Mildew On Wood Furniture: The Uninvited Guest You Need to Evict

Mildew is a fungus that thrives in damp, warm, and humid environments. It appears thin, powdery, and sometimes fuzzy growth on various surfaces, including wood.

While often confused with mold, mildew is usually lighter in color, typically white, gray, or yellowish. Mildew on wood furniture is primarily caused by excess moisture and poor ventilation.

When humidity levels are high and airflow is restricted, it creates the perfect breeding ground for mildew to grow.

So, if you want to keep your furniture looking great and your home environment healthy, it’s essential to read on and learn how to tackle this pesky issue.

Mildew vs. Mold on Wood: Similarities and Differences

Mildew and mold are fungi that thrive in damp environments, making them common culprits for ruining wooden furniture.

Although they share some characteristics, there are key differences between the two. Mildew tends to have a powdery or fuzzy appearance and comes in lighter shades of white, gray, or yellow. Also, learn more about white mold on wood.

In contrast, mold can be present in various colors, including black, green, or blue, and often has a slimy or fuzzy texture.

Dangers of Mold and Mildew on Wood Furniture

Both mold and mildew can have detrimental effects on wood furniture. They can weaken the wood, leading to decay and rot and compromising the integrity of your furniture.

Additionally, mold and mildew can trigger allergies, asthma, and other respiratory problems. In some cases, exposure to certain mold species, like black mold, can have even more severe health implications.

Now that you know the dangers and differences between mold and mildew, it’s time to take action.

But where do you start? The first step is identifying whether you’re dealing with mildew or mold. Once you’ve determined the culprit, you can tackle the issue head-on using the appropriate methods.

Causes of Mildew on Wood Furniture

Understanding the root causes of mildew on wood furniture is the first step in preventing and treating this pervasive problem. Let’s delve into the three main factors contributing to mildew growth:

Humidity and Moisture

One of the key ingredients for mildew growth is a damp environment, which is why humidity and moisture are the primary culprits when it comes to mildew on wood furniture.

High humidity levels and any moisture form create the perfect breeding ground for mildew to thrive.

Sources of moisture can be as obvious as a water leak or as subtle as the condensation that forms on windows during a rainy day.

Wooden furniture placed in damp basements or bathrooms is particularly susceptible to mildew growth due to the elevated moisture levels in these areas.

Additionally, natural humidity fluctuations during the year can contribute to the problem, especially in geographic regions with high humidity.

Poor Ventilation

Poor ventilation is the second major factor contributing to mildew growth on wood furniture. When airflow is restricted in a space, it can’t effectively regulate humidity levels and remove moisture from surfaces, including your wood furniture.

Rooms with inadequate ventilation or insufficient air circulation, such as basements, garages, or storage areas, are prime locations for developing mildew.

Furniture placed against walls, in corners, or tightly packed in a room can also experience poor air circulation, making it more susceptible to mildew growth.

Lack of Sunlight

Like many other fungi, mildew prefers to grow in dark, damp environments. A lack of sunlight in a room can contribute significantly to mildew growth on your wood furniture.

Sunlight not only helps to dry out surfaces, but it also has natural disinfectant properties, thanks to the ultraviolet (UV) rays it emits.

Rooms with limited natural light or furniture placed in dark corners are at a higher risk for mildew growth.

In addition, prolonged periods of overcast or rainy weather can exacerbate the problem, as they limit the amount of sunlight entering a space.

Identifying Mildew on Wood Furniture

Knowing how to identify mildew is crucial when preserving the beauty and longevity of your wood furniture.

This section will discuss the visual signs and odors to help you detect mildew on your furniture.

We’ll also explore whether or not mildewed furniture can be saved and when it’s time to call in the professionals.

Visual Signs

Mildew typically appears as a thin, powdery, white or grayish film on the surface of wood furniture. Over time, it can darken in color, becoming black or greenish.

However, not all discoloration on wood furniture is mildew; it could also be dirt, dust, or staining from other sources.

Here are some things you can look for to tell if you have mildew:

Irregular patterns

Mildew growth often forms in irregular, patchy patterns rather than uniform coverage. It may be concentrated in certain areas, such as corners or crevices, where moisture and humidity are more likely to accumulate.


Mildew’s distinctive powdery or fuzzy texture differentiates it from stains or dirt. Running your fingers lightly over the suspected area can give you a better idea of the surface texture.

Growth progression

Mildew spreads over time, especially if the conditions that caused it persist. If you notice the affected area growing larger or changing in appearance, this could be a sign of mildew.


Mildew often produces a musty, earthy smell that can permeate a room or linger on your furniture. This odor is unpleasant and can cause respiratory issues for sensitive individuals.

If you detect a persistent musty odor around your wood furniture, it’s worth investigating further for potential mildew growth.

Can Mildewed Furniture Be Saved?

Whether or not mildewed furniture can be saved depends on several factors, including the extent of the damage, the type of wood, and the piece’s value.

Here are some things to consider when determining if your furniture is worth saving:

The severity of the mildew

If the mildew growth is superficial and has not penetrated deep into the wood, it’s more likely that the furniture can be cleaned and restored. However, the piece may be beyond repair if the mildew has caused extensive damage, such as rotting or weakening the wood.

Type of wood

Some types are more resistant to mildew and can withstand treatment better than others. Hardwoods like oak, maple, and walnut are more durable and have a better chance of recovery, while softwoods like pine and cedar are more prone to damage and decay.

Value and sentimentality

Consider the monetary and sentimental value of the piece when deciding if it’s worth attempting to save. If the furniture has significant value or sentimental meaning, it may be worth investing the time and effort to restore it.

When to Seek Professional Help

If you’re unsure about tackling mildew removal on your own or if the problem is extensive, it’s best to seek professional help. A skilled professional can assess the situation, provide expert advice, and help restore your furniture to its former glory. Additionally, they can offer guidance on preventing future mildew growth and protecting your wood furniture for years to come.

Cleaning Mildew off Wood Furniture

This guide will explore step-by-step processes for cleaning mildew off wood furniture, with special considerations for antiques.

We’ll also delve into what kills mildew on the wood, from chemical solutions to natural remedies.

Understanding Mildew and Its Effects on Wood Furniture

Mildew is a type of fungus that thrives in warm, damp environments. It can grow on virtually any surface, but wood furniture is particularly susceptible due to its porous nature.

When mildew latches onto wood, it can cause discoloration, foul odors, and even structural damage if left untreated.

Moreover, mildew can aggravate allergies and respiratory issues, so tackling the problem head-on is essential.

Prevention: The First Line of Defense

Before we dive into cleaning techniques, it’s important to consider prevention measures.

To minimize the likelihood of mildew growth, follow these tips:

  • Maintain a balanced indoor humidity level (between 30-50%)
  • Ensure proper ventilation in rooms with wood furniture
  • Keep furniture away from direct sunlight or sources of moisture
  • Regularly clean and dust wood furniture to remove dirt and spores

Preparing for the Battle Against Mildew

Before you begin the cleaning process, gather the following supplies:

  • Soft-bristle brush or toothbrush
  • Mild detergent or wood cleaner
  • Soft, clean cloth or sponge
  • White vinegar or rubbing alcohol
  • Protective gloves and eyewear
  • Fans or dehumidifiers (optional)

Step-by-step Process for General Cleaning:

Assess the Damage: Inspect your wood furniture for mildew growth. Take note of the severity and affected areas.

Move the Furniture: If possible, move the furniture outdoors or to a well-ventilated area. This helps prevent mildew spores from spreading indoors.

Dry the Furniture: Use fans or dehumidifiers to accelerate drying if the furniture is damp or wet.

Brush Away Mildew: Put on protective gloves and eyewear. Use a soft-bristle brush or toothbrush to remove mildew from the wood surface gently.

Clean the Surface: Mix a mild detergent or wood cleaner with water. Dampen a soft cloth or sponge with the solution and gently clean the affected areas. Avoid saturating the wood to prevent damage.

Disinfect the Furniture: In a separate container, mix equal parts white vinegar or rubbing alcohol with water. Dampen a clean cloth with the solution and wipe the surface to kill the remaining mildew spores.

Dry and Polish: Allow the furniture to air dry completely. Once dry, buff and polish the wood surface with a soft cloth.

Monitor the Furniture: Keep an eye on the furniture for signs of mildew recurrence. Repeat the cleaning process if necessary.

Cleaning Antique Wood Furniture

Antique wood furniture requires extra care due to its age and delicate nature. Here are a few tips for cleaning mildew off antiques:

  • Test cleaning solutions on a small, inconspicuous area before applying them to the entire piece
  • Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaning tools that can damage the wood surface or finish
  • Consult a professional conservator or antique furniture expert for the best cleaning methods for your piece.

What Kills Mildew on Wood

While household cleaners and detergents can effectively remove mildew, sometimes stronger measures are required.

Here are some chemical solutions that can help:


A solution of one part bleach to four parts water can effectively kill mildew. However, bleach may discolor wood or damage the finish, so use it cautiously and test it on a small area first.

Concrobium Mold Control

This non-toxic, EPA-registered solution eliminates and prevents mold and mildew without using bleach or harmful chemicals. It’s safe for wood surfaces and can be used on furniture.


Similar to bleach, ammonia can kill mildew but may damage wood surfaces. Dilute it with water (1:2 ratio) and test it on an inconspicuous area before applying it to the entire piece.

For those seeking eco-friendly alternatives, several natural remedies can effectively tackle mildew growth on wood furniture:

White Vinegar

As mentioned earlier, white vinegar is a natural disinfectant that can kill mildew. Mix white vinegar and water equal parts, then apply it to the affected areas using a soft cloth.

Tea Tree Oil

This essential oil has antifungal qualities that come from nature. Mix one teaspoon of tea tree oil in a spray bottle with one cup of water.

Spray the solution onto the mildew, let it sit for a few minutes, and then wipe it off with a clean cloth.

Grapefruit Seed Extract

Like tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract is a natural antimicrobial agent. Mix 20 drops of the extract with two cups of water in a spray bottle.

Apply the solution to the mildew, let it sit for a few minutes, and then wipe it off with a clean cloth.

Preventing Mildew on Wood Furniture

Mildew thrives in damp conditions, so managing your home’s humidity and moisture levels is crucial.

Here are some effective strategies:

  • Use a dehumidifier: These devices can help maintain a balanced indoor humidity level (30-50%), reducing the risk of mildew growth.
  • Repair leaks: Fix any plumbing issues, roof leaks, or window condensation to prevent excess moisture from accumulating.
  • Use moisture-absorbing products: Silica gel packets or moisture-absorbing crystals can help reduce humidity in small, enclosed spaces like cabinets and closets.

Ensuring Proper Ventilation

Proper air circulation is key to preventing mildew growth on wood furniture. Consider the following tips:

  • Open windows and doors: Allow fresh air to flow through your home by regularly opening windows and doors, weather permitting.
  • Use exhaust fans: Install exhaust fans in moisture-prone areas like kitchens and bathrooms to remove excess humidity.
  • Position furniture wisely: Avoid placing wood furniture against exterior walls or in poorly ventilated corners. Leave a few inches of space between furniture and walls to promote air circulation.

Regular Maintenance and Cleaning

Consistent care and maintenance can go a long way in keeping your wood furniture mildew-free. Here’s what to do:

  • Dust regularly: Use a microfiber cloth or soft brush to remove dust, dirt, and spores from wood surfaces.
  • Clean with mild soap and water: Occasionally clean wood furniture with a mixture of mild soap and water, ensuring not to saturate the wood. Dry the surface thoroughly after cleaning.
  • Inspect for signs of mildew: Periodically check your wood furniture for mildew growth, especially during humid seasons or after a leak or flood.

How to Protect Wood Furniture from Mildew

In addition to prevention measures, taking extra steps to protect your wood furniture from mildew can ensure its longevity and maintain its beauty.

Appropriate Storage

Storing wood furniture in a suitable environment can help prevent mildew growth. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Climate-controlled storage: If storing wood furniture for an extended period, opt for a climate-controlled storage unit to regulate temperature and humidity.
  • Elevate furniture: Keep wood furniture off the ground and away from damp surfaces, using pallets or shelving if necessary.
  • Cover with breathable material: When storing wood furniture, use breathable covers like cotton sheets to allow air circulation while protecting against dust and dirt.

Protective Coatings and Finishes

Applying protective coatings and finishes to wood furniture can create a barrier against moisture, making it more mildew-resistant. Some options include:

  • Sealants: Wood sealants penetrate the wood surface, protecting against moisture. Choose a sealant specifically designed for wood furniture.
  • Varnishes: These clear, protective finishes form a durable barrier on the wood surface, protecting against moisture and mildew. Look for varnishes that are water-resistant and designed for use on wood furniture.
  • Paints: Painting wood furniture can provide a protective barrier and a decorative touch. Opt for high-quality, moisture-resistant paints for the best protection.


Mildew on wood furniture is more than just an aesthetic issue; it can cause damage, reduce lifespan, and even pose health risks.

To maintain clean and mildew-free wood furniture, it is important to control humidity and moisture levels, ensure proper ventilation and air circulation, store wood furniture appropriately, and apply protective coatings and finishes.