How to Safely Clean Vintage Clothing

Tuesday 26th July 2022 - Cara Bentham


How to Safely Clean Vintage Clothing

We take a look at some top tips for keeping fashion fresh.

Taking care of vintage clothing can be tricky, especially if the garments don’t have clear labels or washing instructions. If you’re keen to invest in vintage clothing, it’s essential to know how to take of your items. You will need to determine whether a garment can be washed and, if so, how exactly this should be done to preserve its quality. Read on for some handy tips on how to clean vintage clothing safely.

Determining whether vintage clothing can be washed

First, you will want to check whether a garment has any tags or care labels and whether these are readable. The newer the item, the more likely it will have labels with modern care instructions. If these are available, simply follow the guidance provided.

If your garment does not have labels, there are a few ways you can try to determine if and how you should wash it. Do some research online to see if you can find a match for your item and any washing advice. If this is unsuccessful, consider sourcing a seamstress or vintage clothing specialist in your local area who may be able to advise you further.

Some items are better taken to a specialist for cleaning. Materials like velvet or fur are hard to clean, as are more complex pieces such as those with intricate beading or detailed embroidery. It might be better to take items like this to a professional to ensure you don’t accidentally damage them during the cleaning process.

Tips for machine washing

If you have decided it is okay to machine wash your garment, you still need to proceed cautiously, as older garments are naturally more fragile. Follow these tips to safely machine garments which are appropriate for this method:

  • For added protection, place the garment inside a mesh bag before placing it in the washing machine
  • Wash the garment on the coldest water setting
  • Set the machine to the gentlest cycle
  • Allow the garment to air dry after washing and lay it flat on a drying rack or clean surface. This will prevent the item from becoming misshapen from its own weight or a hanger

Hand washing

If you have determined from the labelling or inspecting the garment’s composition and fabric that it is best to handwash, follow these tips to ensure the proper care is taken:

  • Fill a container or sink with cool water
  • Add a small amount of laundry detergent, using the gentlest possible option
  • Submerge the garment in the water
  • Use your hands to gently work the soapy water into the fabric of the garment
  • Empty the sink or tub before refilling with cool water to rinse
  • Allow the garment to air dry after washing and lay it flat on a drying rack or clean surface. This will prevent it from becoming misshapen from its own weight or a hanger

Additional tips

As well as the washing tips provided above, there are several other methods you can use to clean your vintage clothes. The following tips work well for vintage garments which have recently been purchased or left in storage for some time.

Typically, vintage clothes are not pre-cleaned by sellers. As such, there’s usually no way of knowing what might be on their surface or when they were last cleaned. Because of this, it’s a good idea to keep your newly acquired garments separate from your other, clean items of clothing until they too are clean. One good tip is to place the garment into a freezer-safe bag and store it n the freezer for four days. Doing this will help to prevent the spread of musty smells, silverfish or mould.

Another way to freshen up your newly acquired vintage garment is to use the spray bottle wash method. This is commonly used for complicated garments, such as pieces used in theatre. This is not suitable for dirt or stains; rather it works best to combat musty smells and other odours. Follow these tips to perform a spray bottle wash on your item:

  • Get a spray bottle and fill it with a solution of one-part white vinegar to two-parts room temperature water
  • Spray the solution over the garment, and be sure to pay particular attention to areas which come into contact with sweaty body parts, such as the underarms and crotch
  • Leave to air dry

We trust these tips have helped you figure out whether you can wash your vintage clothing and how best to do this so that you can continue enjoying beautiful vintage fashion for many years.