How do you renew your winter clothes after storing them?

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When the temperature drops and it’s time to bring your winter gear out of storage, you want it to be new and ready to use. If you’ve done your homework in the past year, you’ll have found clean clothes wrapped in a swirl of fabric softener scent.

But if you’re reading this, that’s probably not the case. You’ve probably found some funky-smelling shirts, ghost stains that you swore weren’t there six months ago, and — oh no! -The moth-infested mess that was your favorite sweater.

There’s nothing you can do about the latter (sorry), but there’s a lot you can do to make your cold weather clothing look nice and crisp at the start of the colder months of the year.

Fight the smells of last winter

There are many reasons why clothes you’ve been storing for months might have a weird smell, the most common being moisture. If your clothes are sitting in a cardboard box in the basement or some other dark, damp place, moisture can seep in and leave your short jacket smelling like a small, windowless bathroom.

But before you throw your fist in the air in anger, you should know that it’s probably your fault that your clothes smell bad.

“Any clothing that is put away for seasonal storage should be cleaned first. The worst thing you can do is store dirty items,” says Jerry Pozniak, CEO of Jeeves, a luxury dry cleaning company in New York City.

(Related: Stain Removal Tips From Buckingham Palace’s Trained Butler)

Unless you thoroughly wash everything that was in direct contact with your skin before storing it, it is very likely that sweat, grease and dead skin cells (body soil) have transferred to one of your clothes and decomposed over time. This is especially true if your winter wardrobe contains a lot of synthetic textiles, like those you find in performance gear. These fabrics are not as breathable as natural fibers, so they retain sweat and moisture.

But the bad odor is not limited to the sweat that accumulates during the summer months. As you already know, dark, damp, and unventilated spaces of any kind are a breeding ground for bacteria. And dead skin cells (found all over your dirty clothes) are the perfect snack for these little microorganisms, which metabolize your filth and turn it into a bad-nose odor.

So your clothes smell bad – what next? You can try using a deodorizing spray and airing out your clothes in a bright, dry place. If weather permits, hanging them outside might also work, but if you don’t have the space, Wozniak, who has spent 38 years in the laundry business, recommends putting your clothes in the dryer on the “no heat” setting. Or the “air dry” cycle. Keep in mind that this will only get rid of odors if your clothes have a slight trace of wear, which is normal after months of sitting still in a confined space.

But if the bad smell is due to heavy sweating for months or mildew, you will have to wash it. If you really want to avoid doing extra laundry, you can always try an antibacterial spray, but it’ll probably be more efficient to take the bullet and load the washer.

Getting rid of imaginary stains

You certainly wouldn’t have stored something if you’d known it had a stain. But then you find spots you’ve never seen before, and you wonder if you need to make an eye doctor appointment. It’s not your eyes, some stains only appear while removing your clothes. Again, the likely culprit is body soil.

Sweat and dead skin cells seep into the fibers of your clothes even if you only wear them once. Just as an apple turns brown over time, areas on your clothing that have accumulated body dirt can become visually stained.

If you know anything about stains, you know that time is your enemy, and the longer you leave them, the harder they are to get rid of. This is why pre-treating stains is crucial. Yellow stains respond well to low-pH removers, which you can find in stores or in your cupboard in the form of vinegar.

But something important to keep in mind regarding this basic household cleaning item: Pure vinegar is acidic and can damage fabrics containing silk or rayon, by causing discoloration, shrinkage, and even erosion of the elastic fibers over time. Before pre-treating any stain, check the wash care label of your clothing carefully.

For vinegar-safe textiles, you can loosen a dirty stain by rinsing the fabric and pouring a mixture of a few drops of high-quality laundry detergent and 1 tablespoon of vinegar directly onto the stain. Scrub gently or use a soft-bristled brush, and leave it for 20 minutes before putting the garment in the washing machine.

For fabrics that are not safe for vinegar and large or stubborn stains, soaking will probably give you the best chance of success. Start by pre-treating the stain with laundry detergent or enzyme-based stain remover, and continue soaking the garment in a mixture of 1 part low-pH stain remover and 10 parts water. Leave it for 30 minutes to an hour (depending on the size or stubbornness of the stain) and stir every five minutes. Don’t rinse soak, finish washing the garment with the rest of your clothes and use warm water in your load if you need a little oomph.

Don’t forget that heat causes stains, so once the cycle is over, check if the stain is still there before putting your clothes in the dryer. If so, repeat the process and wash the item of clothing again.

When your jackets become food for insects

We don’t think you need to tell you that if you find holes in your clothes, it’s game over, most of the time. But you may still be able to save them, and it will depend largely on the amount of damage and the organism that was feeding on your clothes.

“Mite damage can appear as irregular holes or ‘tracks’ in white bedding, which may look like dander,” Pozniak explains. “If you suspect moth damage, you need to dry clean the garment as soon as possible to kill the larvae.”

Alternatively, check the care label of your clothing and, if the fabric can handle it, wash it on the hot water cycle. Getting help from an expert may be the easiest option, as most of the time the natural fiber butterflies you use as bait will be damaged by hot temperatures. Finally, as a precaution, wash all clothing that came into contact with the infected clothing, and thoroughly scrub any container it was in.

This is a good approach if there is anything you can (or want) to salvage. If there is an item of great sentimental value among the fallen, you may want to go to an expert and see if they can sew new life into it or turn it into new clothing or accessories. We are sorry for your loss.

If the holes you find are not caused by moths but by rodents building a cozy little nest in your winter gear, just throw everything away. Since mice and rats do not discriminate based on the purity of your wool blend, the damage is likely to be more extensive than what moths can cause. In addition, you will not only be dealing with torn fabric but also with animal waste, urine and saliva, which can cause allergies and even illness due to hantaviruses.

How to properly store your clothes for next winter

No one wants to start great sweater weather by doing a load of laundry, so follow these tips to keep your clothes looking their best for next year.

Do not store unwashed clothes

We hate to keep singing the same tune here, but we’re going to: Wash your clothes before storing them for the season. This is especially important for clothing that comes in direct contact with your skin, such as base layers and undershirts.

Soil is the root of strange odors and stains, but what makes matters worse is that moths find dirty textiles particularly delicious – your soil is their spice. Their larvae feed on what you leave behind, so when you store that beautiful wool sweater before washing it properly, you’re just providing a buffet to a family of fibre-eating insects.

“The most important factor is to put your items away for clean storage,” says Pozniak. “I’ve seen customers cry after I told them about moth damage.”

Enhance that scent

Give your clothes a nice scent by using scent beads in your laundry. Then, when it’s time to store your clothes, consider placing dryer sheets, flower or coffee bags, or cedar logs among your clothes. You can also place scent beads in small mesh bags or organza bags so their scent will adhere to the fibers. This can help neutralize odors and transfer some lovely fragrances directly to the textiles.

(Related: How to Make Your Own Laundry Detergent)

Fold your knitwear, never hang it

Pozniak recommends folding cashmere and other items with a high wool content and storing them (preferably individually) in fabric garment bags. This will allow the fabric to breathe and protect it from insects.

And don’t worry too much about crushing your jackets. Even if your clothes are torn and wrinkled when you take them out of storage, they won’t damage the fibers, Pozniak says. Simply steam your wrinkled clothes to get rid of any wrinkles and return them to their delicate glory.

Use high-quality hangers

Clothes such as wool coats should be hung in garment bags and appropriate hangers used. Don’t use wires made from dry cleaners, get wooden wires with wide shoulders to help maintain the shape of your outerwear. If you’re willing to invest, choose cedar hangers, which will not only give your clothes a nice woodsy scent, but will also help keep moths away.

Get some accessories

Products like mothballs, traps, and rice bags can protect your clothes from moths as well. Meanwhile, sturdy, airtight containers are a great way to prevent any kind of critter from getting their little paws on your favorite clothes. Just make sure you assemble them correctly, as potential cracks may turn plastic boxes into prime real estate. To keep knitwear and wool coats fresh and lint-free, Pozniak recommends the combs and lint removers he and his team at Jeeves use.

Buying more accessories for your clothes may seem silly, especially when you’ve already spent a lot of money on them. But this is an easy way to make your clothes last longer, which will not only give you more money in the long run, but is also more sustainable.

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