January 7, 2020
Last Updated on August 10, 2023 by Dominique de MerteuilHome » Vintage Fashion Tips »
How to Clean Vintage Clothes-Beginner’s Guide
In this article, I will show you how to clean vintage clothes and get rid of yellow stains, as well as red wine spots, from your precious vintage garments.
You will also learn what vintage fabrics can and can’t be hand-washed and what detergent to use for vintage delicates.
I will share my tips on how to clean vintage clothes without causing any damage to the fabric.
If you are new to the It’s Beyond My Control blog, welcome!
Most of my clothes (about 95%) are from the 1930s to the late 1950s and need special care when it comes to cleaning and storing. You can, of course, apply all tips presented in this article to clothes made much later.
HOW TO DATE VINTAGE CLOTHES
If you are not sure about the age of your vintage garment, and there are no care tags attached, take a look at the in-depth article I wrote pertaining to dating vintage clothes.
Most Frequently Asked Questions About Washing Vintage Clothes
No! There are vintage fabrics that should never come into contact with water because of a high possibility of shrinkage or fabric bleed. If you hand wash a crepe-textured vintage garment or wool, it might survive the bath but it will only fit a child. Same with Cashmere. However, the latter can be reshaped with a soak in cold water and a few tablespoons of hair conditioner. I managed to reshape the 1940s CC41 rayon dress with the help of a cheap drugstore hair conditioner.
The simple answer is, no. You should only use a dry cleaner experienced in handling vintage and antique clothes. And even that’s not a guarantee that your vintage garment won’t be damaged in the process. Antique and vintage silk might shatter or deteriorate over time. It might be because of the quality of the fabric, dry rot or bad storage practices.
The Right & Wrong Way of Caring For Vintage Clothes
Caring for vintage clothing can be a rather daunting and nerve-wracking experience. In particular the washing part, but it doesn’t have to be.
Not so long ago, I wrote an in-depth article about “How to store vintage clothing like a pro”.
For the purpose of giving my readers the best advice on storing vintage, I interviewed a textile conservator with over twenty-five years of experience in handling antique textiles in museums.
I hope that the article will help answer all your questions regarding the dos and don’ts when it comes to storing vintage clothes the proper way.
Proceed with Caution when Washing Vintage Clothes
Before you jump to my exciting article about storing vintage clothes like a pro, let’s talk about cleaning first. After all, that’s why you are here!
Proceed With Caution When Washing Vintage Clothes
Please, be very careful when implementing any of the tips provided in this article.
If you are not 100% sure about the content of the fabric in your garment, speak to an experienced dry cleaner.
Machine Washing Vintage Clothes
If your garment is from the 1970s or later it will definitely have a care label unless it fell off.
Vintage fabrics from the 70s and the 80s that can be machine-washed on a delicate wash cycle are;
Cotton-the print on the fabric might fade though and there is always the risk of shrinkage.
Pure Vintage polyester (my most hated fabric!) can be machine-washed.
Pure vintage linen- you can try machine washing on a very delicate cycle but as is the case with cotton, shrinkage may occur.
Picture from Google Arts & Culture. ‘American Housewife’ Life magazine, 1941.
I strongly advise that you always choose to hand wash your vintage clothes over machine washing, even if the latter is acceptable. Why risk accidental damage? You will prolong the life of your precious clothes by caring for them the proper way.
I always place the new to me vintage garments made of wool in the freezer for at least 24 hours to avoid the risk of a moth infestation!
Rules for Hand Washing Vintage Clothes
Not all vintage garments can be hand washed!
Fabric shrinkage and bleeding are the two main catastrophes that may occur when washing & drying vintage clothes the wrong way.
•Never use water on vintage velvet, moire pattern, crepe or sequins ( especially if they are made of gelatine), because they will melt! Sequins can also be damaged during dry-cleaning so my advice would be NOT to clean any garment embellished with sequins. Spot cleaning is the only option.
•Use a wet Q-tip and rub the colours you want to test for bleed. If the colour transfer occurs do NOT immerse the garment in the water!
Hand Wash One Vintage Item at a Time!
I’m always extremely careful when hand-washing vintage but mistakes happen, even to me.
Once, I didn’t think to do a test on the label attached to my 1950s dress and of course, a bleed occurred. Luckily, only the inner side of the white collar suffered from the red tag attack.
I took a close-up picture of the damage to show you what happens when you don’t ‘think pink’ when washing white clothes with a red tag.
1. Before you immerse vintage clothes in water, always follow my recommendation for checking for colour bleed (instruction above) and possible shrinkage.
2. You should always hand-wash vintage clothes in a clean sink because you don’t want dirt or possible grease to transfer onto your clothes.
Never Wash Vintage Clothes in Hot Water
3. Remember, only ever wash delicate vintage garments in tepid water. And for the love of all vintage, fill the sink with water before you put your clothes in it. I can’t stress this enough, don’t risk placing your vintage garment under running water or you may cause damage to the fabric!
Vintage fabrics that can be hand-washed are; cotton, rayon, pure silk and pure wool, although I always send my woollen garments to the dry cleaner.
4. Metal can rust in water and some of the vintage sellers I know do as far as removing the zipper beforehand. I don’t go to that extreme but be aware that this may happen.
5. Consider removing buttons.
DISCLOSURE; As of October 2021 (one year after I published this article), I’m part of an affiliate program and I get a commission for purchases made through some of the links in this post. When you buy a product via the link in my post, you are helping to keep my website alive for which I’m very grateful!
Best Detergent for Handwashing Vintage Clothes
My personal favourite laundry detergent for washing vintage clothes!
Someone asked me recently about the type of detergent I use on vintage clothes that can be hand-washed, such as cotton. I love and can wholeheartedly recommend Eucalan Wrapture (Jasmine) or Lavender. The detergent smells divine and doesn’t require a rinse! I also use it to wash all my precious vintage and contemporary lingerie.
*Tip for making your clothes smell fresh!
I put a tiny amount of Eucalan into a travel-size spray bottle, mix it with water, and gently spray all my clothes hanging in the wardrobe. I avoid spraying it on clothes made of silk because of the danger of a water ring.
How to Wash Vintage Lingerie
Take a look at an article I wrote with step-by-step instructions on how to wash delicate vintage and contemporary lingerie.
How to Clean Vintage Clothes
Best Stain Removal for Vintage Clothes!
Retro Clean is a little miracle worker that works wonders on yellow stains. It’s a very gentle cleaning product for all washable fabrics.
•Before you soak the garment in Retro Clean, wash it in Eucalan detergent or any other product you like and trust.
•Dissolve three tablespoons of Retro Clean in one gallon of warm but not hot water.
•Soak the garment in the water for anything from a few hours to 48 hours.
•Check the progress every now and again.
How to Remove Stains from Vintage Clothes
Time needed: 5 minutes
Tips on How to Clean & Wash Vintage Clothes
- Prevent your vintage clothes from getting dirty! I always wear a Kleinert’s dress shield under a vintage garment.
It’s easy to wash and I never have to worry about perspiration stains.
- The dry cleaner comes to the rescue when you are unsure how to clean vintage clothes.
I urge anyone new to the world of vintage clothing, to get a recommendation from a well-established local vintage seller, as to the best dry-cleaners, experienced in handling antique and vintage garments!
I dry clean all my 1940s and 1950s skirt suits made of wool. The only exception is the 1952 Handmacher suit with a decorative collar.
- Stain removal tips.
The long-anticipated book, Wear Vintage Now! by Margaret Wilds is finally out! And it’s filled with handy tips on removing different types of spots, odours and wrinkles from vintage clothes. It’s a must-read for all the ladies who are starting their adventure in wearing vintage!
- How to remove oil and grease spots.
Brilliant advice from the Wear Vintage Now! book I wholeheartedly recommend to all of you.
- How to remove wine and coffee stains.
It depends on how fresh the stain is but as Margaret pointed out in her book, any stain remover will do. I sprinkled fresh wine spots on a pillow cover and upholstered sofa with salt and it worked like a charm but I wouldn’t recommend doing it on a vintage garment as the salt could damage the fabric. Perhaps it’s best to stay away from red beverages when wearing precious vintage. 😉
- How to clean vintage clothes! The miracle worker for fresh red wine stains!
Carbona Stain Devils Coffee Tea & Juice stain remover saved my 1950s blouse. I don’t have a ‘before’ picture to show you, but trust me when I say it worked like a charm!
How to Get Rid of Odour in Vintage Clothes
I find that the best way to freshen up a vintage or antique velvet gown or cape is to hang it in a steamed bathroom. I always place a bowl filled with vinegar under the garment (I make sure that the clothing is not touching the liquid!) to get rid of the bad odour.
It’s not always with a 100% success rate but it definitely helps. This method is good for any type of fabric as long as it’s not in direct contact with vinegar. Baking soda is another little miracle worker in getting rid of unpleasant smells.
Some people advocate spraying clothes with vodka in order to get rid of bad odour. I’ve recently heard that in the long run, it can cause damage to the fabric. I will definitely update this information when I gather more reliable data.
For now, I shall keep vodka for my Cosmopolitan!
Find extra tips on caring for vintage in my article “How to take care of vintage clothes”
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