6 March 2012

Cleaning mould from walls and fabrics

With all this rain around we've developed a mould problem in our home. Usually we have the front and back doors open and that good ventilation stops most moulds from establishing. However, with the house locked up for the past week, the high humidity and the rain, mould is now growing on the wooden walls near our front door and on the lower parts of cupboards in the kitchen.

Most of us will find mould growing in our homes at some point. Either in the bathroom or, in humid climates, on the walls, like we have now. You'll need a safe and effective remedy at some point, so I hope one of these methods works well for you.

Mould is not only ugly to look at, it can cause health problems so if you see mould growing, do something about it straight away. The longer you leave the problem, the harder it will be to get rid of it effectively. If you have asthma or any allergies, you should do this type of cleaning with a face mask on so you don't breathe in any spores. Many people use bleach on mould but I've found it just takes the colour out of it, you think it's gone, but it soon grows back. The best treatments are safe ones that don't rely on harsh chemicals or bleach. Don't try to brush it off with a dry brush or broom first, that will just spread the spores around and the mould will probably establish in another area.

  1. Mould loves dark, poorly ventilated rooms - open the windows and doors and keep the air moving through the room.
  2. Mould loves warmth and moisture - if condensation is building up, open the window and wipe down damp surfaces.
  3. If you have mould in the bathroom grout, it's almost impossible to remove. It's best to remove the grout, treat the tiles with vinegar or tea tree oil and re-grout.

Mould is an accumulation of fungi that will start to grow if the conditions are right, such as in the presence of water and warmth. In our case it was the humid air and the closed house that started off our problem. We can't get rid of the humid weather, unfortunately, but we can create a well ventilated space and that's what we've done.

Treating mould effectively requires a two stage attack - washing the mould off and drying the area and finishing off with either clove or tea tree oil in a spray. Tomorrow, when I'm home again, I'll wash the walls with hot water, bicarb (baking soda) and vinegar. I'll use 4 litres/quarts of water, ½ cup white vinegar and a tablespoon of bicarb. Washing the walls should remove the spots of mould but I need to clean around this space too - if any spores are left, they'll re-establish the mouldy growths again.  If you have mould on hard surfaces - like cupboard doors or smooth walls, you can use the liquid solution above or a paste of vinegar and bicarb (baking soda). Wipe it on the surface, leave for 20 - 30 minutes, then wipe off completely with a clean damp rag. Make sure all the solution is off, then wipe over with a dry cloth.

For the second and final treatment, the lovely Shannon Lush, Australia's cleaning guru, recommends ¼ teaspoon of clove oil mixed into a litre/quart of water in a spray bottle. I have no clove oil here but I do have tea tree oil and that works well too. Just add one teaspoon of tea tree oil to a cup of water in a spray bottle, shake it well. After you've completed your initial cleaning of the surface, spray that over the affected areas and leave it on.  If you notice the mould growing back, repeat these steps, always finishing with either the tea tree or clove spray.

If you have fabric that has mould growing on it, wash it in a couple of litres of water to which you add two tablespoons of homemade laundry liquid and two teaspoons of borax. Soak the fabric overnight in this solution, rinse well and dry in the sun. If that doesn't remove the stains, you may have to soak the fabric overnight in a solution of hot water and oxy-bleach, like Napisan, Dri Pak or OxiClean - or their generic alternatives.

Good luck with your cleaning and don't let mould grow too long before you do something about it.

BTY, we had 108 mm/just over 4 inches of rain yesterday.



  1. Hi Rhonda,
    My family and I have just moved from a house declared unfit for humans due to white and black mould. Everything we own had to be decontaminated from undies to bedding, beds, lounges, rugs... everything. We also had to throw out all our nursery furniture 8(
    The mould expert who helped us decontaminate said the best thing was with out a doubt white vinegar in water and that they never use bleach for the exact reasons you stated. Mould feeds on it.
    The also has us soak eveything that couldn't be dry cleaned in a bath tub or cold water and vinegar overnight, then washed like usual in the washing machine and line dryed in the sun. How wonderful that the experts in the fiels believe (with good reason!) that natural is best with mould treatment.

  2. Hi Rhonda,

    Glad to hear you had a great trip and you're safe home, despite all the rain up and down the coast.

    I wrote about this topic last week too - it's that time of the year. There's a mycology lab in Perth who specialise in mould and their expert advice for mould removal - good old white vinegar too! I love how the frugal and natural stuff is the best!

  3. We have a mould problem in or bathroom. There is no window in it, only a smaal drainage channel. I didn't know not to clean it with the toothbrush. I will stop that right away, thank you. I think now is really the time to look for some backing soda to find. Again another step in the simple direction. Thanks!

    Love from Holland

    BTW: thanks for your visit ;o)

  4. Great tips Rhonda - thanks. I've always used diluted bleach on mould but vinegar definitely makes sense. I already use it in my kitchen spray so should have thought of this before!

  5. Thanks for this Rhonda - we have a problem with mould growth here and I've never heard that about the tea tree oil so will give that a try at some stage!

  6. Mouldy up north here too, have sponged my lounge with diluted white vinegar, seen to have done the trick, even my pots and pans had mould on them in the drawer....gone for now... :)

  7. Thanks for this Rhonda, - I never thought of using white vinegar on mould. Like the above poster my bathroom hasn't got a window, just a small extractor fan, and the humidity means we get mould growing on the tiles.

    It's good to see you back, btw, and glad you enjoyed your trip :-)

    England, UK

  8. The word must be out about using clove oil for mould as it had sold out at several health stores I visited but I finally found some and now my bathroom smells like a dental surgery! It's worked well on the very small patch of mould on the ceiling and I also tried it on the hem of curtains that have mould on them but it has had no effect. I also soaked them overnight in a eco-friendly nappy soaker and line dried in the sun but this didn't work either - looks like I will have to cut off the hems and add a new fabric hem. Will try the vinegar now before I take to them with the scissors! In such a humid climate I air my house out every day and we have lots of French doors on every side of our house but still need to run a dehumidifier in the bedrooms on very humid days. Unbelievable the amount of water it takes out of the atmosphere. I know that some people make the mistake of running portable evaporators to cool their homes (the ones you add ice into) which of course adds to the moisture problem by humidifying the air. I've seen a lot of them in garage sales recently so people must be realizing how they work! Walk in wardrobes are the real problem area for me with no windows in there so mould develops on anything made of leather or cane. As much as I love the look of wicker storage and laundry baskets I had to replace them with plastic ones.

  9. I am sooo glad you're home again Rhonda, I have missed your daily posts. It looks like you had a wonderful time touring with your book. Welcome home!
    Melanie (in Melbourne)

  10. Wow, how timely. I tried to rid our bathroom of mould with bleach yesterday. Will have to try again today. Welcome back! Missed reading your posts over my morning cuppa. Eliza

  11. Ann, if mould is deeply embedded in the fabric, like the grout, it might be difficult or impossible to remove it. You might need to cut it off and add a decorative border. As for the wicker baskets, I have a lot of them - shopping baskets, knitting baskets, fruit baskets etc, we clean them every year with the Gerni, then I spray with vinegar and dry in the sun. They survive well with that treatment.

  12. Welcome home Rhonda. I wondered what you would be greeted with but I was mainly thinking of weed in your garden after all that rain. Shannon Lush's mould remedy was very popular last year after the flooding and oil of cloves was extremely hard to get in the shops. I will try the vinegar and tea tree oil as well as I notice there is mould growing in some areas now after this last lot of rain. Thanks.

  13. Dear Rhonda - this is not a comment on mold, but just to let you know that my copy of your book which I ordered through fishpond.au because you suggested the postage would be less, arrived here in northeast Ohio today and I am so extremely pleased with the way it looks and the content and organization... Your entire simple living message is there, expressed in a beautiful undogmatic and gentle way. You must be extremely pleased and delighted with the result. It is a gift to everyone who reads it. And how beautiful it looks, too. Just super.

  14. this time of year is a continual fight against mold, and I agree that vinegar is the best. I had used bleach on the sealant(white) behind the sink taps, and it just seemed to be getting worse. Last weekend I just sprayed with vinegar as I was doing the sink and counters anyway. Just this morning I noticed how much better it is looking.... I looked for clove oil but it only seemed to be available in huge quantities, so glad we can use tea tree oil instead. my paving stones in the garden are quite slimy and I wonder whether we should try vinegar there too. I am a bit worried it might make the surroudning soil very acidic.

  15. Thank you - I'm glad to know this formula.

  16. Hi Rhonda
    Lovely to have you back again. Wow 4" of rain, crazy weather isn't it.
    Just a comment about Shannon Lush's oil of cloves and water spray. I believe her recipe is for a 1/4 teaspoon of oil of cloves to 1L of water. That's what I wrote down after listening to her on ABC radio last year. However I could be wrong.

  17. You're right, Lisa, I just checked that. I'll change the post. Thank you!

  18. Hi Rhonda

    I have recently discovered your blog and really love it. I am a 27 year old wife, mother of 5 and stay at home mum. I have been into homesteading ( you call it simple living) for about 5 years now. I just wanted to add that lemon juice and salt is a great way to get mould stains out of fabric. It has a similar bleaching effect to bleach but is a lot safer. You simply saturate the area with lemon juice and rub in salt, then leave in the sun for a few hours. I have found this particularly useful on children's clothes.
    Thank you for being a source of inspiration.

  19. Thanks so much for this info. You have just stopped me needing to do my own research. I live on the humid mid-north coast of NSW and am always wiping away patches of developing mould. My mother used to swear by coke as a mould cleaner but as I don't drink it I have never had the chance to give it a go. Cherrie

  20. You can also use the borax solution to wash down walls etc. It pops the cell membranes of the spores. Vinegar is fantastic too.

    We left a house last year that was unfit for living in due to mold. My son and I were extremely sick and I now have life long health problems and we only lived there 9 months.

    Unlike one of the earliest posters, we couldnt save anything and we had to walk away from all of our clothes and belongings. Nothing could be remediated :-(

    Mold is hardest to get out of fabric.

  21. i have been getting a little overwhelmed by the job of cleaning mould lately and you have just encouraged me to keep going with this post thanks Rhonda!
    I have both the cloves and tea tree oil in a sprayer and they both seem to be workiing well...if only it would stop raining and the humidity would lessen i might be able to keep up!
    Do you or any other readers have tips for cleaning mould off of high ceilings? It is an old house with decorative plaster and the ceilings are so hard to reach!

  22. I know it's a pain, but when you think about it, it's actually pretty awesome how enthusiastic nature is on reclaiming the earth whenever the opportunity arises.
    In the islands, because of our high humidity, we have a constant struggle to keep her at bay, especially where I live which is close to a stream and up close to a mountainful of tropical rainforest. But, I can't help but salute and even find a measure of reassurance in her persistence =)
    That said, Borax has always been a constant in households here ;)
    Trinidad & Tobago

  23. Thank you for the tips. I think I have one area where I can go ahead and put them into action... out door furniture could use it.

  24. I thought I'd leave a word on the science of this...

    Bleach appears to do a sterling job of getting rid of mould, but when I lived in the wet north I too noticed its annual reappearance. I spoke to a university lecturer (pharmacologist) about this because I was forever hearing that bleach removes the colour, but doesn't kill the mould. This sounded like nonsense to me as bleach kills virtually every micro-organism that we come in to contact with. She told me that there was new research showing that bleach may be a food source for mould.

    I went searching the science journal databases to read the original research, but I couldn't find anything like this. I have since read (in science journals, not hearsay on the web!) that the issue with bleach is moreso that it does such damage to surfaces, particularly painted surfaces (at the microscopic level) that it makes them MORE hospitable. So the issue may not be so much that bleach is a food source, but that it provides an environment for growth. Or perhaps it is a combination of the two, but as I said, I have found nothing in the journals about food sources.

    Fungi is a bit of an unusual kindgom too because they are capable of growing even after they has been killed as a result of the spores which are also shed as the parent organism dies. This is why a two-step process is ESSENTIAL.

    Tea tree oil is anti-fungal, but testing of clove oil (scientific testing too) has seen it dubbed a "mould-inhibitor". Whether this is really any different to being anti-fungal, I don't know. But certainly there is science supporting a coat of diluted clove oil as a preventative. I buy clove oil from pharmacies, where it is usually with castor oil and hydrogen peroxide.

    As for my own experience, I find that sometimes the stain is impossible to shift and it is at that stage that I will bleach. Fabric is the hardest thing to remedy as others have clearly found. We treat our walls with a 1 L spray bottle, containing 5% oil of cloves, and the rest NEAT 'cleaning vinegar' (which is said to have a lower pH than regular food stuff... I'm not sure and haven't tested it to find out). We scrub with the old terry towelling nappies that we kept - that texture really helps :-) However if we don't get to it quickly, it often can't be removed with this mix. Mould just seems to stain, even if it has been killed. So I'll give the walls a couple of doses of this treatment and if it still hasn't gone from sight, I'll leave it a few days before using diluted bleach on it. At least then I can be fairly confident that the vinegar has killed it. I then have to respray with oil of cloves (but I use the same mix as before, with the vinegar in it). I play it by ear each time and just hope to find it early enough to remove it completely without having to bleach.

    Our house now has six of those pots of absorbent crystals and you wouldn't believe how quickly they fill up with water :-O We have been horrified. We've actually just had a reverse cycle air conditioner put in to the lounge primarily to dehumidify it as it's one of the worst rooms for mould. It will also replace our useless and filthy wood fire (we're not air-con users for cooling purposes).

    For those of you with poorly-ventilated bathrooms: mould won't grow without moisture. Keep an old nappy or thread-bare towel and dry the tiles with it when the last shower of the day has been had. It REALLY reduces the amount of cleaning that you'll need to do and will greatly deter the mould. It seems like a burden, but you'll only need to do it once per day if everyone showers in the same half of the day, and it's worth it for the benefits :-) As Rhonda pointed out, there's a few things that mould needs to grow. Do what you can to eliminate any of them and you'll see considerable improvement :-)

  25. I've been reading your blog for a while now and enjoying the excellent advice. The solution to get rid of mould must be just for me because I had just noticed some on some furniture. Thanks for the timely post

  26. Thanks Rhonda, this is a very timely post for me as I have a small amount of mould growing in a couple of rooms I need to tackle.

    Jode, we have high ceilings too and I use a sponge mop to clean off the mould if that helps.

  27. Good luck to all of you who are battleing with mould.
    A friend had very good long lasting results using a mix of water and Dettol, not sure of the proportions.

  28. I've had major issues with mold and discovered that I'm very allergic to it. Thank you for this very easy and homemade way to battle it.

  29. I've been wanting to try something like this to rid our home of mould but was recently warned not to use clove oil as i'm pregnant, have you heard anything about this? I'll just stick to tea tree oil and vinegar to be on the safe side.

  30. freckles, I have heard nothing about clove oil and pregnancy.

  31. I've tried oil of clove, bleach, vinegar and I'm giving up just about as we rent, I can't go re-grouting! The bleach at least gives me peace of mind for a couple of weeks. The corners of the shower recess I can never get white so I think I'll have to have a go at those.

  32. Thank you for this. I'm about to tackle cleaning mold off of plaster walls in our new house and this was very helpful.

  33. In UK I find Dettol Mould and Mildew Remover to be incredible for removing even thick black mould, even from grout. If it's bad it may take several applications. You just need to spray it on. Having read the above, I don't know what the long term affects are yet.
    The ingredients are "Non-ionic surfactant, disinfectant, sodium hypochlorite 2.59 percent, perfume".
    I have a dog, and of course I'm concerned about my own health too, so I was looking for something to use routinely which is safe, I'll try vinegar and clove oil. Thanks for all the info.

  34. I think I'll need to spray something routinely on the wall behind the washer and dryer which I can't get to. Can you use vinegar and/or clove oil in this way or do you need to wipe it off?

  35. A light spray in an area you don't see should be okay if you don't wipe it off.

  36. Hi, I am trying to combat mold in my home. It is in the walk in robes and on our rubber backed curtains where the curtain touches the window. Also notice it behind kitchen taps in grout. I do have white vinegar, tea tree oil and clove oil. Just want to check if I can spray this onto curtain backing rather than removing curtains and soaking, and do I spray vinegar undiluted onto tap areas or mix with water?

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