Sustainable Solutions for Conquering Mold!

Rain, rain, go away.   Come again some other day…
Mold, mold, meet your end.  Never, ever come again!

A couple days ago, I recounted my story about how I was forced to abandon my abode (a small tent) due to a blight of mold.  The old children’s song of the first lyric is what Pittsburgh’s been singin’ all summer.  The second is a little ditty I’ve been singin’, ever since I kissed that tent goodbye.

I haven’t tossed the tent in the garbage (that wouldn’t be very sustainable!)  I do plan on redeeming it: even if it ends up stained by the mold, its function shouldn’t be reduced by the event.  Since my close encounter of the fungal kind, I’ve been doing research about methods for removing mold.  Read on for sustainable solutions for dealing with moldy clothing.

Mold is a form of fungus.  It is transmitted through airborne spores, and it grows in a unique way: thin, branching hyphae threads.  It thrives in an aerobic environment, and one that is moist and dark, with no ventilation.

Thus, your first line of defense against mold is preventive measures.

  • Make sure anywhere that you store clothes or blankets is dry.  If you must use a dehumidifier in your home, do so… the energy use will be made up for by the fabrics, headaches and health problems you save!
  • Make sure the area is well-ventilated.  Open up your windows in the winter months if the air is humid.   Instead of storing your clothes in a dresser drawer, considering hanging them spaced slightly apart in a closet.

Once your clothes become moldy, there is no quick, breezy five-minute solution to dealing with the problem.  (Much like my poison ivy reaction–go figure.)  However, if you are persistent, you will be able to save your clothes.

First of all, if you want to do this sustainably, stay away from chlorine bleach.  Surely, bleach works well on mold and has many other functions in the home.  On the other hand, the production of chlorine bleach puts the ultra-harmful dioxin into our waterways.  Also, chlorine bleach may react with certain other substances that are acidic, producing harmful or even fatal fumes!  In my opinion, nothing you bring into your home ought to passively kill you.  I’d rather give up convenience in exchange for a healthy body and environment.  If you’d still like to use bleach, use oxygen bleach or other benign bleaching agents.

Many online solutions for dealing with mold involve soaking the cloth in an acidic solution for a while.  Lemon juice or vinegar will work for this (note: DO NOT clean with bleach after soaking the item in acid!  See above).

Once the item is soaked in lemon juice and water, it should be washed immediately.  Hot water is best for exterminating mold.  Use regular detergent.

For drying, the best option is to lay it out in the sun.  UV rays from the sun provide a naturally bleaching effect–if any mold spores are left, you can bet they’ll be killed after exposure like this.  The downside to this method: long term exposure to sunlight may cause a fabric’s color to fade.  In this case, you may opt to use a clothes dryer on high heat.  (Since sunny days in Pittsburgh have been hard to come by this spring, I opted for the hot dryer.)  Dry the fabrics thoroughly before putting them away, lest even more mold appear.

If you’re dealing with stains left from the mold, you may wish to (safely) bleach the spot, or scrub with the Sustainable Home cleaner’s favorite cleaning product ever: borax. Always test for colorfastness, and wash several times if need be.

Hope these tips help you combat your own mold invasion! Removing mold promptly is important, because it won’t spread further, plus it’s better for your health.  But remember: don’t compromise the health of the environment for the health of your home–there are sustainable alternatives to fighting mold, no matter how annoying its fuzzy presence may be!  Good luck.

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