So you've been drinking my Kool Aid, going to estate sales for a while now. You've got all these lovely vintage clothes. Now you need to know how to care for them. Are you ready for my number one most important tip on cleaning vintage clothes (and all clothes, for that matter)?
Don't do it.
Yep. That's it. Whenever possible, don't clean your clothes. Do you know why vintage and antique clothes are still here for us to enjoy today? Because everyone wore a nice layer of undergarments to keep their clothes off their body. If you want to keep your vintage investment pieces nice, put a layer between them and your skin.
If your clothes are starting to look and maybe smell a little less than fresh but aren't obviously soiled, just air them out instead of trying to wash them. In the warmer months, I just hang mine near an open window with the blinds drawn. In the cooler months, I hang them in the bathroom to steam a bit when I'm taking a shower. Don't hang them outside unless you have a porch or other overhang to keep them out of direct sunlight. I have had phenomenal success doing this to even the most reeking moth ball scented clothes on the planet. That's not hyperbole.
If they are sufficiently old or delicate, don't ever bring them to a dry cleaner. For one thing, the dry cleaning process is harsh. For another, if you have a tiny pinprick of a moth hole, it will turn into a giant moth gouge. I trust as few of my clothes to other people as possible.
What about stains?
Spot treat them first. Start with the absolute mildest solution first (like a water dampened microfiber cloth) and work your way up to harsher cleansers. Avoid putting cleanser directly on the fabric.
If the stain is really significant then consider hand washing with a diluted detergent.
What about cottons and other machine washable fabrics?
You can feel free to machine wash cotton and synthetic basics. If there are screen prints or other details on the outside of the garment, turn it inside out. My favorite detergent is Tide Pods.* They're the perfect solution for an apartment dweller like me because I can bring one Pod with me to the laundry room in the basement instead of schlepping a big bottle of liquid detergent. More importantly for this post, the Tide Pods have the perfect amount of detergent and the stain fighting and color boosting are all right in there in nice, non-abrasive quantities. Because there is some time release involved, it also keeps the detergent off your clothes until it mixes with water. Love that.
I toss a Pod into the bottom of the washer and gently place clothes on top. Here's what Tide Pods look like dissolving in about two cups of gently swirled cold water over the course of a minute:
You can also use the Pods for hand washing when you absolutely must wash your delicate vintage garments. Dissolve the pod in a cup of water. Immerse the garment in water (your tub is nice for this) and then add the pod liquid. Spot clean any stains by rubbing the submersed garment against a microfiber cloth.
*Tide Pods were provided free for my experimentation and review in this post. I was already an avid (read: obsessed) user before I received them and I will remain an avid user now. The opinions expressed are my own.
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