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Time to pack away winter

Wool items are especially susceptible to attracting pests. Ward off beetles and moths by cleaning garments before packing them away, and store the wool goods away from heat, light and moisture. (David Samson / The Forum)1 / 3
Leather goods can take a beating from salt and moisture in the winter. Use a soft cloth dampened with warm water to melt away salt marks. For a total boot cleaning, Fargo-area dry cleaners send leather goods to Don's Leather Cleaning in Minneapolis. (David Samson / The Forum)2 / 3
Sheepskin boots, like UGGs, should be cleaned by a leather specialist before stowing them away for the season. (David Samson / The Forum)3 / 3

By Anna G. Larson

FARGO – Jill Gorden is anticipating spring. To welcome the new season, she’ll drop off her wool coat, sweaters and UGG boots to Sweeney Cleaners in Fargo once the snow starts melting.

“That way, they’re clean and ready to go for the next season,” the Fargo resident says. “There’s nothing better than pulling something out and knowing that everything’s taken care of.”

Wool coats, leather gloves and boots, cashmere sweaters and more can benefit from a post-winter cleaning. But what can be washed at home and what should be left to a professional?

We talked with Darren Baumgartner, owner of Sweeney Cleaners; Perry Smith, manager of Camelot Cleaners in Fargo; and Don Poach, president of Don’s Leather Cleaning in Minneapolis, to learn how to care for and store cold-weather necessities.

Here’s to packing away winter.

For all shoes, clothing and accessories

-- Clean before storing.

Stowing winter clothing without a proper cleaning can lead to pesky problems. Stains are more difficult to remove over time, and insects can cause damage, Smith says.

“They look for that one spot you can’t see,” he says. “People will say I don’t see moths in my house; how could that happen?”

Clothes moth larvae are particularly drawn to wool, but they will eat fur, hair, silk and feathers, too, according to North Dakota State University’s Extension Service.

Carpet beetle larvae, which are common in North Dakota, also feed on clothing and household goods that contain wool, fur, hair or feathers.

Cleaning items before packing them away eliminates moth and beetle eggs, as well as perspiration odors and food spills that attract the pests.

Frequent vacuuming of household carpets and rugs also helps do away with potential pests.

-- Read the care label.

Some items hold up better with washing and others with dry cleaning, Baumgartner says. The Federal Trade Commission’s Care Labeling Rule requires manufacturers to attach care instructions to garments. More than one set of care instructions can be provided, such as a garment that can be either washed or dry cleaned.

Some manufacturers provide instructions for both methods but add, “For best results, dry clean,” meaning the garment can be washed without damage, but dry cleaning may be better for appearance and durability.

-- When in doubt, ask a dry cleaning professional.

Think of dry cleaners as doctors for clothes, Smith says.

“We try to fix something that’s broken,” he says.

Dry cleaning experts are able to tell if a stain can or can’t be cleaned, or if an item can be dry cleaned. Not every stain is removable, and customer expectations should be set when they drop off the item, Smith says.

-- Specialty items, especially expensive ones, should be cleaned by an expert.

“It can extend the life of a garment. Dry cleaning encapsulates the fiber. It doesn’t penetrate like washing does,” Baumgartner says. “You put a big investment into buying it so it’s not just a run-of-the-mill garment. You want to take care of it.”

Dry cleaning uses solvents rather than water to remove soil, grease and oil from garments.

-- Treat stains quickly.

If you can’t bring the garment to the dry cleaner immediately, don’t rub the stain or use products to attempt to remove it.

“Always blot it, especially if it’s silk. Silk fibers are the most delicate fibers,” Baumgartner says. “Rubbing can break the fibers and you’ll have a white appearance, which is broken fibers standing up and reflecting light.”

As soon as possible, bring the garment to a dry cleaner and tell them how you tried to clean it, what caused the stain, how long ago it happened, etc.

-- Clean often if worn often.

Seasonal items should typically be cleaned at least twice a year, more if they’re worn regularly, Smith says.


Baumgartner and Smith send leather goods to Minneapolis since the cleaning process requires special solvents and forms for reshaping.

Leather boots, gloves and coats should be cleaned by a professional once a year, says Don Poach, president of Don’s Leather Cleaning in Minneapolis.

“It really depends on how much you wear the item and how stained it is. In general, one cleaning a year, or whenever soil becomes visible,” he says.

-- Finished leather goods can go without a professional cleaning for two or three years.

To determine if leather is finished, apply water to your finger and press it into the leather in a hidden spot. If the leather doesn’t change color, it’s finished leather. If it’s unfinished, Poach recommends applying a water repellent so the leather won’t absorb as much moisture or stains.

-- In between cleanings, consumers can blot clean their leather goods with a soft cloth dampened with warm water.

The method works especially well to lessen salt stains on leather shoes, Poach says.

“It will melt and the cloth will absorb some of the salt,” he says.

The color of suede will change from the water and blotting, but Poach says that once it’s dry, the color will come back after kneading the suede in a few directions. Be cautious, he says, and first test it on an inconspicuous area.

-- Applying water repellent to leather shoes can help deter stains and moisture. Apply it when they’re new, and then after each cleaning, Poach says.

-- Leather should be stored in a dry closet that doesn’t have a wall facing outside – no basements and no attics, Poach says.

Garments stored in damp basements can attract mold and mildew, and sunlight can fade leather.

-- Hang leather coats using a thick hanger (no uncovered wire hangers) to avoid hanger marks in the shoulders.

-- Don’t use plastic bags to store leather – it’s OK for a month or so, but no more, Poach says. Cloth bags or sheets made for leather storage are best since leather needs to breathe.

-- For leather boots (including suede), acid-free tissue paper or boot forms help keep their shape. Leather shoes should rest between wear for about a day to allow the leather to dry out, Poach says.

-- Never put leather in a dryer. Always air dry, Poach says.

-- Hair spray will damage leather.

“I know some people use that to get ink out of textiles. With suede and leather, that’s a no-no,” he says.

The chemicals can damage the color of the leather or the skin itself.

Wool (including cashmere, angora and mohair)

-- Dry cleaning is recommended for wool garments, Baumgartner says.

Read the care label first and abide by its directions. Wool can shrink considerably if washed in a machine.

-- Fold sweaters and scarves rather than hanging them so the fibers don’t stretch over time, Baumgartner says.

-- Plastic boxes are best for short-term storage since they’ll keep pests out, according to Martha Stewart Living. Store heavier items in the bottom and lighter garments on top.

-- Consult a preservation specialist about long-term storage options.

-- Wrapping garments in clean cotton before storage can protect them from possible condensation.

-- Store items away from light and heat.

-- Cedar, moth balls and other larvae deterrents can help hinder pests when storing wool.

Tackling pills

Even the most expensive sweaters can pill. Pilling occurs when fibers break away and cling to the surface of the garment, creating a ball-like appearance.

“Pilling is generally caused by agitation, rubbing,” Baumgartner says. “It doesn’t happen so much in the laundering or dry cleaning process as it does with wearing it.”

Sweater combs, electric fabric shavers and pumice stones are some effective ways of removing pills.

Go slow when de-pilling, and don’t tug at the fabric. Pills may also be removed one by one with a small scissor.

Tips for washing items at home

-- Test colorfastness.

If a garment can be washed at home, Baumgartner recommends testing its colorfastness first. Blot a discrete area of the item with a damp white cotton cloth and drop of detergent. If the color transfers, the item will bleed in the wash so it’s best to wash it separately.

-- Use appropriate detergent.

Detergents formulated for delicate items and dark clothing (like Woolite) can extend their life, Baumgartner says.

-- Be cautious with drying.

Although a garment might be machine-washable, it may not hold up well to the heat of a dryer. Lay items flat to air dry, Baumgartner says.

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