and if residue results, can be brushed off with a tooth brush.

  • NYC Mold removal

    Mold spores wait for the right condition of life; as soon as they get it, they settle down and start flourishing. Spores can stay dormant for long time. When they enter your home they might not start growing readily; but they are still risky. It's like living with a sleeping demon that can wake up any time!

    mold inspections five boros

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