How to clean vintage clothes!
Caring for vintage clothing can be a rather daunting and nerve-wracking experience. In particular the cleaning part.
Not so long ago, I wrote an in-depth article about “How to store vintage clothing like a pro”, and I hope that it will help answer a lot of questions regarding the dos and don’ts of storing your precious vintage pieces the proper way. For the purpose of giving my readers the best advice on storing vintage that one possibly could give, I interviewed a textile conservator with over twenty-five years of experience in handling antique textiles in museums.
Proceed With Caution!
Please, be very careful when implementing any of the tips provided in this article. If you are not sure about the content of the fabric, that your garment is made of, speak to an experienced dry cleaner. I’ve been wearing and writing about vintage clothes, from the 1930s-to 1950s, for over two decades. I pride myself on being very diligent in doing extensive research before I put pen to paper. Believe it or not, I do have a couple of museum curators and textile conservators on my speed dial. 🙂 I don’t lack the passion or the knowledge on the topic of vintage fashion, but I don’t have a degree in textile conservation.
Cleaning Vintage Clothing
Despite the knowledge, I have gained over the years, there are cases where I find it too risky to attempt to clean a vintage piece, so I send it off to a dry cleaner I trust.
DISCLOSURE; As of October 2021 (one year after I published this article), I’m part of the Shop Style Collective affiliate program and I get a commission for purchases made through some of the links in this post. When you purchase a product via the link in my post you are helping to keep my website alive for which I’m very grateful!
Time needed: 5 minutes.
How To Clean Vintage Clothes!
- *Top Tip! I always wear a Kleinert’s dress shield under vintage clothes.
It’s easy to wash and I never have to worry about perspiration stains.
- Dry cleaner to the rescue!
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 send most of my 1940s and 1950s skirt suits to the dry cleaner. The only exception is the 1952 Handmacher suit with a decorative collar. Thankfully it was in mint condition when I bought it.
- Not everything can be hand washed!
If you are not sure about the fabric that your vintage garment is made of, and you attempt to clean it yourself, you might accidentally ruin it, if handled inappropriately! Fabric shrinkage and bleeding are the two main catastrophes that may occur when cleaning vintage clothing the wrong way.
Top Tips! SEQUINS & COLOUR BLEED
•Never use water on velvet, 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 to NOT clean any garment embellished with sequins. Spot cleaning is the only option for me.
•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!
I’m always extremely careful even when I know that the garment can be hand-washed but mistakes happen, even to me. I didn’t think to do a test on the actual 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 red details.
- My 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. It 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. Avoid spraying it on silk or you might end up with a water ring.
- How to clean yellow spots from your 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.
- Stain removal tips.
The long-anticipated book, Wear Vintage Now! by Margaret Wilds is finally out! And it’s filled with incredibly useful 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 advise from Wear Vintage Now! book I wholeheartedly reccomend to all of you.
- How to remove wine and coffee stains.
It depends how fresh the stain is but as Margaret pointed out in her book, any stain remover will do. I spinkled fresh wine spots on a pillow cover and upholstered sofa with salt and it worked like a charm but I wouldn’t recoment to do it on a vintage garment as the salt could damage the fabric. Perhaps it’s best to stay away from red bevarages when wearing precious vintage. 😉
- How to get rid of the 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 the vodka for my Cosmopolitan!
You will find a few extra tips on caring for vintage in my article “How to take care of vintage clothes”
Shop My Favourites!best detergent for washing vintagecaring for vintageDominique de Merteuil vintage fashion bloggerhow to clean vintage clotheshow to clean vintage clothes 2022how to get rid of odor from clothes 2022stain removal tipsvintage blogvintage tipswashing liquid for vintage clothesWear Vintage Now! book review