Ok, ignore the April snow storms. Spring has come to the Cape! Armloads of yellow Forsythia, mild breezes, whale-watching boats back in action…and moths. Those little wool-munching jerks love damp, warmer weather almost as much as they love chomping into your favorite sweater. But fear not, though no methods for worldwide moth eradication have been invented yet (oy, I can dream, ok?), here’s some ways to avoid letting your beloved sweaters and accessories be lunch for a bunch of evil insects. Let’s talk about protecting your handknit and store-bought woolens this time, next time I’ll give you tips on keeping your yarn stash moth-free.
❖ Let the Sunshine In! Wool moths love dark, undisturbed spaces to lay their eggs. Did you know that moths themselves don’t actually have any mouth parts? It’s true, they’re just winged, egg-laying machines, searching for a dark corner full of tasty yarn or sweaters to feed their (cue Darth Vader music) larvae once they hatch. It’s actually the larvae that do the munching, so whether or not you see a moth flapping around, it’s time to…
❖ Washing Your Woolens Clothes moth larvae do eat wooly fabric, but they’re particularly fond of woolies that have microscopic bits of food, deodorant or skin on it. That’s why the best thing you can do to prevent them munching your sweaters is to wash or clean all woolens before storing them away for the season. Any natural fiber sweaters and accessories you’ve worn this winter need a quick bath in some gentle wool wash, even if you don’t see any stains (I recommend Eucalan- no rinse needed, gentle on woolens and lingerie, great scents including unscented, and inexpensive). If you kept your yarn label, follow its cleaning directions. Lost the label? Don’t worry, many yarns are listed on Ravelry or the manufacturer’s website, or ask your trusty local yarn shop for advice! A word of warning: many hand-dyed yarns and natural-dyed yarns will release a tiny bit of color in the first wash, please make sure to check labels and be sure to sort by color!
Here’s some general wool washing procedures:
➢ Sort your woolens by color - don’t bung your white cashmere sweater in with your hot pink socks or your indigo poncho. If in any doubt, wash it separately.
➢ Ok, you’ve sorted. Put a capful of Eucalan into a clean basin, sink, or tub, fill with cool to tepid water (should feel neutral or a bit cool on the inside of your wrist), then put your sweater/hat/drawerful of tweedy wool socks in. Gently squeeze out the air bubbles, then walk away and pour yourself your Adult Beverage of Choice and savor it for 15-20 minutes or so, while your woolies enjoy their soak (See? “No rinse” is great!).
➢ Once the 15-20 mins are up, gently gather your woolen(s) against the side of the basin with your hand while you drain the water out- most animal fibers are more fragile when wet, so you want to handle it as a unit, no wringing, swinging, or yanking by one sleeve. Just smoosh the item against the side of your wash basin with your hand while you tip or drain the water.
➢ Next, put the item flat on a clean, thirsty towel. Roll up the towel-and-item together into a sort of towel burrito.
➢ Ready for the fun part? Put the towel burrito on the floor, take off your shoes and stomp on it a bit. Seriously. Walk on it, jump on it, do a li’l dance, don’t worry, your sweater won’t tell. Your body weight will squish almost all the water out into the towel, while the burrito roll will keep your item from getting stretched or damaged.
➢ Now lay your item(s) out on a blocking mat or dry towel, push it into shape with your fingers (nah, no pins necessary unless you’re washing a lace shawl), then blow it a kiss and close the door. *Warning, cats, dogs, even human toddlers find wet woolens irresistible, the “door” part is important!*
➢ Your items will be dry a day or two later, depending on the weather. If it’s rainy or humid, things will take a little longer to dry. Make sure your items are fully dry before putting away, if the item feels cool to the touch, it is still a bit damp. BE PATIENT!
❖ Storing Your Woolens Now that your hats, sweaters, cowls, socks, shawls etc are nice and clean, time to talk about Things Moths Hate. Obviously mothballs (naphthalene) are a thing that will kill moths, but they’ll also make everything you own smell like Grandma’s Attic, and definitely not in the good way. Also, if they kill moths, you can bet they’re toxic to humans, so why risk that stuff against your skin? Keep the mothballs as a very last resort, only for full-blown infestations. Otherwise, get some things that moths absolutely hate, while humans actually enjoy! Good options are cedar, lavender, eucalyptus, and rosemary. If you own a cedar chest, LUCKY DUCK!!! Rub the inside with some fine-grit sandpaper, fold your woolens inside the chest, close it and walk away, you don’t need to keep reading! For the rest of us, there’s cedar drawer liners, cedar chips, cedar balls, cedar you-name-it. Make sure you either rub the cedar items with sandpaper or against each other to release the cedar oils from the wood, then place your folded items in a sealed bag, trunk, drawer, or bin along with the cedar and that’s it! Another good option is sealing up your items with dried lavender and/or eucalyptus (in sachets, little baggies from Trader Joe’s [the laundry n’soap section, you’re welcome], or my personal favorite, with flowers and stems I dried myself, from the garden or farm. Another great option: use a gauge swatch or two as a sachet- put some dried lavender, eucalyptus or rosemary into the middle, then fold into a triangle or gather into a pouch and sew closed, or sew two together with the herbs sandwiched inside!). Rosemary is another herb moths aren’t fond of, but it isn’t as effective on it’s own, best for use in combination with cedar, lavender, or eucalyptus. And on the plus side, whichever of these options you use, your woolens will smell wonderful when you are ready for them in the Fall! I don’t have a cedar chest, so I generally wash and thoroughly dry my items, then put them in a plastic bin or giant Ziploc bag together with dried lavender and rosemary (sewn into Gauge Swatch sachets if I’m feeling energetic, just as loose flowers n’stems if I’m not) and a handful of cedar chips layered throughout. The rosemary and lavender shake out of the woolies without any problem, in case you’re wondering, though if all your sweaters are fuzzy mohair or bouclé your mileage may vary.
Next time, how to moth-proof your yarn stash. For now, happy knitting!