We recently moved into a new house from a very moldy one. The other day I noticed a blanket that I was about to launder had mold spots all over it. I have tried to bleach them out, but to no avail. I thought about using baking soda, but was unsure if it would work. It is currently in the washing machine awaiting my next action. I have consulted my mother and friends, they too are baffled. If you have any advice for me, I would greatly appreciate it.
Poor you! Mold and mildew removal are one of the most annoying textile problems both physically and mentally. Physically, because breathing in mold can harm your health (especially if you are allergic to mold) and mentally because it is just so darn hard to know just how to remove it. I do have a few suggestions on things you might try and remember to do them in a well ventilated area and limit the time you spend breathing the air surrounding anything moldy. If you have allergy problems, you might want to consider wearing a charcoal filtered mask when handling the blanket.
For starters, you must get that blanket out of the washing machine. I know you think that it is "safe" in there since washing machines are supposed to get things "clean", but you actually are creating "mold heaven." Mold and mildew like nothing better than warm, dark, moist places. You need to get this blanket dried out in a warm, sunny place with lots of air circulation. An outdoor wash line on a sunny day would be ideal.
I am guessing that this blanket is not a family heirloom, but that you want to get the spots out so you can continue to use it on a bed. I am not exactly sure why mold leaves a "spotty" discoloration on fabrics even if the mold spores are gone, but it is not something that is easily removed without harm to the fabric. Sometimes the spot does get removed, but the threads are damaged in such a way that a hole is left in its place. Or depending on the color of the blanket, the dye is removed and a spot of color loss is left in its place. If this blanket is a family heirloom, some of the treatments I am about to recommend would be too harsh for old fabrics and my only suggestion would be to live with the spots. But if feel like you "have nothing to loose," here are a few suggestions. The first treatment is one that grandma was advised to use and the second is a contemporary suggestion.
1. Place blanket on an outdoor washline in the sun for a few days. Sunshine is a natural bleaching agent. Check the blanket periodically to see if there is any progress has been made to fade the spots. In the book, Crinolines and Crimping Irons, Victorian Clothes: How They Were Cleaned and Cared For, by Christina Walkley and Vanda Foster (Peter Owen Publishers, 1978.), several passages mention leaving garments outside in the sun either on a line or on the grass for them to bleach naturally. One suggestion is to "soak in butter-milkand leave on the grass in the sun. Soak several times if necessary, and each time place in the sun to bleach." (p.156) Another suggestion is to: "mix soft soap with powdered starch, with half the quantity of salt, and the juice of a lemon. Lay this mixture on with a brush, and let the linen lay out on the grass for a few frosty nights, and the stains will disappear" (p.156) Since I have never tried either suggestion, I don't know if they work or not, however they do sound logical especially if the blanket is destined for the trash bin if nothing else works.
2. Another possible way to remove the mold spots is to spray the affected area with an o-phenylphenol-based fungicide, the main ingredient found in Lysol spray. However, before any treatment is done, the spray must be tested to make sure it does not discolor or cause color loss or any other damage to the piece. A light spraying (not a soaking) and air drying on a washline might solve the problem.
Best of luck to you with this "project." Please let me know which treatment works the best.
Michelle "AskMisty" Oberly has worked for many years in the education and museum fields. For nine years, she was a senior faculty member at Ray College of Design (now the Illinois Institute of Art) teaching fashion history and textiles. She also worked as executive director for the Mt. Prospect Historical Society, Mt. Prospect, Illinois; curator of costumes at Germantown Historical Society, Germantown, PA.; and guest curator at numerous exhibits at local history museums. She has lectured and organized workshops on the preservation of historic clothing and textiles for a number of historical organizations. Oberly currrently lives in Yardley, Pennsylvania and is writing a "help" guide for collectors of historic clothing.
Email your preservation questions to: email@example.com
Sally Queen & Associates