This Is the Right Way to Store Your Clothes

IMAGE Esquire US

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

I'm wondering if you have any experience getting rid of mothball odor? I have a storage unit where this smell is very strong and it's seeping into the clothes I have stored. How do I get rid of the smell once I take things out of storage?

I personally do not have experience with removing mothball odor, because I have never used mothballs. Still though, I can help with this problem! Before I do, however, let me tell you why I've never used mothballs: They reek. Also? They're toxic. Don't use them, ever. If you must use a moth repellant of some sort, opt for cedar.

Removing Mothball Smell From Places and Clothes

In the last installment of Laundry School, we talked about what to do when faced with a pile of clothes that have developed a strong malodor, which is to wash the clothes using Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Pure-Castile Liquid Soap in place of your regular laundry detergent. I've recommended Dr. Bronner's to great success to remove smells like gasoline and deer repellent from clothes, so I feel pretty confident it will do the trick on the Letter Writer's mothball-y smelling stuff. If the Dr. Bronner's doesn't do it, or you're trying to remove the mothball odor from non-washable items, check out the advice for eliminating smells in vintage clothing.

As for the storage space itself, I would blast it with Ozium, which is an aerosol odor-eliminator favored by the 420 set. Some fresh air wouldn't hurt either, so if you can safely allow the space to air out for a few days that will also help to neutralize the lingering mothball scent.


Storage Tips

Since fall is here and many of us are starting to lug our heavy winter coats out of storage and put our favorite summer duds away until next year , this is a good time to go over some best practices when it comes to seasonal storage.

Store Only What You Want to Keep

Sorting through clothes to decide what to keep and what can go isn't high up on most people's list of fun-time activities. But the end of the season is a good time to commit to such an exercise, and here's why: After several months of wearing, or not wearing, your seasonal items, you're much more likely to turn a critical eye on them and be really honest about what can stay and what should go. Garments that are damaged, don't fit, make you feel bad, or that you simply never wore should be assessed; do you really want to hang onto that pair of Old Navy cargo shorts that are a skosh too small? Right, toss them now rather than saving that job for next summer.

Clean It Before Your Store It

It's tempting to grab all your seasonal clothes, toss them into a storage bin, snap the lid on and be done with it. Don't do that, though. You'll regret it when you open that storage container back up next year and find a heap of stained and smelly clothes inside. Obviously, that's just unpleasant, but there are two other good reasons why you should clean clothes and accessories before you store them.

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The first is that stains, including and especially invisible ones, can darken and set-in over time, which can lead to irreparable damage. The second is that food and drink spills left behind on clothes can attract bugs and other critters.

Wipe Out Storage Bins

As our friend with the mothballs learned the hard way, stashing clothes away in a place that smells unpleasant will lead to more unpleasantness down the line. The same goes for chucking clothes into bins that are dirty, for the obvious reason that grime will transfer onto your (clean)(right?) clothes. You'll also want to make sure storage containers are completely dry, as trapped moisture will lead to issues with mildew.

Make Thoughtful Container Choices

For most seasonal storage, plastic containers will be ideal because they keep out moisture and critters. However, be aware that plastic restricts airflow, making it a bad choice for delicates, vintage pieces, or heirlooms. Opt instead for structured fabric storage bags, like this style from The Container Store.

If you're buying new containers for use under your bed, make sure to measure the clearance so that you don't wind up back at home with a set of containers that are a quarter of an inch too tall for your under-bed space. This is also true of other types of storage, such as in-drawer dividers or closet floor shoe racks—always measure first. It's pretty obvious when you read it spelled out like that, but it's also a step that people often forget about or decide to skip in favor of eyeballing it. Don't eyeball it! It takes much less time to bust out the tape measure than it will to have to make a return trip to the store because you bought storage bins that were just a hair too tall for the space where you want to put them.


This story originally appeared on
Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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