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Spring Cleaning: How to Store Your Winter Clothing

by Rebecca Reynolds

Dear Spring Fever,

Few people know the hazards associated with moth balls. They were once made of camphor, a naturally occurring aromatic compound, which is far less toxic than the current chemicals used today.

Most mothballs are made from one of the following highly toxic chemicals: Naphthalene or Para dichlorobenzene (PDB). Both chemicals present a high concern for health and safety and exposure to either can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, blood in urine, and even jaundice. In addition, both chemicals transition from a solid to a vapor at room temperature, making them an indoor air-quality concern—not surprising each are associated with nasal cancer.

Naphthalene can also kill red blood cells. In fact, hospitals have reported that wrapping a baby or child in clothing or a blanket treated with moth balls has caused hemolytic anemia. Nursing mothers should be warned that both chemicals can be transferred through breast milk.

Most moth balls resemble a gum ball or candy; therefore, along with inhalation and skin absorption concerns, ingestion risks are considered high for children. Pets are also at risk when using pesticides in the home, and their natural curiosity can lead them to consume just about anything within reach.

The good news is that there are many natural solutions to preventing moth damage to your woolen items. The process listed below is well worth following to prevent damage to your clothing and your health.

1. Thoroughly clean and dry clothing prior to storing.

2. Purchase an airtight container for storage that has a secure fitting lid.

3. Vacuum drawers, closet, or storage area with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter (HEPA filters remove nearly 99.9 percent of dander, mites, and pest eggs).

4. Purchase cedar chips, cedar blocks, cotton balls, fabric mesh, and the following essential oils: lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus, peppermint, and citronella. Place the cedar blocks where the clothing container will be stored. Put the cedar chips in a large bowl and toss with ten drops of each essential oil. Put a cup of treated cedar chips in a large square of mesh and tie with a twist tie. Place two cedar chip sachets in each airtight container; however make sure that they do not come in direct contact with the clothing and blankets. If you prefer, soak cotton balls in the recommended essential oils and place in air tight containers of clothing and blankets, but again, be careful not to make direct contact with the clothing and blankets.

5. Every three to four weeks, remove clothing and shake it out. Brush each woolen item to ensure no moth eggs have been deposited and remain to hatch.

6. Thoroughly clean the airtight containers with straight, white distilled vinegar, and dry completely.

7. Again, vacuum the closet or drawers with a HEPA filter vacuum.

8. Place all items in large freezer bags and freeze for 48 hours to kill eggs and moths. Hang to dry in direct sunlight.

9. Add fresh essential oils to cedar chips and cotton balls.

10. Replace clothing when completely dry, and store safely for another three to four weeks.

What should you do if you have already used moth balls and wish to remove the smell from your items?

1. If the item is washable, place it in a cold water wash with the following ingredients: natural laundry detergent (such as Seventh Generation), one cup of baking soda, one cup of vinegar, and 20 drops of peppermint essential oil, then wash as directed. Hang to dry.

2. If the items are not washable, take five pounds of baking soda (you can find large bags at Costco) or five pounds of cedar shavings (found at your local pet store) and spread half of baking soda/cedar shavings in the bottom of the container. Lay items in the container on top of the baking soda or shavings, and spread the remaining baking soda/shavings on top, covering items completely. Cover with lid and let sit for 48 hours. Shake all items out when finished, vacuum with a HEPA filter vacuum, and hang in the sun for several hours.

3. Use homemade lavender sachets placed in storage containers and drawers to help eliminate odors.

4. Toss all items in dryer along with a clean dry washcloth that has 15 to 20 drops of peppermint essential oils applied and run dryer on cool for a half hour.

5. Use a professional style steamer to lift toxic smells from garments and hang in full sun to assure they are dry before restoring.

Remember moth balls can not be used in any other way than what is clearly directed on the package. Using loose moth balls around the home is unsafe for children, pets, and adults and creates noxious fumes throughout the home. And, rodenticide baits used to kill mice and rats indoors may leave a carcass that becomes a breeding ground for moths.

These suggestions will help you store your winter items in perfect confidence and protect much more than your clothing from unfortunate consequences.

Be well and enjoy the spring,

Ms. Green Clean

Otherwise known as Ms. Green Clean, Rebecca writes the “Green Clean Advice” column for Organic Spa Magazine. She is based in Rocky River, Ohio.

If you have a question for Rebecca Reynolds, a.k.a. Ms. Green Clean, contact her at Rebecca@greenclean.biz.

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