I Can't Believe Moths Ate My Sweater!

--  Home Storage Nickel Knowledge by Trudi Carey; originally published in Santa Barbara News-Press Sunday, August 26, 2018

In our storage business we hear a lot of stories from our clients in Hope Ranch.  Lately we've been hearing more and more about moths or mold ruining clothing and furniture in their homes.  One client had five tuxedos in his closet ruined by moths.  Another client had unknowingly purchased antique furniture that was infected with mold.  We decided to do a little research about how to prevent moths and mold from ruining our things!

We spoke with Sasha Ablitt of Ablitt's Fine Cleaners to get her thoughts and did a bit of online research.  Here is what we learned:


When liquids are spilled on your clothing, often they are not visible to the eye, moths will find the spill and begin to eat both the food and your sweater.  Food particles (like  a crumb) on your sweater, scarf or jacket are also delicious to a moth!

Sasha recommends dry cleaning wool coats at least once a year and tuxedos and gowns after every wear.  "Customers often wear something to an event and put it away because it looks clean, they forget about the 7-up or white wine that splashed on the sleeve and once the stain is noticeable, it is too late."


Mold needs a few important ingredients

  1. Moisture
  2. Oxygen
  3. Warmth
  4. Food
To prevent mold growth, keep surfaces and materials dry and remove water damaged items from your home.  Mold needs 48-72 hours to develop, which gives you a small window to clean spills or leaks and prevent growth.

Food for mold can be any organic matter.  Paper (books), wool, silk, wood, glue, dirt and dust are food sources for mold.  Per Sasha they see more mold clothing than moth damage which surprised us.

When clothing is stored without thoroughly drying, or if the closet itself is damp, mold is given an opportunity to grow.  If you discover mold on clothing the first recommended step is to put the garments outside in direct sunlight to dry out.  If the garment is bleachable, wash with hot water and bleach to kill the mold.  Per Sasha you cant wash out mold in your washing machine without bleach as a residential washer's water does not get hot enough. The item will need to be professionally laundered (they use really really hot water) or dry cleaned.

Once mold is given the opportunity to grow it will continue to do so until the mold is removed or the climate for growth has changed.  If the temperature drops the mold spores will grow dormant (this is why fur coats are put into cold storage in warm weather).  When the temperature rises again the mold will spring back to life.  Mold is microscopic and spores can float in the air allowing them to travel through your house easily and find new food sources.

It is common for out of season clothing to be stored in plastic but while this practice can help keep some pests out, it can also trap moisture and allow for mold growth.  Sasha suggest putting a piece of tissue in under the  plastic particularly for garments or items stored on humid days.  Ablitt's always put tissue paper in wedding gowns and sweaters before storage for this reason.  If the tissue changes color or develops holes, be sure to get the item professionally cleaned immediately.  You should periodically check the tissue as an indicator of moisture.

Smaller mold affected items like chair cushions can be taken to Ablitt's ozone equipment for cleaning (they are the only cleaners in town that offer ozone cleaning). Larger items will need to be done at a company like Service Master that has a full ozone room.

Black Light

A black light can be used to check for mold and stains not visible to the eye.  Shine the light directly over your clothing, walls, grout, wooden fixtures and fabrics to look for a bright yellow or yellow-green glow. If bright areas appear you most likely have a stain, food particle that will attract moths or could be mold.

My take away, I am going to use the black light on my sweaters and coats and professionally clean the ones that light up regularly.  I also plan to shine the light under my sinks to see if there is any moisture that I cannot see.  The black lights are available online or that I cannot see.  The black lights are available online or at Home Depot.  Purchase a bright one will give you a better result!

Trudi Carey is a licensed Real Estate Broker, Architect and General Contractor. She is a member of the Santa Barbara Realtor Association and serves on their professional standards committee.  She specializes in new home trends, real estate, self storage services and is a frequent speaker on design trends.

Fashion, your health and the environment

Google drycleaner and you will likely get a lot of information on Environmentally friendly drycleaners.  Eco Cleaners love to tout their stuff and warn of the dangers to health of using the traditional perc drycleaning solvent.  I am glad that awareness growing about the importance of choosing a responsible drycleaner.  It is true that perc fumes have been proven to be carcinogenic.  But the solvent is not all you need to think about.

Most of us are unaware of the dangers of many clothes we buy.
When you are shopping for clothes, your choices effect your health, your families health, and the health of planet earth.

What is my biggest concern? They are calling it fast fashion. . . and this trend worries me

14 million tons of clothing go into landfills in the us every day.

Then there are the chemicals that cant be good for our health or the planet:
polyester is plastic - its can last forever in a land fill
There is a reason we don't make these clothes here - these toxic chemicals are banned in the US
the chemicals used to acid wash or fade jeans is toxic

their are optical brighteners used on white clothes that are toxic and often wash out quickly.  So the clothes look old after just a few cleanings

there are coatings sprayed onto clothes to give them added body and sparkle - it is often toxic.
 --- One quick tip, wash your sheets with detergent then do an additional rinse before putting them on your bed the first time!  Wrinkle free coatings at one time were formaldehyde (I was told by someone in the industry that this is no longer true. However since it was never admitted, how can I confirm that? I recommend not buying any wrinkle free clothing).

These chemicals wash out of our clothes over time. Drycleaners cannot replace these optical brighteners and other textile chemicals back into your clothes because these chemicals are illegal in the US.   However other countries that manufacture using these same chemicals and using questionable social practices are booming. Look at the online clothing industry.  These clothes are cheaply made and intended for only a few uses.  The fashion cycle which used to be seasonal has been shrunk to only a few weeks!

Cashmere made in china has very short fibers and pills almost instantly.  The life of a sweater made that way is very short.  They tend to look old and worn after just one cleaning

The Silk made in china is not really silk.  Im not sure what it is.  I need to research it further but I know from experience cleaning it - it does not wear the way Italian or Traditional silk does.  it looses luster, fades and snags in a way that reduces its usefulness

In short - these are disposable clothes that are treated with toxic chemicals

There is also a social component here.  When you buy that $5 shirt or $12 dress.  It is likely that those items have circled the globe at least once using considerable fuels during its travels.

I make the joke that these disposable clothes are made by underaged under paid children in China. . . . and I worry that it is true. There is a reason that a sweater made by hand in America will cost hundreds of dollars while an H&M sweater is only $10.  I don't know that its true, but now I think I need to find out before I shop there again.

I am not an expert in this area, however I am trying to educate myself because I believe we all have the power to influence the world by making intentional choices when shopping.

You have the choice to buy a few better made pieces that will look great, clean great and last longer.  Buying American, and not buying into this disposable mindset, is a small yet powerful step towards a better world. Knowledge is power! It is my hope that people become more aware and intentional in their clothing choices.

Thanks for listening - Sasha

Must Read if you are planning on getting your Wedding Gown Cleaned and/or Preserved!

Dry Cleaners are NOT all the same

I have made this point many times before.  But it needs to be repeated. Anyone can open a shop and call themselves a drycleaner.  There are no training requirements, no regulations (beyond a business and equipment permit) and no way of telling by the store front what you are getting into!

Quick tip: Ask a high end clothing boutique (or wedding gown salon) for a cleaner recommendation

Wedding gowns care is NOT the same as drycleaning.  Your cleaner may be fabulous.  However if they don't have specialized knowledge about the types of soils and materials that occur on gowns, you will be disappointed.  And many cleaners send their gowns out to wholesale gown cleaners that seal your gown in a preservation chest.  I would steer clear of these outfits too.  If there were an issue, you will have little recourse to get the problem corrected.

How do you find someone capable and trustworthy to clean your gown?

Check out this article by preownedweddingdresses.com about the leading wedding gown cleaning association in the world, The Association of Wedding Gown Specialists.  Some 100 of the best cleaners in Canada, the US, Australia, Mexico and England (so far) get together to learn best practices, share findings and in the end provide superior services to you, the wedding gown owner

enjoy the article

Thanks for Wearing clothes!


How to Make Your Draperies Last

DLI's Consumer News You Can Use: Vol. 43

Draperies can susceptible to a wide variety of problems, ranging from shrinkage and fading to stains and abrasion damage. Too often we only think of cleaning draperies after they’ve been framing our windows for a few years. Sometimes problems can develop over time while they are just hanging there, doing their job of beautifying out homes.

What problems are associated with draperies?

Because draperies are exposed to atmospheric conditions in greater concentrations and for longer periods of time than most garments and textiles, they can encounter a number of problems. Often these problems do not become evident until the item has been drycleaned or washed.

Some of the more common problems associated with draperies are damage due to light exposure; poor colorfastness; yellowing due to the deterioration of finishes or soil accumulation; water marks; shrinkage; abrasion damage; and deterioration of the coating or lining during cleaning. Some of these problems are a result of defects in manufacturing.

Others, however, such as damage due to light exposure, yellowing due to soil accumulation, water marks, and abrasion damage, can usually be attributed to circumstances of use.

What can you do to make your draperies last?

The American National Standards Institute's Fair Claims Guide for Consumer Textile Products gives the following life expectancies for draperies: • Lined Draperies 5 years • Unlined Draperies 4 years • Sheer Draperies 3 years • Fiber Glass Draperies 4 years.

How long a drapery lasts depends on the fabric type and density, finishes, window location, and length of use. But it also depends on their selection and the care they receive. Here are some tips to help you keep your draperies looking great:

• To protect drapes against yellowing due to excess staining and soiling, clean the drape at least once a year.

• It is best that you have your drapes cleaned by a cleaner who is experienced in the cleaning of drapes and is knowledgeable in drapery problems.

• Protect drapes from prolonged dampness. Moisture from rain, leaky pipes, or condensation from window panes can result in water marks and mildew.

• If possible, rotate draperies periodically to vary the amount of light exposure received.

• Protect drapes from abrasion damage by avoiding constant rubbing on window sills or furnishings while in use. Abrasion damage can also be caused by a family pet snagging the fabric with sharp claws.

• Keep draperies away from the kitchen, wood stoves, or fireplaces. Smoke from wood stoves, fireplaces, and cigarettes; cooking fumes; and other atmospheric contaminants can contribute greatly to drapery soiling.

Six Secrets to Keep your Clothes Stain Free!


Rubbing stains, grinds soils into the fibers of your garment AND because rubbing acts like sand paper, rubbing will likely cut fibers in your garment and cause 1) de-lustering (which looks like a stain, but is actually fabric damage because the material is no longer reflecting light like the rest of the garment) and/or 2) it can cause color loss.  I know its hard, but please refrain from rubbing any stain or spill if you want to prolong the life of your garment.  This is especially true of silks and satins.  AND alcohol can easily remove the dyes from silk items - so BOT, BLOT, BLOT until your beverage stain is gone!

TIP: Men, take off your tie before eating. Or at least throw it over your shoulder!
Another TIP: NEVER put water (including club soda) on a silk anything to remove a spill.  It will make it harder for your drycleaner to fix the garment in the end!  

The best thing you can do any time you spill anything on your clothes is to BLOT up the excess soil/liquid with a clean, lint-free, light colored cloth

Second - treat your stains promptly

Mom was right (isn't she always?). Fresh stains are easier and more likely to be removed.  Less well known is the physical and chemical damage that can be done by leaving stains in your clothes.  When some stains (alcohol, sugar water and perspiration to name a few) are left in clothes they can weaken fibers causing your garments more likely to tear, or start holes.  The can also cause a chemical reaction that damages the dyes causing color loss.  Also, soils left in clothes will attract insects which, besides being gross, will eat holes in your clothes and then destroy any wool items in your closet. 
Also keep in mind, that if its hot, or you leave soiled garments in a car, the heat will effectively cook your clothes and set stains in a matter of 15 minutes!  Another reason you should find a cleaner that picks up and delivers!

Third - If your item is Dryclean Only - take it to your drycleaner and ignore the rest of this post

If you have a silk blouse or acetate dress or any other item with a "DryClean Only" care label, STOP HERE and take your items to your favorite drycleaner.  You will know if your item is dryclean only if there is a circle symbol on the care label like this

Disclaimer: The following information is ONLY for items that can be safely laundered

Fourth - Carry a stain stick with you  

Like the third rule says, treat you stains promptly.  Carry a stain stick in your purse, and your car. They are cheap and easy to tuck into your purse, glovebox or desk.  I personally like the Clorox and Tide sticks the best.

Fifth - work the stain from the "wrong side"

If you are going to "work" a stain before you put it into the laundry, use this drycleaner trick; Flush the stain from the backside first.  Its easier to "push" the stain off the surface of material, rather than force it to travel through the material. Another way to say this is to "lift" the stain off the material.

Lastly - For greasy stains

For a lot of grease (pizza anyone?) put a little dishwashing detergent in with your load.  Be sure the water is already filling your basket,  You want the water and detergent to mix (dilute) before adding your clothes.  You may apply this de-greaser directly to clothes, but FIRST you will need to dilute it considerably with water.  I love Dawn, however I would never apply a colored anything to clothes directly.  I always dilute any product with water before adding clothes.

As for specific stain removal tips (mustard, grass, etc.), I ran across this fabulous article by the University of Nebraska:  http://lancaster.unl.edu/home/articles/2002/summerstain.shtml.
It was written in 2002, but the tips are as true today as they were then.
As a drycleaner, because I have access to all sorts of stain removal chemicals the average person cannot get, I did not try these stain removal techniques, and their effectiveness is up to you to determine.  I would love to hear your favorite home stain removal techniques!

Nothing last forever; How long should your comforter last?

I just received and email from the Drycleaning&Laundry Institute.
You can read about the DLI here: http://www.dlionline.org/Drycleaners

As I looked at their analysis of the life of house hold items (comforters, drapes, etc - you can review their chart below) I knew that the average consumer of drycleaning services would not agree with the average life expectancies the DLI publish.

The DLI compiles this data for their drycleaner members, as they should, because better than 95% of textiles that are past their life, die during the cleaning process.  Textile damage is often hard to spot before cleaning, and the drycleaner is not usually told the story of the items in their care.  Alas, sometimes the drycleaner is left holding the bag, after the fact, to an unhappy and frustrated customer.

As I thought about it, I realized it was a question of averages; some things wear out after one use, some last over 10 years.  I have towels for well over 5 years that look great.  My Thanksgiving tablecloth has been in the family for 2 generations and my drapes are over 20 years old (I hesitated to share that with you - I don't think that is a good idea and I have just put it on my list to replace them!).  However I also have t-shirts that have holes after one washing (I can explain why that happens, but it is not the content of this story).

In my case I clean all items right after use, even if they don't appear dirty AND their use is limited.   Heavy use, means heavier wear.  And I have the understanding of exactly what forces are at work on my household textiles.

The challenge with trying to put a timetable to the life of a textile is that a brand new tablecloth, even if it is well made, could be used and then stored without cleaning, and when it gets pulled out the following year - aged stains, or even holes may have destroyed it.

My favorite example of unexpected wear in a household item is a down comforter.  I have had clients bring in a comforter for cleaning.  I always recommend washing down comforters in water.  Every once in a while (writing this I realize its been years since Ive had this complaint, so I had better prepare for it) The comforter will lose 20%, 50% or more of the down on cleaning!  What happened?  Typically it is an older comforter (over 5 years) and it had been put away in storage.  I think in the extreme cases it may have been slightly damp during storage and the down deteriorated over time.  When the item was cleaned, all that loose down dissolved and was washed away.  Under poor conditions, that comforter could be destroyed after only a year.

My point?  It is impossible to know how long something will last - but these averages should make you feel good about your things if they are lasting longer.

My father once told a client who's item had torn during cleaning (turns out it was over 7 years old), that the value of the item depreciates similar to an asset.  She had worn the item for years and had gotten pleasure, utility out of that use.

In line with that analogy, I suggest, that the next time you have a textile (clothes or comforter) last longer than the life expectancy, appreciate the extra time and be aware that nothing lasts forever!

Think of it this way: your $1000 custom bed set is really costing you $200 a year, and after 5 years, its all gravy:-)

DLI Vol 28:
Life Expectancy of Household Items
The American National Standards Institute, Inc. approved the Fair Claims Guide for Consumer Textile Products. This standard provides the guidelines for determining liability for claims adjustment purposes for textile products. It also includes the following life expectancy chart for household textile items: 

Life Expectancy Table
six years
Heavy Wool and Synthetic Fibers
10 years
five years
five years
five years
five years
three years
Glass Fiber
three years
five years
four years
three years
Glass Fiber
four years
Sheets and Pillow Cases
two years
three years
Table Linen
five years
two years
three years
Upholstery Fabrics
five years
Articles Coated or Flocked
two years

How long the items last also depends on selection. Consider the following before purchasing a household product:
  • Will the material be durable?
  • Will the fabric resist stains and soil?
  • Are there any protective coatings of finishes available that will prolong the useful life of the textile?
  • Is the fabric preshrunk?
  • Is the fabric resistant to light, fading or pollution?
  • Do any care instructions come with the purchase? Read all instructions or information before buying the item.

Proper care will always help prolong the beauty of the household textile. Here are some basic rules to protect and prolong the beauty of household textiles:
  • Protect all furnishings from sunlight, fumes, and pets.
  • Damage, like tears, should be repaired immediately.
  • Vacuum and/or brush to remove dust regularly.
  • Follow the manufacturer's cleaning recommendations.
  • Do not allow the item to become extremely soiled, and have any stains removed immediately.
  • Clean household textiles before storing.

5 Things You Should Know About Drycleaning!

Its true! Care labels are wrong the majority of the time.

A recent online article from the UK tested 5 dryclean only garments and found that 4 of the 5 washed just fine. Check out that article here.

I could have told you that without all the time and effort. At our cleaners, well over 80% of items we process are washed or wetcleaned (wetcleaning is just a way of describing a extreme control of detergents and agitation during cleaning, similar to hand wash at home, if you know what you are doing).

So here are a few secrets you may not know about drycleaning: -
  1. Care labels are often wrong. We often test clothes before cleaning to ensure care labels are correct. - 
  2. Cashmere sweaters wash (hand wash) beautifully. We dryclean them because the water creates a time consuming requirement of blocking and drying flat. If you have the time, go for it. However washing cashmere well at home takes tender loving care, patience and a little practice. - 
  3. Odor does not come out in drycleaning. Its true! If a drycleaner wants to remove an odor, they must wash it or use a textile deodorizer. So if you take a garment to the drycleaner with the hope that the odor will be removed – LET THEM KNOW. Your drycleaner should thank you for the information. They want you to be happy with the result. - 
  4. Wash structured garments at your risk. In the article she washed a wool jacket. This is what we drycleaners call “structured garments.” I would never recommend washing that at home. 
  5. There should be no dryclean odor in your clothes.  The only reason to air out your clothes after drycleaning is because the plastic is a petroleum product - DO NOT STORE YOUR CLOTHES IN DRYCLEAN PLASTIC! 
There was also little mention in the article regarding the finishing of the garments. Your drycleaner has very specialized equipment that can remove wrinkles, set finish and shape garments easily and quickly after cleaning. I wonder if she just got lucky with the items she chose – silk typically needs finishing (it is normally quite wrinkled after cleaning – even when line dried) and cashmere must be blocked and dried properly to minimize wrinkles and shrinkage.

So it comes down to How much time do you have? Where do you want to be spending your time? How much expertise to you have? (stain removal, pressing) How many items are you willing to risk? 

A good drycleaner is a trusted resource. We study stain removal, garment construction and fibers and weaves. The trick is to find a good drycleaner