How To Clean Vintage Clothing

Posted on

Save money and time by skipping the dry cleaner and clean your vintage clothing at home! Silk, wool, rayon, faux fur and other blends can all be washed safely and effectively with these simple and easy steps. High quality vintage clothing will last a lifetime if well cared for, read on to learn how to keep your wardrobe fresh and beautiful!

Firstly, ALWAYS HAND WASH IN COLD WATER. I have washed wool, faux fur, rayon, cotton, silk, cashmere, nylon, acetate and more in cold water with a gentle cleanser with great outcomes.

Fill a bucket (or partially fill a bathtub for thicker, larger items like coats and sweaters) with cold water and a small amount of laundry detergent, swish around the garment, empty water, rinse in more cold water. Keep in mind this can take several rinses for all soap and/or color run to be obsolete.

What I like to do next is set the washing machine to its spin cycle, place the item in the dry washing machine and let it spin out the excess water. Take it out, and hang up to dry in a room temp location.

Faux furs should be shaken out to fluff, wools should be brushed with a coarse bristle brush in the direction of the fibers nap, and any item with concentrated colors or prints should be watched closely for color run. Sometimes laying flat first and then hanging works best for these kinds of printed garments. You may want to hand blot excess color with a dry towel when laid flat as well. 

HEAT IS NOT YOUR FRIEND!  In addition to the energy hot water and a standard clothes drier uses up, heat from either source can destroy, distort and often completely ruin something beautiful. Room temperature controlled indoor environments dry safely and quite quickly as well. If you dry clothes outdoors, keep out of direct sunlight. Outdoor drying is faster but may result in a crispier final product. For cotton, rayons, and even silks, toss the crispy item in the clothes drier for 5 minutes to fluff up and soften. NEVER use a drier for wool or any kind of fur. 

BE CAREFUL WITH IRONING. The heat can melt fibers, cause scorching of the fabric (especially around seams and edges) and these shiny marks will never go away. Always iron the item inside out, on the lowest heat that is still effective, and I like to use a thin piece of cotton in between the metal of the iron and the fabric to further protect from scorching.



Hand or gentle machine wash in COLD water with light detergent. The less agitation the better. Let the spin cycle remove excess water, hang to dry, reshape if needed, and brush the fibers in the direction of the nap. Iron with caution as scorching can easily happen with wool and damage of the small fibers can result.



Hand wash in cold water and then place in the washing maching to spin out excess water, Hang up to dry and keep an eye on the fibers and knit. If the item is heavy, the weight can distort the shape when hung and still wet so laying flat first might be needed. Brush out the fibers if long, and shape the knit if needed. 



Always hand wash in cold water with gentle cleansers and be extra delicate with these fabrics. Avoid wringing out the water and remove rings and other jewelry to avoid snagging the fabric while washing. Gently squeeze out the water when done washing, lay flat and blot the water out with a towel. Then hang to air dry in a room temperature location. Iron on low to medium heat, inside out, with a protective layer. 



Wipe down with a damp cloth and gentle soap, go over the surface again with a clean dry cloth. For very wrinkled plastic based items, a very careful and watched short session in the drier softens them all up. I put coats in on medium or high heat and check every minute to see the progress. Leave in for too long and you will melt the item so check every minute no matter what! It usually takes only a few to see wrinkles smooth out.



Cotton is usually okay to wash and dry in your machine but the item may shrink and color may run. Reshape as necessary and tossing in the drier when most of the water has air dried is a good way to fluff it up without distorting the shape. Polyester rarely has any issues in the machine wash method, but I personally prefer to wash by hand and air dry.


Vintage fabrics, seams, buttons, other details may have areas of weakness, so hand washing is always a gentler method and makes it easy to keep an eye on progress. It also gives you a more intimate look at the garment itself and how it behaves.


Any questions, tips or tricks you'd like to share please message me at or visit or 


Thank you for reading and happy cleaning!