Storing summer clothes?

Listen up

Listen up

October 14, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

"Go ahead," says the carpet beetle or clothes moth. "Make our day. Heck, make our season."

Lazily pack that summer clothing away in an airy, insecure cardboard box.

What's that, you say? You didn't have time to clean it and, besides, you only wore it once. How dirty can it be?

"Well, we'll tell ya," the carpet beetle coos. "Flakes of skin have sloughed off onto sleeves. Clear sweat stains have dried. Remember that spilled clear soda? You wiped it up but didn't get it all in time. ...

"Yummy for our tummies," the tiny pests say. "And we're hungry, too."

That sloppily stored summer suit is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for some members of the insect world.

This is but one of the pitfalls waiting for clothing if it's been improperly prepared for storage. As autumn breezes gain a wintery bluster, more and more people will dig out warmer wear from their springtime hideaways.


Conversely, summer duds will find their way into attics or garages for winter hibernation. A little care now can help prevent a not-so-welcome surprise when warmer temperatures return.

"It's not rocket science," says April Girtman, owner of Vintage Vixen Clothing Co. in Tallevast, Fla. "Most of it is just common sense sort of stuff but sometimes people will do it the wrong way and regret it."

Let's return to the wool suit stuffed away last spring without a proper pre-storage cleaning.

Clothes moths, carpet beetles and silver fish that thrive on leftover stains and skin chomp through fabrics to get to skin and other eats left behind. Subsequently, a spring or fall dry cleaning will wash away brittle fibers weakened by an insect's choppers, creating holes in a beloved garment.

"As long as people don't see the great big moth, they think they're insect free," says Jane Rising, manager of training and instruction for the International Fabricare Institute in Silver Spring, Md. "But the clothes moth is tiny. And a voracious eater."

Both Girtman, with her vintage clothing business, and Rising, with the IFI association of drycleaners, wetcleaners and launderers, field queries about how best to preserve clothing for storage.

Here are a few of their suggestions:

  • Keep it clean.

    Besides the hazards of insects, there are other issues eliminated by a thorough cleaning prior to storage.

    Liquids that dry clear - lemon-lime soda, perspiration - can, in time, oxidize. What's left is an ugly, eye-catching yellow stain.

  • Mothballs stink.

    So can cedar chests, and an added bonus with the airtight chests is that clothing kept in direct contact with cedar chips can be harmed by the natural acids originating from wood.

    Rising suggests lining a chest with a clean bed sheet to create a layer between clothing and chips. And if mothballs are used, she warns, homeowners should be prepared for the possible consequences.

    "It is very, very difficult to take out the odor," she says. "It may take a long time before going away. Dry-cleaning or washing will not remove it. It may help a little bit, but it won't remove it."

  • Choose the proper storage method.

    Hanging clothes should be stored in a fabric garment bag according to Rising. Don't want to shell out for them? Try an old, clean bed sheet tied at the top and bottom.

    Girtman recommends using heavy plastic containers rather than cardboard boxes. If boxes are a must, she says to treat it like a cedar chest, lining it with a sheet to prevent stains forming on the clothing from the box.

    Without any other options, Girtman says a garbage bag, minus rips and tears, should work just fine.

  • Pick the proper storage location.

    Understandably, clothing is often tucked away in attics or garages where they will not be underfoot.

    Problem is, both areas do not provide the optimum environment for storing clothes, in part because of the wildly varying climate conditions.

    Attics that run hot and cold to extreme levels depending on the conditions can create moisture-laden environments where mildew can infest clothes.

    And garages, with cars going in and out, can introduce another odor that clings to fabric, much like outfits worn to a smoky bar remain bathed in the stench the next day.

    "You want (your clothes) to last as long as you possibly can," Rising says. "So taking good care of them so they have a longer life is important."

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Plastic? Not!

Thinking of storing clothes away in a clear plastic garment bag?

Try again, says Jane Rising, manager of training and instruction with the International Fabricare Institute.

Never even consider it, she says.

Why? Well, because ...

Clear plastic does not protect garments from the light.

If clothing is stored in a walk-in closet with a window, or if the closet door remains open, light can creep in and fade the color of a favorite jacket or suit.

Plastic promotes moisture.

Moisture in a garment bag can lead to mildew and other nasties requiring a spring, or winter, cleaning before items are ready to wear for another season.

Plastic is a haven for static electricity.

Too much and clothing can cling to the side of the bag instead of hanging free. If enough time passes, delicate fibers can erode.

Plastic is a magnet for dust and grime.

If nothing else, when a bag is opened the dirt can filter onto clothing. So while a winter jacket may have survived the winter safe and sound, it can become soiled before the first formal event of the new season.

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