Lately, I have been experimenting with techniques to remove mold and mold spores from “dry clean only” clothing items. These items of clothing are often the more expensive pieces—dress slacks, cocktail dresses, wool coats, blouses, suits, etc.—so, it is only natural that people are less willing to part with them, even when they have been exposed to mold. Now that I practice a form of mold avoidance, where I clean my home and my things regularly for mold to prevent exposure and maintain health, I needed a way to clean these clothing items without damaging them. I will say, though, that when my family went through getting out of the toxic home that made us all so sick, we basically threw out everything and started over. I did not want anything from that toxic home in my life anymore.
It has been my personal experience that when your body takes a prolonged hit, especially from a particularly toxic mold, like Stachybotrys chartarum, the “things” in your life that also took a hit can continue affecting your health, even when cleaned and even when in a clean environment. It is almost as if your threshold to that particular mold is non-existent. (Note: Toxic load is a known phenomena, either through a big exposure or a gradual one. There HERE is a chart that describes it.) In my experience, I just reacted immediately and on a large scale. Thus, it was not worth it to me to chance it. That being said, the clothing items I am talking about here are ones that are exposed to mold in everyday life, or during travel, or in the store before you even bring them home.
Just as I was getting into my research and experimentation, I got a serendipitous email from the same reader who wrote in about cleaning some chairs for mold a few months back. She is a naturopath by profession and knows a lot about mold illness, so she is obviously ahead of the curve when it comes to knowledge and awareness of environmental toxins. As you will see in her email, she recognizes her susceptibility to mold reactions, and lessens her exposure by thinking ahead and testing items before bringing them into her home.
Here is what she wrote:
I still want to address the situation I made reference to a few months ago. Clothing….in particular, women’s clothing. Women are routinely buying clothes having no clue that they are moldy.
Here’s my story…
I like nice clothes and can afford an expensive indulgence now and again. I found a beautiful ivory coat that was “made for me.” High-end designer with matching price tag. I took it home; tap tested it, and waited 4 days, leaving tags intact. Well, it was nasty! Not sure what kind of mold, it looked like a colorful garden variety, smothered and covered. I returned it and tried to have a conversation with the manager (right?) about not reselling it. I asked her to “smell the musty odor.” She thought I was nuts… (Remember the Emperor’s clothes story?)Now, I continue to tap test garments before I commit them to my closet. In the past, I have given expensive dry clean only items to Barry at Admiral Cleaners to fog and dry clean. (Note: This is a local dry-cleaning outfit near the reader that specifically treats clothing for mold. They have a pick-up and delivery service.) I don’t bother with that anymore.
What are your thoughts on cleaning say, a fabulous sport jacket or St. John knit blazer? Spray with mold solution and let it dry in the sun? What about the leftover mycotoxins? HEPA the jacket? Dry clean?
Kris Lawler, ND
I love this question! While it may seem like overkill to some, to those who are sensitive to mold, Kris’s concerns make perfect sense. The mold battle that you fight everyday is against recontaminating your home and things and re-exposing your body to high levels of indoor mold. Not bringing moldy clothing or furniture into your home is part of that.
Here is my response:
First, I want to say that I feel your pain. I have been in a similar situation numerous times, where I either walk in and immediately leave a store, because I can smell mold either in the store or on the clothing, or try something on or bring it home and discover a musty smell that I do not want in my home. The most unfortunate thing is that salespeople generally do not care. If you don’t buy it, someone else will. People, like us, who understand the health repercussions of mold are “the little boy in the Emperor’s new clothes,” shouting that there is something wrong, while everyone else just chooses not to notice. I think testing things before you add them to your closet is a great idea, especially since you know how mold-sensitive you are. I will say, though, that if an item is washable, I have had stellar success with washing it immediately with the EC3 Laundry Additive.
I have tested items that had mold levels of too numerous to count before washing them with the EC3. After washing, items were down to zero-one mold colonies, upon TAP testing. These clothes were also washed at the highest temperature that they could handle and were dried for an hour minimum in a high-heat drier. I would definitely err on the side of caution, though, and not bring anything into your home that smells in the least bit musty, or that is questionable. As far as dry clean only items are concerned, my best advice is definitely to employ HEPA vacuuming, a botanical mold-killing solution, like EC3 Laundry Additive, and high levels of heat to make certain that you eliminate, not only the mold, but also any microorganisms or bacteria that could also be on the clothes. High heat will also be effective at “baking out” any chemicals. This will solve off-gassing problems. For me, off-gassing issues tend to be what gets to me most right away.
So now, let’s address a “dry-clean only” sport jacket or blazer, or anything else that is delicate, or cannot handle submersion in water. If it is something that you want to risk to water, hand washing with a mild detergent and EC3 Laundry Additive is the absolute best way to get the mold spores out and to also clean the item. Another very effective way of killing both mold and bacteria is heat. High, controlled steam heat (140 degrees F) will kill mold—that is why I love steam cleaning for mold so much. While a steamer can shoot bursts of 200 degree and higher steam, I have found that it is not always the easiest thing to use, because it is difficult to get in every nook and cranny of clothing items with a steamer. If you have a good garment steamer, you can try hanging the item, HEPA vacuuming it front, back, inside and out, fogging or thoroughly spraying it with EC3 Mold Spray, and then steaming every inch of it. I have not plate tested this method yet, but will soon to see how effective it is.
The way that I advise you to clean these items is a little unorthodox, but has yielded excellent results for me and is as follows:
(Note: Anytime you apply high heat to clothing, you risk damaging or shrinking the item. You have to weigh how much it is worth to you to try this. If it is not worth the risk, you may just want to let go of the item. The only kind of “dry clean only” items I would recommend this technique for are wool blends, silk, cotton, linen, and durable polyester fabrics. Suede, leather, velvet, taffeta, rayon, and anything with fur or down, I would leave to a professional dry cleaner.)
- HEPA vacuum the clothing item thoroughly to remove any dirt, dust or mold spores. (I used my HEPA with the furniture/upholstery attachment to vacuum the pants section by section. Mine has a canister with a hose. You can put different attachments on the hose to fit your needs. I use it for everything.)
- Start your dryer on the highest heat setting. Allow it to run for 20 minutes to get nice and hot. (Note: I read my dryer’s operation manual and called the customer service department. On its highest heat setting, my dryer is designed to reach a temp of 140 when it has been running for a minimum of 10 minutes. The size of the load can also bring down the temp, but I only put the pants in for this. Apparently, regular dryers on a regular heat setting reach 120 pretty consistently.)
- While your dryer is heating up, spray the item with EC3 Mold Solution Spray, both inside and out, or fog with a cold fogger and EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate, diluted per package instructions. It is extremely important to fog and/or spray the item as thoroughly as possible. You want to get every single thread. Anything left uncovered with the EC3 can still have mold spores. (I would advise to fog over spraying because fogging provides complete and total coverage of all particles. You literally smother and encase all of the particles on and around the object with EC3 when you use the fogger. It is easier to not miss anything and to get full coverage. HERE is my post on cold fogging.) Once you have fogged or sprayed the outside, turn the item inside out and repeat the process. Make sure to get inside pockets as well.
- Allow the item to air dry. Putting it in the dryer when wet will cause some items to shrink.
- Tumble dry for 1 hour on highest heat setting that item can handle.
- Remove item from dryer and hang in the open or reshape and lay flat to cool.
- While item is cooling re-fog or spray again with EC3 Mold Solution Spray.
The combination of the EC3 and the heat should sufficiently kill any mold or bacteria. I will say that my dryer gets VERY hot. Most dryers reach 120 degrees F. The higher the heat, in terms of mold, the better. Also, the longer the length of time that you allow it to stay exposed to the heat, the better.
If you complete all of these steps, the items dry, and you still react to them, or you test them and mold counts are still too high for your health, I would get rid of it. I am going to go purchase some pants this week, TAP test them, treat them with this technique, and then TAP test them afterwards to see how it works. I’ll let you know what my testing reveals as far as how effective this is.
Well, I put my money where my mouth is and bought the pants,
TAP tested them,
went through the above steps,
TAP tested them again,
and here is what I found:
I have some great news for you. I unveiled and photographed the plates this morning from my experiment on the pants. The initial plate from the new pants grew 4 mold colonies–definitely not something you want to bring into your closet, if you are mold sensitive, but not as bad as I thought they would be. After I HEPA vacuumed, cold fogged with the EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate and dried the pants on high-heat for 70 minutes, the new test grew zero mold colonies. Not even a trace of mold. This is so encouraging. Now, I definitely chanced drying them, and not all clothing can withstand that heat, so I’m going to have to keep experimenting, but I can say now with confidence, that this is a technique that you can use to ensure that mold spores are removed and are not being brought into your home. I will keep you updated with anything new as I go.
Does this post help you? Are you going to try my anti-mold “dry cleaning” technique? Let me know, or write to me with your questions.