If you’re curious about how to store clothes long-term, you probably have garments with monetary or sentimental value—or both! Whether you want to save your wedding dress so you can hand it down to your daughter when she grows up, or you’re traveling the world indefinitely and need to put your clothes into storage until you get back, these tips will help you.
Don’t make the mistake of tossing your textiles into a cardboard box and shoving it into the wardrobe. It’s all about preparation. Properly cleaning, packaging, and storing your clothing will dramatically increase the lifespan of your closet. And yes, where you store your clothing matters.
Below, we’ll cover expert clothing storage tips that will help whether you’re putting clothes in a garage, storage unit, or under the bed. Even if you can’t follow all of the tips, try to incorporate as many as you can. Read on to learn how to preserve clothes for years. Some of this advice might surprise you!
How do you preserve clothes for a long time?
The key to preserving clothes for a long time is protecting them from the following:
- Pests, such as moths and rodents
- Direct sunlight
- Pressure, such as from heavy items placed on top or creases from folding the clothes tightly
To achieve this:
- Put clothes in storage containers with lids to protect them from pests and moisture.
- Store them in a cool, dry environment with no or few windows.
- Fold clothes lightly or roll them to prevent hard crease lines.
- Give clothing items “room to breathe” inside their containers so you avoid placing pressure on them, and don’t place heavy items on them.
Is it OK to store clothes in plastic containers?
While there’s a lot of advice out there discouraging the use of plastic containers, the fact is that, yes, it is okay to store clothes in plastic containers—as long as you take the proper precautions.
- Opt for polypropylene or polyethylene storage containers. Do not use PVC. According to the Minnesota Historical Society, a nonprofit that prepares and preserves heirloom textiles: “Some plastics are unstable chemically and produce by-products as they deteriorate that accelerate the breakdown of many materials used in cultural items.”Therefore, if you need to use plastic to store textiles, the Society recommends using polypropylene, polyethylene, or polyester—but never polyvinyl chloride (PVC). To check, look at the bottom of the plastic bin for the recycling symbol: a triangle with a number in the middle. You want to see the numbers 2, 4, or 5 or the letters HDPE, LDPE, or PP. Those are the best plastic storage containers to use for clothing.
- Occasionally air them out (about once a year). Plastic containers are great because they seal out a lot of dirt and moisture, but they’re not so great because they don’t allow your clothes to breathe. For that reason, it’s a good idea to open the containers up to let your clothes air out about once a year.
Is it better to store clothes in plastic or cardboard?
Given a choice, it’s better to store clothes in plastic than cardboard. Why?
- Cardboard is very easy for rodents to chew through, and some bugs are especially drawn to this organic material.
- Cardboard gets wet easily, and once that happens, it begins to break down.
- Plastic boxes are impervious to water, preventing your clothes from getting moisture on them.
- Plastic boxes can better protect your clothes against pests, especially if the bins have locking lids with a gasket seal.
Now, plastic bags do tend to lock in moisture that can collect inside from condensation. To avoid this, you can leave the plastic bag unsealed to allow moisture to escape. Just realize that by leaving it open, you’ll run the risk of pests getting inside.
A step-by-step guide to storing clothes long-term
1. Create an inventory list to save time and money.
When parents preserve baby clothes for future children, taking inventory is one of the most critical steps. Why? Because without this list, it’s incredibly easy to forget what clothing you have in storage. If you forgot about that bin of 3T clothing in the basement, you’ll be repurchasing a lot of clothing you don’t need. The point of storing baby clothes (or any clothes for that matter) is to save money by reusing what you already have in the future.
Also, knowing what clothing you are holding on to will make the storage process more manageable. If you ever need to find an item, you’ll know where to look and how it has been stored.
Your clothing inventory should include the following:
- The name of the article of clothing.
- A brief description, including size.
- Where the item is stored.
2. Discard or donate clothing in poor condition.
There’s little point in storing clothes in poor condition that you’ll be unlikely to wear again. Clothing storage is most effective when the clothing you’re saving is in like-new condition. Existing smells and stains will only set into the clothing more permanently when stored for long periods of time. Odors from unwanted clothing can seep into better clothing as it’s stored, too.
Determine why you’re opting to store the clothes in the first place. Next, determine which clothes are best suited for the task. If you’re storing off-season clothing, choose your best winter or summer clothes and eliminate the rest. For example, if you make sure to hold on to a couple of your most flattering swimsuits, you can let go of your extras. For children’s clothing, pick a handful of items in each size and season.
As a general rule, if clothing is beyond saving by laundering, get rid of it. Take this opportunity to declutter your closet and ask yourself which clothing deserves a spot in your storage space.
3. Clean and prep your garments.
Storing clothing in good condition will help ensure the garments stay in good shape while packed away. Regardless of how clean you think your clothes are, don’t just throw them into a storage bin and forget about them. A little prep will go a long way.
Here are some ways to prep your clothing for storage:
- Discard any plastic garment bags. These bags can accumulate excess moisture and damage clothing when storing clothing for long periods.
- Wash your garment according to the guidelines on the label, even if the item looks clean.
- If the garment has a musty smell to it, you can use a clothing steamer to freshen it up.
- Vacuum clothing and textiles that can’t be washed to remove loose soil and dust by placing a screen between the clothing and vacuum on a low suction setting.
- Come up with an organization and labeling strategy for how you will store your clothes.
4. Pick a cool, dry place to store clothing.
Where you store your clothes is more important than how you store your clothes. No matter how clean your clothing is, if you store your bins in a musty basement, your clothing could very likely become musty.
When picking a spot to store clothing for an extended period, find a dry, dark place that maintains a cool temperature. It’s also essential to have good airflow and no direct sunlight.
Remember these pointers when seeking a storage space:
- Stay away from light. Find an area that is free from ultraviolet light and store the garment boxes off the ground. If your storage spot has light coming in, use opaque storage containers instead of transparent ones.
- Avoid airtight containers. Unlike most things in storage, you do not want your clothing storage boxes to be airtight because textiles need circulating air for longevity. This is why air quality in the storage area is so crucial for clothing because any smells or dampness will be absorbed. Airtight containers work for clothing that will only be in storage for a short time.
- Avoid attic spaces. Areas like this fluctuate in heat throughout the year, and excess heat can break down clothing fibers.
5. Pack clothing with care using acid-free boxes.
If preserving clothing is extremely important, acid-free archival boxes are the best storage option if you can afford them. If you don’t have access to those boxes, you can line cardboard or wooden boxes using quilt batting and white sheets to add a layer of protection between the clothing and nature. You can also create hanging storage using garment racks.
6. Once a year, refold and air out your clothing.
Because textiles like to breathe, about once a year, take the opportunity to take them out of their containers and lay them out in the open to air out. You can even hang them up for a few hours to achieve this. When you put them back into storage, refold your clothes differently so the creases don’t set and start to degrade the fabric. This is especially vital if you hope to preserve your clothes for years to come.
Here are some additional tips for storing clothes long-term:
- Avoid wire hangers. Ideally, choose padded, plastic, or wooden hangers for hanging storage. Wire hangers can damage clothing over time.
- Cover clothing racks in breathable fabric. Cotton or linen covers will help keep out dust and pests and allow the air to circulate.
- Utilize cedar or cedar oil. Placing cedar blocks or lining a storage area with cedar is a healthier way to deter moths than mothballs. Plus, cedar won’t leave your clothes with an undesirable smell.
- Line metal boxes and drawers with breathable fabric. This will ensure that sharp edges won’t accidentally rip your garments.
- Avoid hard fold lines or creases. Place your textiles in their storage box in a way that doesn’t require many folds or sharp creases.
- Separate garments with acid-free tissue paper to protect the fabrics. Clothing needs to breathe, so ideally, it should not be sealed in plastic bags or plastic storage containers.
How to store clothes in a basement
There are many reasons not to store clothes in a basement: it’s damp, prone to flooding, and vulnerable to pest infestations. Instead, we recommend renting a climate-controlled storage unit from a reputable company that uses regular, professional pest control to keep mice and bugs out.
But, if you must, here’s how to safely store clothes in a basement.
- Use plastic containers with locking lids. This will protect the clothing from moisture if the basement floods and from pesky rodents that may try to chew through boxes.
- Avoid storing on the ground. If your basement floods and your precious clothes are stored in bins on the floor, they’ll be ruined. Instead, opt for putting the storage bins high up on shelves.
- Inspect regularly for pests. Invest in regular pest control to ensure your house and belongings are infestation-free. It’s also a good idea to personally inspect your stored clothing for any signs of bugs.
How long can clothes be stored?
If you know how to store clothes long-term, they can be stored for many, many years (the world’s oldest woven garment is over 5,000 years old and is kept in the Petrie Museum in London!). But we doubt you’d be willing to go to the same lengths as a professional museum conservator just to store your clothing—nor will you need to. For everyday clothing or even special occasion garments like a wedding dress, using acid-free tissue paper and archival boxes, storing them in a dry and dark place, and refolding and airing them out once a year should suffice.
Now you’re ready to preserve those clothes for years
As you can see, storing clothes long-term is definitely doable! With the right tips, proper space, and smart storage techniques, your favorite garments can last for years and generations to come. So that family heirloom that’s been passed down from your grandmother or those baby clothes you want to save for your children? They’ll remain almost as good as the day you packed them up.
Remember, how long clothing lasts in storage depends heavily on the environment it’s kept in. If you’re struggling to find a suitable space in your home, you can always invest in a climate-controlled storage unit to help ensure your valuables remain at a safe temperature. Plus, it’s got surveillance cameras and personal access codes for extra security. How’s that for peace of mind?
What long-term clothing storage tips do you use to preserve your favorite wardrobe pieces? Share your thoughts with us on social media. And if you have friends who could use the advice we’ve shared in this article, be sure to send them a link!
Update: This post was originally published on January 24th, 2018, by Lauren Thomann and was revised on April 4th, 2023, with further information from Amy Rigby.