Get Rid of Mildew for Good
Follow these five tips to tackle icky bathroom buildup like a pro
By Ayn-Monique Klahre
It’s almost impossible to avoid mildew in your bathroom—with so much heat and moisture, the grout between your tiles and the sealant around your tub is the perfect breeding ground. Fortunately, unless you have an allergy, mildew is more of a pain-in-the-neck reminder to clean than a real health concern. However, if you don’t take care of mildew, it can get behind your walls or spread into other areas of your home, which can turn into a major headache. Read on to learn how to prevent and treat mold buildup with these do-it-yourself tips from cleaning professionals.
The WAD Factor
The reason you find mildew in the bathroom is what Mindy Starns Clark, author of The House That Cleans Itself, calls the “WAD” factor: It’s warm, airless and damp. Tackle these factors first to cut back on mildew growth. Crack open a window or leave the door slightly ajar while you shower to release humid air. If you don’t have a window, use a portable fan or dehumidifier to suck moisture out of the air after you shower. And if you’ve got a vent fan, use it! Clark suggests you turn on the vent before you start your morning shower and keep it going until you leave for the day—even if the mirror isn’t fogged up any more, there’s still moisture in the air.
No, you don’t need to clean every day—or even every week, says Jeff Campbell, author of Speed Cleaning and a member of The Clean Team. “People should clean their bathroom when it needs it. Bathroom use is different from family to family or season to season,” he says. But there are a few little things you can do daily to combat mildew buildup: Keep surfaces free of dirt, grease and body oils by using a squeegee on the walls or even the floor after a shower. Spread towels out so they can dry completely and, Clark advises, use “the most synthetic [materials] possible” like polyester or vinyl for curtains or bathmats, since they absorb less liquid.
How you tackle mildew depends on how much you have and how long it’s been there, says Debra Johnson, a training manager for Merry Maids. Because her team spends their days cleaning houses, they choose products with fewer chemicals to limit what they might inhale or touch. Their secret combo: a closed-loop microfiber cloth, which is a super-soft textile with great absorption power, and water, because the scrubbing action and absorption grab mildew from grout (throw the cloths in the wash when you’re done and reuse them). Campbell prefers a stiff bristle toothbrush or tile brush to dig into corners and grout lines, while Clark recommends the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.
If scrubbing doesn’t work, the experts agree that bleach is the best alternative. Start by making a solution of 3 parts water to 1 part bleach, or buy a formula that contains a small amount of bleach. If that doesn’t work, try using a more concentrated solution; Starns has had luck with Zep Mold & Mildew Stain Remover. Just don’t mix different solutions as you try to find one that works! Combining solutions that contain bleach and ammonia gives off toxic fumes with life-threatening side effects. You might also consider using a steam cleaner, says Johnson, with a brush attachment that will tackle growth with high heat.
Don’t throw in the towel just because your grout is black: As long as it’s not broken up, it’s still acting as a barrier to keep the inside of your walls dry, so it’s more of a cosmetic problem than anything (assuming you don’t have allergies). But if you give it your all and the mildew still won’t go away, you might consider ripping out the caulk and resealing your tub area (scrape out the caulk with a sharp-edged tool, clean with bleach and let dry, then fill in again). If you suspect that it has gotten behind the tiles or it’s spreading through the structure of the room, if might be worth retiling the shower stall or renovating the bathroom—nothing short of getting straight to the mildew and removing it will solve the problem if it’s inside the walls. If you’re taking this leap, be sure to address the big issues. Use mildew-resistant materials (such as mildew-resistant paint or laminate flooring), install a vent fan and be sure to seal the new grout properly to prevent mildew from working its way in again.