Thought I’d share some of of the products I use to spruce up, clean or maintain the vintage clothes I either sell or keep in my own collection. Since I’ve been buying vintage clothing for a few decades I’ve had the opportunity to try dozens of products, many recommended by others in the vintage fashion business or through trial and
one too many errors!
Though these are all items I do use on vintage garments with success, I strongly urge you to err on the side of caution with your own pieces. What might work on one article of clothing may not work on another. Also, before you even think about buying anything with a condition issue, ask yourself these two questions. Is the issue unobtrusive enough that you or someone else wouldn’t mind wearing or adding this garment to a collection as it is? Is the price reasonable enough that you wouldn’t mind losing a small investment to try and clean/repair yourself with the risk of ruining the garment? If the answer is no to both questions, then leave it where you found it no matter how tempting.
Of course, this does not apply to historically significant pieces, which often have value, even if in delicate condition. You know, like clothing that ends up in museum collections. If you get your hands on anything like that, never, ever attempt to clean or repair. Just contact a conservator who specializes in textile restoration.
This list is mostly for the cleaning and care of sturdier/newer vintage or thrifted pieces. For brevity purposes this is an overview of how I use them. But any internet search will lead you to more in depth instructions for using many of these products for clothing care.
I like this better than OxyClean for washable colorfast fabrics. The dingiest vintage clothing comes out like new after an overnight soak in Biz. And I love to make a paste with hot water for stubborn stains on cottons. Gets them out 95% of the time.
- White Vinegar
A lot of bang for the buck here. Add to water when soaking clothes for neutralizing odors and for a general overall freshness/color brightener. Apply full strength to armpit areas for perspiration odors and faint armpit staining.
- Hydrogen Peroxide
The 3% solution works as mild bleaching agent. Use full strength for stain removal, especially blood or red wine. Mix with baking soda for a paste that will get out yellow armpit stains.
A watchful eye is needed on colors.
- Fels Naptha Laundry Bar Soap
An oldie, but goody. Mix with water and rub onto tough stains, like ring around the collar, perspiration, makeup and chocolate. Find in most supermarkets.
- Mrs. Stewart’s Liquid Bluing
Another oldie, but goody. Use for whitening dinghy white fabrics and darkening jeans.
- Shout Color Catcher Sheets
Worried about color bleed? I like to throw a few sheets in when washing cotton prints, especially with blue or red colors in them. So far, I’ve had good luck with these.
- Baking Soda
Beside using as a paste with the peroxide for armpit stain/odor, I like to use baking soda for musty smelling clothing that are dry clean only. Because I don’t trust a drycleaner to get the odor out I first sprinkle baking soda all over the piece, seal in a plastic storage bin for however many days it takes to rid the item of its funky odor. THEN off the the drycleaners.
- Protein Shampoo
Use your favorite brand. A tiny amount added to water is fabulous for hand washing silk blouses or scarves.
Lanolin based, no rinse cleaner is perfect for delicate washables. I love it for washing cashmere and angora sweaters. Because of the low suds formula there
is no need to rinse, which means less agitation of the wool fibers.
- Orvus Paste
A mild PH neutral detergent that is great for washing fine linens and quilts. I like to add a little of this to a soak for vintage tablecloths. Always test for colorfastness of course. Not recommended for silks. And there are varying opinions online about using it for wool. You can find it by searching “quilter’s soap” or check feed supply stores for larger bottles, as it is used to wash horses too!
This has become my favorite BO eliminator for dry clean only items, like 1940s rayon crepe dresses. Speaking from experience, taking to a drycleaner ensures the odor will be set permanently. So now I pre-treat odorous underarm areas with Odoban Spray and vinegar. Laying garment on a towel and tamping the products through the fabric with a washcloth and finishing with clear water. Sometimes it takes a few attempts to eliminate the smell completely. Then it’s safe to take to the drycleaners. This method should not be used on fabric that will leave a watermark, as drycleaning cannot remove those.
- Best Press
MaryEllen’s Best Press starch and sizing alternative for ironing. Leaves no residue like regular spray starch can and it adds nice body to the fabric. Love the Lavender Fields scent too.
- Jiffy Lavender Steam Spray
I guess I just love the smell of lavender! Mist clothing and then use your garment steamer as usual. They’ll be left with a lovely lavender scent.
Metal vintage zippers often get sticky and hard to pull up. I just run a piece of beeswax up and down the length and the zipper slides up and down like new again! You can find it in a handy stick form from jewelry supply places like this one. This will work with a candle as well. But makes sure it is a white one.
- Sticky Lint Roller
I use the ones by Scotch-Brite. Not only do they do a great job of removing lint, but pet hair too. Love the sticky sheets on the roll that you just tear off once they’re too full of lint. Brilliant!
- Whink Rust Remover
Haven’t found anything better to remove rust spots off of clothing. I fill the bottle cap with water and add a tiny bit of product, then use a Q-tip to dab on the rust spots. Be patient!
- Snag Puller
Or Knit Picker. Great for getting rid of unsightly snags and pulls in knits. When poked into the snag from the back, this ingenious little tool will hook onto the snag, then you just pull it through. Voila, no more snag!
- BoNash Fuse-It Powder
If you find a moth bite in one of your sweaters, don’t despair! This product utilizes threads from the garment mixed with it’s special bonding powder to plug the hole for an invisible repair. Takes a bit of practice. But there are great video tutorials online. Great way to repair sweaters without the expense of reweaving.
- Vanish Fabric DePiller
Got this at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Love the two interchangeable screens, for lighter of heavier fabrics. Works like a charm to remove pilling on all kinds of fabric.
- Unbleached muslin yardage
I’ll never forget the day I got a call from a woman who wanted to sell her collection of vintage Pucci dresses that she had held onto since the 1970s. I couldn’t get over there fast enough! When I arrived she showed me to her closet where the dresses had been stored in plastic garment bags all those years. She was so proud of the fact that she had protected them so well. When I unzipped the bags I discovered every dress had mold spots and holes. They had literally rotted inside the bags. This is a vintage clothing collector’s worst nightmare. I wanted to cry.
So the last of my Top 20 is just unbleached muslin, which you can pick up by the yard at JoAnn’s. I use this to cover vintage gowns and dresses that have intricate beadwork or delicate fabrics. Items that need protection from rubbing up against other items in storage. I never use plastic garment bags to store clothing for any length of time as it will surely cause the fabrics to deteriorate. Fabric needs to breathe. So I just cut a piece long enough to cover both sides of the dress completely and cut a hole in the middle so it will slip cape like over the hanger.
- Padded Hangers
Oh yeah, I just remembered this too. To my utter horror she had also hung her dresses on wire hangers, which tore the silk jersey fabric at the shoulders. So padded hangers need to be on this list too!
Do you have any favorite products you use for your clothing care?