Storing Clothes long term

Tips for Storing Clothes Long Term

Self storage tips

Whilst on annual leave recently, I finally took the opportunity to sort through my sons stuff. I still had all of his baby clothes mixed in with the clothes he is currently in. I was going to pop them in a garbage bag or cardboard box and put them in the shed. However, after going into the shed I discovered that all of the cardboard boxes we had in the shed had been chewed to pieces by rats and mice! I really wanted to keep most of his baby clothes, just in case, so I researched the best way to store and protect clothes whilst they are in storage in the shed.

After scouring the internet I discovered that most of them advise the following 6 simple steps and measures you should take when storing clothes long term.

1. Wash your clothes before storing

Wash and iron your clothes before storing. Surfaces stains and dirt will set into the clothing overtime and when you do finally get them out of storage to use again the stain will be difficult to remove.  Dirty clothing can also attract vermin and insects which may also damage your clothing. Wash all items as per their washing instructions and any dry cleanable items should be dry cleaned prior to storing. Make sure the clothes are rinsed properly before drying and storing to ensure that all bleaches, chemicals and detergents are washed out.  This will not only make sure that your clothes are safe during storage, they will also be clean and ready to wear when you need them.

2. To vacuum seal or not to vacuum seal

There is a large range of vacuum seal bags out on the market, which are great space savers. There is a lot of speculation out there, however, that over a long period of time, storing your clothing in these bags could damage your clothes. The reasoning is that most natural fiber cloth needs air to maintain its structure and integrity and that by sucking all of the air out of the bag, you are compressing the garments and compressing the fibers. When removed from these bags, it takes a long time for the fibers to uncompress with one person with a PhD in Fiber and Polymer Science even suggesting that the item will take the same amount of time to uncompress to the amount of time it was in the space saver bag. I have used these bags in the past for seasonal clothing, thus the articles are only in the bag for a period of months and not years, and I have not had a problem. For any heirlooms, real expensive or sentimental items I would probably not run the risk.

3. Say no to plastic bags and cardboard boxes

Air tight plastic containers with a lid is the best thing to pack your clothes into. This will keep your clothes dry and stop the growth of mould and mildew, in most cases. If using plastic containers, ensure they are clean, dry and line them old (but clean) cotton sheets.  Avoid plastic bags as these can trap moisture and cause mildew to form or cause the yellowing of fabrics. Packing your clothing in a cardboard box will not protect them against vermin as rats and mice can easily chew through the cardboard. Again depending on the expense and sentimental value of the item, acid free boxes and tissue paper should be used especially for heirloom items as not all plastic boxes are safe as they release chemicals which could have subtle to grossly negative effects on the clothing.

4. Mothballs

Not only do mothballs leave your clothes smelling terrible, they are not 100% effective and can be potentially dangerous if found bye children or pets. A much more appealing alternative are the natural wooden cedar balls. They not only smell better, they are just as effective as moth balls and are even more effective if used in conjunction with all of the tips mentioned.  When using either moth balls or wooden camphor make sure that they not placed on the garments and are placed at the top of your storage container for further protection.

5. Clean, cool, dark and dry

The atmospheric conditions and environment you are storing your items in can cause damage if extreme. Ideally it is suggested that clothing should be stored in conditions that do not exceed 23°C with a relatively humidity of 55%. However, I would only follow this guide line if I was storing any heirlooms or expensive sentimental items. As long as the space is clean and protects the box the items are stored in from the elements they should be safe. For people like me that are storing items in their own personal space, just keep in mind that attics and garages can be home to fuels, grease and many other flammable items and may be damp and have vermin unlike a self storage facility.

6. Check and do not protect!

It is important to check on your items in storage, wherever and whatever you are storing. If you check your items once a year, you will minimize the risk of the items getting damaged and may save them before they do. This point is especially important to me as I forget everything and I will forget that I have even stored the clothing in the first place!

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62 replies
  1. Anonymous says:

    What excellent tips! Do self storage operators usually provide an inventory list of what the customers store? Would you recommend humidity control for clothing?

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi and thank you for your comment.

      It is not usual practice for operators to supply an inventory list of what customers store, however it is highly recommended especially if the items you are storing are going to be stored for a long period of time. The best way to keep an inventory is to write a list and take a photo of the items. A little map of your storage unit with where each item is will also assist when you do need to retrieve anything. Stay tuned and I will write a blog with tips on writing an inventory list for your items in storage.

      I have conducted a little more research on humidity control for clothing and I found that it is not a must but depending on the value of the clothing it is a good idea. Avoid storage where temperatures get extreme – either too hot or too cold – or areas that have high humidity. The optimal conditions are temperatures that do not exceed 24 degrees Celsius and humidity is under 55%. This is to avoid sweating and moisture build up that can ruin clothing.

      Reply
      • TiaMia Alcaraz says:

        I don’t have a reply. I want to say that I am placing my granddaughters clothes in a storing plastic bin. I will be storing them in my basement long term. I know to wash them before storing them, however, is there something I should put in the bin with her clothes to protect them from mold and/or mildew?

        Reply
        • Zara Hunter says:

          Hi Tia,
          Thank you for your comment.
          We would recommend wooden cedar balls which repel any insects and/or dry sacs which absorb moisture to keep your clothes fresh.
          I hope this helps!

          Reply
  2. Kathrin says:

    Hi everyone! Thanks a lot for sharing this article! I have a lot of clothes which I want to donate but I still don’t have time to take care of that idea so I should store them somehow. Thanks again for the tips! Regards!

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Kathrin,

      I am so glad you liked the article and thank you for taking the time to comment. Those were just a few tips that I found the most useful. Stay tuned as I will be writing one on storing woolen items in the near future.

      Reply
      • Joe says:

        I am shipping my clothes overseas and I am planning to put into a cardboard boxes
        First put practice inside then the clothes withs kitties silicone gel bags and wrap around with plastic and close the carton box

        Please let me know if I am doing the right thing

        Thank you

        Reply
  3. Haley Bennett says:

    I have furniture and some boxes I should take to a self storage unit. I especially need to put away some of my clothes. I didn’t consider ironing my clothes before packing them though; I will have to try that before storing them this year. Should I air out my clothes a few times a year or will the material be fine to stay in storage for a year or more?

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Haley,

      Thanks for taking time to read my blog and I hope you did find some of it useful. I have done a little research on airing out clothing in storage and there are no real rules on how often you should air out clothing in storage. I always let my long term tenant’s know it is a good idea to check your storage at least every 6 months including checking the external of boxes to make sure that they have no damage from vermin or any water stains and mold. There are certain fabrics that do need ventilation such as cotton, silk, linen and wool so I do recommend airing these items at the 6 month mark. If I was storing my clothing I would definitely check them and air them at 6 months.

      Reply
  4. SuperCheapBoxes says:

    For best results, store your clothes in boxes with sealable, airtight lids. This will prevent insects from sneaking their way inside. The boxes should be clean and the clothes must be dry. Moisture buildup inside the box could create mildew and mold. Don’t fold coats into boxes. The material could be wrinkled and damaged over time. Instead, hang them using a non-rusting coat hanger and a wardrobe box (which will give the coat room to breathe while still protecting it from insects) or store them flat in a very large box. Your tips is very helpful.

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi SuperCheapBoxes,

      You have added very useful information in your comments especially the reference to the wardrobe boxes and how they allow clothes to breathe while being stored. If you are using cardboard boxes for any type of storage I do advise splurging and purchasing new boxes which will ensure that the boxes are clean and there are no left over odours or stains that may rub off onto your clothing.

      Reply
  5. Jesse Dennis says:

    For best results, store the clothes in plastic boxes with sealable airtight lids which will prevent insects from getting inside and spoling the clothes. The box in which the clothes are to be packed should be cleaned and the clothes must be dry. If some moisture is left inside the box then it will lead to mold and mildew which of course spoil the texture of the cloth.

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Jesse,

      Thanks for reading my post and I hope you have found some of the tips useful. Plastic containers are great for storage and also worth the investment as they can be reused for different storage purposes. Your tip about ensuring your container is clean and dry is extremely important especially for long term storage. As you have pointed out mold and mildew love to breed in those conditions and can ruin your clothing.

      Reply
  6. Tracey Butler says:

    Thanks for your tips. I have sentimental baby clothes and I was about to look at buying some of those vacuum bags. So glad I read your article first ?
    Tracey

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Tracey,

      I am glad you found my article useful and thank you for taking the time to comment. If you do have sentimental clothing the best way to store them long term is to box it with acid-free tissue paper. Ideally, you want to keep the clothing away from anything that could stain it over time so acid-free tissue paper is fantastic and by boxing the gown it seals in the air.

      Reply
  7. Sarah says:

    Thank you for the post. I wish I read this long time before. Never the less it is really a great post. I stored our family clothes in boxes in the garage only to find my husband winter vintage gown chewed by rats, was so disappointed, and some of my good clothes all chewed up and some with yellow stains as you mentioned.

    I just keep storing never rarely give to charity and never used again I really don’t know why I kept them especially after find good stuff destroyed.
    As a result I decided to create a market place for people like me to sell only secondhand stuff to earn extra cash from good stuff instead of storing only to find the rats feasting on them.

    While, I ended up with the same problem how to store them safely until they are sold, then I found your post. Thanks a million times.

    If anyone want to open an online secondhand shop in my market place check us out we are international market place for secondhand items only. https://www.eopshops.nz

    Thank s again for the wonderful post.
    Sarah

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Sarah,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my article and for also mentioning your online secondhand shop – people looking for storage usually do a clean out before storing so they may need to sell some items on your website and also stumble across something they really like too 🙂

      Reply
  8. Briana says:

    Hello! I’ve read as well that even if you only wore it for 5 minutes you should wash it before long term storage… My mom recently moved countries so I tried on all her clothes and kept some of it, a bunch of it is heavily sequined/dry clean only and I don’t want to have to fork over the cost of washing every one unless it’s necessary, plus the extra damage the wash would do to the barely-used fabric… They’ve been sitting around my mom’s house for a bit as well unused so I definitely understand refreshing them before use.

    What do you think about spraying them with vodka, or any of these other alternatives?:
    http://www.thankyourbody.com/green-dry-cleaning-alternatives/

    It seems unnecessary to go for a dry clean, I think vodka might be good enough? It gets good reviews. http://thelacedangel.blogspot.com/2012/03/gettin-rid-of-funk.html

    I plan on using a clothing rack with breathable covers for certain items, and a breathable fabric box with unbleached muslin as a layer between folds. I live in Florida so mildew is a thing. I keep reading that long term storage in plastic is a big no-no because it doesn’t allow fabrics to breathe.

    thanks!

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Briana,
      Thank you so much for posting those links. I have just had a read and I love the vodka cleaning. I never thought of soaking a whole garment in the vodka, I have used it as a spray to freshen up heavily beaded costumes which worked really well. I try to avoid dry cleaning and will always try soaking out stains myself – testing a swab of the material first before plunging the whole item in. I find dry cleaning expensive and now I know about the chemicals they use I will definitely avoid them 🙂

      Reply
  9. Alex Trodder says:

    I just got a bunch of cardboard boxes that my parents have been storing for me since high school. They said that I needed to decide what to keep and what to throw out. I actually found my old Letterman’s jacket in one of the boxes. Sadly, some of the wool ribbing didn’t stand the test of time. However, it is really humid in the Northwest. I guess it’s to be expected. I’ll keep your tips about how to store clothes so that they last.

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Alex,
      Thanks for taking the time to read my article and I am sorry to hear the wool ribbing on your jacket didn’t stand the test of time. Living in humid conditions means you do run the risk of your clothes sweating creating moisture build up and thus weaken the fibres and in some cases causing mold. It is always a good idea to air out stored clothes after a period of 6 months, or at the very least to check the boxes they are stored in to ensure there are no water stains or holes where vermin or bugs can get in. Good luck with going through your stuff – I always have fun going through my old clothes, it reminds me of how tragic fashion can be!

      Reply
  10. Donna says:

    Great tips – we are on the move allot and I’ve been thinking lately about storing our clothes in plastic containers for safe keeping from mouldy wardrobes that we end up with sometimes when we’re renting. So this was really help. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Donna,
      No problems and thanks for taking the time to read my article. Plastic containers are great for storage and also worth the investment as they can be reused for different storage purposes.

      Reply
  11. Guy Dawson says:

    It is very necessary to storage the clothes. I plan to using storage in Almira. We mostly wear clothes according to season. We keep old clothes in storage. Thanks for sharing your site with us.

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Guy,
      Thanks for taking the time to read my article. I store all of my seasonal clothing in plastic containers in my garage at home as I find it easier to find what I need when there is less stuff to go through – as do a lot of people.

      Reply
  12. Laura Hosler says:

    Hi Jodie,

    Thanks for your blog.

    I have a lot of designer clothing (all seasons) that I need to store while I get back to my original size 4. It will probably take about 6 – 8 months to get to that size. I don’t have a lot of space and considered using the Ziploc plastic bags that you seal with a vacuum cleaner until I read this blog.

    I had initially thought to store the clothes in plastic bins that I had purchased from Walmart but upon a little research found that silk, wool and cotton need to be stored in a place that permits the clothing to breathe such as a rattan chest. I found that solution to be way too expensive and it takes up too much room!

    Now I see that it is ok to store in plastic containers. Can you tell me which kind you would recommend? As I mentioned, I purchased cheap plastic clear containers with lids.

    And would it be recommended to use white tissue paper between each article of clothing? Are there any items that I can store in the vacuum sealed bags?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Laura,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog.

      As you mentioned the best solution is to store those delicate material’s in a rattan chest so the fibers can breathe, however you are right, it is an expensive way to do it. I do believe that plastic containers should be fine for delicate materials as long as the plastic container is dry (has no traces of moisture), can be completely sealed, the clothes you are placing in are completely dry and you are NOT storing the container in humid conditions. I have stored my kids baby clothes in plastic storage containers that I got from my local hardware store. I find the clear plastic containers with the clear plastic lids that have coloured snaps on the side work well. I like them to be clear as well so I can at a quick glance see if there is any mold or mildew forming in the container.

      I do recommend using tissue paper between each article of clothing as long as it is white acid free tissue paper. I would also line the plastic container in acid free tissue paper for my more delicate, expensive and sentimental items. I found this useful step by step guide that shows how to wrap delicate items in tissue paper that also maybe helpful: http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/pdf/preservation/how_to_store_a_fragile_garment_or_textile.pdf

      In regards to vacuum sealed bags – they are fine to use for a short period of time. As I mentioned in my blog I have used them in the past for storing seasonal clothing, however they were only stored in there for a couple of months. I would probably stick to the containers and the tissue paper if these items are expensive.

      Reply
  13. Anna J. White says:

    I have heard that tip before- using a straw. Too bad the air always gets back in the bag. I have found that by using vacuum seal bags the material actually keeps air from getting back in. My zipper bags used to always “blow up” and gain air while in the freezer. A FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer is now my favorite kitchen appliance.

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Anna,
      Thanks for taking the time to read my article and I am glad you found some useful information. Vacuum seal bags will always be better than any zipper bags in regards to keeping the air out 🙂

      Reply
      • dee wooding says:

        hi my stored my sons newborn baby clothes ..I wanted to keep them ..he is 24 now they have been stored for 23 years and I looked at them last week there still as new and fresh as the day I packed them away ..heres what I did //I put them all into scented pedal bin bags just loosely folded over then put eaac bag in to his whicker moses basket ..there like new no smells no stains ..I washed them all gently before I stored them .they were then put in an alcove in my bedroom on a top shelf //blankets sheets .baby grows snow white newborn vests ..my friends cant believe there 23 years old

        Reply
        • Zara Hunter says:

          Hi Dee,
          What a great story! Thank you for taking the time to share it with us. We are glad your son’s baby clothes have been preserved so well. Very precious! Well Done!

          Reply
  14. Melinda Durham says:

    I have 2 vintage blankets (wool) with silk border that is a treasured family heirloom. What storage should I use? These were hand weaved from paper shillings during the depression.

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Melinda,
      For such an important piece you are best to get advise from a museum or specialist in materials from that era. I did find a useful article for your to read that outlines important steps to take to prepare and store precious textile heirlooms from the University of Kentucky that has contacts at the end of the article – https://fleming.ca.uky.edu/files/caring_for_your_textile_heirlooms.pdf. The contacts are from the US however there should be similar services available in Australia. Try googling The Textile Conservation Centre with the city you are in.
      Hope this helps 🙂

      Reply
      • dee wooding says:

        hi I also have these blankets stored with my sons other baby clothes 23 years old .do what I did above ..mine are still like new and no smells or stains ..I think it was storing them in his whicker moses basket were they could keep ventilated and fresh ..

        Reply
  15. Laina Pearson says:

    Hello Jodie,
    I have 100 bolts of fabric. My husband built me shelving that perfectly stores the bolts. The shelving unit attaches to the wall, no doors. The bottom shelf sits about a 1″ off the floor. I was thinking of making a curtain for the front. I would like to house the fabric in the garage. It is an attached garage. I have not had any water leaking from the roof or the walls. The walls are insulated, not the garage door. I monitored the temperature last winter, the lowest it got in the garage was 38 degrees. What would be your opinion on housing the fabric in the garage?

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Laina,
      Thanks for reading my blog.
      I believe there is no problem storing your fabric in a garage. There are things to consider when storing fabrics in any environment that can damage the fabric. Light, high temperature, high humidity, sealed environments, abrasion, soil and dust, insects and rodents which are all harmful to textiles.

      In regards to the curtain on the front of the shelving as opposed to a door, this will allow your fabrics to breath however you may want to consider fumigating your garage and protecting it from rodents and insects. Dust may also be a factor in a garaged area, depending on where is it located and the frequency of the roller door opening an closing. You would want to make sure the shelving is away from a window as over time, with a curtain as a “door” to your shelving, it will fade and weaken the fibers and may damage your fabric on the shelving.

      It is great that you have monitored the temperature in the winter, however I would also monitor it in the summer as high temperatures cause brittleness of fibers and often are accompanied by excess dryness. Avoid any storage area where fluctuations of temperature occur, as fragile fibers will expand and contract as the temperature changes, and humidity over 55% promotes the growth of mildew which stains fabric. Temperatures of 18-21 degrees Celsius are recommended for storage.

      You may want to consider wrapping your bolts in an unbleached muslin cloth for extra protection. Another tip is to place a clean laundered unbleached muslin sheet in the bottom of the storage shelving in order to quickly identify pest droppings or any small, dislodged fibers as that is a sign that insects are eating your fabrics. Finally it is important that check on your fabrics on a regular basis so that problems can be identified and solved.

      Reply
  16. carol says:

    Can baby powder or baking soda be placed in the plastic container along with the acid free tissue paper, or wld it draw bugs?

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Carol,
      Thanks for reading my blog. In answer to your question, although baking soda and baby powder does not ruin clothing – although I would be careful of ingredients in baby powder as some may stain clothing – I would recommend putting a small bowl or open container of baby powder or baking soda on top of the sealed plastic container as long as it is a tightly sealed container. If your plastic container is on a shelf you could put it next to the container. From what I have heard it is when baking soda and sugar are mixed together roaches and insects are attracted to the mixture and I am guessing it is the sugar part they can detect to be attracted to it. I am not sure if they can smell the baking powder as such. As far as baby powder that will deter wasps, bees and mosquitoes. I hope that is of some help 🙂

      Reply
  17. Donna says:

    Hi I have a storage unit with concrete floors. Using tote storage and have plastic covering the floor. Will cat litter help with keeping moisture out of the unit?

    Reply
  18. tj hall says:

    hi I need help?
    I am trying to organize and store things.I am trying to store long sleeves shirt for winter and summer in plastic containers. I am not great with computer-but I can try.
    I can seal the container with tape? Should I disinfect the container with what spray? Can you recommend a technique to learn how roll shirts and not fold them–I cannot find out how to properly roll the shirts(is it better to roll them).
    I live in Southern califonia-only 68 years old.
    I procrastinated and bit of a hoarder,I is there a web site or some that I can actually talk to do you have a book that you could rcommend or a site?
    I have no website.My number is 949 380 2640

    Reply
  19. Claire Allen says:

    Hi,

    I currently live in the Caribbean but am returning to colder climates for a few years. What’s the best I can do to store my clothes? Plastic containers won’t work due to the humidity plus plastic itself won’t last against dry rot. I won’t be able to air anything out for at least 2 years. Hope you can help?

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Claire,
      You may need to store your clothes in a climate controlled storage unit hung on a clothes rack on hangers well spaced so there is ventilation. Cover the racks with a breathable cloth to protect them from dust and dirt. The other alternative would be to invest in a camphor wood chest layering each item of clothing with acid free tissue paper. I have never had to store clothing in such humid conditions like you will be and the methods I have mentioned above I have not tried or tested. Good luck and I hope this has been of some help.

      Reply
  20. Debbie says:

    Hi I have five bridesmaid dresses that I need to keep for eighteen months, have put them in suit bags and hung them from the ceiling in my attic, do you think they will be ok and should I take them out of bags for twenty four hours once a month. Thank you

    Reply
    • Jodie Byrne says:

      Hi Debbie,
      As a safe guard I would definitely take them out once a month to air. It is always best to be safe then sorry. That little bit of effort will be worthwhile especially if they are waiting to be worn for your special day. Good luck 🙂

      Reply
  21. Ivy Baker says:

    I liked that you pointed out that it would be smart to wash your clothes before putting them in storage. That is good to know for me because I will be moving soon and I need to put my clothes in storage. Also, I am glad that you explained that mothballs can help keep bugs away from my clothes.

    Reply
  22. Emily says:

    Hi,
    I’m struggling to find plastic containers which have a good seal. Can you recommend any?
    Regards,
    Emily.

    Reply
    • Zara Hunter says:

      Hi Emily,
      Thank you for your comment. Have you tried places like Spotlight, Bunnings or Office Works? We have not personally used sealed boxes from these stores but I’m sure any employee from these stores could give you their professional advice on the seals. I hope this was helpful.

      Reply
    • Zara Hunter says:

      Hi Athletic Storage,
      Thank you for taking the time to read our blog and we are glad you enjoyed it. Keep watching this space for more blogs!

      Reply
  23. Leviticus Bennett says:

    Interesting, wooden cedar balls can replace mothballs. I will be sure to tell my grandma that tip. All of her kids moved out of the house so she is packing her belongings to a smaller place. She will need a storage unit to stow away all the family heirlooms and clothes from raising five kids.

    Reply
    • Zara Hunter says:

      Hi Ben,
      Thank you for your comment. We hope your grandma benefits from this tip! A lovely idea to store all the family heirlooms and kids clothes. Good Luck!

      Reply
  24. murtaza says:

    It is actually a great and helpful piece of information. I am satisfied that you simply shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  25. Gerty Gift says:

    Thank you for mentioning that cardboard won’t keep out rats and mice. I knew about not keeping our clothes in plastic, but I didn’t consider that mice or rats could get to our things if they were packed in cardboard. We’ll be sure to look into what you’ve advised and we’ll probably use it for our clothing storage.

    Reply
  26. Burt Silver says:

    I really like what you said about washing and ironing your clothes and how dirty clothes can attract insects and damage your clothes. That’s a really good point and something that I will have to keep in mind because I am looking to store away a lot of my clothes and winter gear for the summer. Hopefully, I can find a good storage unit where I can do this.

    Reply

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