It’s that time of year again … the time when I remind you to wash & store your knits. I’m sorry, I know this is a tedious chore, but it’s so, so, so VERY important for preserving the longevity of your knits. You know those evil little buggies who leave those wicked little holes in your knits? They are most often feasting on bits or food, skin, and other human detritus on your sweater. Washing is essential to depriving the little buggies of their buffet, and proper storage keeps them from gaining entrance to the restaurant.
Step 1. Wash
Hand wash in specialty delicate wash like Soak or Eucalan. Both brands are no-rinse (an essential feature for making this chore bearable), made in Canada, and work equally well. Personally, I prefer Eucalan for anything made with animal fibres (wool, alpaca, mohair, etc), it is formulated with more lanolin which is a natural conditioner for fibre. I especially like Soak for garments made with plant fibres or synthetics (you can find it in quilting and lingerie stores as well as knitting stores). Both are excellent products, you can’t go wrong with either. If you don’t have many knits but you want your lacies to last longer, pick up a bottle of Soak, they specialize in lingerie. If you are a knitwear fiend and throw your skivvies in the machine, grab a bottle of Eucalan.
Detailed instructions are on the bottles and product websites, but this is how it’s basically done:
- Soak garment in cool water for 10 minutes
- Add a little bit of delicate wash and squish it through garment
- Soak for another 10 minutes
- Drain water and gently squeeze out water (do not wring)
- Wrap in a towel and press out excess water
- Lay flat to dry
- Don’t forget your non-sweater knits! Wool socks, hats, mitts, scarves, cowls, and long underwear are just as vulnerable as your sweaters and need love too.
- Avoid the big corporate store brands like Woolite, they’re still ‘detergents’ and the results will end up making you cry.
- If the dye is saturated and you think it might bleed, add a quarter cup of white vinegar to the water before adding your garment. The vinegar will act as a mordent and stabilize the colour.
- If you don’t have a laundry room or suitable sink (I don’t) you can pick up a plastic wash basin at the dollar store (which are also wonderful for a nice foot soak). If you want a higher-end, very high-quality basin that will last forever try a 26 Litre Tubtrug – I have one at home for laundry and we’ve been using the same bins all over the store for over 6 years and they still look like new (the best price is from Amazon.ca and you can get free shipping).
- Instructions usually suggest drying garments flat on a towel, but I’ve found that if you have already pressed out the excess water with a towel Blocking Mats are a much faster method.
- If garments MUST go in the machine, use Soak or Eucalan in cold water on the delicate cycle and put them in a Honey-Can-Do Sweater Wash Bag.
- All fibres are susceptible to moth damage (even plant fibres like cotton and synthetics), wools just happen to be their favourite meal . Wash and store ALL the sweaters you wore over the winter.
Step 2. Storage
Now that your knits are clean it’s time to put them away. Thankfully extra-large (33cm x 38cm) zipper freezer bags are ubiquitous and can be found at grocery stores like Loblaws. Presently, my favourites are from Dollarama (they’re tough, the seal is easy and stays put, and they are cheap). Use one sweater per bag, it seals the bugs out, plus it ensures that if one of your knits is infested it won’t spread to the others. This system will also help isolate where any potential infestations are coming from. If you want to seal in a nice, subtle, clean smell you can add a dried bay leaf to the bag – it smells like happy-nice-clean.
- Store your non-garment knits! Woollen blankets, pillow covers, anything felted (like bags, slippers, ornaments) are all vulnerable and need to be sealed up. You can buy XXL Ziploc Bags at Walmart or at Dollarama for storing blankets.
- Don’t neglect your STASH! Ever worked with a skein of yarn that constantly breaks (not counting tight knitters working with delicate yarns)? Yup, buggies. I’ve known people who’ve had to pitch their entire stashes because of infestation.
- All of the bags mentioned are tough, do not tear easily, and can be used over and over (we use them for storage in the store).
- I don’t suggest you rely on big tote storage bins to keep your sweaters safe. They don’t fully seal and my past experience has been full of tears and regret.
- If you’re feeling extra organizey and want to exercise a little control over your chaos, you can label your sweaters. A roll of masking tape and a sharpie pen go a long way, and when the cold hits next fall you’ll know which black sweater is which, without opening all the packaging (I learned this the hard way). BTW, there’s no right or wrong way to label your sweaters, as long as you label them so you can *find* them. Mine are kind of kind of random: “V-Neck from H&M – Black”, “Cashmere Scoop Neck – Black”, “V-Neck Dress from Grad School- Black”, “Haley Special Ultra Alpaca – Blue”, “Haley Special Ultra Alpaca – Green” (I’ve got a few of these), etc. It’s hard to see colour accurately when your sweaters are all packed away together, so be sure to put the colour on the label.
Step 3. Second Line of Defense
I field a lot of questions and hear a lot of stories about moth prevention, and I feel I should weigh in.
I like keeping the windows in my home open as much as possible, which inevitably leads to a little bit of nature creeping in. Hopefully, I’ll have stored everything away properly, but in the past there have been a few strays. This year I’m going to try using Aeroxon Moth Traps as a second line of defence and see what happens. I’ve never used them before, but I’ve heard good things (they use pheromones to attract the males). They last 3 months, so be sure to change them regularly. Even if the buggies don’t have anything to feast on, I’ll still experience a little bit of schadenfreude (shameful-joy) seeing the little bastards in the trap. Death to the sweater eaters!
Moth balls work, but they smell like camphor on crack, god knows what the chemicals are doing to you and your family, and little kids always seem to think they’re candy. The smell gives me a mirgaine, ’nuff said – VETO.
I have fond memories of rummaging in my grandmother’s cedar closet, the smell was wonderful and it’s where she kept her ‘stash’ (she’d keel over if she saw what we collect these days). These closets mostly work on the principle that they are located in the basement, are tightly sealed, and aren’t often opened. Buggies don’t love the smell of cedar oil, but the wood dries out over time and it isn’t a reliable deterrent. Plus, it can’t do anything helpful if you store something already infested in it. I’m conservative when it comes to these things, if you are going to rely on a cedar closet without washing & bagging, I’d put a moth trap in there as a back-up.
Cedar balls are pretty, but are already dried out and they don’t have much scent left. I think their best use is in a glass bowl as a decorative centrepiece.
Heavy Perfume (Smelly Soap, Dryer Sheets, etc.)
Maybe buggies dislike the smell, maybe they don’t – this one’s in the realm of ‘old wives tale’. Personally, I’ve never had any success with this technique, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to go all out and make all my stuff smell like Springtime for Hitler. I don’t endorse heavy fragrance for a few reasons:
- There isn’t any science on it, I don’t know if it really keeps moths at bay.
- More and more people are sensitive to fragrance; I don’t want you to hurt anyone with your perfume and I also don’t want *you* to become sensitized through exposure and become allergic (or your kids – that would be an unimaginable world of pain for the whole family).
- Besides being a common trigger for asthma, commercial synthetic fragrances contain chemicals called Phthalates (like the stuff in BPA), which are endocrine disruptors and are associated with cancers of the lady parts, deformities in baby boys, and god knows what else. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to keep my breasts & ovaries and never have to know what chemo feels like, and I want the same for my family and yours.