Chances are when buying older vintage items, they will smell musty and have lots of dust and the odd stain. When getting them clean it can be hard to get the balance right between treating them gently and getting all the grime out. Remember some vintage clothes have been stored away for decades, and 50 years of dirt won’t always be easy to get out.
Some fabrics just shouldn’t be washed and should be treated with extreme caution. If something looks fragile think very carefully about whether it can be cleaned before you buy it.
This guide is intended for robust fabrics such as cotton so be careful if your dress is made from something more delicate or has a heavy dye.
I’m demonstrating on this early 60s dress which was from a house clearance. It is in very good condition and had been stored away for nearly 50 years. The dress is cream but was very discoloured from years of being kept in an old trunk. Light colours like cream can be very tricky, it’s harder to disguise any marks or stains and as I found with this one they are often very yellowed in the arm pits. I generally wouldn’t recommend buying vintage with sweat stains as they are often very hard to get out and they can weaken the fabric.
The first thing to do is check the dress over for any weaknesses or small tears, if there is any damage that might be made worse by washing fix it now. Then soak the garment in cold water for a few hours. If the dress is coloured check that the dye is not running too much.
Once the dress has soaked for long enough to loosen up and grime and dust gently rinse it with warm water to get as much dirt out as possible. If the dress is holding its colour and the fabric is undamaged you can then put it on a gentle cool wash in the machine.
I usually seal vintage clothing in a pillowcase or laundry bag before putting it in the machine. Select a wool gentle wash with a low spin speed. I always use a gentle detergent or wool wash on vintage clothes.
All that’s left to do now is sit nervously by the washing machine waiting for your new treasure to come out, hopefully in one piece!
Once the wash has finished try to dry the items flat to avoid damaging it. I try to avoid drying vintage clothes in direct sunlight as this can fade them. With older vintage there is usually a metal zip so it is important to get the item drying s soon as possible to avoid the zip staying wet.
Once dry you can check the item over again to make sure all the dirt out and all the damage is fixed. Try ironing on a low heat to start with. I usually iron on reverse to protect the fabric.
Now get glammed up and wear your vintage dress with pride!
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