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Q&A: Freezing Bug-Infested Garments

Threads magazine - 174 - Aug./Sept. 2014 Issue
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Q: I have read some sources that claim bug-infested garments can be salvaged by placing them in a freezer. It sounds plausible, because the insects likely will be killed, but is it bad for the garment fibers? And is it really an effective way of eradicating insect infestation?
–C.F. via email

A: Fionn Zarubica, managing partner of Fionn Zarubica & Associates and an expert in costume and textiles management for museums, answers: Freezing textiles to eradicate infestation is an accepted and effective course of treatment that is often employed by professional conservators. However, nonprofessionals should not try this at home. Not every part of a garment can be safely frozen, particularly if it includes composite materials such as wood, ivory, mother of pearl, or baleen whalebone.

Additionally, the temperatures required to successfully kill off pests and their eggs are much lower than the typical home freezer can achieve, and certain steps are required to protect the textile from the effects of condensation. If performed incorrectly, freezing might damage the textile. Freezing also may stimulate insect activity that otherwise would have remained dormant by causing eggs that are present to hatch.

If you suspect that a textile is infested and feel that it is worth saving, consult a professional conservator. In the meantime, seal the item in a plastic bag with packing tape. Depriving insects of oxygen quickly stops their activity while protecting the rest of your collection.

For textile conservation resources, visit my website:

This Q&A was originally featured in
Threads #174 (August/September 2014).

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