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May 23, 2022


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Fabric Care Center
Fabric Care Center | Storing Garments | Keepsakes and Heirlooms

Storing Garments


The Preservation Station sells products for preserving your apparel, fabrics, wedding gowns, antique linens, and collectibles. Visit their web site.

When considering the care and storage of keepsakes, family heirlooms and collectibles - it is important to realize that, while the effects of time cannot be entirely stopped - it is possible, through proper care and storage methods - to greatly slow the process.
Here are some general guidelines:

  • Always wash your hands before handling items - or wear white cotton gloves. The natural oils our skin produce are acidic and when transferred to the fabric can cause harm and in addition attract and hold dust and dirt - which will cause further staining and eventual deterioration due to the 'shredding' effect of the dust and dirt particles on the fabric. Hand cremes and lotions can do the same thing. Photographs and collectibles made of glass and silver will also be affected by the oils, cremes and lotions.

  • Breathable storage is always best and will help to avoid damage due to mold & mildew growth. Airtight storage is only advisable if you can keep the humidity stable with desiccants and careful monitoring. Always use a desiccant such as silica gel in safes and airtight storage or display boxes or cases.

  • Keep your collection out of direct sunlight - reasonable ambient light is fine. When considering display areas avoid very bright rooms and areas opposite south, east or west facing windows. UV protected lighting is recommended if you wish to light a display - halogen spots are a good choice - check that the packaging affirms UV filtering.

  • Keep temperatures fairly steady - in the moderate range usual in homes. Avoid the basement, the garage, the attic and self-storage units. To be safest, always store items in the climate-controlled living areas of your home. A closet with no exterior walls is ideal - as the interior walls do not have the temperature fluctuation possible along outer walls. Temperature fluctuation not only creates the possibility of moisture damage due to condensation - but also actually weakens fibers of textiles through the expansion and contraction caused by alternate heating and cooling.
  • Humidity should also be kept at moderate levels - the average home is usually between 40 and 60 percent relative humidity - just fine for most textiles and collectibles. If you live in an area of the country with higher than average humidity - you may wish to look into desiccants for storage. If relative humidity in your area is often above 60%, you should monitor humidity and use desiccants if indicated. Conversely - if you live in an very dry area and you have wooden and fabric heirlooms - a humidifier will be helpful.
  • Surface clean textiles whenever possible. Use a soft cloth and plain water to gently blot the stain away - if necessary move on to gentle rubbing and/or a small amount of your favorite gentle fabric cleaner. Orvus makes a product highly favored by quilt collectors and conservators. LeBlanc Linen Wash is excellent - and is recommended by leading producers of fine linens. Blot all traces of cleaner away with fresh water on a clean cloth. If storing, allow item to air dry thoroughly before wrapping in archival tissue. Items MUST be clean before storing - otherwise residual organic matter may attract harmful pests. A collection displayed in the open can be gently vacuumed with a cheesecloth covered vacuum nozzle. Stain removal techniques are specific for stain and material - consult any one of the many good books available at your public library.
  • When preparing for extended storage - remove all pins, buttons or other ornaments made of metal and store with instructions for reattaching. This obviously does not apply in the case of some collectibles - leave the button in the ear of Steiff teddies, for example - but will avoid the possibility of oxidation damage if the metal were to age while in contact with the item.
  • Do not display or store directly on wooden or untested paper surfaces. Woods are acidic and contain lignin - which will cause aging and discoloration. Wooden surfaces meant for display can be sealed with an poly or acrylic-based sealant - or covered with a glass shelf . If you store your collection or heirlooms in a cedar chest or on wooden shelves - provide a buffer layer of acid-free tissue. The lovely cedar aroma which clothes moth avoid is borne in the wood's oil - and that oil - besides being acidic can actually cause staining and discoloration.
  • Be mindful of the possibility of insect damage - but do not use poisonous mothballs. Besides the fact that the odor is repugnant and they are dangerous for children and pets - they also kill - rather than repel the clothes moth. This may seem to be something we do not need to concern ourselves with - but the clothes moth is - in fact - a very large member of the planet's food chain. Herbal repellents containing lavendin have been shown to be very effective repellents - and they have the added benefit of adding lovely fragrance and freshness.
  • Protect your textile heirlooms from airborne dust and dirt with some sort of barrier. Frames, glass display cabinets and collectible boxes and cases are all good ideas. Dust particles are like tiny knives, shredding fibers&emdash;airborne cooking oils and other substances can also cause damage and discoloration. For this reason avoid the kitchen area all together as a display area. You do not want the stuff you wipe off of your fridge top affecting your treasures!
  • Inspect your collection visually - ideally four times a year. Season's change is a good reminder. This careful monitoring is your best protection - it will give you early warning of trouble and allow you to take corrective measures if needed. Textiles should be periodically refolded along different lines after inspection and 3-D textile toys should be put back in a slightly different position after each inspection. This will distribute pressure evenly over time to make seams and fabric last longer. Use acid-free tissue for support and interleaving. You should, of course, also make a video inventory for insurance purposes and store away from your home. Insurance riders may be needed for very valuable items.
  • Be sure of the archival qualities of plastics used for storage! Both films and molded plastics frequently have plasticizers and/or coatings added to facilitate the manufacturing process - these plasticizers can leach out overtime and damage your keepsakes and collectibles. Products should be acid & PVC-free, uncoated, chemically stable and completely inert. Sterilite® boxes are ideal - as they are made of cast polypropylene - which is an inert material used for archival applications. Look on the product for a 'PP' or the number 5 encircled as the recycling code. Do not use zipper-type clear bags. Many contain Saran® - a form of polyvinyl chloride called PVCd which - while fine for short - term food storage - will eventually out gas and leach. The bags also will become powdery and brittle with age.


The Preservation Station sells products for preserving your apparel, fabrics, wedding gowns, antique linens, and collectibles. Visit their web site.

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