Frank asked: How do I clean mold/mildew from leather shoes? The shoes were stored in a dark, damp location. I now have a green colored mold or mildew on and inside of several pairs of shoes. How do I safely remove it and protect against this in the future?
Mold requires moisture to grow. Whether it comes from perspiration that develops while wearing or from a damp room, the moisture must be removed to stop the growth of mold and mildew. Once the source of the problem is identified, you can remove the mold and mildew once and for all. There are different methods for leather shoes, depending on the durability of the leather. Suede and Nubuck should be treated the gentlest to avoid damaging the nap on the surface.
You Will Need:
- Long sleeve shirt
- A mask
- Stiff nylon brush
- White vinegar
- Soft cloth
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Leather conditioner
- Simple Green
Steps to Remove the Mold and Mildew:
- Put on a long sleeve shirt, gloves, and a mask to prevent inhaling the spores.
- Take the shoes outside.
- Begin by dry-brushing the surface with a stiff, nylon brush. This will brush away most of the mold and mildew that has built up on the surface of the shoe. Try not to inhale any of the spores and stand out of the wind direction to prevent getting any spores on you.
- For suede and nubuck leathers, this is all that can be safely done. If further cleaning is needed, such as for stains or if the mold returns repeatedly (signaling that the spores need to be killed), use a suede cleaner. Follow the directions on the packaging for application instructions. If that still does not remedy the problem, continue with the steps below but test each solution on a small hidden area first and allow it to fully dry to look for any adverse reaction.
- For smooth leather shoes, it is safe (and recommended) to continue on with further cleaning methods.
- Mix one part vinegar with one part water.
- Moisten a soft cloth with the mixture and use it to wipe the surface of the shoes where the mold was located. Vinegar is effective against most types (80+%) of mold.
- If the mold and mildew return, a stronger cleaning method will be needed. Isopropyl alcohol works very well for killing mold, however it must be tested in a small hidden area first, such as on the edge of the shoe tongue or underneath a flap, as the alcohol could remove the dye on the leather or have other adverse effects. Do not use rubbing alcohol, which contains other additives including dyes.
- After using alcohol, it is important to use a leather conditioner as the alcohol can have a drying effect on the leather.
- If you would prefer not to use alcohol, or if the mold still persists, spray the surface with Simple Green and wipe away with a clean, soft cloth. Again, be sure to test this on a small hidden area first.
Additional Tips and Ideas
- DampRid can be purchased from most stores, including Wal-Mart. Simply place it in the closet to absorb extra moisture to help prevent the return of mold.
- Another option to remove moisture from the area is to make your own low-budget dehumidifier, which can be as simple as a bowl or bucket filled with plain (no lighter fluid added) charcoal bricquettes.
- Silica gel can be purchased from craft stores. Simply place it in a small sachet and set in shoes when not in use to absorb excess moisture. Another option is to pour salt or baking soda in your shoes between uses to absorb moisture.
- To prevent moisture from building up, rotate through the shoes so that each pair is only worn for one day and then has a chance to dry out.
- Sunshine is a natural mold killer. If nothing else will kill the mold, set them in the sun for a day.
Leather shoes says
Good post! After the mildew is removed, use some talcum powder on the insides and keep the shoes wrapped up in cloth to avoid the attack of mildew again.
Cloth won’t stop the stuff!
Hi. After returning from a tour, I found all my shoes moldy in the cabinet. I washed and cleaned them, but when I wear them, a moldy smell emulates from them.
How do I get rid of this smell? (Smooth leather shoes.)
You could try the trick used for smelly books:
Cover the bottom of a storage container with baking soda, place a baking rack in the container, set the shoes on the rack and seal the container for a couple days. If you use a sealed container, this should also suffocate any potentially remaining mold. You could also place the shoes in a container with coffee beans or grounds for several days so they will emulate the smell of coffee instead.
Source: Book Think – How to Remove Odors from Books
You have to kill mold spores. BTW, leather in plastic doesn’t suffocate mold, it makes it form and grow. Use desiccants.
Karen K. says
Vinegar will permanently RUIN leather! Never use it. One part rubbing alcohol and one part water, mixed and sprayed on will kill the mildew. Always follow up with a leather conditioner after your item has dried. My *best* results were in using tea tree oil; kills mildew and conditions the leather all in one step. Mike–this should fix your shoe problem permanently.
Ridiculous! Alcohol is drying and does not kill fungus.
Fungicides: vinegar, borax, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide.
Hi, What about the inside of the shoe? If don’t get out all the mold, can this be bad for contracting fungus growths on your toenails and on your feet?
Thank you for the tips; my shoes are shiny now!
What is the method for using the tea tree oil?
White vinegar works for me. Had some boots that developed mildew/mold inside and out. I mopped the outside down with WV and filled the insides with WV, then drained it out. It killed the funky foot odor, too.
I have a pair of black leather boots that I took from the wardrobe after winter to wear. They had a white powder on them, which I cleaned off with a damp rag, and then I applied black boot polish. Within an hour, the white powder was back! I then cleaned it with antibacterial detergent and dried them for 24 hours – seemed ok. About an hour after wearing them, the powder comes back. Tried vinegar and rubbing alcohol. It cleans them initially, then once I wear them, it comes back. Thoughts?
Mold and mildew are fungi, which reproduce from spores. In order for the fungus to return, there must be spores present. Therefore, to get rid of it for good, you have to get rid of all of the spores. Since you said that the mold returns about an hour after you return home, that leads me to think that the spores are located in the closet/hallway/area where you keep the shoes. The mold is attracted to the leather because it is moist (more moist than a dry wall anyway), so even if you don’t see it growing somewhere else, that doesn’t mean there aren’t spores present that could be kicked up into the air with the slight breeze of movement when you set the shoes down, etc.
However, the spores could also be on the shoelaces or even inside the shoes (and then get tossed into the air and back onto the surface of the shoe when you remove your feet.) Clean the area where you keep the shoes, the inside of the shoes and the shoelaces (as well as the shoes again to remove the fresh spores that are visibly growing). You could just vacuum the areas where it is not growing (the wall, inner shoe, etc.) instead of using a cleaning solution, but it would be best if you use a vacuum that has a filter so that the spores aren’t sent back into the air in another part of the house later. If you would prefer to use a cleaning solution, the vinegar solution can be safely used on most surfaces (walls, fabrics, etc.), but test it on a hidden area first to check for any adverse reaction.
You do need to make sure you are using an anti-fungal though. Antibacterial soap will not kill mold spores, and neither will rubbing alcohol. Vinegar is an anti-fungal, and it usually works to kill the mold, but there are some species of mold that can survive the vinegar. If you clean all areas with a vacuum and/or vinegar, and the mold still returns, it could be that you have one of the more rare species of mold that is not killed by vinegar. If that is the case, then you should use sunlight or a commercial mold cleaner that is safe for leather. There are other household products that are anti-fungals, such as peroxide, baking soda or tea tree oil. However, any of those products could damage the leather, so if you decide to try one, test it on a hidden spot first and use a wet cloth to wipe it off thoroughly afterward. Also, if you use the baking soda, consider wiping the leather with a vinegar solution afterwards (wipe off the baking soda solution thoroughly first) to bring the pH of the leather back down since leather is naturally acidic.
Source: Mother Nature Network – Kill mold naturally: 5 eco-friendly ideas
Source: Wise Geek – Why is Alcohol a Good Antiseptic
Source: Leather Care, Repair and Restoration – The pH of Leather – Or, How to Ruin Leather by Following Bad Advice
I think the spores have grown into the leather and are using it as food. I’m going through this with all my shoes. It’s a matter of hours after hours in the sun with vinegar or Benefect fungicide before the odor returns. No visible sign of mold at all. Using ample rags, not cross contaminating and vacuuming walls even then wiping with fungicide, not too wet, everything before leaving to the sun. Exhausted. Not working! Going to try steam at a shoe repair. I know it sounds counterproductive, but if the temperature is really high and then they’re dried immediately in a little heated compartment… nothing to lose. This machine is from Italy, ScarpaVapor. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSjgm88Whi0
Hope it works!
Vic, I was in the army for six years and the white powder that bleeds through is salt from sweat. I had this issue all the time with my black boots. The only way I was able to remedy this was to soak them in warm water and 1 cup vinegar (to kill any mold) in the tub or a big sink to leach the salt out. Then, let them thoroughly dry. Treat them with saddle soap/leather conditioner and re-apply black polish.
I’ve used Borox to remove any odors from fabric because it neutralizes odors. Works great! I love it! I also read it helps with getting rid of mold/mildew…
I wear a pair of leather boots quite regularly and have started to notice a dark collection of something resembling mold or mildew under my toenails. There seems to be none visible on the outside of the boots. Has anyone else encountered this problem and what’s the best way to clean the insides of the boots?
I have an old baseball glove, in good condition except for a mildew smell from being stored in a damp basement. Any ideas for getting the smell out?
You can try the process mentioned earlier in the comments list of closing the glove in a box with baking soda to remove the odor. For your glove though, use something to prop the glove open, such as round tip toothpicks.
Another idea could be to put some baking soda in a sock and put the sock in the glove.
I think the smell is more than just a smell. I think it’s the presence of mold you don’t yet see. You must decontaminate it. Once that’s accomplished there will be no odor. Sun, vinegar, diluted borax… I would drench it in antifungals and hang in hot sun on a low humidity day. Don’t let it spread in the air in your home. Keep it isolated. Where it can “breathe”.
Stick ’em in a carrier bag, tie it up, shove ’em in the freezer for at least 24 hours… job done. (Freezing kills mould, and the smell.)
Red Turtle says
Freezing does not kill mold; it’s a sporoform, it just goes into a spore state. The only way to kill mold is to make it too hot or break the spore (ie. acid).
Can I cut the tea tree oil with rubbing alcohol to stretch it and also combine the two methodologies?
I have patent leather heels that were ruined by my apartment; it flooded, leaving mildew/mold on my shoes. I love my shoes and don’t want to throw them away; also don’t want fungus to get on my feet. I have about four pairs of shoes – 3 boots and 1 shoe. What’s the best way to clean them safely and to keep my feet safe, away from fungus?
Do the above methods also work on car seat leather? Does anyone know what the fungus is that grows on leather?
The vinegar method should work on any type of leather. However, you should skip step one; brushing the mold off works well for shoes, but since a car is enclosed, it would likely allow the mold spores to spread to another area, such as under the seat. Instead, use a car vacuum at a self-cleaning place to remove the mold, then continue with the vinegar treatment.
Knowing the exact type of fungus isn’t necessary for treatment; all fungus must be treated with an antifungal.
Don’t use vinegar unless you are mental… it bloody well stinks worse than the mold… and baking soda is wives tales rubbish. What I did today is I put my Frey boots out in the hot Florida sun; the outside of the boots measured with an infared thermometer got up to 140F. This killed the smell on the outside of the boots, but not on the inside, which only reached 127F… So I’m thinking a fan oven on 150F for three hours should bake out the stink!! Also, regarding the smelly leather car interior, park it in the Florida sun all day, that will roast it away; the car interior reaches 170F!!! That’s enough to kill salmonella! In the future, DO NOT STORE LEATHER IN HUMID CONDITIONS; what you want is warm and DRY. There is no alternative but to wear trainers… BUT THEY STINK TOO… but that’s another horrid smelly story too!!
Not everyone lives in Florida or can travel there just to clean leather. Plus, vinegar only stinks for a little while and works great.
Raymond's P.S. says
Ok, as a test, I put one boot in the freezer for 2 days (in a clean Wal-mart bag) and put the other out daily in the sun and fresh air… the boot from the freezer no longer stinks! IT’S TRUE! And the boot aired outside still smells quite unpleasant inside…
So there you have the experimental fact… freezing works!!!
I have leather flats and have sprayed them with a tea tree mixture twice and the white spots and white-looking string mold always comes back. I don’t know what else to try. Is there anything else I can do?
I have a few pairs of suede shoes and the mould keeps returning even when I clean them. Can someone give me some advice please?
I live in a 100+ year old house by a NC swamp with water usually standing underneath…humid conditions are my only options. LOL. I love that you conducted the freeze/sunlight experiment. Awesome job! Luckily, I LOVE the scent of vinegar. Just cleaned boots, shoes & a purse with white vinegar/water mixture. Looks great so far! I plan to wipe them down with tea tree oil when they dry. Sorry someone’s shoes were ruined with vinegar. Personally, I considered mine ruined with the mold on them and will gladly take the vinegar over mold-covered ones any day. Thanks for the tips!!
Isn’t there a way to remove the standing water under your home? I think this is a tremendous health hazard!
Doug E. says
I have a 2000 Heritage soft tail Harley Davidson. There are leather bags which have developed mildew on the outside and the inside. It’s rather a lot of leather. I also like a high shine on the leather on the outside. Any suggestion? It’s winter, and I have lots of time to work on them. Should I also keep the bags inside during winter periods? Thanks.
Each piece of leather that has mildew on it will need to be cleaned to remove the mildew. Use a leather conditioner to make the leather shine. For the weather, it would be best not to leave the items outside; while they might be fine, it’s still a risk. If the cold temperature doesn’t cause the leather to crack, snow exposure could.
I’m a Civil War re-enactor and have lots of various leather items…holsters, cap pouches, bayonet scabbard, belts, etc… This is the first year I have noticed mold starting to grow on some of the items, especially on the rough edges of the leather, so I think I’m going to try cleaning as if it was suede. Sounds like the brushing first, clean with mild soap, wipe, and then treating with a conditioner will work. Being as how it’s the end of the season for events this year, I don’t want to put the stuff away with this problem still going on.
Just a quick update to my earlier post. I tried using a light spray of undiluted bleach on the leathers first with a quick wipe of a cleaning rag. Let them dry, then did a quick brushing with a hand scrubber. Washed them with a mild soap, and let dry. So far, the leathers looked GREAT for the Gettysburg Remembrance Day parade. I will be storing them in a fairly tight cedar closet along with my wool uniforms, and using a box (or jar) of an air dry agent Home Depot sells.