Q.I have 2 pushchairs which have been kept in the cellar for about 12 months. The fabric has become damp and has mildew. Is there anything safe I can use to clean them?
(Mrs Andrea Broadhead, 22 September 2008)
A.Mould and mildew can be a real headache for items which are not in regular use and need to be placed in storage for any period of time. If you live in a damp area or climate, it is a good idea to check on any stored items regularly, as it is best to tackle mildew as soon as you find it.
First, brush off as much loose mould and mildew as possible with a stiff brush – make sure you do this outdoors, to avoid spreading more spores through the house and contaminating other items. Follow with a vacuum to lift out as many remaining mould particles as possible. Now, for upholstery fabrics and mattresses, the stained area can be wiped over by a cloth soaked in dilute alcohol solution, before it is placed in an area to be dried thoroughly – for example, next to an electric heater or out under strong, direct sunlight. Mildew on carpets and rugs can be similarly tackled with a dry soap or detergents, followed by a wipe with a damp cloth and then dried in sunlight or by a heater. If the mildew has become embedded into cushions or mattresses, then unfortunately, this may need to be professionally cleaned by a fumigation. It is also possible, sometimes, to spray furnishings with fungicide to get rid of mildew.
If the mildew is on a washable fabric, then again – first brush off as much as possible – then wash the fabric with detergent and water and dry in the sun. If a stain persists, you can try tackling it with a dilute chlorine bleach solution (2 tbsp of liquid bleach mixed with one quart of warm water) – liberally sponged onto the stain and then left for up to 15 minutes, before rinsing. However, beware that chlorine can cause colour changes and colour loss, as well as weaken the fibres of the fabric, so always test an inconspicuous corner for colour-fastedness first and never use it on fabrics made of silk or wool.
Remember, the best way to deal with mildew is prevention so make sure that items to be stored are clean (soil or grease can encourage mildew to grow) and dry. Try to store them with moisture inhibitors to dry the air around them(either chemically via commercially-available moisture-absorbing silica gel or anhydrous calcium sulphate, or mechanically using a dehumidifier or heating the house periodically) and in some cases, it may even be appropriate to spray the items with fungicidal products especially designed to give mildew protection.