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How to Prevent Mildew in Closets

This is a close look at a surface with humidity on it.

If you’ve ever opened a closet door or a basement door and were hit with the potent smell of mold or mildew, you already know how unpleasant that could be.

Unfortunately for dark recessed areas, like closets and basements, the atmosphere could be the perfect breeding ground for mildew and other fungi. Not only is the smell overpowering, but mildew also has the potential to pose a serious risk to your health as well.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make sure you don’t find yourself in a situation where mold and mildew have infested the place where you keep some of your most prized possessions, your closet. If you weren’t aware of these risks and weren’t able to prevent mildew from growing inside your closet, no need to freak out!

There are also steps you can take to remove mildew from floors, shelving, and other storage areas inside your closet and also for removing mildew stains from any garments that may have been compromised.

When it comes to finding mildew in closets, people have many questions that require quick answers to stop the problem before it gets any worse.

For others, knowing effective preventative measures could save you significant time and frustration and could also save you from being exposed to breathing in harmful fungus and mildew in your home.

Always be sure you are doing everything you can to be proactive in order to keep your closet smelling fresh and looking clean, so the answers to the most common and important questions could be the key to your success.

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What is Mildew?

Mold and mildew are a form of fungi. They are microscopic organisms that thrive in and feed off of any moist environment.

Once the organisms find a home in a cool, moist environment it will only take 24 to 48 hours for it to start to spread. Because mold grows in colonies, it could potentially spread pretty quickly.

You could usually identify mold by its look and smell. Typically, it will be green, black or white and appear somewhat thick and fuzzy. Mildew is normally black, brown, yellow, or white, but there are some occasions where mildew can be more of an orange or pink color. Mildew tends to look dusty or flat.

Mold also creates mold spores, which are the particles in the air that you would be breathing in as well as the particles that are latching onto any moist or damp materials in our closet and creating mold or mildew stains.

The only difference between mold and mildew is just that mildew hasn’t graduated to the level of mold yet, it is still in its early stages.

Where Does It Come From?

Because most closets are in small confined spaces, it tends to restrict airflow, which essentially traps humidity and moisture inside.

High humidity has the potential to create mold and damage a lot of things, but specifically, in closets it can destroy delicate items like undergarments and vintage or designer clothing.

The first thing to be mindful of is any excess water or moisture seeping into your closed spaces such as leaks, air ducts, or windows. Pipes with minor leaks that may be letting water into your closet space should be fixed and secured so your closet isn’t exposed to any unnecessary water.

The same goes for any air ducts that may not be secured appropriately and are creating extra moisture in the air. It is important to make sure to repair all pipes and air ducts so they are completely and securely sealed off, which will prevent any of this from happening.

Are Mold & Mildew Detrimental To Your Health?

A woman covering her nose from the bad smell in the house.

Any prolonged exposure to mold or mildew has the potential to be extremely detrimental to your health and have serious consequences.

Depending on how sensitive your body is to fungus, some people start noticing symptoms immediately after exposure. It is also possible for people to be allergic to mold or mildew, but even for non-allergic people, it could still result in a number of health issues.

Some of the most common are scratchy throat or irritation, nasal issues like congestion, excessive sneezy, and bloody noses. You may also notice your eyes frequently watering or being irritated and it could also make your skin break out into rashes or hives, especially if you come into direct contact with a garment of clothing where a mildew stain has already formed.

The most at-risk populations for exposure are infants, children, pregnant women, anyone with a compromised immune system, elderly, and anyone with a respiratory condition.

Anyone with chronic asthma, sleep apnea, or obstructive pulmonary disease should be careful to avoid any locations that are cold, dark and damp, as they are breeding grounds for mold and mildew. Any exposure could be extremely detrimental to their already compromised health.

Are There Ways to Prevent It?

A close look at the control buttons of an appliance with an air purifier capability.

Because of most closets being in a small confined space, it also restricts airflow which causes humidity to be trapped inside.

When this happens, it could create a musty smell and even cause mold and mildew to grow on your shelves, garments, linens, and other spaces inside your closet.

In order to keep your closet and all the items inside smelling and looking their best, there are steps you can take to limit the moisture inside your closet, control the humidity and prevent that nasty odor from infecting everything inside.

airBOSS Closet Dehumidifier, For Storage Closets and Small Spaces, Fights Mildew and Odors

Dehumidifiers are probably the most effective way to do this, depending on the size of your closet. You don’t need something big and fancy, you can find inexpensive small dehumidifiers like airBOSS Closet Dehumidifier, Pro Breeze Electric Mini Dehumidifier, and Eva Dry Wireless Mini Dehumidifier.

Pro Breeze Electric Mini Dehumidifier, 1200 Cubic Feet (150 sq ft), Compact and Portable for High Humidity in Home, Kitchen, Bedroom, Bathroom, Basement, Caravan, Office, RV, Garage with Auto Shut Off

They are perfect for small spaces, lightweight so they are easy to move around and empty, and extremely easy to use.

Eva Dry Wireless Mini Dehumidifier. Top Moisture Absorber for Small Spaces. Rechargeable & Portable. Perfect for Bedrooms, Closets, Cars, RV & Gun Safes. Removes Humidity & Helps Prevent Mold Growth

Desiccants are moisture-absorbing products like silica gel, baking soda, chalk, or washed charcoal that could help soak up any unwanted moisture and humidity in your closet.

Aoerzn Bamboo Charcoal Bags, Odor Absorber, Upgraded Version(4 Pack), Safe and Natural Odor Removal & Moisture Absorption, for Homes, Pets, Toilets, Car Interiors

Some very easy and low-cost options are the airBOSS Closet Dehumidifier, Aoerzn Bamboo Charcoal Bags, Bamboo Charcoal Air Purifying Natural Deodorizer Bags, DampRid Fresh Scent Hanging Bag Absorber or Dry & Dry Rechargeable Silica Gel Beads.

Bamboo Charcoal Air Purifying Bag,Natural Deodorizer Bags for Large Room,Smell and Moisture Absorber for Closet,Fridge,Drawer,Kitchen,Living Room,Basement,Green,10 Pack【75g×6 & 100g×2 & 200g×2】

If you have storage items in your closets, such as boxes, plastic tubs, or other enclosed shelving units, be mindful of where you are placing them.

It is always good to rotate the items from one area to a different area periodically and regularly clean the floors and enclosed shelving to remove any moisture that might be trapped in corners or underneath.

Can Mildew Be Removed Once It Is Already Present?

The easiest ways to remove damaging mildew and mildew stains that are already present are to use a combination of household items that you most likely already have on hand.

The easiest way to remove any mildew stains from clothing is simply mixing even parts lemon juice and table salt to create a paste. Spread the paste on the affected area of your garment and rub it in.

Then, place the item in direct sunlight for a quick-dry and that should do the trick. If the stain is still there after drying, repeat the process until it is completely gone.

Mixing equal parts water and vinegar is also a quick and easy way to get rid of mildew in your closet and on your clothing. Soaking affected areas in the solution or pouring it into a spray bottle and spraying any affected areas should work effectively.

For more stubborn stains, increase the amount of vinegar or even use full-strength vinegar to remove all of the mildew. You could also replace the vinegar with borax if you have any in your home or wanted to try a different method.

You would follow the same process with the borax as previously explained for using vinegar. However, this process could take several hours of soaking before the stains are completely gone.

Another home remedy that could be a little more dangerous if you aren’t extremely careful is using bleach. Bleach has the potential to permanently damage and ruin any delicate garments or fabrics it comes into contact with.

For washable fabrics, you can use a small amount of detergent, ½ cup of chlorine bleach and wash in hot water, if the tag on the garment allows.

If clothing tags prohibit the use of bleach and hot water, you can soak the clothing in ¼ cup of oxygen bleach in 1 gallon of water as an alternative. Let soak for about 30-45 minutes and the mildew should be gone.

A look at the bright closet with bilt-in racks, shelves and cabinets.

Additional Tips & Ideas for a Fresh Clean Closet

  1. Many closets have a single panel wooden door that stays closed the majority of the time unless your closet is in use. A better idea for a closet is to replace the door with a more breathable style door to allow air to move in and out more freely. Louver doors are a much better option as they have small spaces between the panels that allow for better airflow as opposed to a single flat panel door.
  2. Sometimes a simple fan can even do the trick if you can position it in a way that allows for consistent airflow in and out of your closet. If you place it in a back corner and it is able to blow the warm air out of the closet and create a cycle where newer fresh air is coming into the closet, that will create much less humidity.
  3. You should be careful not to store heavily absorbent items like blankets, pillows, towels, etc. in your closet out in the open because they could also trap in some of the humidity, creating a musty smell that will stink up your whole closet and your clothing.
  4. Be mindful of leaving any damp towels or linens in the closet as well and always make sure blankets or other items you might be storing away are secured and completely dry before placing them in your closet.
  5. allowing a low-wattage light to burn in your closet for about 6 hours each day could actually help prevent moisture in your closet. The added heat from the lightbulb, especially if it is positioned closer to the floor, will burn off excess moisture and humidity in the air.
  6. Automatic spray air fresheners are also a great option to keep your closet smelling fresh. Just be sure they aren’t positioned directly at any of your clothes to avoid overpowering smells when you go to wear them or any damage the spray can potentially cause to delicate fabrics. Yankee Candle Fragrance Spheres, Clean Cotton
  7. You can also use different fragrance spheres, air fresheners, or Essential oils to keep your closet and its contents smelling nice and fresh. Air Wick plug in Scented Oil 5 Refills, Vanilla & Pink Papaya, (5x0.67oz), Essential Oils, Air Freshener
  8. Plastic dry-cleaning bags are made from petroleum, which can emit harmful gasses that could ruin your clothing when stored in a closet.
  9. If your clothing retains any moisture from humidity, rain, snow, etc. it will be more likely to cause mold or mildew if stored in your closet while it’s still damp or retaining any moisture. Additionally, any clothing that may have perspiration or stains should not be placed in your closet with your clean clothes. Any old stains or smells on your clothing increase the risk of attracting unwanted insects or stinking up the rest of the clothes in your closet.
  10. Using wire shelves with space in between the wires rather than placing these items on the floor will allow for more breathing room underneath the items. Sometimes when items are placed on the floor, depending on how long they are there, they have the ability to trap in moisture underneath them.