Tips for Preventing and Managing Mildew in Stored Clothes

From understanding why mold forms to solutions like breathable containers, drying agents, odor removal, and climate control, this guide covers everything you need for preventing musty mildew smells in clothing and fabrics.

February 8, 2024
min read
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Unwanted mildew growth is a common nuisance when storing clothing and fabrics. That musty, funky smell is unmistakable—and impossible to fully remove once deep into fibers. The good news is mildew is preventable with proper storage methods. And if you do discover early signs, there are ways to stop mold growth and rescue clothes before permanent damage.

This guide covers everything you need to know about managing mildew, from understanding why it happens, to storage solutions, removal techniques, and prevention. Follow these tips to keep closets and dressers mold-free.

Why Mildew Grows on Stored Clothes

To come up with effective solutions for blocking mildew, it helps to first understand what causes it in the first place. Mildew requires two key things to grow—moisture and food.

Warm, Humid Environments Enable Mold Growth

Mildew is a type of mold that grows on damp fabrics. Like other mold varieties, mildew spores thrive in the right environmental conditions, especially warmth and humidity. Places like basements, garages, and tightly-packed closets provide ideal incubation for mildew.

As a living organism, mildew needs adequate airflow and humidity to proliferate. Stagnant air and moisture get trapped within stacks of clothing and linen, fueling growth. Hot summer months further enable mold with increased humidity and temperatures.

Without proper climate control, storage areas easily transform into mold farms. The musty smell is caused by microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs)—released as waste from mildew feasting on your fabrics.

Fabrics and Fibers Provide Food for Mildew

Cotton, linen and other natural fabrics contain cellulose that mold feeds on. Bleaches, food stains, skin flakes and other residues also supply nutrients. Unlike synthetics, natural materials are biodegradable over time, slowly decomposing right on your closet shelf.

Delicates like silk are particularly vulnerable thanks to their delicate protein fibers. Mildew releases enzymes to break down proteins and carbs within the silk, literally digesting your clothes.

Once mildew takes hold, spores burrow deep into fabric weaves, making removal extremely difficult. The longer clothes sit, the more damage occurs.

Storing Clothes to Avoid Mildew

Mildew prevention ultimately comes down to controlling two variables—moisture and food supply. Cut off one or both, and you halt mold growth. This involves storage methods that:

  • Keep fabrics dry
  • Allow airflow
  • Block food supply via cleaning

Solutions range from breathable containers, to drying agents, air circulation, and more.

Use Breathable Storage Containers

Storage containers themselves make a big difference in preventing humidity buildup. Breathable bins allow airflow, while solid plastic traps moisture.

  • ☑️ Canvas or mesh: Bin types like fabric pop ups, soft sided cubes, and laundry bags enable ventilation. These maintain dryness best for long term storage.
  • Plastic tubs: Plastic bins, while handy for organizing, also facilitate mildew growth when stacked tightly. If using, make sure clothing is ultra dry first. Even better, incorporate moisture wicking tools inside.
  • 🤔 Enclosed closets: Similarly, closed closet spaces easily turn muggy. Make sure rooms have louvred doors, exhaust fans, or other circulation helps. Dehumidifiers also combat stuffiness in closets and basements.

Incorporate Drying Agents

For plastic or enclosed storage when ventilation is limited, drying agents become essential. These moisture-absorbing products actively ward off mildew by removing its key growth ingredient—water.

  • Silica gel packs: Throw some silica gel packs in your bin. These little moisture grabbers work just like in product packaging, pulling humidity away from clothes.
  • Cedar blocks and sachets: Fragrant cedar repels moths and mildew. The natural aromatic oil has antifungal properties, while cedar’s breathability helps airflow.
  • Moisture absorbers: Products like DampRid actively soak up ambient moisture from a storage area. Just don’t let packs directly contact clothing.

Rotate desiccants seasonally and replace as they become saturated. This ensures continuous protection against moisture accumulation and associated mold growth.

Add Anti-Mildew Fragrances

Certain natural fragrances deter mildew from taking hold in your stored apparel. Sachets of anti-fungal spices keep bins and closets fresher longer:

Like cedar blocks, these all fight odors, prevent insect damage, and hinder mold growth. Just avoid direct contact between sachets and clothing, which could stain delicate fabrics.

Clean Out First

Before storage, always launder or dry clean items first. Remove food spills, sweat residue, and other grime that mildew eats. Store only 100% clean, fully dried clothing.

Use odor eliminators on smoke smells which also “feed” mold. Vinegar in the wash kills bacteria and fungi remaining on fabrics.

Finally, allow clothes to finish drying completely. Even slight moisture lets spores take root later during storage.

storing clothes organized

Removing Musty Mildew Smells

Despite best efforts, mildew still sneaks its way into stored textiles. That first whiff of must alerts you to take action. Here’s how to rescue clothes and eliminate stains.

Wash With Vinegar, Baking Soda, and Detergent

At the first sign of mildew, launder items ASAP. This stops mold growth and avoids permanent sets. Wash smelliest clothes separately to prevent cross-contamination.

Washing steps:

  1. Soak overnight in vinegar which kills mildew.
  2. Scrub baking soda paste on stains.
  3. Wash with detergent in hottest water allowed.
  4. Air dry in sunlight which deodorizes.

Vinegar dissolves residue and fungi, baking soda lifts stains, and sunlight naturally deodorizes as you dry. Check care labels and test fringe areas first since vinegar can fade some fabrics.

Repeat washing cycles as needed until mildew stench disappears. Unfortunately smells may linger if mold penetrated fibers deeply.

Air Out in Sunlight

Nothing eliminates musty odors like fresh breezes and sunlight. Mold hates sun exposure while UV rays sanitize fabrics.

Hang affected clothes outdoors on a drying rack or clothesline. Rotate periodically so both sides get equal direct light. Let items sit for several hours over a couple days.

If staining or discoloration occurred, sunlight also naturally bleaches out evidence of mildew damage.

Use Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal absorbs and traps all kinds of odors safely and naturally. Put clothes in a bin with loose charcoal pieces mixed in to soak up mildew stench. Seal tightly and let sit for a day or two.

For faster results, used distilled white vinegar first to kill mold, then charcoal to remove musty smell remnants lodged deeply.

Preventing Future Mildew Growth

Once you evict existing mildew invaders, it’s equally important to moth-proof storage areas against future outbreaks. This requires ongoing vigilance and climate control methods.

Control Closet Humidity and Airflow

Creating an inhospitable environment for mildew remains key for prevention. Maintain clean, breatheable, and dry storage zones and you won’t see mold again.

  • Install a dehumidifier to regulate moisture below 50% relative humidity.
  • Use vent fans, air conditioning, and open shelving whenever possible.
  • Check humidity gauge and adjust as needed by season.
  • Remove and totally dry any condensation inside bins or on surfaces.

Proper airflow and reduced humidity leaves no room for mildew to return. However, keep monitoring since hot spots can let spores gain a foothold.

Wash and Dry Thoroughly Before Storing

Precleaning clothing eliminates food sources mold relies on. Don’t give mildew room to grow by putting away dirty clothes!

  • Machine wash everything first, using odor eliminators on smelly pieces.
  • Vinegar helps sanitize of bacteria and fungi.
  • Check cuffs and collars for hidden stains.
  • Ensure clothes are completely dry before folding away. Any moisture lets mildew take root.

Check Regularly for Signs of Mildew

Make inspection part of your regular storage maintenance. Periodically check containers and closet corners for early warning signs:

  • Musty, moldy smells
  • Moisture accumulation
  • White fuzzy patches or black dots on fabrics

Catching mildew early makes removal and smell rescue much more successful. Don’t let stench take over before taking action!


With vigilance on proper storage methods, mildew doesn’t stand a chance. Control moisture, allow airflow, block food supply, and keep inspecting. Implement these habits, and you’ll never dread opening a bin of clothes again.

Hopefully these preventative steps and removal tips arm you to fight mildew for good! Let me know if you have any other questions on managing mold in clothing.

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Our mission is to empower you with the knowledge to curate a wardrobe that not only reflects your personal style but also aligns with environmentally friendly practices. From exploring the wonders of natural mothballs and sustainable garment storage to diving deep into DIY solutions and green living, we're here to guide you on a journey towards a more eco-conscious, stylish, and intentional lifestyle.

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