How to care for delicate handmade clothing

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Two things inspired this post:

  1. Some of my handmade dresses were not making it out of the washer/dryer as safely as I would have hoped.
  2. I saw some beautiful images of hand washed vintage garments on DearGolden’s instagram feed.

I decided I needed to do a bit of research on how to properly care for my precious handmades, and extend their lifespan. I asked Lauren of Dear Golden for a few tips.

I found that knowing how to properly prewash your fabric will indicate how you should wash and dry your final garment. I now hand wash nearly all of my handmades with the following process:

Wash

Give it a warm bath with appropriate strength detergent.

Lauren says, “I don’t have a set method or process for cleaning vintage. It’s garment by garment based on the fabric, age, condition and type of stain/discoloration.”

The being said, the products she uses are (from most gentle to most heavy duty):

  • Water only.
  • Palmolive for anything that seems organic.
  • Fantastik on synthetic chiffon or acetate.
  • Regular Tide.
  • Nellie’s oxygen brightener.
  • Borax, OxiClean & bleach very very sparingly and never on silk or lace.

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“Different garments have different needs – I’ll have one tub with more harsh stuff in it with perhaps a cotton dress that can deal with that, right on down to a tub that just has water in it.”

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Rinse & Soak

Drain out soapy water, rinse off the garment, then let it soak in clean water.

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Towel Dry

Gently squeeze water out so the garment is not sopping wet, then lay it out on a towel.

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Hang Dry

Now that your garment isn’t sopping wet, you can hang it on a clothesline to finish drying.

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Tip: Don’t have enough yard for a clothesline? They make really nifty ones you can mount above your bathtub! I have one of these at home and use is weekly to hang-dry all of my intimates.

Or just lay your garments out in the grass to sun-dry like Lauren did below. “The sun does wonders. Sometimes just soaking say a cold-rayon dress in water, quickly so it doesn’t bleed as they sometimes do, then letting it dry laying flat in the sun will remedy stains.”

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Do you have any machine wash/dry disaster stories? How do you cheer yourself up when mistakes happen?

Rachel Rasmussen   —  

Rachel is a nerdy Oregon native with a philosophy degree and classical dance background. She fancies her personal style to be quirky sophistication, focusing on the importance of fit while adding special touches of handmade embellishments. She is also a connoisseur of whiskey and nap-taker extraordinaire.

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Comments 41

Ashley

I’d also look into Eucalan and Soak as detergent for delicates. They’re no rinse detergents primarily meant for knits & wool, but they work for other delicates as well.

Nicole biketopus.blogspot.ca

I love Eucalan! I use it for all my bras and delicate clothes.

sew little time somanypatternssewlittletime.blogspot.com

would there be any chance of telling us what the brand names listed above actually are? we can’t buy Tide in the UK (but i assume it is just normal washing powder) but i don’t know most of the others. so all your non-US readers can benefit from Lauren’s great tips!

Rachel raywuwei.me

Palmolive is dish soap, Fantastik is an all-purpose surface cleaner, Tide is a laundry detergent, Nellie’s Oxygen Brightener , Borax , OxiClean ,

Laurel

For wool, cashmere and other natural fibers, shampoo can work very well. A very small amount, and a lot of gentle rinsing (no wringing) will take out most stains and body oil. And following with hair conditioner (really!) is often a great way to restore softness.

Samantha handmadebymrsh.blogspot.com

We can’t get borax in the UK except in very small quantities for chemistry use only. Apparently it’s bad for our health so it’s not available here.

francesca

Yup! I can’t stand a lot of the EU’s over regulation, but this is a good one – same as the one for cosmetics , and – hooray – the one banning tests on animals!

You might try Ecover delicate wash. I love Ecover products – and their delicate wash is brilliant – I use it for most of my clothes, from pretty lingerie to silk to cashmere, either by hand, or on a handwash programme. I only chuck jeans in on anything longer than that.

Brenna

I’m a museum textile conservator and I’d love to share a few tips as well!

1) In general, textiles are very weak when wet so handle carefully while hand washing. Try not to wring or distort the fabric.
2) Make sure metal threads, beading, and decoration dry fully after you wash them. In best practice a conservator would probable clean a metal-decorated object with organic solvents but this is hazardous without proper facilities.
3) Probably my biggest tip would be to the test an inconspicuous area first with a sample of the solution you want to use to clean it. Water is a really powerful little molecule and can extract some dyes very easily even without a detergent! It’s definitely worth taking the time to protect your garment from bleeding dyes.

If you’re unsure you can see if there’s a textile conservator in your area who might be able to give you some advice or help you out.
US: http://www.conservation-us.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.viewPage&pageId=495
Canada: http://capc-acrp.ca/what_is_capc.asp

Rachel raywuwei.me

Thanks, Brenna!

Heidilea heidilea.livejournal.com

I had an honest-to-goodness Aran sweater my mother brought back from Ireland. It was the loveliest heather blue. I refrained from washing it for a couple of years, opting to wear camisoles and t-shirts under it. One day, I mentioned to my mother I was going to hand wash it (something I did will ALL my delicate blouses and dresses, including a shoddy store-bought Halloween costume) and she volunteered to wash it for me in her “wool sock load.” I thought she knew what she was doing. When I opened the washer, little bits of blue wool clung to every sock and the sides of the washer. The sweater, once cabled and lovely, was now a shirt-shaped unrecognizable mass of felt.

I cried for days.

Now, I am very careful with our clothing. Dresses, pants, and nice shirts get washed after a few wearings and I hand wash things as needed. Wools get spot-cleaned and dry cleaned when needed. Stockings, tights, and lace panties go in a garment back and bras are hooked before they go in the wash. Most is washed with a very small amount of Woolite Dark and a capful of vinegar in cold water on the casual or gentle cycle. Then, it’s all hung up on the ancient retractable clothesline in the basement, or the handy-dandy drying rack from IKEA: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/40244831/ . Seriously, a week’s worth of laundry for two people can dry on that thing.

Heidilea heidilea.livejournal.com

PS–if you find that you have spilled coffee or tea on a washable, or that sunscreen has turned your whites orange, I crush a couple of asprins and mix it with baking soda and lastly vinegar, and apply it to the area with a toothbrush, scrubbing it in gently. Let it sit for a while before washing. If it is white, lay it in the sun before washing, and after, as needed (that’s for my historical linens, mostly).

For blood, do the same mixture, but first rinse the area in cold water and wash lightly with dial soap.

francesca

cool tip for the stains, but I’d lay off the Woolite. That stuff is as bad as Perlana (for Europeans) – it’s supposed to be great for wool but I seriously don’t know how it got the wool stamp! It peels my hands when I use it to wash – anything that does that is so not good for your clothes, or your skin. That’s why I like bio stuff.

Rachel raywuwei.me

Ack, don’t use Woolite on anything with elastic! It will break down your intimates and cause them to lose their shape.

Heidilea heidilea.livejournal.com

Dammit!

My over-obessive husband was the one who researched it and said it was fine…I guess he wasn’t thinking about my unmentionables. Granted, I only put in a tablespoon per load at the most.

Velvet Scotet

For washing delicates I like to use organic shampoo with mild detergents. I found those to be the gentlest.

Lisa stillachispita.blogspot.com

Wow, how timely…considering that in my college student stupidity I just shrunk my lovely new handmade sweater (and unevenly at that). I’d like to say I comforted myself with looking at new yarn for a new sweater (which I actually need now), but really, it was a conversation with my mother and a few tears that really helped. And then the looking for new yarn.
I think my biggest suggestion is go at things slowly. Think through the laundry decisions as carefully as you would think through how to set in the sleeve or do up the hem. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really provide a one size fits all wonder solvent to clean everything, but it keeps your clothes from turning into lumps of felt!

Daisy

Any solutions for hand washables or vintage with delicate embellishment, like metallic threads?

Brenna

Specifically for metallic embellishment I would go to a reputable dry cleaner’s. If you can, speak to someone there about how they handle delicate/vintage/antique garments and make sure that they are able to satisfy your concerns. In North America they use a mixture of detergent and a solvent such as perchloroethelyne/tetrachloroethelyene (sometimes called “perc” in the industry). The risk to washing metal comes when it comes into contact with water since water can initiate and accelerate corrosion. This type of reaction won’t happen with the solvent. It’s important to remember that dry cleaners use a machine that cycles much like your home washing machine so if the embellishment is loose or dangles, it’s a good idea to sandwich the embellishments between two layers of nylon basted together and/or through your garment. This will help protect your embellishment from the agitation. I hope this helps!

MTangel

For me, most of the destruction happens before I even get to the point of washing it. I snag embroidery on a chair, or the cat jumps on me, resulting in little holes all over it. Once a friend dropped her fork on my silk skirt. I never did manage to get the salad dressing stain out.

I’ve managed to pick up a few stain tricks. Blood, of course, you have to rinse asap in cold water. If you can get it rinsed before it dries at all, you can get almost every bit out of even white stuff. Also, if it’s your own blood, then your saliva will help dissolve it.

Tomato sauce I think is cold water too. Coolest trick I learned: rinse it from the back. That will flush the sauce out the way it came, instead of forcing the stain down through the fibers.

Blueberry – use boiling water. My brother in law accidentally dropped his pie face down on new beige carpet. I thought my rental deposit was gone for sure, but mom poured boiling water over it and it was totally gone.

francesca

for anything fatty, put talcum on it and leave it for at least a couple hours – in a pinch, like in a restaurant, use salt or better flour. It absorbs the fat and works brilliantly on oil, dressing etc. If you go to a restaurant in Italy where they use a lot of oil, it’s rare they’ll hand you a dry clean spray – mroe likely a container of talcum. I swear by it.

RavenNemain

Okay, it sounds gross, but… apparently saliva works amazingly well at dissolving blood, so long as they come from the same person. Perfect for when you stab yourself hand-sewing or embroidering, as well.

Anna thegoodsideup.com

I think I hand wash about half of my clothes now! Maybe that’s because I have a tendency to go for very delicate fabrics… But I only use a special detergent when I’m washing wool and I have to go through the whole ‘dry it flat’ process (oh, I have shrunk more than one sweater in my life!). As for silks, there is no way in the world that I’d wash those at home! They are so delicate that I’m happy to pay my dry cleaner if it means that they will stay beautiful for longer. In general, if in doubt, I go to the dry cleaner : )

Emileigh flashbacksummer.blogspot.com

This is great stuff! I’m saving it, and I’ll definitely take better care of my clothing.

ElleC

In Canada we have an enzyme laundry additive called Amaze, it will take a protein stain ( blood, gravy, grass stains, feces) out of anything. You can’t use it on silk or wool, but on cellulose fibers, it is fantastic stuff. For general food stains on clothes, I use equal parts Dawn dish detergent and hydrogen peroxide. Mix it up, apply to stain, let sit for a few minutes and toss in the washer as usual. Again, I wouldn’t use this on silk or wool. Works like a hot damn.

Juliette

I have an aunt who worked in drycleaning as a young woman. She said the best way to wash a wedding dress was to wash it in a warm bath with dishsoap (yes dishsoap – although she was talking about dishsoap that was around in the 60’s-70’s) and then dry it outside in the sun just as Dear Golden has suggested. I always thought it was crazy and as a result my wedding dress has sat in a bag (never washed ) for 15 years. I took a peek at it the other day and it looks perfect. But one day I will try this experiment, but with a Golden Retriever around I’m not sure drying it on the lawn will work for me…

Lucy

I heard a tip a while back to wash silk and other protein-based fibres with shampoo. I guess it makes sense – your hair is also a protein fibre.

Saliva works amazingly for getting rid of blood! I know this because I pricked myself making my own wedding dress – and it got it out perfectly. Apparently your own saliva works best on your own blood. (I also got sewing machine oil on the dress, but that’s another story. It came out with a bit of dishwashing detergent.)

gabriel ratchet

Red gatorade on a brand new fencing jacket and knickers, :p ,which are made of heavy duty synthetic fabric. Did a little internet research, and soaked it in Oxiclean, then poured a copious amount of boiling water through it, then ran it through a hot washing machine with Arm&Hammer powder detergent. Success!

barbara

If I knit something myself I wash the swatch as I intend to wash the finished garment, that way I can see how the fabric reacts to the detergent and the washing machine. Swatches are a pain in the rear, but they have their uses ;)
I have to say, either I’m pretty lucky with washing machines, or front loaders (most common in Europe) don’t cause as much fuss as top loaders? I’ve never had a machine ruin any of my clothes unless I made a mistake on my part. any experiences?

Alice

Many years ago, my roommate at the time threw all my lovely 100% wool sweaters into the dryer after I’d carefully washed them on the delicate cycle in cold water in the washing machine. They all turned into sweaters for my 2 year old daughter. All I could do was cry and then forgive her.

daiyami

I take the opposite approach for my handmades (don’t have any vintage), which is to brutalize my fabric in pre-wash. Once it’s survived washing hot and drying high once, I generally assume I can get away with wash cold delicate and hang dry without a problem. So far, so good, even for silk dupioni.

Bethany Soule

To get the water out of handwash items without wringing and distorting the fabric you can spread out a towel and lay your item out on top in a single layer. Then fold or roll the towel up around the sweater and then squeeze out the water by pressing firmly on the towel log — no twisting! The towel absorbs a whopping lot of water out of your precious garment, and the towel’s no problem to dry!

Especially a good idea before line-drying, because the weight of all that extra water in the fabric can distort the garment if you just hang it up dripping wet.

Laurel

A new (or thoroughly cleaned used) window screen propped on garden chairs or saw horses outside (or laid across the tub indoors) is a perfect drying rack for delicate items requiring air drying. The garment lies flat, air gets to both sides and drying time is reduced.

Izy

I like to use the front load delicate cycle cold water. The tumble is gentil. Likewise will place the item in the dryer delicate cycle. It doesn’t dry the material just leaves it damp dry. Some of my textiles have been scorched by the heat in the sun. Mostly now I will turn my garments inside out when they are on the line. I do use baby shampoo.

Jackie Feltham

As we know red and sometimes blue dyes are notorious for bleeding, even after a number of washes. To test throw in a piece of white cotton like a facecloth or old sock. If there is a hint of colour on the cotton, your fabric is bleeding and must be washed by itself.

In my experience, silks bleed forever, so they will likely have to be washed alone.

For those who have an advanced model front loading machine, the hand wash (not delicate) cycle is a true hand wash, as there is very little agitation. I use mine for fine lingerie, handknit alpaca socks and sweaters. If you knit the items yourself, you can knit a test square (at least twelve inches) and measure before and after washing.

I know hand washing has its pluses, but I am never confident that the item is truly clean and properly rinsed. There are some tasks that a machine can do better.

HannDo hanndocraft.wordpress.com

I love dresses, but with my figure it’s hard to find a dress that complements me.
For my sisters wedding I had my eye an a little coral red dress, but kept delaying the purchase. When I finally bought it, it was on sale a week later, and sold out few days after that. But it was just perfect for me! I was totally in love and looking forward to the day I could finally wear it! Taking it out the closet every now and then to admire it and dreading the fact that I couldn’t wear it yet.

At the day of the wedding I got a stain in my dress. I was devestated! As soon as we came home the first thing I did was put it in some water and detergent to soak overnight. The next morning I put it in the washing machine and taking it out the stain was gone! I was so happy! But hanging it out to dry I noticed the lining was about half an inch longer than the dress. How did that happen? I’m not that tall, I can miss half an inch in lenght and I kan shorten the lining. I was hoping it was just the length that had shrunk. But when it was dry and I tried it on I noticed it had also shrunk around the waist. It’s too thight.

And now the dress is back in the closet, hanging there and waiting for a miracle. I’ve been looking around for a new dress, but I just can’t find anything that even remotely matches this dress.

Patricia

Pieces of unknown fragility can be basted between two layers of plastic window screening to avoid dragging stress before immersing in water and tapping with fingers.

Cotton and linen domestic “linens’ and lace can be boiled with a little gentle soap and baking soda to clean and to lighten brown spots. (Should be available in UK.) Remember those handsome copper washboilers in antique shops? Have you seen the word Boil-fast on a spool of thread? At 63 I may have seen this years ago but you will see it on vintage spools eventually. This is how these were originally laundered, so they were prepared or manufactured to remain stable through boiling. The action gently circulates water through fibers as the water supports them. Try this before you consider bleach which causes its own stress. I’ve revived many a lace collar and tablecloth by boiling. My painful mistake? I failed to use enough water and took the process for granted in another room, leaving scorch marks of my own. Be warned!
Many brown stains were caused by something as simple and colorless as the acid in spilt sugar and water at the table, so a basic or alkaline like baking soda neutralizes, stops further deterioration, and usually lightens sufficiently if it doesn’t remove the stain. Eventually those little round brown acid droplet stains will eat themselves right out of the fabric!

Patricia

Forgive me if I failed to emphasize that I can only recommend boiling for light colored, preferable white or ivory cotton or linen items, which can include clothing.

Christianne

I wanted to wear my mom’s wedding dress many years ago, but it had several stains on it [which in retrospect, weren’t that noticeable] , so I decided the best way to wash it was in the bathtub with just cold water. Start small, I thought. Well, even that soak was enough to shrink the dress to the point of it not fitting me anymore…so sad ! Lesson learned, though. Now when I find something vintage that has a stain, I just work directly on the stain with a very gentle touch, or even leave it as is if the stain is not very big.

Lisa

It says very specifically in the Oxiclean container “Do not mix with bleach.”. If you feel like you need both, use one, rinse VERY THOUGHROUGHLY, then use the other. It is also important to note that you shouldn’t use Oxiclean in wool or silk either. Don’t get me wrong… I usually opt for Oxiclean first but it is important to know what you are using it on/with.

Brandi

What do you do after you wash and dry? Do you iron your vintage clothing?

Donna

I think it’s interesting that the photos of dresses in the tub almost look like they are in bell jars!

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