Vintage clothing care guide

Vintage Clothing Care Guide

We all know the extra considerations that have to be made when buying and caring for vintage clothing. Musty smells and stains are some of the biggest factors that put people off buying vintage. However, there are lots of ways these problems can be improved or eliminated. Read below for an overview of some of the solutions available!

Removing Odours:

A spray bottle of distilled white vinegar or vodka is great for removing newer sweat odours as it will kill bacteria, but this may not be effective for some older odours. Many people prefer vodka as it has no odour after evaporating. Hang the item to air dry after spraying. You might have to do it a few times. For extra delicate items, you can hang the item above a bowl of vinegar in a sealable closet and leave it there for a few days. 

Sprinkle baking soda into a plastic bag that is large enough for the garment. Place the item in and seal the bag. Shake it and then let it sit for a few days. Take it out and shake off any baking soda. 

Newspaper can also absorb musty smells if you stuff the pockets and sleeves with it and seal in a plastic bag for a few days. 

Other odour absorbers include charcoal and coffee beans.

You can pre-soak your item with speciality odour-eliminating laundry boosters before washing as normal. 

Eucalan no-rinse cleaner can also be diluted in a spray bottle and used on a garment to help with odours. Saturate it fully and hang to dry. 

For stubborn smoke odours, you can find a dry cleaner that offers ozone treatments, which are quite effective. 

Lastly, you can try steaming the item.


Silk: Check for dye bleed first. Gently hand wash in tepid water with mild detergent. Rinse with cold water. Rinse again with water-vinegar mix to remove any remaining detergent and revive the silk's lustre. Rinse with water one last time. Roll up in a towel and then either lay flat or hang to dry, depending on fragility.

Cotton: Sturdy enough to wash in warm water and any detergent. Can also be ironed. Avoid hot water and hot drying as cotton can shrink. A non-chlorine bleach may also be used if necessary.

Wool: Gently hand wash with Eucalan no-rinse detergent. Don't wring or twist. Roll it in a towel, reshape it and then lay it flat to dry. Woven wool fabrics should be dry cleaned. If you shrink your wool garment, you can try to soak it in cool water with hair conditioner or fabric softener for an hour. Don't rinse it. Lay it out on a towel and reshape it. Keep reshaping as it dries over the course of the day. You might need to do this process a few times. Severely shrunken garments are likely beyond saving!

Linen: Wash in cold water. Sturdier pieces are fit for the machine while lighter, delicate pieces should be hand washed. Air dry and iron while still slightly damp. 

Rayon: Crepe textured rayons will shrink and should be dry cleaned for best results. Plain weave rayons can be washed in cold water. Dye bleed tests are always a good idea first. 

Nylon: Hand wash in cold water and air dry. 

Polyester: Can be machine washed on a gentle cycle. Is often fine in the dryer but it's always best to air dry to prolong the life of a garment. Avoid hot water, dryers and irons on synthetics as they can melt. 

Acetate: Cold wash and hang dry. Dry clean older acetates like the kind found in 50s prom dresses. Extremely heat sensitive. 

Vintage 1950s Blue/ Green Floral Print Rayon Tea Dress with Belt, Small

Velvet: Dry clean only

Leather/suede/fur/vinyl: Speciality professional cleaners are best sought out. However, there are special leather cleaners that can be bought for use at home. 

No clean items: Anything with gelatin sequins, hand painted details and delicate antiques should be approached with extreme caution. 

How to hand wash: Use a bucket, sink or tub. Zip up zippers and fasten hooks so they don't catch on anything. Some metal components including buttons might want to be removed to avoid rusting. Only use a few drops of detergent. Let it soak and swish it around. Rinse out with cold water until all suds are gone. Roll in a towel and lay flat or hang to dry. 

If using a washing machine, don't overstuff it to avoid too much rubbing and friction with other items. 

Dry cleaning: All structured items, those with shoulder pads, embellishments, special finishes or dyes that run should be dry cleaned. Research your dry cleaner and look for reviews. Ask them questions about what solvents they use; if they have a choice of solvents and if they wash by hand. Expertise of dry cleaners vary so make sure they know what they're doing before handing over your precious garment. 

Stain Removal: 

First, you will need to identify what the stain is based on its colour and placement on the garment. 

Blood: For fresh blood stains, hold the area under cold running water and then soak it in cold water. For dried in/older stains, you might want to use an enzyme product like an enzyme detergent, enzyme oxygen bleach or pre-treatment product.  However, only do this for sturdier garments. Take anything else to your dry cleaner. Exposing any type of protein stain (such as a blood stain) to heat will set in the stain and you won't be able to get it out fully. 

Oil/grease: These type of stains can also be set in with heat drying and ironing, so look over your garment carefully before doing either. Dish liquid and warm water is a go-to for lifting oil. 

Make-Up: Water and vinegar solutions, or dish liquid if it's oil based. Pick up dropped powder with a lint roller. Soaking in enzyme based products and then washing in warm water will also help. For bright red lipstick, you might want to try a vinegar-detergent solution. Coax it into the fabric with a spoon and blot it. You can also try sponging with alcohol and lastly, a drop of acetone in extreme cases. Don't use acetone on acetate! Again, the safety of using harsher products is dependent on the fabric. 

Mildew: You'll want to kill the spores with borax, bleach, vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. We recommend soaking in 3% hydrogen peroxide and cold water for 30 minutes and then rinse and wash. Dry cleaning can also kill mold. 

Sweat: Soak in equal parts 3% hydrogen peroxide (or oxygen based non-chlorine bleach) and dish soap for 30 minutes and rinse. You may have to repeat this a number of times. (This method also works for wine, tea and coffee). 
For stubborn stains, you can try diluted white vinegar soaks and then washing.
If that still doesn't work, try equal parts hydrogen peroxide and baking soda applied with a toothbrush and let sit for 30 minutes before washing off.
Diluted ammonia is another option.

Ink/marker: Blot the spot with lemon essential oil or isopropyl alcohol until all is removed. Magic eraser might also help. Special ink remover products can also be bought. 

Bleach: Try filling a bleach spot with a permanent marker of the closest colour match to the garment. 

Dye bleed: Be cautious and use colour catchers to avoid this issue. If it happens, products such as RIT dye fixative or Synthrapol detergent are useful. 

Liquid ring marks: These are often created in the process of trying to remove a stain! Re-dampening the area and then blow drying it might help to lessen the edge of the ring. 

Rust: Replace any rusted fastenings. Apply salt and lemon juice to the stains and let it dry in the sun. However, be cautious as some fabrics may bleach during this process. Commercial rust remover can also be purchased but they are pretty harsh.  

Storing and Maintaining:

Hang sturdy items in breathable garment bags. Padded or velvet hangers are best. Avoid wire hangers. Hanging will cause wear to the shoulders of delicate items. 

Don't hang knits or heavy/embellished items as they will get distorted. 

Special items can be stored wrapped in acid free tissue paper and boxed up. 

Try not to stack folded items if possible, so nothing gets crushed.

Use a steamer with distilled water for removing wrinkles. 

If you are worried about using heat on your garment, make a wrinkle relaxant solution by combining vinegar, fabric softener, alcohol and water in a spray bottle. 

Apply beeswax to stuck zippers. 

Utilize underarm dress shields and avoid aluminum based antiperspirants and deodorants as they will cause staining. 

Use moth prevention traps.

Keep away from sunlight to avoid light bleaching. 

Use a dehumidifer to avoid mold growth.

Use leather conditioners and brushes on your leather items to keep them in good shape. 

We hope some of this information is useful to you and helps you care for your vintage item! Check out our previous posts on dating vintage clothing and vintage shopping tips!

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