Storage tips for off-season clothes

Storage tips for off-season clothes

Q. I’ve heard that I should store my clothing after seasons, but never bothered before. Now that I have the time, what are the basics I should know?

A. Many of us are not great about being prompt with household chores. Now, with more time on our hands, it is not too late in the year to take this one on. Seasonal storage is always a worthwhile effort, but winter-to-spring is really the best time. Wool items, the most likely to be damaged, are often the most expensive in your wardrobe and most worth protecting.

First, what you should store. Be sure that what you’re storing is worth keeping; if not, either throw it out or give it away. Those worth keeping should be in a condition that you can wear as soon as they are out of storage. Make needed repairs, replace buttons and check every piece of clothing that needs attention.

If it doesn’t fit properly, take it to the tailor to shorten the sleeves, take in excess fullness, adjust anything that is off. If you don’t want to make the investment, get rid of that piece. You probably don’t need it.

Certainly, put away all bulky outerwear and winter gear. Sweaters, coats, hats, and gloves should be put away in whichever is your best out-of-the-way place. Other clothing you probably won’t need for the next two seasons include fleece shirts, flannel trousers, silk scarves, and wool socks.

Second, how you should store it. A little extra effort when you pack the clothing will make a big difference when it is time to unpack for a new season.  Here are tips for doing so properly.

Most seasonal clothes – like coats and sweaters – are not items you normally washed after every wearing. Even so, be sure that what you are storing is clean. If not, wash at home (flannel shirts, lightweight wool sweaters, and corduroys) or take to the dry cleaner (most wool and cashmere garments) and have them clean and store it for you until fall (many local cleaners offer free storage service).

As with repairs, stains should be addressed before storing. Spots left on clothing will darken and become worse during storage. Perspiration, fragrance, body oils, and food stains attract insects (including clothes’ worst enemy, moths).

For extra protection, consider adding lavender sachets to your seasonal clothes. Lavender smells good to us, but moths hate it. Stay away from mothballs; they are toxic to both humans and pets.

Another good method is using cedar blocks, cedar spray, or cedar lined storage. Even though mothballs, lavender, and cedar are all effective against insects, none of them is a complete guarantee. Just as with other cleaning products, storage chemicals should be used with care and according to directions.

Learn which clothes to hang – and how to hang them properly – and which to fold.

Outerwear, suit jackets, and sports coats can be hung up. Avoid wire hangers and go for wood or padded hangers. It’s best to hang trousers using the type of hangers with two boards to lock in the cuffs or bottoms so you don’t create unwanted creases. Be sure to cover the item with something breathable (i.e., fabric, see below). 

On the other hand, while it may have been fine to hang that cardigan sweater on a hanger when you were reaching for it once a week, when it comes time to store it for the season, it’s best to fold it. Sweaters and other knit items can stretch and become misshapen by long-term hanging. Carefully place them in the storage container from the lightest items on top to the heaviest on the bottom. Stack items loosely to allow air to keep circulating.

Third, where you should store it – in what and put where? Storing seasonal clothing isn’t as simple as merely tossing everything into a cardboard box and putting it in the attic. In fact, it’s best not to do either. Even worse can be some plastic bags.

Clothes need to breathe; make sure the clothing has enough room for air to circulate. If you store your clothes in plastic bags from the dry cleaner, plastic bins, or cardboard packaging, you risk mildew, mold, and yellowing.

The best storage containers for your clothing are made of cotton. Some of the very best (that is, most expensive) products for seasonal clothing storage are from the upscale museum-quality “Butler’s Closet.” Their shoulder dust covers and coat covers, made of 100 percent cotton, start  at $18 each and go on up!  But there are plenty of affordable alternatives.

If you decide to use cardboard boxes for storage, be sure you use new clean boxes to avoid staining. And although all-plastic bags don’t allow clothes to breathe enough, zippered cotton-and-plastic hanging bags that hold several garments do work well. They can be kept in the back of your closet or in another room. You can find a huge variety of attractive and handy storage devices – including drop-front bins and stacking drawers – at The Container Store.

One of the best storage containers is an unused suitcase that has been thoroughly cleaned. It has two big advantages; it is free and it takes up zero space. Line containers with acid-free tissue as an extra safeguard.

If you are lucky enough to have a backup closet in a guest room that you can use for storage, great. If not, you might get some of those amazing storage bags with a vacuum-seal closing. Fill them with clean clothing; then use a standard vacuum to seal the bag tightly for storage. Since the bags shrink down, they also help make the best use of your storage space. They slip neatly under a bed for convenient storage.

One system I like for jackets is to use an old, worn pillow case; cut a small hole in the closed end, and slip the hanger through. The result is a high-end type shoulder dust cover at no cost.

Store clothes in a clean, cool, dark, dry spot. That usually means to avoid the basement and attic, since both areas tend to be humid and musty. Avoid areas near heating sources. Make sure the area is dry, because dampness attracts mildew. Darkness will prevent fading.

For a more convenient location, many closets have a high shelf that is perfect for stowing your out-of-season wardrobe.

This may all seem like a lot of trouble, but as we sit working on our jigsaw puzzles, you can be pleased to know that you have accomplished this year’s seasonal chore.

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