How to remove mould from shoes

Mold can be a pesky problem, especially when it takes up residence in your favorite pair of shoes. Not only is it unsightly, but mold can also cause unpleasant odors and potentially damage your shoes. The key to mold removal is to act quickly before the mold has a chance to set in and spread. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the step-by-step process to safely remove mold from shoes.

remove mold from shoes

What Causes Mold in Shoes?

Mold spores are present everywhere in the air we breathe. When these spores land on a damp surface, they can multiply quickly to form the fuzzy splotches we know as mold. Shoes are prone to mold growth for a few reasons:

  • Tight, enclosed environments: Shoes provide an ideal dark, damp habitat for mold. When feet sweat during wear, that moisture gets trapped inside shoes without proper airflow.
  • Natural materials: Mold feeds on organic matter. Shoes made of leather, suede, cloth and other natural materials provide food for mold growth.
  • Lack of cleaning: Not fully drying out shoes between wears allows moisture buildup inside. Dead skin cells and other organic debris also accumulates, giving mold more food.
  • Warm and humid conditions: Mold thrives in warmer environments with humidity. Storing shoes in places like basements or garages puts them at higher risk for mold.
  • Infrequent wear: Shoes you rarely wear are more likely to develop mold since they sit untouched with trapped moisture inside. Rotating your shoes helps prevent this.

Signs of Mold in Shoes

Catching mold early is key to easy removal. Here are some common signs to look for:

  • Visible growth: Fuzzy spots or speckled patches appearing on the interior lining or insole. Colors like green, brown, black or white.
  • Musty odor: A damp, earthy smell coming from the shoes. The intensity increases as mold spreads.
  • Stains: On leather, mold can cause dark dots or areas of discoloration. On fabric, it may leave a faded, blurred effect.
  • Changes in texture: Mold causes leather and suede to become stiff and brittle over time through moisture damage.
  • White residue: In severe cases, mold may leave a white, powdery coating on the surface of shoes.

If you spot any of these markers, it’s time to take action before the mold colonizes further. The next step is assessing the extent of the mold damage.

Checking the Severity of Mold Growth

Before selecting a treatment method, inspect your shoes closely to determine how much mold is present:

  • Minor Growth: Just a few small spots on the surface that wipe away easily. This level is the easiest to remedy with basic cleaning.
  • Moderate Growth: Multiple splotches or stains covering large areas of the shoe interior. Surface mold wipes off but staining persists. May require an anti-mold solution.
  • Severe Growth: Thick mold growth that has spread deep into the shoe materials with extensive staining. Shoes will likely need to be discarded.

If the mold seems minor or moderate, cleaning and removal should be possible. Now let’s go over your treatment options.

How to Remove Mold from Different Shoe Materials

The cleaning method you use will depend on the material of your moldy shoes. Here are tips for removing mold from common shoe materials:

Leather Shoe Mold Removal

Leather shoes require gentle care to avoid damage during mold removal. Here are some safe methods:

  • Baking soda scrub: Make a paste with water and baking soda, then scrub it onto affected areas using a soft brush. Rinse and dry thoroughly. The alkaline baking soda disrupts mold growth.
  • Vinegar spray: Fill a spray bottle with equal parts white vinegar and water. Lightly spritz moldy spots and allow the acidic vinegar solution to soak for 10-15 minutes before wiping away.
  • Tea tree oil: This natural antifungal oil kills mold effectively. Dab it directly onto mold stains using a cotton swab 2-3 times a day until the mold disappears.
  • UV lamp: For stubborn mold, exposure to ultraviolet light can help destroy fungi on leather shoes. Place them under a UV sanitizing lamp for at least 10 minutes per side.
  • Professional cleaning: For valuable leather items, seek professional mold removal at a specialty shoe or leather cleaner. They have industrial methods beyond home remedies.
  • Leather cleaner: Use a small amount of pH-balanced leather cleaner applied with a soft cloth to gently lift mold and stains from leather shoes. Avoid over-wetting leather.

Fabric and Mesh Shoe Mold Removal

For mold in shoes made of fabric or mesh materials:

  • Machine wash: Check the care tag first. If machine washing is allowed, launder shoes in hot water to kill mold. Add an oxygenated bleach alternative safe for colors. Let them air dry completely.
  • Laundry spray: Pre-treat badly infested areas with an oxygen bleach laundry spray. Let it sit before washing. This helps break down mold for removal.
  • Vinegar soak: Fill a tub or bucket with equal vinegar and very hot water. Place shoes in the bath for 30 minutes to kill mold, then scrub spot treat mold stains before washing normally.
  • Tea tree oil: Use a cotton pad to apply tea tree oil directly onto moldy spots on fabric shoes. Reapply 2-3 times a day until mold disappears.
  • Hydrogen peroxide: Mix 1 part hydrogen peroxide with 4 parts water and spritz over mold growth. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before wiping clean.
  • Freeze treatment: Place shoes in a sealable plastic bag and freeze overnight or longer. Freezing temperatures can destroy stubborn mold not eliminated by other methods.
  • Discard: Unfortunately, if mold has penetrated deep into the shoe lining and insole, the only option may be to throw them away. Chronic mold can harm health.

Mold Removal Tips for Suede Shoes

Suede shoes need meticulous care not to damage the delicate material:

  • Suede brush: Gently brush the surface with a suede brush to lift and remove mold to the surface. Avoid harsh scrubbing.
  • Suede eraser: Use a specialty suede eraser to lightly rub away mold stains. This works best on minor discoloration.
  • Vinegar mist: Mix 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water and mist over moldy spots using a spray bottle. Allow to dry fully then brush away residue.
  • Salt scrub: Make a paste with two tbsp salt and one tbsp water. Dip an old toothbrush in the paste and gently scrub affected areas. Rinse suede thoroughly afterwards.
  • UV sterilizer: As with leather shoes, treating suede with a UV sanitizing lamp for 10-15 minutes can effectively kill mold.
  • Professional care: Some shoe repair shops offer suede mold removal services. However, restoration depends on severity of damage.
  • Suede protector spray: Spraying suede shoes with a waterproofing protector spray can help prevent mold growth by repelling moisture. Apply it every few months.

Homemade Anti-Mold Solutions

In addition to the cleaning methods above, you can whip up some homemade solutions using ingredients from your pantry to kill and prevent mold:

Vinegar solution: Mix 1 part white vinegar with 1 part water in a spray bottle. Spritz this solution onto any visible mold and let it sit for 10 minutes before wiping clean with a cloth. The acetic acid in vinegar kills mold and stops spore growth.

Baking soda scrub: Make a paste by stirring baking soda with just enough water to form a thick paste. Use an old toothbrush to scrub the paste onto affected areas. Allow it to sit briefly before rinsing. The abrasive texture lifts mold off surfaces while the alkaline baking soda neutralizes mold growth.

Hydrogen peroxide spray: Combine 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide with 4 parts water in a spray bottle. Lightly mist over moldy spots and let sit for at least 10 minutes before wiping clean with a dry cloth. Hydrogen peroxide oxidizes and kills mold on contact.

Borax solution: Mix 1 teaspoon borax powder into 2 cups hot water until fully dissolved. Submerge shoes into the solution or use a washcloth to rub it onto moldy areas. Rinse thoroughly. The antifungal properties of borax kills mold and prevents regrowth.

Essential oils: Oils like tea tree oil, clove oil and thyme oil contain antifungal properties. Dab them directly onto mold with a cotton swab 2-3 times per day. They disrupt mold growth by damaging cell membranes.

Preventing Mold from Coming Back

Once you’ve conquered the mold invasion, implement these shoe care tips to keep it from recurring:

  • Dry thoroughly: Always let shoes air dry completely after each wear. Stuff with newspaper or cedar shoe trees to absorb excess moisture.
  • Dehumidify: Use silica gel packs, charcoal bags or a dehumidifier in closets and storage areas to keep humidity low and prevent mold growth.
  • Rotate shoes: Don’t wear the same pair two days in a row. Rotating gives them time to fully dry between wears.
  • Sanitize regularly: Disinfect the shoe’s interior every few weeks using UV light, tea tree oil or other mold-killing solutions as maintenance.
  • Clean insoles: Take out insoles and wash periodically to remove odor, dirt and debris that mold feeds on. Let them dry completely before replacing.
  • Protect storage areas: Make sure closets, basements and garages are properly ventilated and dry. Fix any leaks or humidity issues.
  • Consider shoe bags: Storing each pair of shoes in breathable cotton shoe bags limits airborne mold exposure while allowing ventilation.

When to Call in a Professional

For severe or recurrent mold, a professional mold remediation specialist may be needed. They have access to:

  • Heavy-duty sanitizing solutions and equipment
  • Molecular fungicides that penetrate porous materials
  • Ozone machines used to deodorize and kill mold

Professional mold removal can cost over $500 depending on the extent of contamination. But the high costs may pay off for expensive shoes with extensive mold damage that you really want to rescue by any means.

Signs You May Need a Pro:

  • Mold has spread deep into shoe materials
  • Removal efforts have failed after multiple attempts
  • Allergic reactions occur when handling shoes
  • Mold keeps quickly returning despite prevention
  • Large areas of flooring, drywall or furnishings are also affected

When to Throw Out Moldy Shoes

While many cases of shoe mold can be managed at home, some shoes may be too far gone to salvage, especially if:

  • Mold has spread to inner linings, insoles and is not just surface growth
  • You experience allergic reactions or breathing issues around moldy shoes
  • Removal efforts have failed after multiple attempts
  • Shoes are very old and worn out already, not worth saving
  • Mold returns quickly despite prevention efforts

Trust your judgment. As much as you may love a particular pair that’s important to you, your health isn’t worth the risk of wearing mold-infested shoes.


With this comprehensive guide, you now have all the techniques needed to tackle mold in shoes of any material. Just act quickly at the first signs of mold and use the appropriate treatment method for your shoes. Maintain proper storage conditions and care practices to prevent mold from recurring. Don’t let mold ruin your favorite shoes – learn to manage it properly and keep your kicks fresh and mold-free.

Sharing Is Caring:

As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.

Leave a Comment