Storage Survival Manual: Going in or coming out, how to make sure your clothes survive

Are you planning on storing some cooler weather garments, like sweaters, for next year? Ever get some spring outfits out of storage only to find they’re off-color or have blotches and holes they didn’t have when you put them away? A lot of things can happen to clothing in storage. Here are a few potential problems, along with solutions and prevention tips:

Light Exposure

How it works: Many dyes fade if exposed to sunlight or artificial light. Fabric types play a definite role, and some dyes fade more readily than others. Dyes on silk tend to be more susceptible to damage by light exposure. If the light is extremely strong or the dye is not resistant to light, such fading can occur in a short time. In most cases, fading is limited to only one side of the fabric or the exposed areas of the item.

Solution: Once the fading occurs, it cannot be corrected.

Prevention: To minimize the possibility of light fading, do not store items in direct light. Even light left on in a closet could fade the fabric.

Insect Damage

How it works: Wool and other fabrics can become damaged by insects such as clothes moths, carpet beetle larvae, cockroaches, beetles, silverfish, and others. Insects are usually attracted to fabrics stained with food, beverages, perspiration, and oils from the skin and hair. While feeding on a stain, the insects also cut or weaken the surface fibers. When the item is cleaned the fibers are flushed away and the damage becomes more apparent.

Solution: Unfortunately, there is no method of replacing the eaten fibers.

Prevention: In order to prevent moth and other insect infestation, items should be stored in a cool, dry place. Storing items in the attic or basement is not recommended since the heat and humidity are usually not appropriate for fabrics. Moth and insect infestation bears a direct relationship to temperature increases in the storage area. Before storing items, they should be cleaned to remove all staining substances, since insects feed on stains. Storing garments in cedar chests with mothballs is also helpful, though the garments may require airing and washing to eliminate the mothball odor.

Fume Fading

How it works: Fume fading is caused by a reaction of atmospheric oxides of nitrogen with certain dyes, resulting in a permanent color change that is usually of a pinkish or reddish hue. These gasses are air contaminants that are produced by the combustion of heating gas or heating oil like those used in furnaces, heaters, gas or electric cooking ranges or car exhaust and industrial exhausts.

Solution: There is no method for reversing this type of discoloration.

Prevention: Store clothing in a well ventilated area that is free from contact with exhaust gasses or heating fumes. Store the clothing in boxes to keep the gasses from making contact with the clothing.

Sublimation of Dye

How It Works: Some fabric dyes tend to change to a vapor and then transfer and condense onto articles in use or storage, forming stains, usually in the form of streaks. This type of staining usually develops when a dye sublimation occurs from a dark colored acetate fabric. This discoloration slowly develops over a long period of contact with another article. The staining can also develop when items are not in direct contact with one another. Heat may cause this process to occur more easily if a garment is stored in a warm place.

Solution: In some cases, the staining can be removed at the cleaners.

Prevention: Store dark items separately and keep the fabrics away from heat.

Mysterious Yellow Stains

How It Works: Stains from juices, beer, soft drinks, tea, coffee or other foods or beverages that contain tannin or sugars can cause stains to develop during storage through oxidation. These stains were probably invisible when the garments were put away. Once the stain has been left in the fabric, it oxidizes and becomes apparent as time passes. These stains may be very difficult to remove, especially from wool, silk, and nylon. The longer the stain is allowed to age, the more difficult it is to remove.

Solution: Cleaners may be able to remove the stains with specialized stain removal agents, or at least lighten the stain enough so that the garment can be returned to a wearable condition.

Prevention: Clean garments thoroughly before putting them into storage. Dry-cleaning will help eliminate the possibility of having mysterious yellow stains show up on your clothing when you bring them out of storage. Be sure to point out all stains and potential stains to the counter person when taking clothes to the cleaner.


How it works: Mildew is a fungus that usually develops on solid garments or items that are stored in damp or humid conditions. Mildew appears as irregular purple, gray, black or yellow speckled stains. A damp, musty odor usually accompanies the stains.

Besides creating stains, mildew can even deteriorate cellulose fibers such as cotton, linen, and ramie. Mildew is also likely to grow on other natural fibers and materials such as wool, silk, and leather. Synthetics generally resist mildew, but if they are stored in a warm, damp place, they can fall victim to a mildew attack.

Solution: Mildew odor can be removed by washing or with an ozone treatment. Ask around to find a cleaner who uses ozone cleaning. Getting the stains out is a different story. You can try washing the garment with a mild bleach or all-fabric type bleach to lighten the staining, but only chlorine bleach will completely kill the mildew and prevent its regrowth. Unfortunately, chlorine bleach is not safe on many fabrics, especially silk and wool, and is likely to cause color loss.

Prevention: Only store clean, dry garments in well ventilated, air conditioned or dehumidified areas. Any problems with drainage, waterproofing or caulking could cause mildew problems when it comes time to bring your clothes back to the wardrobe.

Many people store their clothing in the off-season to keep it safe, but by not taking the proper precautions you could be putting next year’s wardrobe. into jeopardy. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially since many of the different types of damage that can befall fabrics while in storage are irreversible.

When you start storing items away remember to store them CLEAN, DARKS and LIGHTS SEPARATED, CLIMATE CONTROLLED and NO LIGHT EXPOSURE.