How to Clean Vintage Clothing

One of the most common questions I get as a vintage seller is how to care for a newly acquired vintage garment. While so much of the beauty in vintage lies in it's history, it's this same aged history that can make caring for vintage pieces seem daunting. But that shouldn't be the case!

It's true, yes, that vintage clothing often requires different laundering techniques than your average modern garment. However, that shouldn't hold you back from collecting and adding those special vintage pieces to your wardrobe. It just so happens you've come to the right place. With the help of several fellow vintage sellers, I've put together a few starter tips that will hopefully give you a little confidence boost when it comes to caring for vintage clothing.

Let me preface this by mentioning that I'm by no means an expert on cleaning and laundering vintage garments, but that I've definitely learned a lot in my ten years of running Dalena Vintage. It's been a trial and error process, and I've learned the hard way on many a piece. But my loss is your gain today as I share some of the best practices on how to clean vintage clothing. 

 How to Clean Vintage Clothing. A simple guide from Dalena Vintage focusing on the basic care and cleaning of vintage dresses.

General Vintage Care Tips

 

1. Always hang your vintage

It's easy to toss your vintage in the laundry basket or shove it in the corner of your closet as you would with the rest of your wardrobe, but please...Resist! Dark places are a favorite hang out spot for silverfish aka the arch nemesis of vintage clothing. While they can still reach your clothing on a hanger, it's less likely to occur than when on the ground. Additionally, clothing is more likely to harbor odors and dampness when wadded up. The simple act of hanging a dress (even when dirty) allows it to breath and air out any funky smells. It also helps prevent mold from forming.

2. Check for holes, weak spots and loose seams after each wear

Vintage clothing is at least 20 years old and as such the fabric has already been subjected to years of wear and tear. Even if you have a deadstock garment that has never been worn, the fabric is still old and has experienced wear from toxins in the air. The best way to prevent further damage to a vintage garment is to stay ahead of the game.

If you notice a weak spot in the fabric, go ahead and reinforce it. There are a variety of ways to do this, depending on the age and material. If you notice a small hole, go ahead and mend it. My favorite technique is basic darning. I've found this works well on knits and cottons. I have used this technique on thinner more delicate fabric but it requires more prep work, which I'll save for a future post. You'll also want to keep an eye on loose seams as these can lead to larger rips and tears. Basically, maintenance is key!

3. Never use wire hangers

Never, ever, on any condition should you use wire hangers! I would consider the wire hanger to be a contender for the arch nemesis of vintage clothing award. Seriously. Stop reading right now and go throw out all the wire hangers in your closet. They only mean to cause you harm. They can tear or rip a mint vintage dress in seconds. I'hWhen a garment is left on a wire hanger for a long period of time, not only is the piece at risk for stretching it in unsightly ways it can also cause rust stains that are one of the most difficult (if not impossible) stains to remove.

4. Fold or box heavy vintage items

This tip is especially good for 1920s beaded gowns and dresses with thin straps. The weight of a heavy dress is often more than the fabric of the straps or shoulders can handle. It's pained me too many times to see the death of an otherwise perfect dress by hanger, the weight of the dress just too much to bear.

Vintage Cleaning Tips

 

1. Washing

Machine Washable Fabrics:  Cotton, linen, polyester and nylon. Also some acetates, spandex and synthetics were created to be able to be machine washed. 

When machine washing vintage I always used cool water on the most gentle setting and to be honest I am very particular in what I put in the washing machine. Generally, I only do it for cotton, polyester or nylon that I can tell has already been washed. Sometimes I'll machine wash a 1940's cotton dress but typically I don't go earlier than the 1950's. Again, machine wash at your own risk! And if you have an old washing machine (one with the center piece), I would probably stick to hand washing. 

Sometimes Washable Fabrics:  Silk in it's pure form and rayon. Raw silks need to be professionally cleaned. 

When I say washable here, I mean hand washable. I would never put vintage silk or rayon in the washing machine. When hand washing, I tend to stick with room temperature water. Going either direction the temperature scale can damage a fabric by either shrinking or running the color.

Always Dry Clean:  Wool (if washed, this fabric will most likely shrink severely), velvet, fur, leather, vinyl, solid plastics and other trims.

Dry cleaning is actually the form of cleaning I use the least. This is because I don't think dry cleaning is very effective in actually cleaning a garment. Certainly it's a great way to remove scents and body odor and they will spot clean upon request. But really I've never found a dry cleaner I was super happy with in terms of cleaning. Maybe that's just me though. 

2. Color test

Katie of Shell and Pine mentioned color testing as a must in my call for suggestions on cleaning vintage last year and I gotta say this is super important. As a rule of thumb, it's always good to color test a garment before washing, especially reds. Do this simply by running a small piece of the garment under water to see what happens. I like to use a piece that isn't easily visible just in case it does bleed. 

You can also take a damp paper towel and blot on the area in question. If you see color on the paper towel when you remove it, it's probably going to bleed so either opt for the dry cleaners or practice caution when washing. A tip here is when washing, use a large tub and lay the garment out. The likelihood of color staining other parts of the the garment is less when it's laid out versus wadded up with the fabric touching. Make sense? 

3. Remove metal fasteners and metal-based buttons before washing

This is an important one that is often overlooked. Leaving metal pieces on fabric while washing doesn't always cause rust but it can. If you can easily remove these bits, it's best to do so while washing the garment and reattach after washed. Let's say you're a bit lazy or it's a difficult task to remove a bunch of metal based buttons. That's ok too. Just make sure you remove the garment from the water immediately and use a hair dryer to dry the buttons. 

4. Remove rhinestone buttons and/or all fragile trims before taking to the cleaners

When writing this all I can think of is the time I took a mint condition 1950s swing coat in chocolate satin with the most beautiful over-sized rhinestone buttons to my dry cleaners. The result...A teary eyed me driving home with completely ruined rare rhinestone faceted buttons that I have yet to find again! I always regret not taking the time to remove the buttons prior to dropping off at my cleaners. Live and learn, I suppose. 

Additional Specifics on Vintage cleaning

 

1. Rust Removal

As tempting as it may be, DO NOT try to remove a rust stain with bleach. This will only set the stain further, pretty much eliminating any chance of removal.

I've had luck with a concoction of cream of tarter, lemon juice and sunlight. To make this mix 1 part cream of tarter and 1 part fresh lemon juice. Apply to the rust spot and let sit in the sunlight for several hours, if not the entire day. This doesn't always work but I've found it does lighten the rust spot at the very least. My only warning with this is to use extreme caution as it can bleach a fabric.

No Carnations Vintage recommends trying the household cleaner CLR (Calcium, Lime & Rust) on old rust spots. “Always test! And I used a small amount repeatedly with a Q-tip."

2. Removing Smells

I actually did an entire post on this a few years ago! There are numerous ways to get those stubborn smells out including diluted vinegar soaks, straight steaming and vodka spritz, just to name a few. Which route you choose to go depends on the type of fabric and the delicacy. Check out our post How to Get the Odor Out of Vintage Clothing for a detailed write up!

 

Cleaning, storing and caring for vintage clothes is such a broad topic! I definitely plan on expanding here and creating future posts to help boost knowledge on the subject but this is catch all post for how to clean vintage clothing. If you have tips or helpful hints, I would absolutely, positively love to hear them! Comments welcome below or feel free to email me too!

Hey Y'all...We Eloped!

I was over the moon to get our wedding photos back last week and am so excited to share a few of my favorites with you! We opted for an elopement-style ceremony at McKinney Falls, a state park just outside of Austin, Texas. I wore a 1970's vintage gown from Thea's Vintage along with my great-grandmother's wedding bracelet from the turn-of-the-century, my granny's cameo necklace from her 16th birthday and a pair of pearl earrings my Gigi gave me for my sweet sixteen. The evening unfolded exactly as we had hoped and was even more perfect than we had imaged. 

It was hard to narrow the photos down, but I managed to do so a little! Before you take a look, I'll leave you with a limerick my best friend wrote for the occasion... 

There was a girl named Leslie Torbett, in vintage fashion did she orbit. 
She was very glamorous, and all the boys were amorous
But she found them rather sordid.
Until along came a lad named Robbie, and skating was his hobby.
He took her on a date, it had to be fate
Because their love was hot like wasabi.
Their devotion to each other was true, July 27th they declared I do.
The adventure begins of a princess and her prince
And without further ado, here's to you.

---Poet & Best Friend Extraordinaire, Nancy M. Kerschen

 Walking up to the ceremony, a natural aisle of moon-like terrain in platform wedges is a difficult task indeed. Not for the faint of heart, especially in nearly 100 degree Texas heat! 

Walking up to the ceremony, a natural aisle of moon-like terrain in platform wedges is a difficult task indeed. Not for the faint of heart, especially in nearly 100 degree Texas heat! 

 Robbie's first look as I rounded the path. I'm so lucky to have married such a kind and compassionate human. Every day I ask myself,  How did I get so lucky!?  I'm still not sure.

Robbie's first look as I rounded the path. I'm so lucky to have married such a kind and compassionate human. Every day I ask myself, How did I get so lucky!? I'm still not sure.

 I believe this was the moment I was telling Robbie and Jon that I totally forgot to go the bathroom before I left and had to pull my dress up and go in the parking lot next to the car. 

I believe this was the moment I was telling Robbie and Jon that I totally forgot to go the bathroom before I left and had to pull my dress up and go in the parking lot next to the car. 

 I wasn't nervous but naturally I was feeling overly emotional. The entire experience was so surreal and wonderful, I had to (wanted to) hold Robbie's hand for support the entire time. 

I wasn't nervous but naturally I was feeling overly emotional. The entire experience was so surreal and wonderful, I had to (wanted to) hold Robbie's hand for support the entire time. 

 My bouquet from Pollen Floral Art was even more beautiful than I imaged it would to be. Brooke took the loose ideas I texted her and ran with them.

My bouquet from Pollen Floral Art was even more beautiful than I imaged it would to be. Brooke took the loose ideas I texted her and ran with them.

 Robbie and Jon both wore succulent boutonnieres made by our friend Brooke of Pollen Art. They were magnetic, erasing all woes of pinning!

Robbie and Jon both wore succulent boutonnieres made by our friend Brooke of Pollen Art. They were magnetic, erasing all woes of pinning!

 I wasn't expecting to cry but ended up balling as soon as we started. Luckily, our friend, the honorable Reverend Choi, started things out with a medley of songs that had me laughing and crying simultaneously. 

I wasn't expecting to cry but ended up balling as soon as we started. Luckily, our friend, the honorable Reverend Choi, started things out with a medley of songs that had me laughing and crying simultaneously. 

 Husband looking adorable. No other caption needed.

Husband looking adorable. No other caption needed.

 That was soooooo fast...I dunno, we did it!? 

That was soooooo fast...I dunno, we did it!? 

 Our first kiss as a married couple. Jon side stepping away from the cuteness. He just #canteven.

Our first kiss as a married couple. Jon side stepping away from the cuteness. He just #canteven.

 I think this moment went something like, "So are we married now?"

I think this moment went something like, "So are we married now?"

 "But seriously, are we???" Everything was super casual, each of us wrote a little something that we read. 

"But seriously, are we???" Everything was super casual, each of us wrote a little something that we read. 

 I'm looking forward to grossing people out until the end of time with our dopey grins and PDA's. 

I'm looking forward to grossing people out until the end of time with our dopey grins and PDA's. 

 First hug is the new first kiss.

First hug is the new first kiss.

 This photo. I wish we had the outtake where Britton, our photographer, was demonstrating the pose, pretending to be me.

This photo. I wish we had the outtake where Britton, our photographer, was demonstrating the pose, pretending to be me.

 The wedding party. We wanted a simple, laid back ceremony. Pretty successful, I would say!

The wedding party. We wanted a simple, laid back ceremony. Pretty successful, I would say!

 Mr. and Mrs. It's official now!!! I knew my dress was "the one" as soon as I saw it and I definitely exhibited major crazy customer vibes. Thank you to Thea's Vintage for putting up with all my messages and for finding the dress of my dreams.

Mr. and Mrs. It's official now!!! I knew my dress was "the one" as soon as I saw it and I definitely exhibited major crazy customer vibes. Thank you to Thea's Vintage for putting up with all my messages and for finding the dress of my dreams.

 Robbie asked me to marry him under the Tree of Life in New Orleans with the most beautiful toi et moi style engagement ring from the 1880s. No diamond, just intricate gold etching and two small turquoise stones. If ever there was a ring I was meant to have, it's this one. 

Robbie asked me to marry him under the Tree of Life in New Orleans with the most beautiful toi et moi style engagement ring from the 1880s. No diamond, just intricate gold etching and two small turquoise stones. If ever there was a ring I was meant to have, it's this one. 

 I wanted my hair in some kind of braided updo but my hair wasn't long enough for what I wanted. Ava did such a wonderful job creating a whimsical, romantic updo, even though my hair wasn't super long. 

I wanted my hair in some kind of braided updo but my hair wasn't long enough for what I wanted. Ava did such a wonderful job creating a whimsical, romantic updo, even though my hair wasn't super long. 

 From what Robbie is wearing, you wouldn't have guessed it was nearly 100 degrees out that evening!

From what Robbie is wearing, you wouldn't have guessed it was nearly 100 degrees out that evening!

 Perfect golden light. This is pretty much how I look at Robbie all the time, I think. He's always doing something make me smile or laugh.

Perfect golden light. This is pretty much how I look at Robbie all the time, I think. He's always doing something make me smile or laugh.

 Husband (That's him!)

Husband (That's him!)

 Wife (That's me!)

Wife (That's me!)

 Jon C. Choi. Man of much mystery. Man of many skills. Shown here showcasing his ability not only to act as our officiant but also taking on the duty of best man and maid of honor.

Jon C. Choi. Man of much mystery. Man of many skills. Shown here showcasing his ability not only to act as our officiant but also taking on the duty of best man and maid of honor.

 In your arms is where I always want to be! Okay, sorry, these captions are starting to get sappy. 

In your arms is where I always want to be! Okay, sorry, these captions are starting to get sappy. 

RobbieLeslie-135.jpg
RobbieLeslie-208.jpg
RobbieLeslie-188.jpg
RobbieLeslie-189.jpg
 One of those moments only the photographer is able to capture! 

One of those moments only the photographer is able to capture! 

 That's a wrap! We headed out to Justine's for dinner and called it a wedding. 

That's a wrap! We headed out to Justine's for dinner and called it a wedding. 

Photographer: Britton Orrange
Florist: Pollen Floral Art
Hair/MUA: Ava Riggins

How to Tie a 1920s Turban

These days I've been trying to make my hairstyles last longer. I suppose what that really means is that I haven't been washing my hair as much as I usually do. While I've tried to do this many times before, I can still only go about two days sans shampoo as day three usually equals a greasy matted look. Not the most flattering style in my opinion. Now if ever there was a head covering for that final day, it has to be the turban. I mean, there has to be a reason it's referred to as the cache-misère in French which translates to hide misery in English. That sounds about right! Personally, I'll be trying out this look especially with the onset of cooler weather. This 1920s turban DIY is definitely the best I've found!

 Dorothy Sebastian tying a turban in a 1920s turban DIY.
 Dorothy Sebastian tying a turban in the 1920s.

First, take a piece of soft, pliable silk 36 inches wide, a yard and an eighth long. On the length of the silk, measure the depth of your head from forehead to neck. Leaving this length untouched, cut the remaining entire length in half. Shirr the edge of the uncut piece to hold the turban across the top of your forehead. This done, now follow the directions as illustrated

The second step is to cross the two pieces of silk in the back, one over the other toward the front. Position three gives you the chance for a coquettish pose, and also time to drape the left hand piece across the from of your head.

 Dorothy Sebastian tying a turban in the 1920s.
 Dorothy Sebastian tying a turban in the 1920s.

Drape the right piece over the left and so finish the front. Now do a little work behind your own back. Pull the turban tight to prevent a slightly groggy look. tuck the ends neatly under the edge. Voila! Now you've solved your bad hair day with a one easy 1920s turban DIY!

 How to Tie a Turban from a 1928 issue of Photoplay. The best 1920s turban DIY around!

Images of Dorothy Sebastian found on Tumblr. Captions were originally published in the 1928 Photoplay seen above.

Looking for an authentic 1920's to match your fancy new turban? Shop our selection of 1920's dresses!

Find More 1920s Inspiration

 The 1920s Autochrome Photos of Gustave Gain

The 1920s Autochrome Photos of Gustave Gain

 21 Style Moments from 1920s Street Fashion

21 Style Moments from 1920s Street Fashion

 How to Clean Vintage Clothing

How to Clean Vintage Clothing