How To Protect Wool and Cashmere Items From Moths and Other Pests
The first thing to do, is to be sure items are clean when they are stored. This means simply looking over a garment and spot cleaning if necessary before putting it away.
If an item needs to go to the dry cleaner or be set aside for 'wash day', it is best to put it in a sealed plastic bag and keep it separate from other items until it is cleaned. The reason for this is that moths and other pests can be attracted to some stains. (See more information about cleaning fine knits below.)
There are many pests other than moths that cause damage to our fine knits. Some include silver fish, carpet beetles (less than 1/4th" in size), and some spiders.
Of course, when we say moths, we really are talking of the moth larva. These are usually in individual cocoons about the size of a grain of rice and just poke their mouth out to chew as they move about. The number of larva and the size varies as the particular moths vary, but they are usually quite small for the damage that they do. By the time we see the holes, there often is no evidence of them, other than the small rice size cocoon and sometimes not even that. The actual moth is often a rather small type, looking for a dark niche or fold of cloth to tuck their young into. They may also use the walls or corners a closet or dresser.
If you have been having a moth or other pest problem, it may be best to take everything out of the closet/s or dresser/s and brush, vacuum and spray the space before shaking out each piece (best done outside) to be sure that they are bug free. Turn each item inside out and inspect any pleats or ribbing closely. If moth larva or other pests are found, bag and set the item aside for cleaning before returning to the closet or dresser.
There are various products available to deter moths. Do be cautious with some of the chemical types. They usually are not good for humans or animals at close quarters. This said, used correctly, with good ventilation, they may be a way to rid the area of pests.
The heavy smell of moth balls/flakes will usually dissipate after 3-4 days of hanging in a well vented room.
There are also herbal treatments which can be effective as deterrents. They often include scents like lavender, cedar and eucalyptus. But, they usually do not kill the pests. And, they must be freshened or reapplied at regular intervals (usually every few months) to be effective. One side note, never spray a garment directly unless the directions say to do this.
The reason to bother with spot cleaning is that food stains among other stains, not only attract pests but can weaken natural fibers and cause them to breakdown.
Dry cleaning of course is helpful, but it can be hard on wool and cashmere items if done too often. Dry cleaning can cause the fibers to become brittle and can 'yellow' woolens and other natural fibers. This is especially true of white and light colored natural fibers. An occasional hand washing can restore softness to the fiber and is highly recommended if the garment allows for it.
Hand Washing Cashmere and Wool Sweaters
When possible, and if the item allows for it, hand washing will keep knits soft and can even revive a knit that has lost it's softness.
Whatever cleaner you use, less is best. We like Eucalan which does not need to be rinsed out. In a pinch, baby shampoo or gentle dish soap can be used.
If you choose to hand wash your knits, treat them gently and avoid leaving them in water for more than 15 minutes. Avoid hot water and/or wringing. It is better to gently squeeze. Rinse enough times to see that the water is no longer sudsing. (A washer set on spin can also be used to remove the water of the final rinse.)
Gently squeeze as much moisture as possible from the sweater while still in the sink.
Then roll in towels and gently press again to remove as much
water as possible. Avoid miss-shaping the garment by never hanging it while it is wet.
Let dry on a flat surface where it has been carefully laid out.
Do not apply heat. Allow at least 2 full days to dry. Possibly longer
for heavier items.
>>> Never use a dryer for drying wool or cashmere items
unless the tags assure you that the item can be dried. Even on 'low' or 'air dry' that garment may be permanently 'felted' and/or shrunk by the agitation alone.
Once your wool and cashmere items are clean and dry, it is best to keep them individually bagged, as a way to limit moth or pest damage to as few items as possible
If the items are to be stored for a year or longer, it may be wise to invest in acid free tissue and/or acid free Muslin bags and boxes as a way to keep items from yellowing. In a pinch, pillow cases can be used. Cedar chests can also provide good storage. Though please note that cedar chests alone cannot be relied on to prevent yellowing or damage without the vigilance mentioned above.
We hope this information is helpful in caring for your knits!
~ Sandy Serrett - owner Knit Alteration & Design
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