Care and Cleaning
Dating Vintage Clothing

Wearable Antiques: Cleaning and Caring for Vintage Clothing

So you've found the perfect item of antique clothing and it is in wearable condition, but it is discolored and perhaps has some stains? How do you clean and care for the piece, to ensure that it will last for years to come? First, check your antique linen or garment for places where it may need to be mended. It is best to do any mending or reconstructing before you wash it, as washing can aggravate tears and rips. Then, check for spots that need cleaning. We do not recommend dry cleaning, because the process uses strong chemicals that can damage delicate fabrics and timeworn garments. Instead, use a gentle washing solution. You can mix one gallon of distilled water with 1/4 cup of a gentle washing solution like Palmolive and 1/4 cup of a gently non-chlorine bleach. If your piece is fragile, you can lay it between two sheets of washed cotton fabric. Soak your garment in a plastic tub or sink. Be careful handling your garment and do not wring or swish it around. Fabric and lace is most fragile when wet, and so it is best just to leave the garment in the solution and let time do its work.

After some time, you will see the solution discolored with dirt and residue. Pour out the solution and replace with fresh water. You may need to repeat this process several times if the garment is very yellowed and stained. Lay out the garment in the sun, making sure you turn the garment so that all sides are exposed to sun. For rust spots on whites, you can try sprinkling a solution of lemon juice and salt and place the garment in the sun.

If you are ironing antique linens, iron on low heat and iron on the wrong side of the fabric, using a thin layer of fabric between the iron and the garment. When storing linens, make sure you store them clean. Never store soiled garments or linens as dirty linens encourage mildew. Store in a cool, well-ventilated area. You can also store your garments and linens in acid-free paper or fabric bags (linen, cotton or muslin.) Never use plastic garment bags to store your pieces. Do not store in cardboard or cedar chests because the acids in cardboard and unvarnished wood can cause linen to yellow and streak. By following these simple instructions, you can protect your vintage piece, to enjoy for years to come.