Kill Mold and Mildew with Tea Tree Oil Review – Does it Work?

1 out of 5 leaves

1 out of 5 leaves

Tea Tree Oil  is an essential oil extracted from the Melaleuca tree that grows in Australia.  It has demonstrated anti-microbial properties that make it a great weapon in the naturophile’s cleaning and home health care arsenal.  It has a very strong, medicinal odor, and can be used sparingly for a desired effect.  Some have recommended using a solution of tea tree oil and water to kill mold and mildew.  But does this work?  Can tea tree oil be an effective natural tool against mold and mildew?

The Good

  • Better for you – all natural essential oils are safer to use around you, your family and your pets
  • Better for the Earth – because all cleaners eventually end up in the waste stream, better for it to be a natural substance washing out to sea
  • Saves Money – tea tree oil is pretty cheap on the essential oil spectrum, and a mixture of oil and water for treating mold costs much less than commercial mildew busters

The Bad

  • Must leave solution on mold to treat
  • Either it doesn’t work, or there is no indication mold or mildew has been killed
  • Does not remove the mildew staining – in facts makes remaining mold more difficult to remove

My Experience

The bathroom in our rental is old and has poor circulation.  We try to keep the window open as much as we can, but still mildew tends to crop up in the corners now and then.  So I was annoyed, but not terribly surprised recently when I moved my shampoo bottle away from the wall and saw this:

Yuck! Who invited you?

Lucky for me, I had just pinned a post from one of my favorite blogs about Tips for Treating Household Mold and Mildew Naturally.  Besides offering some tips for preventing mold, the author offered a handful of natural solutions to handling mold once it shows up.  The number one, most effective, natural solution offered was tea tree oil:  1 teaspoon of this essential oil plus 1 cup of water was recommended.  You combine, shake well, and apply to the affected spot.  The post included specific instructions to not rinse once applied.

I quickly mixed up a bottle of tea tree oil mold killer

1 tsp tea tree oil + 1 cup water = mold zapper

I gave the mildewy spot a good soaking before bed, and let it sit, with no rinsing.  The next morning, when I took my shower, I checked on the spot and it looked exactly the same No change at all.  I’m not sure what I expected with the no-rinsing bit, but I couldn’t tell that any damage had been done to the moldy spot at all.  Thinking maybe it worked better if the mold was damp, I gave it another good spritzing after my shower and let it sit all day long.  At the end of the day again there was no visible change in the spot.

Not to be outdone by a stubborn spot of mold, I carefully q-tipped a few drops of 100% pure tea tree oil onto the spot.  I noticed a little bit of the blackness started to run with the drips of oil.  I did not rinse off, but again checked on it later that day.  Again: No visible change.

Now, maybe the tea tree oil did indeed kill the mold.  Unfortunately, as it looked exactly the same, I have no way of knowing if it did or not.  Also, it did not remove the mold in any way.  So even if it’s dead I still needed to clean it off the wall.  Knowing that vinegar is a great tool against mold and mildew, I got out my handy spray bottle of vinegar and did a quick wipe down of the wall and also of another mildewy corner in the tub.  Here’s the really disappointing thing: the mildew treated with tea tree oil was harder to remove than the spot that had not been treated.  Significantly harder.  Like a scrub vs. a quick wipe harder.

So, to sum up:  It is impossible to tell if the tea tree oil actually kills the mold.  The tea tree oil application does not remove the mold.  And removing the mold after tea tree oil application is harder than if you didn’t treat it at all.  This, my friends, was a Green Idea Fail.

Have you tried out this method with different results?  Do you have other favorite uses for tea tree oil?

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42 Responses to Kill Mold and Mildew with Tea Tree Oil Review – Does it Work?

  1. Carol says:

    I recommend using oil of clove instead of tea tree oil. You use 1/4 teaspoon of clove oil in 1 litre of water. I spray it around my bathroom sink drains, along crevices that are prone to mold and the inside of my window ledges after cleaning them (I only started doing this a few months ago). Oil of clove is supposed to kill and prevent the mold from growing. I don’t actually use it to clean the sink, just spray it afterwards, although I’ve heard others use it to clean it as well. Although mold still grows back, I have found that it is much slower at returning. I’m confident that continued regular use will continue to lengthen the time frame before it returns.

  2. Dea says:

    I like the white vinegar approach best. I have made some of the vinegar/orange cleaner that you suggested, and spray that on straight. wipe down after 5 min and rinse, then a light application again with no rinse. about 2X per month.

  3. Interesting. I know that tea tree oil is usually great for fungus so it’s interesting that it didn’t affect mildew. Definitely good to know for the future!

    • Victoria says:

      I was suprised too!

      • christy jackson says:

        seems to work fine on my wall, i did bleach on one wall, and was sick. waited to air it out and then i used a swiffer thing with a old washcloth on it, sprayed down the wall and then wiped it with the swiffer till it was clean, then i sprayed it on and let it dry naturally and mine hasn’t come back since october, and it is february now

    • Rachael says:

      Either you didn’t use enough, or you’re using a cheap, crappy kind of tea tree. There’s no way it CAN’T work if it’s the correct kind.

  4. Interesting! I usually use vinegar as a soak then scrub away with baking soda and elbow grease! :) I hate moldy mildew growing in the corners of my tub :P Thanks for linking up again!!!

  5. Lisa Lynn says:

    Good info to know…I’ve read about this method but never tried it. Felt like I should try it! But now I’m glad that I didn’t!

    Found you on Home Is Where the Heart Is hop :)

  6. Thanks so much for sharing with Wednesdays Adorned From Above Link Party. This is great. I didn’t think about using tea tree oil to remove mold, but I’m not going to try it if we don’t know if it works. I will stick with vinegar.
    Debi

  7. I feel your pain! :) I, too, went out and bought Tea Tree Oil, and tried it on the mold in my bathroom (living in Florida is a great environment for the growth of mold!) and nothing. Tea Tree Oil is not the best smelling stuff either (LOL) I continue in my never-ending search for the a sure-fire natural remedy. sigh….

  8. I tried it in my cloth diapers and it caused irritation on my babies’ bottoms.

    • Victoria says:

      Ouch! Tea Tree Oil is so strong that you need to be carfeul about how much is applied to the skin.

      • viv says:

        I’m told, TTO is not recommended for hard surfaces. Its best on wood, Sheetrock, clothes etc.Clean the surface first with white vinegar for stains. apply 1 teaspoon to 1 cup of water, in a spray bottle, shake and spray away don’t rinse. TTO will kill the mold, penetrates the surface, kill the spores and prevent them from returning,

        • Fred M Zarro says:

          That makes total sense to me. The water is only the vehicle, it’s the oil itself that kills the mold (obviously, since water tends to encourage mold!!). So if the solution is sprayed on a hard surface, like Victoria did, the water will just sit there, along with the Teat Tree Oil, and dilute it. n the other hand, if it’s sprayed on wood, or some other porous surface, the water will soak in and soon evaporate, leaving the UNDILUTED oil behind to kill the mold. Please consider this, Victoria, as I know you tried to make an honest test, but you might be discouraging people from using it on porous surfaces where it would probably do a LOT of good!!! Maybe you could just note this in your article, so they’d know that your test only tested nonporous surfaces, and the oil probably had little actual contact with the mold. I don’t know how many teaspoons there are in a cup of water, but you put a lot more water on the mold than anything else!!! Thanks for considering… :O)

  9. Nancy says:

    Great information. I generally use a shower spray every day to keep the mold and scum at least at bay or to minimize it until I can clean. Thank you for sharing at RT this week. xo

  10. Nicole says:

    Dang, I have the same problem & was hoping for a fix. Oh well, thanks for the info. Visiting from Blog Stalking Thursday :)

  11. 'Becca says:

    How disappointing!! I usually scrub off the mildew and then soak the area with vinegar.

    My favorite use for tea tree oil is killing toenail fungus. Apply it straight, twice a day, with a cotton swab, all over the affected nail(s) and surrounding cuticle and also on adjacent toes. If starting with pretty serious fungus, add a first step of filing off as much of it as you possibly can (don’t remove so much nail that you draw blood!) with a DISPOSABLE emery board, over the bathtub, then throw away the emery board and wash the powdered fungus down the drain, before beginning the tea tree oil treatment. It works really well.

    • Victoria says:

      oooh – great tip. If I had know this several years agao, I may not have had to get my big toenail removed twice!

  12. memyself says:

    Sounds like the tea tree oil was too diluted. I’ve heard 1 part tea tree oil to 1 part water. It would be interesting to see if that would work better or not.

  13. Heather says:

    I’m confused as to what you were expecting from the TTO. Did you think it would disappear? Killing something is not the same as removing it. I’m not sure of any remedy, natural or chemical that will do both without you actually washing the residue away! Even if you’d sprayed it down with bleach, you would still need to wipe the area to remove the dead mold (you might not be able to see it since it would be bleached – but it’s still there). I would think your best bet would be to clean the area (using vinegar or soda or homemade “soft scrub”) and THEN spray it down to kill any spores you missed. Then a regular spray down of the area to prevent mold from growing would do the trick. I can’t imagine TTO NOT killing the mold (assuming it’s not too diluted), but just like a mouse in a trap – it may be dead but the remains aren’t going anywhere till YOU remove them!

  14. Jess says:

    Our rental bathroom has very poor air flow as well our entire ceiling gets covered in mold. I mixed up 1 cup of tea tree oil and 1 tsp of tea tree oil and sprayed it across my ceiling. It does say do not rinse but it does not say do no wipe. The reason it says do not rinse is so the oil can continue to kill the mold and help prevent future mold. I let the mixture sit for 30 seconds or so and wiped it with a dry cloth. The mold came off easily except for a few problem areas needed a little more scrubbing. Letting it sit overnight is probably the reason why it was so hard to scrub off the mixture and dead mold dried to your wall. I found it relatively effortless and I have plenty of oil left to do it many more times. I would say the smell is more of a pine smell (better then the smell of bleach). The tea tree oil was not meant for mildew just mold that is why it did not work on your mildew.

  15. John says:

    I’m using tea tree oil. I made a website and I’m taking a picture of my toes every week to show people whether it works or not (hopefully it does). It’s at http://teatreefornailfungus.com, and its non-commercial. It’s only been 3 weeks so far so there isn’t much change yet.

    • dea says:

      Good luck John. I would be interested in seeing if this works…my Hubby has nail fungus BAD, but we can’t afford the pharmaceuticals.

    • Victoria says:

      What a cool idea for a site – best of luck! I had a toenail fungus once and the expensive (and liver damaging pharmaceuticals) didn’t work. I had to have the nail completely removed, then treat with an antifungal cream for months while the nail grew back. I hope the tea tree oil works for you!

  16. modernmoron says:

    You are not supposed to rinse because that reapplies moisture which will result in more mold growth. Wipe, not rinse.

  17. osbourne cox says:

    Tea tree oil is very effective in killing mold. You however, are not very effective in applying it.

    First you clean the mold stains with vinegar. Then you apply (spray) the TTO water and let it work.
    Because it is an OIL it will be effective as it will stick to the wall like glue. That is also the reason why you had a hard time removing the stains.

    It’s success rate should be measured on how long it takes before the visible stains reappear and not by waiting for the stains to somehow magically disappear.

  18. Jenna Meloney says:

    TTO keeps mold away from a spot that was previously prone to mold. It has not bleaching effect, which is what you are waiting for to happen. TTO kills fungus and does a good job at it. Secondly, porous grout is prone to mold. If you apply this on the grout, the surface becomes very resistant to a continued mold/fungal attack.

    My process is a little different than yours and have had excellent results that bleach alone could never fix or even vinegar.

    I apply 60% TTO to the mold area. Ensure that it is completely covering it and a little more around to ensure no spores nearby will come haunt again. Leave it for about 1 hour to ensue that it gets to the fungus/mold as much as possible. Usually, the mold loses it strong color that I use as an indication for killing. Then I clean the surface with bleach solution (1 part bleach, 2 parts water). I clean the spot thoroughly. If bleach will discolor the surface then I will use vinegar solution (1 part 5% white vinegar with 2 parts water) to clean the surface.

    If the surface is porous, I will then dab it with TTO if I know that it will not leave a visible stain for future proofing. Best to do for grout between tiles and that is it.

    It works miracles.

    • Victoria says:

      Thanks Jenna. I may have to try this one again!

    • Annie says:

      Jenna,

      You mention dabbing porous surfaces with the TTO after the initial cleaning with 60% TTO solution, followed by bleach/vinegar cleaning. Are you dabbing on a full concentration of oil (i.e. 100%) at that point or dabbing on the 60% solution again (after the bleach/vinegar cleaning)?

      Thanks!

  19. Kelley says:

    I want to second Jenna’s post. I’m allergic to mold and I have a summer cottage on a lake, so mold-control is a constant battle! I have tried everything, and Tea Tree oil is definitely my favorite tool in the anti-mold arsenal. I have used it on walls, furniture and clothing with spectacular success; It definitely kills the mold, and eradicates the mold smell. However, it does NOT remove mold stains.

    If you have clothing or other textiles that get a mildew smell, just soak them in water with a little TTO, and then wash them. Mildew gone. I love the stuff! :)

  20. Ryan says:

    Seconding those who say TTO does work, I have a front-loading washing machine that has problem trapping water in the door gasket so mold grows around the door. One spray with TTO and it hasn’t had mold in months. The original mold is still there (I didn’t try to scrub it off) but faded (dead I presume) but no more grows (and no smell) even though the washer door gasket is getting wet multiple times per week.

    Pretty sure this is a strong testament for both efficacy in killing and in preventing future mold growth.

  21. Sam says:

    Most people are use to the whitening effect of bleach, so the stain left behind after a tea tree oil treatment can be frustrating. Tea tree oil will kill the mildew and mold, but it will not bleach it out. Even if you use bleach to kill the mildew, you should wash it down afterwards or else the dead spores or whatever the bleach killed is still sitting on the surface.

    • Fred M Zarro says:

      If someone does not want to leave the moldy site as it is, after spraying with Tea Tree oil solution, then they should wipe away the mold, rather than rinsing. They don’t want to remove the tea tree oil, which prevents future mold!! It sounds like an excellent solution would be to dampen a cloth with vinegar, wipe away the visible mold on the surface, and THEN spray on the tea tree solution. If it’s done on a porous surface like wood, clothing, sheetrock, etc, the water will be absorbed/evaporate, and the oil will remain on the surface (and inside the wood etc, where it was carried by the water)!!

  22. Jakob says:

    I am a restoration technician with 5 years of mold remediation experience, and multiple CleanTrust certifications.. you need to understand that TTO kills the mold and prevents it through a remaining residue. if you want to remove the visual stains or surface spores and kill the mold and prevent it from returning, the proper procedure would be as follows.

    for most materials you would use a cleaning soution. this can be anything you want to use. the key is to NOT saturate the material you are cleaning. scrub thuroughly and remove all visible signs of the mold, wipe/dab dry. When DRY ay the 8 parts 10 parts TTO 1 parts water solution to all cleaned areas allow to penetrate and dry DO NOT WIPE OR RINSE.

    Note that this will not prevent all mold growth. the main control factors are to keep the actual humidity (or GPP) below 50 and the temp below 72 in order to prevent a inhabitable and sustaining enviroment for the mold spores to grow.
    In addition air circulation plays a BIG part in preventing mold gowth. In the aforementioned environment, areas without air flow will produce visible mold days before areas that are without a lack of proper ventilation/circulation.

    • Kristi says:

      Jakob, you seem to pretty knowledgeable about TTO. Do you have any suggestions on how much I should add to a dog water bed? It is about 42″ x 30″ and has a sponge the same size inside of it and it can hold about 8 gallons of water. After emptying the water out, I didn’t store it properly and mold has grown inside and it also appears slightly on the outside. The company recommends using TTO or grapefruit seed extract oil to kill the mold, but they weren’t sure how much to use. I don’t want to fill the bed all the way since I am traveling to Florida and bringing it with me. I plan on filling it with 3 to 4 gallons, but have no idea if I should add 1 teaspoon or numerous tablespoons. I’m also not sure if anything will get rid of the mold stains that are visible on the outside. If you can be of any help with these 2 issues I would greatly appreciate it! Thanks!

  23. Tara says:

    I’d question the quality of the tea tree oil you used rather than the recipe. Many “tea tree” oils have low quality tree oil or have it diluted with a carrier oil. And either of these situations would make your efforts to kill mold or mildew predictably futile.

    I find real tea tree oil (i.e. Treemenda or Thursday Plantation) extremely effective for many issues, but I would never ever use the brand you displayed. Unlike other oils, real tea tree oil is strong enough to etch plastic and melt the ink on plastic shopping bags.

    Also, the website I referenced (http://www.howtoremoveblackmold.com/how-to-kill-black-mold.html), states that you need to verify that your tea tree oil: 1) is made from melaleuca alternifolia, and 2) has no less than 30% terpinen 4-ol and no more than 15% cineole.

    Before you slam something and redirect people away from a product that has a long history of being powerfully beneficial, please make sure that you do your research, even if it is just doing a Google on the product or visiting your health food store. Please do not underestimate the reach of your page. You can do a lot of people a big favour by redoing your experiment with real tea tree oil and updating your page accordingly.

  24. Pingback: Why Does Baking Soda Kill Mold | I Make Good Food

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