We’ve had a bit of a rocky start to spring in the northeast, which is not uncommon for most spring seasons here.  It’s hard to know when exactly the sweaters can be packed away for good, but usually by May all sweaters except for some lightweight styles have fallen out of rotation.  As I write this, however, I am wearing a world cardigan, despite one day last week being 85 degrees, because, again, northeast. You never know what you’re going to get.


Before you just throw your winter sweaters in a storage box or a (please no) vacuum storage bag, there are some things you can do first to ensure that when you take them back out again next season they’re fresh, clean, and not full of moth holes.  In today’s post, I am sharing my tips.


There are two misconceptions about moths, the first is that it’s the moths themselves that cause moth holes.  This is going to gross you out but those flying moths you see, those aren’t the problem.  Yes, they indicate that you have a problem, but it’s the larvae, not the moths themselves.  Moth eggs are laid on your clothing and it’s the moth larvae that have special jaws that are called mandibles that chomp down on your fine fibers. I told you this would be a gross topic.

The second gross part of this story is that clothes moths belong to a family called “Tineidae” or “fungus moths”, which mostly feed on fungi and dead organic materials.  These larvae prefer dark moist places and like unwashed clothes that hold some moisture and might have some fungal growth from things like our own body perspiration and food that has attached to your sweaters.  It’s not the fiber, it’s what’s found on the fibers. It’s not just wool, it’s that wool is the perfect breeding ground for what moths like. We’ll get into how to keep moths away in a moment.


This is why it’s so important to launder your sweaters before you store them away.  So many people think they are saving their sweaters when they store them in some sort of moth repellant, like cedar or lavender, but if you don’t launder them first, there is little any moth repellant will do. Don’t store your worn sweaters away without laundering them first. Here are a few detergent brands to consider.


Before the whole issue The Laundress had with the alleged link between their products and possible bacterial rashes, I loved the Laundress and used their Laundress’s Wool and Cashmere Shampoo which is cedar scented.  According to this article in Allure, shortly after the safety notice and recall a few years ago, four major irregularities including three bacteria strains and one possible carcinogen (the latter of which was specific to its fabric conditioners) were found in Laundress products and eight million products were recalled.  Since this fallout, The Laundress says they addressed the issues and ensured that their safety standards are beyond what’s required to make sure something like this will never happen again.

Hopefully, this is a clean start for The Laundress because I loved their products and am willing to give them another shot.  


If you’re still reluctant to use The Laundress products on your delicates and fine knits, another brand I like is Soak, first for the absolute ease of use.  If you wash sweaters by hand, you don’t even have to rinse out the product.  You can also use the product in the machine.  I also love washing my bras with this detergent. All the ingredients in their gentle, no-rinse formulation are skin- and fabric-friendly, with no harsh chemicals or overwhelming fragrances. You can even use it to wash baby stuff and shampoo your pets. Soak’s bottles, caps, and labels have always been recyclable and printed with water-based inks, and as of 2013, all their bottles have been made from post-consumer resin.


After The Laundress recall, I tried Forever New Detergent for my knits and delicates and was really impressed by the high reviews it had.  Forever New has a natural base of multiple sodas and citrus and has no bleach, brighteners, dyes, phosphates, lanolin, or petroleum ingredients. All products are also certified as not being tested on any animals and are dermatology tested to prevent any irritation or skin reaction.  


Nikwax is a well-known brand in the outdoor industry.  Rachel, who worked as a buyer in this area before coming to work for me, said that their weatherproofing products are top-notch and also recommended their wool wash.  Nikwax Wool Wash is a specialized cleaner designed to clean, deodorize, and enhance the wicking and drying performance of Merino wool clothing, base layers, socks, and other accessories.  The wash-in application cleans effectively, softens, and makes wool dry faster as household detergents will often damage the natural wicking properties of merino wool.   It works particularly well on clothing such as Smart Wool, Ortovox, Icebreaker, Ibex, Minus33, and Darn Tough


In addition to delicate washing, there are other ways to eliminate moth larvae from your clothes.


While dry cleaning is one of the most effective ways to eliminate moth larvae, it’s not only expensive, the idea of cleaning clothes with toxic chemicals has become less and less appealing to people with most people preferring to do it only when they absolutely have to.  


Not only do heat, bright sunlight, and the fresh summer breeze naturally deodorize your clothing, but sunlight can kill moth eggs and larvae, so take natural fiber items outside, lay them in the sun, and brush them heavily. Keep in mind, sunlight can also fade clothing so you want to be cautious with this method.


On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the freezer.  I do this all the time with my yarn and knits that I’m concerned about.  Place your knit in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer for at least 72 hours.  After three days, take your knit out and leave it out for another 72 hours to allow any eggs (I know, ew) to hatch.  Place back in the freezer to kill those larvae for a few another 72 hours. Obviously, this would be a laborious process for all the sweaters you plan on storing away unless you have a super roomy freezer. it’s better for a few sweaters that give you the most concern.   


You can also thermally treat woolen articles by placing them on trays in an oven set to the lowest temperature (at least 120 °F) for 30 minutes. Exercise caution and refrain from attempting this with garments containing beadwork or plastic components, as they may melt.


Fabric shavers are an option for knits except for cashmere.  Using a fabric shaver on cashmere garments is generally not recommended due to the delicate nature of cashmere fibers.  Cashmere fibers are very fine and delicate. Fabric shavers, especially those with sharp blades, can easily catch and pull on these fibers, causing damage, pilling, or even holes.  It’s already prone to pilling due to friction from wear. Using a fabric shaver can exacerbate this by thinning out the fabric as it removes the pills, potentially compromising the garment’s integrity and appearance and excessive use of a fabric shaver can diminish the softness of cashmere by damaging the fibers and altering the texture of the fabric.

Instead, use a cashmere comb which is a tool specifically designed to remove pills from cashmere garments. These pills occur naturally over time due to friction and wear, and they can make your cashmere look tired and worn out. To use:

  1. Prepare the garment: Lay your cashmere garment flat on a clean surface.
  2. Hold the comb properly: Grip the comb firmly but gently. You don’t want to apply too much pressure as it might damage the fabric.
  3. Gently comb the fabric: Using short, gentle strokes, move the comb over the fabric where the pills are located. You want to remove the pills without damaging the fabric itself.
  4. Repeat if necessary: Depending on the severity of pilling, you may need to comb the area multiple times to fully remove all the pills.
  5. Clean the comb: As you work, the comb will accumulate the removed pills. Make sure to clean the comb periodically to prevent it from getting clogged.
  6. Finish with a lint roller: Once you’ve removed the pills, you can use a lint roller to pick up any loose fibers or remaining pills.


On to storage.  For someone like myself, I don’t have the luxury of space to store my sweaters and knits away each season.  So what I do before storing back in my drawer, I give it a good cleaning.  I vacuum out the drawer and then add lavender sachets and cedar blocks.  Throughout the off-season, I also give my sweaters a good shake to ensure nothing has attached to my knits.  


Everyone feels differently about how to store sweaters.  Some people use vacuum bags but, I would never recommend this, just as I would never store clothing in dry cleaning bags.  Fibers need oxygen and while it could be argued that the amount of time your knits would spend away in an oxygen-starved container is minimal, I think of it cumulatively.  One season tucked away may not do damage but I do consider what seasons and seasons of good sweaters stored without oxygen would do.  Do what you will with this information, but this wouldn’t be my choice.


What would be my first choice would be bins made out of fabric because these types of storage containers do allow for oxygen flow, and if you clean your sweaters right, sealing them away isn’t necessary.  You can find many different styles at Amazon and The Container Store.  They even make moth-repellent fabric sweater storage bins, though I can’t speak to their effectiveness.

There is an argument against fabric storage bins because moths can eat through them, but, despite this, I’m still loathe to trap my clothing without oxygen, not to mention that a lack of oxygen can trap moisture and lead to mildew and mold.  Besides, if moths are eating through your sweater bins, you have to wonder just how bad an infestation is. Moths hate light, so even keeping your knits exposed to light and shaking them out from time to time can be helpful. Avoid damp, dark places for your sweater storage because, again, moths like dark and dampness.


Let’s all agree that moth balls are disgusting-smelling, carcinogenic ick balls that should never be used.  With all the other options, there is no reason to ever buy them.  Here are some alternatives.


Cedar is a common go-to for sweater storage but if you’ve ever tried using cedar blocks you may find that the cedar oils lose volatility.  Cedar trunks are likely more effective because nothing can get in them.  Instead of cedar blocks, I often use a cedar spray.    The Laundress used to make a spray I liked but they seemed to have discontinued it.


Moths don’t like the smell of lavender, mint, bay leaves, cloves, rosemary, and thyme.  Out of all these scents, lavender is probably the most palatable smell to have on clothes.  An ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure, so I often throw a few lavender sachets in with my knits.


I’ve dealt with moth infestations before and once they get in it can be impossible to get rid of them.  Aside from calling an exterminator, you can try the moth traps I have found to be the most effective, Dr. Killigan’s Premium Clothing Moth Traps with Pheromones.   These sticky traps contain the same pheromones that attract male moths to female ones which helps to cut down on the proliferation.  Keep in mind, your traps aren’t catching the larvae and if they are trapping male moths, there still might be a source of infestation.  But don’t panic, seeing a few moths flying around isn’t a guarantee of an infestation.  Some moths could be feeding on your plants.  Anything longer than 1 cm is likely not eating your clothing.   


I’ve always heard about interleaving using acid-free tissue paper between sweaters when storing away but, I admit, I’ve never done it.  The benefit is it helps prevent the sweaters from sticking together and minimizes creases. Make sure the tissue paper is also acid-free to prevent any chemical reactions that could damage the fabric over time.  If you don’t want to bother with tissue paper, be sure to not overstuff your bins or drawers.


You should never under any circumstance hang your sweaters and if you are going to hang them, fold the sweaters over the bottom bar of a hanger, not from the shoulders.  Particularly for long lengths of time, like throughout a season, folding is the optimal way to go, and, as Mommie Dearest said, never use a metal hanger, ever.