How to Store Clothes

Clothes can be a significant investment. Whether you're storing tailored suits, red carpet gowns or everyday wearables, a wardrobe represents an investment of hundreds or thousands of dollars. When space is at a premium, you may need to pack some items away each season or for more extended periods. Storing a wedding dress or preserving baby clothes, for example, comes with some unique challenges. Pests, mold, mildew and staining can all be major issues when packing away clothes for the future. The longer you plan to keep clothing in storage, the more critical it is to pack it correctly. This guide offers tips and tricks for clothing storage to help your garments stay in wearable condition.

Key Point Module

  • 1 Clean your clothes according to the care instructions before packing.
  • 2 Only store clothes in a clean, well-ventilated and dry area.
  • 3 Avoid airtight containers that can trap odors and cause condensation.
  • 4 Don’t forget to include pest control. Insects can find their way into the most tightly sealed box, so use appropriate repellents to avoid damage.

Only Pack Clean Clothes

When getting ready to put your clothes in storage, the first step is to wash and dry each item thoroughly. Stains can set in the fabric fibers, if you don’t wash them before putting them away. You may find stains difficult or impossible to remove after several months in a storage container.

Odors are another issue. The smell of food or other items can draw pests. If you’ve ever put away clothing only to pull it out and see tiny holes, it is likely due to insects or rodents. Laundering your clothing first helps keep the bugs away.

Be sure everything is completely dry before packing. Even a little bit of moisture can lead to mold or mildew while your clothes are packed away. You may also want to run an extra rinse cycle to remove any leftover chemicals that can damage the fabric.

Avoid At-Home Storage Traps

Some common storage areas in your home might be an attic or basement. While these are great places to put durable items that aren’t affected by humidity, heat or cold, clothing can deteriorate rapidly in the wrong environment. Ideally, you want a place that’s cool — not cold — dry and well ventilated. Other than closets or under the beds, you may not have a lot of available space in your home. Storage units may offer the extra square footage you need for your overflow wardrobe.

Consider Using Garment Racks or Archival Storage

When packing clothing for storage at home or in a storage unit, avoid airtight containers. Plastic bags and tightly sealed totes may restrict airflow and create condensation. Fabric needs to breathe. While vacuum bags are great for saving space, they may damage clothing in storage for too long. Hanging your clothes is a great way to help items keep their shape and avoid compression. Just be sure to use padded or plastic hangers. Metal hangers can leave rust stains on fabric during long-term storage. Also, consider covering your hanging racks. A cotton sheet or other cover helps keep dirt and dust out while still allowing air to flow freely, keeping your clothes fresh and ready to wear.

Acid-free archival boxes are another great alternative, particularly when placed inside a plastic container that’s not airtight. Where standard shipping boxes can be a haven for beetles, moths and silverfish, these insects avoid archival boxes. Another bonus of these high-quality containers is that they do not have chemicals that may damage your clothing. Once packed in an acid-free box, the clothes can go into a ventilated plastic tote for long-term storage.

Remember to Include Pest Control

Even the most carefully stored fabric can become a home for insects and other pests. Mothballs and other chemicals solutions may help, but for long-term storage, natural cedar balls are often best. Mothballs can break open and spill chemical residue on your clothes and may also leave a lingering odor. With cedar balls, you get the pleasant scent of natural wood and a pest repellent that doesn’t damage your clothing. After packing a box or bin, line the top with cedar balls to repel most insects.

Learn to Fold for Storage

When packing away your clothes, consider leaving them unfolded or minimally folded. The creases that easily fall out of fabrics that are in use can become much more challenging to get out of clothes packed for long periods of time. A wrinkle may even become permanent, changing the way a garment fits. If you can, try to leave the clothes flat during storage. When you must fold the fabric to fit into storage containers, only fold where necessary and try to avoid a hard crease. Then, regularly visit your clothes and refold them into new positions. By refolding, you give the cloth a chance to relax and release the existing creases.

Inventory Everything

When putting things into storage, be sure to write up a complete inventory. You don’t want to have to sort through dozens of boxes to find your favorite sweater or a dress you need for an event. The more detailed the inventory list, the easier it is to find what you need when you need it. You may also want to organize your packing. For example, keep all winter coats in one box and all tops in another. When you organize your packing, it’s easier to find specific clothing items rather than unpacking your entire wardrobe.

Plus, doing an inventory might help you sort through everything and find items better suited to the donation pile. Packing for storage is a great time to do a closet clean out and get rid of that shirt you never wear or those shoes that give you blisters.

Check on Your Clothes

Once everything is clean, adequately packed and in storage, you might be tempted to forget about it. Don’t leave things in storage for years without regular visits to the facility. While storage units are generally kept in good repair, a leak, broken door or other physical issues may destroy your stuff. Clothing is particularly vulnerable to moisture, so you need to check on your stored items at least twice a year. In general, you want to visit when the weather changes to make sure that your clothes are still dry and pest free.

FAQ

Do I need acid-free packing material?

For everyday clothes or items you put in and out of storage at least once a year, you may not need to invest in archival boxes. These are items meant to be worn and eventually worn out. For things with sentimental value (a hand-stitched quilt, wedding dress or antique fabrics, e.g.), you should use the highest quality packing materials to avoid damage.

If my clothes are clean, do I need to rewash them?

Yes. Even clean clothes can pick up dirt and odors while stored in a dresser or closet. Washing items before packing them is always a good idea.

The dry cleaner sends my clothes home on a hanger and in a bag. Can they go right into storage?

No. The bags dry cleaners use to protect your garments are only intended for short term use. Be sure to take the bag off for long-term storage. You may also want to check the hanger. If it’s metal, swap it for a more fabric-friendly material.