EVERY APRIL, for the past three years, the Carter family has packed up their winter woolies and sent them down the road to Golden Star Valet's on New York Avenue for cleaning. "We handle a lot of the White House's cleaning," says Dave Brenner, co-owner of the Golden Star.
It doesn't matter if you live in the White House or in Plains, Ga., there are some spring cleaning rules that apply no matter where you are.
Rule No. 1: Even if that dark blue sweater looks clean and even if you hardly wore it last winter, wash or dry-clean it anyway. Textile analyst Elaine Harvey of the International Fabricare Institute Research Center warns that "moths feed on the soil in wool, that is often hard to detect. Other insects such as silver fish, roaches and crickets are attracted to food stains and perfume scents, left from just one wearing. While, going after the soil, food or perfume, the insects damage the wool fibers. So the first step in putting away your clothes for the summer duration is a thorough cleaning." She adds "Pressing the article of clothing is not necessary."
The next step is to place the clothes in an air-tight box or cedar chest. Harvey suggests it's not a bad idea to put the sweaters in separate plastic bags. The importance of using moth balls (or moth crystals or flakes) is debatable. Harvey says that consumers often complain that after packing their furs with moth balls, the balls leave stains or cause discoloration. One hint in using moth balls: Never place them directly on the garmet. Instead just line the box with the balls. The main problem in using moth balls is that the clothing must be cleaned again in the fall to get rid of the odor.
Once the clothes are packed away, place the box or chest in a place that won't get damp during the upcoming hot and humid months. Dampness causes condensation in the bags, which in turn forms midew on the clothing and leaves a musty, stale smell. Basements are a no-no.
Some dry cleaners will clean and store your winter clothing for you at reasonable rates. After cleaning the items, they place the clothing in boxes or plastic bags until you pick them up in the fall. It's best to call a few weeks ahead of the date you want them to press the garments for you. Parkway Cleaners in Chevy Chase provides several methods of storage for its customers. It will clean the garments and place them in moth-proof, cedarized plastic bags which the customer can take home and store in his own closets. In this case the charge is just for the cleaning. Parkway also provides "box storage" for its customers. This method requires that the customer bring in his winter clothes which Parkway will clean over the course of the summer. It then places the garments in boxes, which are stored on the premises and insured by its insurance company. The owner can pick his clothes up any time after two to three months. The price per box is $10. A third way Parkway Cleaners stores clothing is by placing the garments in a hanging bag, which is kept at its plant.The cost per hanger is $3.50 plus the cleaning charge.
Many coin-operated laundromats have dry-cleaning machines for which you pay by the pound. These machines clean the clothing without giving it the finish that a dry cleaners would.The average cost is $4.50 for up to eight pounds of clothing.
Sweathers, scarves, cloth coats and wool suits can all be stored safely at home using the above advice. However, furs are another story.
Bert Gartenhaus of Gartenhaus Furs Inc. in Bethesda suggests that furs be professionally stored in cold storage vaults during the summer months. He says that "with the proper care a fur can last almost indefinitely, depending on the type and quality of the fur. We store some that are 30 to 40 years old." Professional help is needed, explains Gartenhaus, because "furs, like human skin, have oil. When the oil is gone, the fur drys out and the hair follicles begin to shed." In a cold storage vault the regulated temperature (slightly above freezing) and the humidity keep the oil condensed, preventing the fur from drying out.
Many area department stores, such as Saks-jandels, Garfinckels, Bloomingdales and Woodward & Lothrop have cold storage facilities ranging in price from $12 to $20 for the season. (Prices may vary depending on the value of the fur.) Irv Burnett, furrier manager at Bllomingdale's White Flint Mall store, agrees with Gartenhaus.
"The 75-80 percent humidity that the Washington area suffers throughout the summer," says Burnett, "is too high for proper fur storage. The humidity range in the cold vaults is about 55-60 percent. This keeps the leather which backs the fur from absorbing too much moisture from the air. When the leather becomes too damp it expands and cracks, causing the hair follicles to fall out." Burnett also adds that home air conditioning is not strong enough to keep out the humidity. If incorrectly maintained, an expensive, good-quality fur could last less than three years.
Elaine Harvey of the Fabricare Institute probably sums it up best: "If you want the fur to last you a lifetime, the money spent in storing it professionally is well worth it."
Miscellaneous storage notes:
Blankets -- Wash or dryclean first. Then place in a plastic bag (a garbage bag is fine), making sure you get as much air out as possible. Store the bag in a damp-free closet.
Dresses -- Clean and hang in garment bags; do no fold.
Boots -- Clean thoroughly to remove dust and dirt. "Like your hands," says Alan Gross of Golden Star Valet, "leather needs to be kept moist. Apply two thin coats, rather than one thick coat, of polish. A cream-oil base polish works best, such as Meltonian."
Do not wrap the boot in a plastic bag because moisture will form in the bag and dry out the leather. A shoe box is fine; just make sure that wherever the boots are stored there's enough air ventillation. It's also a good idea to stuff the boot leg with newspaper to keep its shape. And, if possible, hang the boots by their zipper tongues in a closet. Unlike furs, boots are best stored at home.
Cedar closets -- They are fine if not used as a daily closet as well. If they're constantly being opened, too much light will hit the stored clothing, plus any insects that are in the air may get inside.