One of the biggest complaints storage facilities receive from customers is that their items inside an outdoor storage unit smell like mildew. That almost always includes the accusation, “Your unit lets water in and my stuff got wet.”

However, with a basic understanding of thermodynamics customers come to understand that Mother Nature herself is responsible for that stale, mildew smell and you, as the storage customer, can help fight her.

In non-climate-controlled storage, sometimes called drive-up storage, you are essentially putting your stuff in a metal box that sits outside no matter what the weather.That metal box, no matter how well designed, lets air circulate around your items. When the weather outside is warm, that air heats up and when it’s cold outside, the air cools down. Unfortunately, when the air cools down, just like it does outside, the air inside your unit has a dew point. That is, the point where the water molecules in air condense and settle on the things in your storage unit. The moisture collects over the weeks or months that things are in storage and you end up with smelly mildew.

So what can you do to prevent the cycle and the smell?

Add a Desiccant.

If you have a home at the Shore, you probably already know the value of desiccants. These are products you place in a closed in area to help absorb the moisture from the air like a sort of chemical dehumidifier. Many commercial products are available to do this, like the silicon packets you find in your new shoes. A good clay cat litter will do the same thing at a fraction of the cost.

The key is to have something in your storage unit to draw the moisture out of the air instead of it landing on your stored clothes, books and furniture.

Pack appropriately.

While cardboard boxes are appropriate for packing if you are moving from house to house, they are not a great idea for storage units. Cardboard naturally draws moisture to it, leaving the moisture sitting against whatever is inside the box. The box deteriorates, making it likely to fail when you go to move it, and it doesn’t protect the things inside. Though they are more expensive, if you plan on having things in storage for longer than a month, invest in plastic totes. Totes provide better protection against mildew, insects and rodents. Cardboard also tends to attract some types of insects and rodents that use it as either food or bedding.

For larger items like furniture with cushions or mattresses, buy a plastic cover for the furniture or wrap it completely in plastic wrap. Better yet, store it in a climate-controlled unit.

And absolutely make certain that your items are completely dry when you store them.

Open the Door.

There is a strong tendency among storage customers to put stuff in their storage unit and then forget about it for weeks or months at a time. While it seems odd, visiting your storage unit once a month to throw open the door and let in some fresh air can help prevent the development of mildew. Sunshine and air movement are your best natural weapons against mildew.

Here in the Oaks/Audubon area, we get dozens of freezing cycles every winter with a lot of nice days thrown in between. Come out and visit your stuff on one of those nice days to help keep it nice for when you need it in the spring.