How to Clean Vintage and Thrifted Clothes


I am a sucker for a great vintage item. There have been many times I went to a vintage store, thrift store or consignment store and found an item that I just had to have. The problem? They have a distinctive smell to them. When I first began thrifting and vintage clothes shopping, I would just throw everything in the washing machine on the hottest setting. Some clothes would turn out fine, others I would ruin. Over the years, I have learned the best methods for cleaning and am here to give you a guide on how to clean vintage and thrifted clothes you find.

1. Try to find the label to gather fabric information

Made in the USA clothing Label Via Sammy Davis Vintage
Made in the USA clothing Label Via Sammy Davis Vintage

Things that are cotton can be washed on the delicate cycle in warm water. Polyester is a bit more tricky. I have washed some polyester things that turned out fine and other that were ruined. I err on the safe side by hand washing everything that is not 100% cotton. Quick Note: if you buy a cotton item that is lined with silk or polyester, you will need to hand wash it. I can not tell you them amount of times the linings have loosed or come detached from machine washing. If there is no label on your garment, it’s best to hand wash it.

2. Use a delicate laundry soap to hand wash

Mrs Myers Lavender Laundry SoapI prefer Mrs. Meyers laundry soaps. They are gentle on all fabrics and break up dirt and stains with ease. I also love that they come in a variety of fresh herb smells. It quickly and easily takes away the “smell” the clothes have inherited. Other popular delicate laundry soaps are Woolite and Caldrea. If the item is a high-end designer or couture l recommend taking it to be professionally dry cleaned. If you have found a designer vintage treasure, you don’t want to ruin it by machine or hand washing.

3. Wash each item individually in a clean laundry bucket or clean sink.

I have to specify individually because many times on my shopping excursions I buy more than one item. When washing together, the fabric dyes tend to bleed on each other thus creating an effect you may or many not like.

Turn the water to lukewarm. As the sink is filling with water, and 1/8 – 1/4 cup of laundry soap. Give the water a gentle swish or two to get the soap mixed in. Let the garment sit for 15-20 minutes. I check on my garment after the first 5 minutes to see if the fabric dye is bleeding excessively into the water. If so, remove the garment immediately, let dry, and take it to a professional cleaner. After your garment has soaked, gently massage the garment in the soapy water. Let the water drain and squeeze the excess water out of the garment, being careful not to tear or rip it.

4. Air Dry

Gullwing Drying RackIf you don’t have a drying rack, try this one that can be purchased online from Target. Lay sweaters flat to dry. You can hang or fold all other types of garment depending on your preference.

5. Iron out the wrinkles

Once your garment is dry, it will more than likely have wrinkles from the hand washing process. If there was no label in the garment, use the lowest setting possible, then test the garment with the heat in a small area. You will know that you have found the perfect temperature setting when the iron removes the wrinkles without burning the fabric.

Other Items

Vintage Walter Steiger Shoes

Shoes and purses can be tricky to clean. For shoes, I soak a clean rag into a 1:4 bleach to hot water mixture, then use that rag to wipe out the inside of the shoes. Once dry, I spray the interior with a heaping dose of Lysol. This same method can also be used to clean the inside of a handbag. For the exterior of shoes, I use leather shoe cleaner and a polishing cloth to restore the shoes to their original beauty. For fabric handbags, I stain treat individual spots, if there are any, and then spray the exterior with Lysol. Jewelry items can be wiped down with Lysol as well, and then cleaned with a jewelry cleaner you can find at any local mass merchandise or drug store. For earrings, I go the extra step of using a small cloth or napkin to clean the posts and hooks with bleach, then rinsing with warm water. Try you best not to get bleach on the actual earring, the goal is to kill gems on the part that goes in your ear.

Are you a vintage or thrift shopper? If so, what cleaning methods have you found to be helpful! I would love to hear your thoughts!

Join MyStyleDaily’s email list!

Get Fashion and Beauty Inspiration to your Inbox Weekly!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s