I don’t know how they got in my closet, but three years ago, I got my first moth holes in my cashmere collection. I know, “cashmere collection” sounds very fancy, but I’m a Goodwill devotee and ultra soft, extra warm material is key to me surviving Maine winters in comfort. It’s a small luxury I afford myself. Now, after spending a few seasons in denial, it is time to protect my investment and banish moths and their destructive offspring from my closets.

To make sure I was doing this right, I reached out to an expert. Nanne Kennedy owns Seacolors Yarnery and Meadowcroft Farm in Washington, Maine, about 30 minutes’ drive inland from Camden. Kennedy has spent decades breeding sheep and has developed a distinctive herd of Polwarth sheep that produce wool in the same, non-itchy and soft range as the cashmere goat, but in much larger quantities thanks to their extra thick coats. As far as she knows, she has the only herd of Polwarth in the Americas. She then spins and dyes the wool with a unique, sustainable system that involves food grade dyes, seawater and passive solar energy. You can learn a lot more about the farm, her breeding herd and purchase yarn, blankets, and cedar sachets, at getwool.com.

Kennedy is a wool science evangelist, invoking Biblical sources when she talks about the history of sheep breeding and the sustainability of natural fibers. “It’s only been 80 years since we invented the first synthetic textiles,” she told me, as we connected over the superior sensory experience of clothing made from natural materials like wool, cotton, or linen. But wool is extra special. Kennedy explained how its loose, microscopic structure resists soiling and smells. Depending on the wool type and fabric weave, it can keep you cool in the heat and warm in the cold.

No wonder I love my woolens! But let’s get down to business. I have my grandmother’s sea foam green, pearl-button, Lord & Taylor cardigan from the 1960s. How do I keep it intact and eventually hand it down to my own child?

STEP 1 – CONSTANT VIGILANCE The larvae of clothes moths (Tineola bisselliella most commonly) are most active over the winter but they could ruin your wardrobe year-round by eating the keratin protein in natural fibers. “They like food stains, salt, and sulfur,” said Kennedy, naming byproducts of the sweat and skin and spills that we shed into and on our clothing. Yum.

While the moths themselves don’t eat keratin, they are harbingers of doom. Kennedy uses special pheromone traps and standard, sticky streamers to keep an eye on any outbreaks. But insects aren’t the only ones who might chew up your closet. In her rural home, Kennedy also has to keep an eye out for mice, who like to chew up fibers for nests.

STEP 2 – WASH Before you seal up your sweaters or blankets for the season, you want to wash out any eggs or larvae currently living and growing in the threads. No need for the expense of a dry cleaner, or even the use of a washer. “A simple, 15 minute sun bath is a great way to kill moths, which like dark places,” said Kennedy. But if you must launder, use a gentle detergent or one specifically formulated for wool/cashmere—though Kennedy advises against standard Woolite, which contains brighteners that textile archivists avoid—and run the machine on the “delicates” cycle. Lay flat to dry, of course, then use a sweater comb or battery-powered shaver to remove any pilling and have your fall wardrobe ready to wear the day the temperature drops again.

STEP 3 – CEDAR OR MOTHBALLS? “I have cedar balls, cedar sachets, cedar planks, everywhere,” said Kennedy. “My warehouse is cedar lined and my display case [for market] is cedar shipboard.” Cedar oils are 100% natural and a very effective solution to killing larvae and deterring their parents. Whatever your cedar source, you will want to replace it every few years for maximum performance.

Mothballs were historically made from camphor, another natural byproduct from linden trees, but these days you’d be challenged to find them not mixed with naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, which are petroleum byproducts that are also toxic to humans and pets.

In the interest of product preservation, Kennedy ultimately endorses using either or both, especially if that mothball smell gives you a feeling of nostalgia.

STEP 4 – SEAL IT UP AND STORE AWAY You do not need a cedar chest or closet to protect your wool, especially after the closet is loaded up with all those cedar hangers or cedar planks. You need something airtight, like an extra-large Ziploc bag. I’m striving for best practice, not perfection, so I’m using those big, zippered plastic bags that comforters come in. I knew I saved them for something!

Fold up your woolens and any silk- blend thermals, layering cedar product in between, around, and on top of the textiles as you bag them up.

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