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Four Ways to Winterize Clothes in Storage

What better way to say hello to sunny days than by saying goodbye to the heavy woolen fabrics of winter clothes? Part of any thorough spring-cleaning regimen should include ridding your closet of stuff you don’t need, and winterizing clothes in storage.
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After living in San Francisco, a city characterized by perpetual fog and wintry summers, I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to have seasonal clothes. No need for storing sweaters and winter jackets here; they’ll be just as necessary in July as they were in January. But for anyone outside of this city’s foggy confines, spring and summer—and the need for bright, breezy attire—draw near.  However, that doesn’t mean throwing everything into a box in the basement and hoping for the best. If you want to keep winter clothes in top form for next year, you must abide by the laws of seasonal clothing storage. 

1. Clean everything, including the clothes that look clean.
Your clothing’s worst enemies in storage are insects. Moth larvae, carpet beetles, and silverfish feed on the natural fabrics in your clothes, causing small holes or shreds. They’re most attracted to clothes that have stains—food, perspiration, and otherwise—so make sure everything that’s fit for storage has been cleaned. Even if you can’t see any stains, it’s possible that lingering oil spots will oxidize and become noticeable (and permanent), so keep that in mind when deciding what needs washing. Take care not to use starch or fabric softener, as they tend to attract insects more. 

If you think insects have already infiltrated the clothes, high temperatures (as with dry cleaning) will kill the bugs. Freezing also does the trick; Martha Stewart Living recommends putting clothes in freezer bags and removing the air completely, placing them in a freezer for forty-eight hours, taking them out to defrost for twenty-four, and putting them back in for another forty-eight hours to kill any lingering insects. Whatever you do, don’t put winter clothes in storage areas that are bug-addled or dirty—unless you want to throw them out next year. 

2. Find an optimal storage area.
While attics, basements, and garages are good places to store old toys and books, they’re less than ideal for clothes. Attics get too hot in the spring and summer, basements are too damp, and garages are dusty and prone to insects (your clothes’ worst enemy). The ideal spot for winter storage is a dark, dry, and relatively cool area. Closets work, as do spaces under the bed or even underneath stairwells. Wherever you store the clothes, make sure the area is freshly vacuumed and clean before you put anything there. 

3. Break out the hangers and boxes.
Keeping clothes insect-free (and therefore damage-free) also requires covering them for the duration of storage. For clothes you’d like to hang, use wooden or plastic hangers and wrap them with clean white pillowcases or sheets so that the hangers don’t make permanent creases. Zip them up in thick plastic or canvas bags. Don’t use dry-cleaning bags; they’re too thin and can promote mold. And, as Joan Crawford would say, “No wire hangers!” 

Delicates, sweaters, and pants should go into plastic, wooden, or cloth boxes with lids. Lay them flat as often as possible to reduce wrinkles. If you put acid-free tissue paper or clean white cotton pillowcases between each article, it will help maintain clothes’ color. Place the heaviest items on the bottom and the lightest on top. If you’re using an airtight plastic bin, consider punching a few tiny holes in the lid to encourage air circulation. If the clothes aren’t able to breathe, they degrade more quickly and can develop mildew in the meantime. 

4. Drop the mothballs and reach for lavender or cedar instead.
Mothballs and moth crystals are often recommended to avoid infestation, but they also release pesticides that can exacerbate human and pet health—the toxic vapors they release could actually melt the plastic in plastic bags if they’re put in a small enough area. Plus, they smell awful, and that smell’s not going anywhere unless you’re able to air out the clothes outside; dry cleaning won’t erase it. 

Instead, opt for little pouches of lavender or cedar chips inside the garment racks or storage boxes. The Container Store recommends cedar, saying that its essential oils stave off adult moths and beetles. However, they lose their power after a while, so rub the cedar blocks or chips with sandpaper periodically to release new oils.

My jackets and thick sweaters won’t be seeing the inside of plastic storage bins anytime soon, but at least I’ll know what to do should I decide to venture beyond the Golden Gate Bridge in the future. But for those of you stepping into spring and summer with short sleeves and skirts, now there’s no excuse not to winterize clothing and let it degrade in the interim.  It might be that much easier to welcome back the cold season later, knowing you have a pristine wardrobe waiting for you in your closet.

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