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Tips on cleaning vintage and antique clothing

Updated on September 17, 2016

Collecting vintage fashion is a relatively new hobby. It started as an exotic interest in the artistic style of some garments but now it has reached new meanings. Vintage clothing has now a historical value because it speaks about the life of our ancestors and the social changes that have shaped our society during centuries.

If you are one of the few people that have a passion for vintage clothing you probably know that with the acquisition of an old garment comes the hardest part: taking care of your new entry. And, if there isn’t a definitive guide on carrying for vintage clothing, there are plenty tips and advice. Lots of it has to do with common sense but also with our experience or knowledge.

If your vintage piece has a label then try to fallow the care instructions. Many garments made in the first part of 20th century do not have a label or care instructions.

Some clothes were homemade or tailored, some others had their label removed by the store or by the owner, or they came without one from the factory. In this case is essential to know how to properly clean your collectible garment.

Evening dress, spring/summer 1938 Madeleine Vionnet (French, 18761975) Rayon   Madeleine Vionnet: Evening dress (C.I.52.18.4) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Evening dress, spring/summer 1938 Madeleine Vionnet (French, 18761975) Rayon Madeleine Vionnet: Evening dress (C.I.52.18.4) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Source

 Destroy the pests
It may sound odd but many pieces of vintage clothing are infested with larvae or eggs of different kind of bugs that could be seen upon an careful examination of the texture. To destroy them, seal the piece in a plastic bag and put in a freezer for few days.
Bed bugs could only be destroy by heat so if you suspect any, put your garment in the dryer, on the sweater rack, and turn the machine on high for 15 to 20 minutes.

Dust he vintage piece
The best way to dust your antique collectible clothing is to vacuum it. It is very important that the vacuum does not come in direct contact with the fabric and here’s how you do it: place a mesh or a screening over your garment or cover the the vacuum head with a cheesecloth.

Air it
Sometimes the old clothing have a particular smell that is not very pleasant. The best way to get rid of that particular smell is to expose your vintage piece to fresh air. To do so, choose a room with lots of windows, open them,  and place the garment on a flat surface, away from sunlight. Keep it there till the smell is gone.

Dry cleaning
Do not dry clean silk or fabrics with leaning. The silk tends to become brittle. Dry cleaning is tricky, sometimes useless. But if you consider dry cleaning your vintage dress then keep in mind that you may take a big risk.
There are some steps that you may take to minimize possible damages.
remove buttons and other trims, put the garment between two muslin and sew them together
ask the cleaner to use new solvent
ask the cleaner to place your garment in a mesh bag

First clothing collector is considered to be Dr. C. W. Cunnington, an English physician. In 1930 he bought a vintage silk dress to make a cloak for his wife. As he contemplated the old dress he decided to keep it untouched as a piece of antiquity.
Cunnington stared the trend on vintage clothes collection. He became famous as a collector and specialist on vintage clothing.

If you have to wash your vintage garment then hand washing is a must. You will need the whole bathtub, lined with an old towel or sheet and filled with lukewarm water. The detergent should be a very mild and gently one. Experts recommend t use Neutrogena face soap in this mixture:
1/8 of a 3.5 oz soap bar
1 cup of water
mix the two ingredients until the soap is dissolved
use this mixture for every gallon of water. So if you use 5 gallon then you will need 5/8 of a 3.5 oz soap bar mixed with 5 cups of water.
Add the detergent to your washing water and agitate until well blended. Then ad your garment and soak it for 20 to 30 minutes.
Do not scrub, twist or swirl because the old fabric could get stretched or even tear.
When done, don’t lift the garment out of the water, instead lift the towel or sheet that you first set at the bottom of the tub. Let the piece dry flat on a sweater rack.

Useful information

Sunlight destroys the colors and the fabrics.
A wet fabric breaks faster then a dry one.
Some old silk is weighted (with metals, usually lead) and tears easily.
Local museums can be used for tips on cleaning
Dust is very dangerous for vintage clothing so store them in a dust free place.


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    • cameciob profile image

      cameciob 7 years ago

      Princessa, It is soooo easy to ruin a nice old grandma dress...I know because I've done it. Thank you for your visit and comment.

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 7 years ago from France

      Excellent advice for those of us who have a weakness for vintage clothing.