How Should I Store My Wool?

A woman's hands knitting wool

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Many knitters love using natural fibers, especially wool, in their projects. Such fibers are a joy to work with and make long-lasting pieces. But a concern of all knitters who work with wool is how best to prevent damage from those wool-loving wee beasties: moths.

Moths are insects related to the butterfly, and they cause a lot of damage to agricultural products around the world, particularly fruit trees, as well as to fabrics like wool and silk. The moths use protein in the fibers as a food source and are particularly attracted to dirty wool clothing or fibers that smell sweaty.

Neither of these issues are a concern when storing unknitted wool, but that doesn't mean moths won't go after your stash. It pays to invest in a little protection if you're planning to store a lot of valuable wool. Here are some tips to help.

Don't Use Mothballs

Mothballs used to be the most common way to guard against moths. Made of naphthalene in the old days and now made from paradichlorobenzene, both of which can be dangerous, especially to children and pets, who might eat the mothballs because of their sweet taste.

It's thought that paradichlorobenzene is a likely carcinogen, and exposure to very high doses can cause dizziness, headaches and liver problems. Mothballs are most effective when used in an airtight container, but the container can't be plastic because the chemicals in the mothballs can cause the plastic to melt into the wool.

Besides, mothballs don't smell very good, making for an unpleasant knitting experience.

Keep the Air Out

Probably the best thing you can do to prevent moths from getting to your wool is storing it in airtight containers. Plastic storage boxes or even plastic freezer storage bags are a wonderful way to store unused yarn, and they make it easy for you to keep like yarns together and see what you have at a glance.

Cedar chests are a popular storage receptacle for wool and woolen items, and there is oil in the wood that can kill small larvae, but it has no effect on the larger larvae, according to the Pest Management program at the University of California. What is more important is that the chest is built tightly so that larvae can't get into the chest in the first place.

Try Natural Remedies

Many different natural remedies are thought to help repel moths. One of the most popular ingredients in use today is lavender, which can often be found in moth-repelling sachets and in wool washes used to care for woolen items after they have been knitted.

Other popular herbs that are thought to repel moths include rosemary, mint, thyme, ginseng, cloves, and lemon. Adding a sachet of a quarter cup or so of a mix of these herbs may be useful in keeping moths at bay.

An Ounce of Prevention

The most important thing you can do to prevent moths is to keep your storage area clean. Using air-tight storage will be a big help, but also vacuum regularly in the room where your wool is stored, making sure to clean any woodwork and wooden furniture in the room as well. Moths love to get into the nooks and crannies of wooden furniture and into the carpets, so regular cleaning may help keep them from getting to your stash.

Remember, too, to clean behind and under your heavy pieces of furniture, and clean heating vents and heaters as well. Moths love dark, warm places, so that's where they will congregate.

Another thing you can do to prevent moth problems is to buy only wool blends, which tend to be less attractive to moths, or mothproofed wool. Not all manufacturers make it clear if their yarn is mothproofed, but if you search the Internet for the mothproof yarn, you'll find some manufacturers who say they do.

Pheromone traps are available for some moths that are attracted to wool, which can also be effective to repel moths and let you know if moths are present. These traps are available at hardware stores. Check regularly to make sure there's no evidence of moths in the traps.