Reader Mary Margaret submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
How do you store your sweaters, and how often do you clean them? Most of my clothes are nicely organized, but sweaters continue to be a problem, especially now that fall is upon us. Here’s the situation: My boyfriend and I share a reach-in closet, and all of our sweaters are stored on the shelf above the closet rod. They start out nice and folded when they’re clean, but after they’ve been worn we usually just toss them back onto the shelf, and it always just ends up as a big messy pile. The issue is compounded by the fact that these garments are worn frequently but not washed (usually the site of folding) very often since a) they don’t get that dirty (no contact with sweaty human skin) and b) it is expensive to dry clean, which many of them require. I know there have been some forum discussions about what to do with “wear again” clothing items, but the issue isn’t so much WHERE to put the sweaters as how to keep them organized when they’re there.
It appears that your closet storage is very similar to the closet I had in my last house. I’ll share with you what I did, and then ask you to check the comments to read even more suggestions from our readers. Every week I’m surprised by how creative and amazing our readers’ suggestions are.
I want to begin by discussing sweaters in a general sense to give you an idea of why I do what I do. Natural fiber sweaters — cotton, sheep’s wool, cashmere (hair from the undercoat of a Cashmere goat), mohair (hair from an Angora goat), angora (hair from an Angora rabbit), silk, etc. — are highly susceptible to being eaten by bugs and little critters. Even natural fibers blended with synthetic materials — polyester, rayon, acetate — aren’t safe from hungry pests. The most famous enemies of the sweater are moth larvae, specifically the larva of the Tineola bisselliella Common Clothes Moth, who make a feast out of the keratin in the fibers. (Keratin is a protein found in hair, and those larvae need energy to eventually become brown winged creatures.)
Clothes Moths love dirty sweaters most of all. If a sweater has dead skin cells, sweat, food, or any other type of organic matter on it, this is the area where they will begin to dine.
Start by having all your dry-clean only sweaters dry cleaned (this chemical process will kill any pests on your sweaters) and washing all your sweaters that can be laundered at home. After you dry the sweaters you washed at home, you will want to toss them into a garbage bag and put that bag into the freezer for three or four days. Freezing the sweaters will kill any pests that may have survived the washing process. If you start by doing this cleaning process you’ll know that your storage system will be pest free going forward.
Next, you’ll want to store your sweaters in clear, thick, air-tight, plastic containers. Clear is great because you can see into the box, and plastic is good because the vast majority of pests won’t eat through it the way they will eat through fabric and cardboard. (Mice will chew through plastic if highly motivated, but you didn’t mention a mouse problem, so you should be fine.) I recommend getting four sweater boxes so you and your boyfriend can each have one box for absolutely clean sweaters and one for clerty sweaters (clerty: sort of clean, sort of dirty). Clothes moths and many other pests aren’t super fond of the oil from cedar wood or the scent of lavender, so get your hands on some freshly sanded cedar chips or blocks, lavender sachets, or other anti-pest products containing camphor. Put these deterrents in your four boxes to help ward off any pests that might sneak in when you have the lid off the box or that you picked up while wearing the sweater.
After wearing sweaters, just toss them in the clerty box (you don’t have to fold the sweaters, just be sure to put the lid on the box every time) until you decide to have the sweaters cleaned. I clean the sweaters that don’t touch my skin usually four times during the winter. Sweaters that touch my skin I clean every time I wear them. After your sweaters are cleaned, you can fold them and return them to the totally clean sweater box. Separating the sweaters reduces the likelihood that all of your sweaters will be destroyed if you accidentally get pests in your clerty bin. Finally, be sure to label all the bins so you don’t mix clerty sweaters with your clean sweaters.
This method is incredibly simple, protects your sweaters, and keeps them from looking messy or falling off the shelf onto the floor.
Thank you, Mary Margaret, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.
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