Which is the best laundry detergent to remove mold? There are only a handful of laundry detergents or laundry additives that can remove mold effectively although many claim to do so. Mold or fungi are extremely resilient microbes and it takes certain antimicrobial activity and laundry soap or surfactant to capitalize on the washing machine mechanics to remove the mold from deep in the fibers in the fabric. These detergents can become expensive on a per load basis.
If you or someone you care for is sensitive to mold, mold stowed away on your clothing or linens for minutes to hours can cause debilitating symptoms. It is up to the individual to determine whether the cost of a laundry detergent to remove mold is worth the $1-2 cost per wash. If you suffer debilitating symptoms, it can certainly be argued that it is worth every penny.
We all have a limit of toxic substances we can endure during our lifetimes. Once we reach it, we be become very sensitive to these substances. Because mold is ubiquitous and several types of mold create mycotoxins, continuous exposure without safety precautions will push our body’s toxin burden over the top. In the case of mold, even a whiff might then cause a symptomatic reaction. Once you hit your toxin threshold, individuals often become chemically sensitive which can make fragrances and household or commercial cleaning solutions unbearable.
When reading this article, think about your symptoms and the price you would pay to be symptom free. The good news is that you will likely determine if the laundry detergent to remove mold works simply by washing several loads and wearing your mold free clothing. The feedback I have received has stated as much.
Who Should Pay Special Attention To The Best Laundry Detergent To Remove Mold?
This article is meant to address laundry cleaning for people that are either severely mold sensitive or live/work in moldy environments and have a desire to ensure mold gathered on their clothing during the course of day is properly cleaned to remove mold for their health and the health of the family as well. Individuals that will benefit the most from using a laundry detergent to remove mold from their clothes include:
- People with allergies of all kinds
- People who are immune compromised or take therapies known to compromise the immune system
- Mold sensitive or asthmatic children, elderly, pregnant individuals
- People testing positive for the HLA-DR gene
- People who have a history of chronic fungal infections such as chronic sinusitis
- Physicians and office staff exposed to mold patients daily
- Workers in the fields of construction and mold remediation
- Patients diagnosed with CIRS, mold sensitivity, mold and mycotoxin poisoning, and invasive fungal infections
- People suffering from diseases of unknown origin or diagnosis of exclusion
- People suffering from neurological disorders of unknown origin with cognitive, neuropsychiatric, brain fog, memory problems, and motor dysfunction
- Physically active individuals where damp laundry accumulates
- Mold inspectors, home inspectors, and environmental hygienists
How Washing Machines Work
Hang in there with me… this is actually pretty important when it comes to the best laundry detergent to remove mold. You have to understand the basics of how clothes get clean in a washing machine.
The Agitation Cycle is Essential
Washing machines have been working to clean our clothes and linens for centuries. The basic function of a clothes washer is to agitate your clothes with soapy water or soapsuds for a period of time and then rinse with clean water. Finally, the spin cycle moves rapidly, using outward force to remove the water.
Detergents are added to the wash in order to build up soapsuds or tiny bubbles composed of two components: a hydrophobic component that repels water and a hydrophilic component that attracts water. These structures organize themselves into sphere-like structures called micelles. The hydrophobic portion are attracted to each-other in the middle and the hydrophilic portion surrounds the outside.
In soapy water, the hydrophilic components expand to attract the debris, or in this case, mold, and the structure reforms where the hydrophobic pull the soil or mold to the inside of the sphere. This is how soil is removed from the clothing during the wash cycle.
The reason the wash cycle rotates is to allow the micelles to flow through the fabric to remove the dirt or biologic waste from the clothing. Since clothing is made of yarn like strands, the soap does not have trouble getting into the seams between clothing fibers. However, each fiber is a yarn-like structure composed of smaller tightly woven fibers in itself. The soap has trouble penetrating these fibers. Only about 0.1% of the soapy water can penetrate these fibers. These micelles need to be knocked out of the fiber by clean water.
Until recently, it was believed that the wash cycle did enough rinsing to remove these micelles. However, a group of physicists recently discovered that this process would take hours, which contradicts the normal wash cycle of 1 hour. This was called the “stagnant pore” problem that scientists did not solve until a paper published in 2018, “Cleaning by Surfactant Gradients: Particulate Removal from Porous Materials and the Significance of Rinsing in Laundry Detergency”. The cleaning occurs as a combination of both the wash cycle and the rinse cycle.
The process is called “Diffusiophoresis”, the movement of tiny particles suspended but not dissolved in a fluid. The use of an anionic surfactant creates an electric field that when hit with clean water forces micelles out the fibers. Without this ionic charge, the micelles and mold debris will likely not leave the fabric.
The following graphic shows how advection impacts laundry. In the field of physics, engineering and earth sciences, advection is the transport of a substance or quantity by bulk motion. The properties of that substance are carried with it. Generally, the majority of the advected substance is a fluid. Figure A shows how advection alone will not remove particles from the microscopic pores or spaces between the yarns. Figure B demonstrates diffusiophoresis that occurs with an anionic surfactant.
Washing Machine: Top Load vs Front Load
There has been a movement toward front load washers instead of the typical top load washer. This is due to the lower water usage (12 vs 28 gallons), lower energy use, faster wash cycles, less wear on clothing, and the belief that they generally clean clothes better.
Top loaders are still valuable and are often the better choice for mold sensitive people because they do not let water settle in the tubs.
Front loaders tubs are horizontal. This leads to mold creation from water accumulation around the rubber seals that are there to prevent leakage. Front loaders are just as effective as top loaders for cleaning mold, but they must be drained regularly (there is a drainage tube at the bottom of the machine.) The rubber lip that seals the front door must also be cleaned regularly as mold can grow in the seams of the lip.
If you regularly use mold removing laundry detergents or additives and avoid fabric softeners and solid detergents that can leave residue (made from cellulose, mold nutrients), the washing machine should clean itself. For front washers, the door must be left open after wash cycles to avoid trapping humidity in the machine and allow it to dry.
For more information on how to avoid washing machine mold and how to remove mold from a washing machine, please visit my article linked here.
How To Choose The Best Laundry Detergent To Remove Mold
Laundry detergents are plentiful and there are many choices that are green, natural, or “chemical free”. Unfortunately, none of these detergents address mold. Mold is an extremely resilient species that can withstand the washing process and even contaminate the washing machine due to the humidity that develops during wash cycles and the introduction of cellulose (mold food) in the form of some detergents and fabric softener.
Since mold sensitivity is often accompanied by chemical sensitivity, many detergents are not good candidates for these individuals. Detergents are chemicals that break down grease and grime. Soap encapsulates and removes dirty debris. All soaps are detergents; but not all detergents are soaps. It is important for mold sensitive individuals to use natural laundry soaps vs detergents.
There are a few laundry detergents that do remove mold from clothes. These products contain antimicrobial ingredients that can neutralize mold spores and allow the soap or surfactant to remove mold, mycotoxins, and debris from the laundry. Natural antimicrobials include citrus seed extracts, tea tree oil, and sometimes mixtures of several citrus seed extracts and essential oils.
One clear observation I have from using and speaking to many consumers of both products is that they work better when used in the cleaning cycle. This is consistent with the scientific explanation of washing machine mechanics andthe use of surfactants required to remove the mold and soils.
The Diffusiophoresis process combined with the right soap or detergent and antimicrobials is the right combination to have a product that is optimal in removing mold. More importantly, recognition of the physics involved has driven options to a narrow choice of commercial products and DIY options.
Top Picks For Laundry Detergents To Remove Mold
Citrisafe Remedy Laundry Liquid
Cost $28 (90 cents per load)
Citrisafe Remedy Laundry Liquid is a laundry detergent made with water, anionic and nonionic cleaning agents, natural builders and anti-redisposition agents, alkaline builder, lemon peel oil, tea tree oil, and Citrisafe botanical blends.
The best part of Remedy Laundry Detergent is that one ounce of product is needed per load in the laundry detergent. This makes efficient usage very easy and a consistent cost of $1 per load. When you look at the ingredients, literature, and after speaking to the founder, I am sure significant research on numerous formulations was undertaken to come-up with a safe and effective formula to sell to consumers.
EC3 Laundry Additive
Cost $23 ($1.44 per load at 2 oz./load)
EC3 Laundry Additive is a mixture of grapefruit seed, lemon seed, lime seed, and tangerine seed, and tea tree oil and simethicone (antifoaming agent) in glycerin diluted in distilled water. 1-2 oz. are added to the fabric softener reservoir and released into rinsing cycle. For heavy jobs, add 3 oz. to bleach tray during cleaning cycle while using a laundry detergent that is free from harmful chemicals, synthetic perfumes or dyes. There are many brands of laundry soap that are chemical free and these will likely cost an additional 50 cents per load. You can find my favorite brand here.
Other Antimicrobial Laundry Detergents and Additives
There are several antimicrobial options that can be used. However, this articles’ original intent is to recommend the best options for mold sensitive individuals or high exposure situations.
Several commercial cleaners exist that disinfect laundered items. These are mainly used in the hospital and other industry with high volume and disinfection requirements. For everyday home use, I recommend avoiding any harsh chemicals that can be irritants themselves.
What About Natural Laundry Additives?
Vinegar, baking soda, and borax are all safe, effective, and less expensive. They are limited in their antimicrobial efficiency compared to the earlier options and are less convenient for front or top load washers as they must be added mid-cycle.
I still recommend the natural antimicrobial products profiled above or below if mold sensitivity causes debilitating or irritating symptoms. However, if you are on a budget, they may be adequate in addition to detergent or adequate when used alone. This is obviously dependent on a person’s reaction to the clothing and linens that they are exposed to for long periods of time.
A note about Borax for mold. Borax is a detergent enhancer and works on mold and mildew. This can certainly be added to any recipe or laundry recipe. The only issue is the relative safety of Borax which has been cited to cause some irritation to skin, eyes, or skin. It can also be mistaken for Boric Acid, which it is a derivative of. Boric acid is highly toxic. You can learn more about borax for mold removal here.
DIY Laundry Detergent for Moldy Clothes
While I have not yet found the ideal recipe that I can recommend, there are thousands of recipes for DIY Laundry Detergents. As I continue my quest for the ideal recipe for a DIY laundry detergent to remove mold, I have gained significant amounts of knowledge about the ingredients, their limitations, and the washing machine conditions where they may be most effective.
There are many ingredient options, each with some limitations. I have narrowed my ingredient list to a short list that I continue to experiment with. At this point, I see no harm in sharing my discoveries. Therefore, I would like to share some key observations on some of the tradeoffs when choosing ingredients.
Soap or Detergent: There are many articles regarding the use of natural soaps. These include Dr. Bronners, Kirks Castile Soap, Ivory, Zote, and Fels Naptha. They can come in bars that must be grated or cut into pieces and ground into small particles by a food processor.
Soaps are surfactants but the oily base limits its ability to penetrate and clean deep into the fabric. There is also the potential for soapy build-ups on clothing and the washing machine that may impact the longevity of these items. That being said, many people have used homemade laundry soap for decades with no complaints of quality. It also can be made in both powder or liquid form and works in High Efficiency front load washing machines. Many of the recipes call for large batches. Liquid soap will require some melting into near boiling water which has its disadvantages.
Another option is to add mold removing ingredients to an existing detergent that is free and clear of potentially harmful chemicals. This is a little more expensive than homemade laundry soap, but it is less expensive than the brands above. If you do lots of laundry or are severely mold sensitive or cost conscious, it may be worth experimenting. In my experience, this is not harmful to your clothes as the washing machine physics will clean your clothing with most recipes, regardless of ratios. You will know by the feel, smell, and your body’s reaction to mold if you experiment to find your best mix.
Although I have tried soaps, my experience has led me to prefer the cleaning power of detergents. I found that my best solutions by far occurred when using Dr. Bronner’s Sal’s Suds Biodegradable Cleaner. It is a detergent and not a soap. It is made with plant-based surfactants and natural fir needle and spruce essential oils (no cheap, harsh pine stump oil), without synthetic dyes, fragrances or preservatives. It cleans and rinses extremely well, yet it is mild and gentle on the skin. Sal Suds Liquid Cleaner works in hard or soft water and rinses well. This is likely my detergent of choice. The detergent aspect is essential in removing dirt and mold from the fabric fibers while rinsing away the debris with the suds.
Washing Soda vs. Baking Soda: Many recipes utilize either Arm and Hammer Baking Soda or Washing Soda. There is a difference. Baking Soda and Washing Soda sound similar but they are definitely not the same product. Both can be used to clean laundry and in household cleaning, but baking soda is a safer alternative as it is safe if ingested and is harmless when exposed to skin. Washing soda is caustic and cannot be eaten, inhaled, or touched. Washing soda is more granular, abrasive, and higher with significantly higher alkalinity. In fact, it has a pH of 11 vs 8 for Baking Soda (pH7 is neutral). Thus, it is several orders of magnitude greater in alkalinity. While higher alkalinity makes for more effective cleaning of detergents, high alkalinity can cause fading in clothing and impact longevity. Baking soda is much milder, fights odors, and brightens colors.
My preference is baking soda in moderate amounts for its cleaning contribution, odor removing, and moderate alkalinity. When it comes to mold, the acidity of the laundry soap becomes very important as it helps break the cell walls of mold spores.
Essential Oils as Fragrances or Active Ingredients: Many recipes add essential oils for fragrance. A favorite is lavender for pleasant smelling laundry and sheets. My preference is unscented for almost all ingredients, especially soaps and detergents. When mixing a DIY cleaning solution, mixing fragrances can be a terrible idea as smells can compete with each other.
To make my DIY mold removing laundry detergents, I try to replicate the active ingredients of other effective laundry additives or detergents like the two stated above. I use Agrisept-L dietary supplement for the citrus seed extracts. I believe it includes the same ingredients as the seed extracts used in CitriSafe and EC3. Nutri-diem manufactures Agrisept-L, CitriDrops, and Agrumax dietary supplements. It is my understanding from the manufacturer that they are all the same but custom labeled. Agrisept-L is food grade and sells for half the price of the other two citrus seed extract blends. While I do not know if the specific proprietary blend is the same as EC3 Laundry Additive or CitriSafe Laundry Detergents, the principle, ingredients, uses, and their sources are all the same. This can be used alone with your laundry for mold removal and the laundry is essentially unscented or will have a very mild citrus smell.
The citrus seed extracts also act as a preservative for the DIY laundry detergent.
I also add a quality Australian Tea Tree Oil (also known as melaleuca oil) in my DIY mold removing laundry detergent. Tea tree oil is a well-known natural antifungal and antimicrobial agent. It is an essential oil that comes from steaming the leaves of the Australian tea tree. When used topically, tea tree oil is known to be antibacterial. Tea tree oil is an antiseptic commonly used to treat acne, athlete’s foot, lice, toenail fungus and insect bites. Tea tree oil has a strong smell to it. It is a grassy, antiseptic odor. I like it! The washing and drying will remove the strong odor you might smell while doing the laundry but it becomes much more faint and the smell is fresh. Keep in mind that you are also battling a musty odor when battling mold. This is a significant improvement and is unnoticeable in clothing when compared to chemical fragrances in detergents and fabric softeners.
Considerations When Formulating A DIY Laundry Detergent To Remove Mold
As I tried several versions of laundry detergents, there were three factors that influenced my preferences.
- Batch Size: Many recipes I experimented with made up to 5 gallons of detergents. Without preservatives and testing, it is impossible to determine if the laundry detergent will lose effectiveness over time or when exposed to heat or cold. With that in mind, I focused on the ability to produce small batches that are easy to mix and will be used in the near term. You can purchase some of the ingredients in bulk and they will have a shelf life of 12-18 months after opened when stored properly as directed, similar to most commercial laundry detergents. I plan on testing my final recipe through a commercial lab. Liquid and powder detergent stored in a cool dry place will keep well for 6 months to one year after opening.
- Purchasing flexibility. These products tend to be sold in bulk amounts. While relatively inexpensive, the flexibility to purchase in smaller amounts provides better economics when experimenting.
- Liquid vs Powdered: I preferred liquid for a variety of reasons. Most washing machines today are high efficiency and require less product. Having a formulation that does not create too much soap suds and works in these machines is essential. In addition, powdered detergents that I have tried tended to leave pasty residues where it hits water and can clump.
With all the information stated above, I decided to share that I am in developing my own formulation for DIY laundry detergent for mold sensitive people. Since I am currently not a commercial seller or distributor of any products, I believe I can share my DIY recipe to date, although I have some tweaking and testing to do to provide a recommendation vs the commercial mold removing laundry soaps available.
Rest assured that this is the result of my best efforts to triage the thousands of recipes you can find on Pinterest, YouTube, or Google. I researched all of the natural soaps, such as castile soap and other coconut or oil-based surfactants, chemical detergents, and detergent enhancers. With my objective being safe to use, effectiveness cleaning, removal of mold spores and debris, and the practicality of using the product optimizing today’s washing machines to remove mold. I had to consider the right vehicle for the active ingredients against mold and maintaining the right chemistry for the formulation. I balanced the acidity of the citrus seed extracts and tea tree oil with mildly alkalinity baking soda. I will continue to improve this recipe and share when it is ready. My goal is to provide the best solution available for mold sufferers that cleans well, optimally uses soapsuds to remove mold, leverages the physics involved with washing machines, and is cost effective.
Cesar’s DIY Liquid Laundry Detergent To Remove Mold
(32 oz. Bottle – up to 8 Batches. Cost: ~$7.25 per 32 .oz bottle, ¼ cup at 50 cents per load)
Estimating cost is tricky as purchasing all ingredients will be a $32 investment and each ingredient comes in its own size. Purchasing all ingredients will make at least 3 batches with significant remaining ingredients to produce more when replenishing other ingredients. Cost decreases with larger quantities purchased.
- Dr. Bronner’s Sal’s Suds Biodegradable Cleaner (16 oz Bottle: ~ $10) 5.3 oz. Will make 3 batches.
- Arm and Hammer Baking Soda (14 oz box < $1) Buy more than one for multiple batches. 5.3 oz. 2 boxes will make 4 Batches.
- 30 drops Agrisept-L (1 oz. or 130 drops ~ $15 per bottle) Use 20-30 drops per batch made.
- Tea Tree Oil, Therapeutic Grade (4 oz. $15 per bottle). Use 30-40 drops per bottle. Can be adjusted per preference.
- Distilled or Purified Water (1 Gal. $1)
- 1 quart-sized glass jar or bottle with tight fitting lid - this is the one I use myself.
- Place water, baking soda, and essential oil in the jar.
- Add soap.
- Replace the lid and swirl to combine.
- Product will have an amber color and should be used in reservoir and diluted if desired to avoid staining of whites.
- Shake well before using.
- Add 1/4 cup detergent per HE loads. Use 1/2 cup for regular washing machines.
Recommendation Chart For Mold Removing Laundry Products
|Product||Detergent or Additive||Active Ingredients||Cost Per Load|
|CitriSafe Remedy Laundry Liquid||Detergent||Proprietary Citrus Seed Extract||90 cents|
|EC3 Laundry Additive||Additive||Proprietary Citrus Seed Extract||$1.44|
|Cesar’s DIY Liquid Laundry Detergent||Detergent||Proprietary Citrus Seed Extract Made by Same Manufacturer||Less than 50 cents|
Sources for this article include:
- Shin, Sangwoo, Physics. et al. “Cleaning by Surfactant Gradients: Particulate Removal from Porous Materials and the Significance of Rinsing in Laundry Detergency”. Physics. March 16, 2018.
- Citrisafe Remedy Laundry Liquid Label
- Rawes, Erica, et al. “Top-load vs. front-load washer: Which is better?”. Digital Trends. Sep 3, 2020.
- Collado, Cesar. “Moldy Clothes and Bedding Cause Health Problems” Citrisafe.com. June 4, 2020.
- EC3 Laundry MSDS sheet, revised September 2018.
- Dennis, Donald. Micro Balance Health Products. US Patent No 8,088,418 B1.
- Meadows, William, et al. Vacufog US Patent No 10,111,974.
About the Author
Cesar Collado is a former pharmaceutical R&D senior executive, venture capitalist, and seasoned strategy consultant in biotechnology and technology industries in general. He currently works as an advisor to multiple technology start-ups and advises several companies with technology solutions, including companies that provide healthcare and other services for environmental illness. Cesar worked with MicroBalance Health Products from 2014-2019, where he had responsibility for strategy, revenues, marketing, and finance, as well as, writing all original content for the company’s newsletters during his tenure.
Cesar is passionate about awareness and treatment of environmental illness as a significant, unmet and misdiagnosed, medical need. He has partnered with Integrative Physicians, Bau-Biologists, Environmental Inspectors, Mold Remediators, HVAC IAQ Specialists, Pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, and other research professionals to generate educational materials for the environmentally ill.