Life

Sweater Weather Means Sweater Washing

A whole bunch of tips for non-toxic ways to wash, store, and care for sweaters

As we get the first hints of true chill in the air, that means it's time to start pulling out the layers and bundling up in all the cozy sweaters you can find. But, now that you've pulled them out of storage, does it look like they need some TLC? Maybe it's just a little freshening up, or maybe you notice some tiny little holes that weren't there before. Well, the good news is that we've got a couple of tips for caring for your sweaters, and none of them will introduce any chemicals to your wardrobe or closet.


There are a couple of reasons that sweaters are unique pieces in our wardrobes. Partly because they are super cozy but also because they tend to be made of different fibers from the rest of our clothing, like wool. And that is why moths go after them - they like the wool. It is also why they tend to have special care instructions.

So, how should you care for them?

Launder Them Properly

Most of the time, if you read the label, sweaters say they are dry clean only. While we wish we could live in sweaters, we also wish there was a better way to clean them. Dry cleaning may seem like magic, but really, dry cleaning uses chemical solvents instead of water. That means, instead of using water and soap to make the stains and dirt disappear, they use a mix of chemicals that can break down the dirt and stains. While that's great for keeping sweaters clean and looking nice, it's not so great in terms of trying to keep toxic chemicals out of your life.

What if we told you that you can actually wash most sweaters? Clothing manufacturers will often label sweaters "dry clean only" but many times those sweaters can be hand washed or machine washed on gentle. Wool can, in fact, get wet. But only in cool water and without a lot of unnecessary man-handling, otherwise you might have a felt situation. To hand wash a sweater, mix a basin full of water with some mild detergent, then gently submerge the sweater, gently swish, soak for 5 minutes, and then gently rinse with the cold water. Did we mention that it's key to have a gentle touch? After rinsing, don't twist or wring, but simply press the sweater to remove excess water. To dry, lay the wet sweater on a dry towel and reshape to it's proper shape. You can lay another dry towel on top and press gently to remove excess water. Keep the sweater laying flat on the towel in a well-ventilated area until it's dry.

If that sounds like a lot, or you just don't have a gentle touch, there are are greener, healthier cleaning options than dry cleaning. When it comes time to clean your sweaters, we suggest checking for locations that offer wet cleaning, a process similar to dry cleaning, but one that doesn't use the same dangerous chemicals, like PERC. You can search for some places that offer wet cleaning here, or try googling/yelping places in your neighborhood.

A side note on at home dry cleaning in the dryer. There are a couple of brands that now offer ways to dry clean garments at home. We have done a little digging and it seems like many of those brands contain similarly unsafe cleaning agents. While it might seem convenient, it might not be the best in terms of toxic chemicals.

Next time you're in the market for sweaters, take a look at the care instructions before purchasing. It might also be worth considering investing in a sweater (or three) that you can wash at home.

Store Them Properly

Moths don't really like to be disturbed (hey, does anybody?). That means that sweaters that are in storage are more likely to be munched on by moths. So, learning how to keep them in storage for the times of year when it's sandal season instead of sweater weather is important. Moths are pretty small, which means that they can get into some very tight places or sneak into cardboard boxes. The best advice is to clean the sweaters before you store them (that way there is nothing hiding in the fibers that the moths might be interested in eating). Then, store them in an airtight container (in this case, plastic might not be so bad because it won't be touching anything you are going to eat later). If you are going to use cardboard boxes, be sure to tape all of the edges carefully.

Getting Rid of Moths

If you have clothes moths, cleaning the moths and any of their eggs off the sweaters is important. Washing the sweaters or getting the clothes professionally cleaned (like with wet cleaning mentioned above) is a good start. Other options include freezing or heating the sweater. Heating it to over 120°F for half an hour is the best option. There are also methods for fumigating the sweaters with dry ice. After you make sure the sweaters are clean and free of moths, you should also clean out where they were stored - think intense vacuuming. You can also use pheromone traps, which emit pheromones that attract the male moths and then trap the moths with something sticky. What about mothballs you might ask? Mothballs are basically just balls of pesticides, which means that if you keep them in your closet you are creating a small source of pesticides for your home (plus, they don't smell very good, which is just another reason to skip them if you can). Some also say that cedar oil, coming from cedar wood, works well as a natural repellent, but there are varied accounts. We think it's worth a shot, but maybe better at deterring moths than getting rid of the ones that are already there.

Now, you should be good to go. So, pile on the sweaters and don't worry about moths eating them.


References

http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7435.html

http://www.pesticide.org/moths_clothes

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