Sue sent me this request by e-mail:
This morning I dropped off a blazer at the dry cleaners. The blazer is a lovely purple and it’s a thrift find. The shop owner commented that it could have been attacked by moths, there are some tell-tale tiny holes. I’m now on the fence about whether to keep it or toss it. Anyway this experience made me realize how little I do know about wool, and seeing as the cold months are coming up, I was wondering if you might do a post on this on the site. Some of the things I wonder about are:
What to do if you think a garment could have a moth issue? In my case I would not want to have my other woolens ruined. How do you prevent moths in the first place? And in between trips to the dry cleaners, how do you “freshen” up those garments? Finally, can you get away with cleaning certain woolens or woolen blends in water? There is so much conflicting advice on the web.
So this is gonna be one of those posts where I tell you what I know from my own experience and research, and then ask you to contribute your own knowledge. Sue is right: I’ve read more conflicting advice on this topic than any other. (Except how to fit a bra, perhaps.) Which is frustrating, right? Because most of us have a woolen garment or two and we’d prefer to keep them moth-hole-free. So although I can’t offer definitive answers, I’m hoping to start a constructive conversation. Here we go:
If you’ve found moth holes in a garment …
… that means you’ve got moths. It’s similar to if you see a single mouse scampering around: That mouse is probably not flying solo, but instead a representative of the group of mice now living in your house. Same with moths: One moth = many moths. So that sucks. Best practice, sadly, is to wash or dry clean anything in your closet that might become a target: Woolens, cashmere, fur, angora, alpaca, and any other fabrics made from animal hair. Also sadly, it’s best to discard the damaged item(s) since it/they may still harbor moth larvae. (Or carpet beetle larvae, which can stick around for a year. GROSS. Also ANNOYING.) And if you’re bringing a used/vintage item into your closet that could be a carrier, wash or dry clean it before storing. If a certain closet or storage area has been attacked, vacuum it out before replacing your newly laundered clothes – including floor, shelves, drawers, everything.
In terms of storage and prevention, everyone has a favorite method: Pheremone traps, cedar storage, lavender, mothballs, airtight containers. During our last infestation I tried to stick to lavender and cedar, but they did virtually nothing to protect my clothes. So now I seal my super heavy wool garments in airtight bags with mothballs, at least during the summer. The airtightness is key, since it keeps adult moths from getting inside where they can lay eggs.
How do you prevent moths in the first place?
Well, you can certainly keep your clothes dry and well-aired, for starters. Moth larvae feed on fiber that’s moist with something – mostly sweat, but also beverage or food spills – so the drier your clothes, the safer they are. Moth and beetle larvae also hate bright light, so anything that’s worn frequently is slightly safer. These guys are most likely to turn up in clothes that have been packed away somewhere dark. However, since these insects can also infest carpet and furniture, your best efforts with your closet’s contents may not keep them at bay. This is, of course, not your fault but infuriating nonetheless.
Are there ways to freshen garments between dry cleanings?
Yes, though some are more moth-safe than others. I have found that clothing refresher sprays like Febreze are effective on all but the most stink-tastic garments. I turn my garments inside out, spray the armpits heavily, and mist a little over the rest. Then I leave the item to dry for 24 hours or more. You MUST do this in order for the spray to be effective, and if you don’t, you are storing a wet and dirty garment, which we’ve established is essentially moth bait. If you don’t dig the chemicals, I’ve been told that a vodka-water mist can help, though it never has for me. Airing garments outside in the sunshine, has worked for me and since this goes toward the clean/dry goal can also help keep the larvae away.
Can you wash wool in water?
Generally, yes. Natural fibers – including linen, silk, wool, cashmere, and cotton – can generally be hand-washed in cold water, even if care instructions insist on dry cleaning. Same goes for sturdy polyesters and nylon blends. BUT. If you’re dealing with a particularly thin or delicate fabric, a garment with loads of sewn-on embellishment, suiting, or just about anything lined, you’re safer going the dry cleaning route. If you’re unsure how a garment will fare when washed instead of dry cleaned, do a patch test. Wet a small, non-prominent area with cold water and blot with a dry, white paper towel. If the fabric puckers, shrinks, or bleeds color, take it to the cleaners.
Use your judgement and make calls on a garment to garment basis. But when in doubt? Do what the tag tells you to.
And that’s what I know. Please share your own experiences and advice in the comments! How do you moth-proof your clothes? How do you deal when you find those telltale holes? And other clothing-freshening advice? Let us know.
Image courtesy J.Crew
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