How to Store and Care for a Military Member's Uniform
Military uniforms of our servicemen and women deserve respect. Preserving these uniforms for future generations is easily done. The key is to protect them from the elements especially light and moisture. With proper handling, the uniforms should last for hundreds of years.
The first step is to be sure that the uniform and support pieces are as clean as possible. The uniform should be professionally dry cleaned or washed as appropriate. Be sure every piece is completely dry before storing. Moisture can cause mildew and deterioration of fabric. All metal and leather elements should be thoroughly cleaned and dried completely to their best state before you begin.
Select The Best Storage Materials
As much as possible, military uniforms should be stored flat in an appropriately-sized container. Garments that are left hanging can become misshapen from the stress on seams. You should use boxes sold for archival storage of textiles. These are made of acid-free paper and are perfectly safe to use. Buy the largest size needed because the fewer folds in the uniform, the longer it will last.
Never store a uniform in the plastic bag furnished by a dry cleaner. These plastic bags can off-gas chemicals that can weaken fabrics over time. They are almost always clear or lightly colored, allowing light to come through.
An archival, muslin bag is a good medium. You will also need to use archival acid-free tissue. It must be both acid and lignin-free. Lignin is a chemical compound found in wood. The tissue will be used to soften folds, to wrap small pieces, and to stuff hats so that they retain their shape.
How to Store a Military Uniform
Before you begin, wash and dry your hands, natural oils from your hand, or lotions can be harmful to fabrics over time. For best results, use cotton gloves. Begin by lightly stuffing hats and uniform coat shoulders with the acid-free tissue paper to help them hold their shape. Then, lay the garment onto a layer of tissue. Place a layer of tissue between each garment within the box. Wrap each small item with tissue. Be sure that there is tissue cushioning each fold. This will prevent heavy creasing. Place item in storage box. Repeat steps with each individual item. Do not over stuff the storage box. You may want to store heavier items in a smaller individual boxes. Any metal items should be removed from garments and stored separately. Store any medals, ribbons, or other non-fabric items in another box or container. This includes buttons. The metal could rust or corrode and cause staining to fabrics. Wool fabric contains sulfur which actually attacks the metal.
Choose a dark, cool, dry space for storage. Avoid extreme temperatures areas like attics, basements and garages. The ideal spot is an interior space away from exterior walls and pipes that might burst and off the floor away from pets.
Inspect the military treasures at least once per year. Look for any stains that may appear and treat them promptly. You'll have better success the sooner the stains are caught. With clean hands, fold items slightly differently with the tissue to minimize creases and stress to fabric.
Using these methods, you will be honoring and respecting the legacy of those who have fought for our country.
The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission.
-John F. Kennedy