Mold and mildew are types of fungi that you may be familiar with as they typically form in damp places within our homes, such as around windows and in bathrooms. What you may not know is that mold and mildew can form on soft surfaces too. Fungi spots can form on carpet, rugs, wall coverings, outdoor furnishings and more. Furnishings too heavily damaged by mold and mildew are usually damaged beyond hope of restoration, so it is important to take preventative measures, know how to identify it, and know when it’s time for a professional to step in.
Not only is mildew or mold an unpleasant sight to see on your furnishings, but it can cause long-term health issues if left untreated. Symptoms can include severe allergies, headaches, respiratory problems, sinus congestion, and more. It can be especially problematic for infants, elderly individuals, and those with existing respiratory conditions. The main difference between mildew and mold is that mildew starts small and grows outwards, while mold grows inwards and up. Generally, the health effects of mildew are not as severe as with other types of mold. The terms “mold” and “mildew” are often used interchangeably.
What Fibers are at Risk?
Microorganisms need organic materials to supply nutrients, therefore fabrics composed of natural fibers are potentially at risk. As mildew grows, it creates enzymes, which digest the fibers on which it is growing. This results in a weakened fiber with permanent damage.
Plant materials (cellulose-based), such as cotton, rayon, linen, sea grass and sisal are particularly susceptible to attack by mildew-causing microorganisms.
Animal fibers are more resistant to mildew growth than plant fibers. Pure silk is less susceptible if completely de-gummed. Wool decays only slowly but chemical and mechanical damage during processing can increase its susceptibility.
Inhospitable materials, such as synthetic fibers, are not immune from fungal growths but how they support these growths is not fully understood by biologists. It is well known, however, that clean fabrics are less likely to mildew than soiled ones.
Because most synthetic fibers, such as acrylic, polyester and nylon, are resistant to mildew, clean fabrics of these fibers will not support mold growth. But even on these fabrics, soiling may be enough to start the growth of mildew.
In conclusion, although some fibers are more susceptible to mildew growth, all fibers are unfortunately at risk.
How to Prevent Mold on Fabric
Cleaning fabrics on a regular basis is the single best way to prevent them from mildewing. Professional cleaning is recommended every 6 to 18 months, depending on usage. Regular vacuuming and damp dusting assist in keeping your furnishings mold-free.
If mildew is present, know that there is already fiber damage. The only questions are how much fiber damage has already taken place, and if there is still hope to save it.
First and foremost, mildew thrives on moisture. It is important to check inconspicuous areas of your home, like the small area in between the back of your sofa and the wall, especially near windows, to prevent the fungi from spreading to your fabrics. For indoor spaces, mildew can be a result of poorly insulated exterior walls and/or high humidity levels. Though we all have access to air conditioning, some of us reside in more humid climates than others. If mildew is a recurring problem, you may consider purchasing a humidity gauge and ensuring that the RH (relative humidity) stays below 70%. If you notice that the humidity often rises above this level, consider purchasing a dehumidifier or cranking up the AC.
As previously mentioned, damp dusting and vacuuming both soft and hard surfaces go a long way in preventing mildew from emerging. Mold and mildew will feed off dust if left unattended, particularly in rooms with high humidity.
Mildew growth on outdoor fabrics is common, and usually caused by leaving outdoor furniture uncovered during rainy or humid days. Over time, several days of absorbing the inevitable moisture from the outdoors, mold and mildew will rapidly form on these fabrics, potentially causing irreversible damage. This can be avoided by moving the furniture underneath a covered area or placing a cover on the furniture during rainfalls, and having your fabrics professionally cleaned – or at the very least freshened up- about once a year.
You may have mildew damage on your fabrics if:
- You see green, black, gray or brown spots on the fabric
- Certain furnishings are constantly getting wet, such as a doormat in the entryway
- A musty odor is present
- Uncovered outdoor furnishings are exposed to rain and snow
- You notice more allergy symptoms than usual
How to Remove Mildew from Fabric
The first step is to get the fabric dry and eliminate the source of the moisture that fuels the problem. This will at the very least stop any further damage to the affected fibers. Beyond this, corrective measures are best left to professionals.
Few fabric stains are tougher to remove than mildew. Most importantly, mildew should be treated as quickly as possible. If not, it can spread quickly and do irreversible damage to the fibers.
There is a chance of removing mildew stains when they are new, relatively small, and close to the surface. There is little chance once they have spread and set into the fibers.
Resist the urge to treat mildew stains with household bleach, which is a common “fix” recommended for mildew. Bleach attacks textile dyes and can also weaken or destroy many types of fibers.
Trust the Fabric Care Experts at Fiber-Seal
Mildew stains can be very difficult to remove, but luckily the fabric care experts at Fiber-Seal can advise you in specific situations where mildew has occurred, making sure that procedures are safe for the particular fabric involved. If you notice any signs of mildew on your fabrics, contact us immediately for a better chance of saving your beloved furnishings— the quicker you identify the problem, the more hope there is to fix it!