How to Preserve Military Uniforms for Long Term Storage
Some of the most important family heirlooms are the military uniforms worn by the men and women in the service of their country. This guide covers the best practices for storing uniforms in order to keep them in good condition for a long time. These are the methods used by archivists that handle delicate and rare fabric items for museums.
This guide covers:
- Storing Medals and Decorations
- Proper Storage Containers
- Using Archive Tissue Paper
- Climate-Controlled Storage Conditions
Military Uniform Cleaning
It is a good idea to clean the uniform before putting it away in storage. The cleaning methods are different depending on whether the uniform is in good or poor condition.
If the uniform is in good condition, put on cotton gloves if you need to remove any medals and other decorations. When handling medals, wearing cotton gloves is important because oils on the fingers can transfer to the medals. This may cause corrosion to form later that can discolor them. Set the medals and decorations aside to store them separately.
Next, have the uniform professionally dry-cleaned at an establishment that you trust, which takes special care with important garments. If necessary, have a tailor check and repair any seams or stitching as needed to make sure the uniform is in perfect shape.
If the uniform is in poor condition, do not have it dry-cleaned. Instead, use a soft brush to dust off the uniform. Consider using a chemical spot remover to take off any unsightly stains. Before using any spot remover, test an inner portion of the fabric that is out of sight to make sure using the spot remover will not change the fabric color. Also, if the stains are from a battle in a war zone, do not remove them. They are of historical significance.
Storing Medals and Decorations
Medals and decorations need to be stored separately. Wear cotton gloves when handling medals. Separate all the pieces. For example, if it can be done easily, separately the belt buckle from the belt. Separate the medals from their backs that hold them in place. Each piece will be cleaned and/or polished.
If the medals can be polished without damaging them, then, wearing cotton gloves, gently polish them. Use the appropriate polishing material, such as Brasso(r) to polish brass. Polish the belt buckle. Use a leather care product on the belt if it is made of leather. Dust off any other decorations, such as shoulder cords, by using a soft clean brush.
After polishing and drying the medals, put them back into the presentation box that they came in if the box is available. Otherwise, get some archive tissue paper to wrap them individually. Archive tissue paper is acid-free and does not contain any lignin (a chemical found in wood). It is specially designed to wrap delicate items for storage without causing any damage to them over time.
Proper Storage Containers
When storing a uniform, you will want to have a storage container that is the correct size to store it flat. It is not a good idea to store uniforms on hangers because over a long period hanging the uniform will cause it to lose its proper shape.
Get enough of the correct sizes of boxes to store all the uniform and the decorations. Do not overfill the boxes. Let the items have plenty of room in the box. You will want to store things like a heavy coat in a separate box. Stiff cardboard boxes that are made for suits work nicely for this purpose.
There are also plastic boxes made for storing clothes that are a good option. Be careful to select plastic boxes made of polypropylene that are marked as type 5 or PP. Other types of plastic may cause fabrics to be tinted with a yellow color over time. Do not store the uniform in the dry cleaning bag.
Using Archive Tissue Paper
Archive tissue paper is useful for wrapping small things individually. Use this type of paper to stuff the inside of the uniform and hats. This provides support for them. This helps the uniform maintain its proper shape. Tissue paper is used between folds to soften them. This helps avoid any unsightly creases. Stuff the shoulder area of a heavy coat with archive tissue paper to help it keep the proper form.
Line each box with archive tissue paper. Insert an item. If it needs to be folded, use a thick layer of archive tissue paper between the folds. Make as few folds as possible. Use a layer of archive tissue paper between items. You can use some packets of silicate gel to put in the boxes with the uniform to absorb any moisture.
Climate-Controlled Storage Conditions
It would be a bad idea to pack a uniform so carefully and then put the box in an area that will subject it to extreme temperatures and high relative humidity. Basements, attics, and garages are terrible places to store valuable family heirlooms.
The better choice is to use a climate-controlled storage unit. This type of storage provides a stable temperature. Also, the relative humidity is kept low with dehumidifier equipment that removes water from the circulating air.
Protecting What's Important
By following these packing and storage tips, it is possible to keep a uniform in good condition for a long time. To ensure everything is holding up well, it is a good idea to take the uniform out of the box once a year to see if there are any problems. Let it get a bit a fresh air, reminisce about it, and then re-pack it.
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