I don't know how or why, but in the last couple months of our living in SF, we developed quite a moth problem. Perhaps someone who knows anything about "nature" can explain this to me, because I equate moths with attics and basements and porch-light fixtures in evenings in the country in summer. I do not associate moths with concrete urban lofts whose only other mid-winter pests are the drug dealers showing up for our neighbor's raves.
Regardless of why or how we developed the problem, Ish declared that he would do everything in his power to ensure that we did not bring the moths with us to Napa. I supported him in his quest.
He determined that the simplest, most effective course of action would be to throw a few mothballs into any -- and every -- box we packed that contained items of fabric. Clothes boxes, boxes with purses, boxes with blankets or towels or scarves or, well, you get the idea.
Seemed reasonable to me, as long as I wasn't the one actually touching them.
So that's what we did.
I mean, the four seconds I spent thinking about this told me it'd be fine. I figured we'd move into the house, get our washer and dryer set up, and then I'd just open each box of clothes, wash the clothes, and put them away. Tra la frickin' la.
Are you laughing at us yet?
Here's what happened.
It took us a few days of living here before the washer and dryer were delivered. It took another few days for us to unearth the boxes of clothes and move them toward the laundry room. Needless to say, after a WEEK of living in the same basic sweats, I was more than ready to do laundry. I was positively giddy with excitement.
I opened the first clothes box, I put a reeking load in the washer, I waited for this glorious new machine (which, by the way, was operating without quarters!) to do its magic work.
The wash cycle ended, I opened the washer lid, and BAM! I was smacked in the face with mothball stench.
Huh? I thought. That's odd. Maybe it's the hypo-allergenic detergent? Maybe it just needs two wash cycles? Maybe a pre-soak? I hope it's not the washing machine! I'm going to try this again...
And so I put the load through the wash again, with complete optimism. I assumed the first wash was just a fluke. The washing machine's maiden voyage wasn't meant to do such heavy work or something. I had every belief that the second washing would do it. I was completely surprised when I opened the lid at the end of the cycle and discovered the smell was just as strong as when I opened the box.
I had a sinking feeling. I didn't even want to check the internet. Looking up what might be wrong with mothball-smelling clothes engendered the same kind of fear I'd have looking up horrible medical symptoms on WebMD. The results couldn't be good. What is the laundry equivalent of "cancer"?
But I had no other choice.
Mothballs are the hardest smell to remove from clothing.
Washing clothes that have been stored with mothballs will not remove the smell.
The smell will not go away on its own. Simply taking the clothing out of their containers will do nothing.
This was not the kind of information I wanted to read. I started to slowly, dramatically realize that every article of clothing that Ish and I owned was drenched in non-removable stench. Even if a vinegar soak could remove SOME of the scent (as had been suggested by more than a few websites) surely I couldn't soak every last hat and glove in vinegar. Could I? I'd need bathtubs full!
You can well imagine that I, sick and pregnant and dirty and exhausted AND faced with the overwhelming circumstances of having mounds of unpacking yet to do could NOT also handle the idea that I might never regain any of my clothing from the dark hole of poisonous pesticide vapors.
I completely lost it. Oh, it was ugly. I indulged in the ugly, ugly cry. The phlegmy, eye-bulging, hysterical sobbing, moaning, wailing cry that signaled perhaps I needed a break from the whole "moving" thing.
I needed to do something happy and ridiculous. So, for reasons I don't entirely understand (perhaps my cravings were arguing with my subconscious: You want SUBURBS? I'll give you SUBURBS!), I announced to Ish that he was taking me...to Applebee's.
Perhaps it was the plastic menu, perhaps it was the food items with made-up names, but something about being around so many creatively fried things -- served with a non-diet Coca-Cola no less -- was surprisingly restorative.
When we returned home, I got back online and searched for more viable mothball smell-ridding solutions than vinegar baths. I read several comments from people who explained (in grammatically challenged internet-commenter-ese) that the mothball smell is actually gas and that direct sunlight is the best and easiest way to get the smell out, because it's also a gas.
Hmm. While I am always dubious of internet commenter "science," lots of people seemed to swear by the clothes-outside-in-the-sun theory. And "sunlight" came across as a little more manageable and far more appealing than having my underpants go from smelling like moth balls to smelling like faint moth balls plus Easter egg dye.
So by Sunday afternoon, when the sun had reared its head, this is what our yard looked like:
I like to call this photo, "Welcome To The Neighborhood." I'm sure our next-door neighbor thought we were completely out of our heads. And oh-so-classy!
But this is just a taste of it. The first hurrah, if you will, where Ish and I painstakingly brought every article of clothing and clothing-related things out onto our patio and lawn and outdoor furniture in heaps. Only to have to bring them in again in the evening.
Which meant that by Sunday night, we'd discovered two things. Direct sunlight? Totally works. Simply being outside? Does not. In fact, the contrast was stark. The t-shirt warm from the sun was odor-free, where the t-shirt directly below that, partially covered in shadow still positively reeked.
Thus, for the next FIVE days, every morning I had to take as many items of clothing outside as would fit -- in a single layer -- to get enough air and sunlight as possible. We fashioned a makeshift clothesline across the whole yard, and I'd stick whatever else I could fit on the fence, chairs, and patio stone. Every sock, every pillowcase, every washcloth, every fleece running vest needed its own 4-8 hours of sunlight to smell fresh again.
I guess the good news is that, in the end, it worked. Also, I now know how to get the smell of mothballs out of ANYTHING. (And in theory, so do you.)
But it was still a daunting and superbly un-fun way to spend the second full week of living here. It's all better now, but I definitely suffered my first suburban setback.
Applebee's and all.
Update: Thanks for asking, Rob-bear. We seem to have conquered the moth issue. At least, so far, so good. So hopefully this whole exercise was worth it. (Let's hope so.)