Caring for Your Vintage Pieces


Vintage clothing gets a bad rap as being super delicate and requiring only the most experienced of individuals to launder them. This just isn’t the case. Sure, you don’t want to throw your great, great, great, great, great aunts mourning gown into the washing machine (I’m getting heartburn just thinking about it) but for the majority of vintage clothing there are simple home based solutions that are more than effective in keeping your garments clean and wearable. Now it can take some practice to know how to wash specific items but here are some basics that can help you out.

  1. Always check for a care tag. Garment care tags have been regulated since 1972 and even before then, some garments were already using care tags. If your garment has any tags at all, always check for a care tag and see what the manufacturer recommended. 
  2. Use delicate detergents. For the most part, you want something unscented with very light suds. The more suds, the more an item has to be rinsed and you want to keep any extra steps to a minimum.
  3. Things made from double knit polyester and other durable materials can almost always be machine washed. If you are going to machine wash an item, use laundry bags as an extra step of protection. These bags protect your vintage items from getting snagged, twisted, and otherwise over-manipulated.
  4. Even when machine washing, air drying can be a good option to prolong the life of a garment. 
  5. Get to know your fabrics. The more you know, the more specific care you can give to your vintage items.
  6. If you just aren’t sure, handwashing in cool water is always a good option. For silks and velvets start by testing the underside of the hem with a bit of water. If it dries and still looks good, hand wash! If the little bit of water changes the look or texture of the fabric you may want to get more help before throwing the item in for a soak.
  7. When you aren’t sure of the colorfastness of an item, Shout Color Catchers can be a life saver these can be used both in the washing machine and when handwashing an item.

Remember even if an item is made for easy wash and wear, the goal is longevity so while you don’t have to treat it like it’s made from paper you do want to be easy on vintage clothing. And guess what! You don’t have to wash every piece of clothing after every wear! When and how often to launder an item can depend on many factors. For example, a dyed cotton is most likely going to develop significant fading if not washed after being in contact with a lot of sweat. So if it’s the middle of summer in Florida, you are going to wash a piece more often than you need to wash that same item in Oregon in the fall. Steaming or freezing are great sanitation methods for heavy outerwear and items that otherwise cannot be washed frequently. Did you know that steaming kills 99.9% of germs and bacteria? I highly recommend every vintage collector invest in a good steamer.

A note on dry cleaning. Dry cleaning is a heavy chemical process that involves chemicals that are now being banned by many states. Moreover, I have never had an item come back from the dry cleaners completely stain free so personally I feel like dry cleaning is over rated. Once you know a little bit about fabrics and how to treat them you will start to see that some dry clean only items can actually be washed at home. However, some items just cannot – think items that are heavily structured, items with a lot beading, and items with a significant amount of metal on them. Sometimes these pieces do require a specialized cleaning (such as leather pieces) or a standard dry cleaning. If you absolutely have to get an item dry cleaned, I highly recommend looking for an eco-cleaner in your area. These cleaners use a different process than your standard dry cleaners, and one that is better for the environment. Be aware that you may need to shop around for a dry cleaner, in my experience many are hesitant to touch vintage garments without very specific instructions. 

As always, if you have any questions you can reach out to me, or to whoever you are purchasing your garments from to ask for their laundering recommendations.

Treating stains:

Treating stains can be a little bit trickier than just a basic laundering but if you are an avid vintage collector, this is a great skill to develop! There are so many resources out there, I’m not going to spend a lot of time delving into specific treatments here but I will give a couple of tried and true first steps. 

  1. Dawn dish soap, the old school blue kind with a duck on the label. For almost any stain on almost any fabric, Dawn dish soap is a great first step to remove grease, dirt, and grime. Mix with the tiniest little bit of water to thin it out, apply over the stain and let it sit about 5 minutes before rinsing. 
  2. Dawn dish soap and baking soda to make a paste. If the stain is more persistent, you can make a paste out of dawn dish soap and baking soda. I don’t use any kind of an exact recipe, just mix until thick then apply a blob over the stain and let sit until dry. Once dry, rinse well.
  3. For even more of a punch, Dawn dish soap can be mixed with both baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Again, I don’t use a formula or recipe; just mix until a paste forms. Again apply and let dry. Rinse and repeat if necessary. *Only use this method if the garment is white or if you are absolutely sure of the color fastness of the item because the hydrogen peroxide can potentially bleach the fabric. If you are unsure, you can test a small part of the underside of the hem first. 

This is just a snippet of the methods used for treating stains on vintage garments. In reality, my stain treatment cabinet runeth over. I’m hesitant to recommend specific products and treatment methods only because each stain on each different fabric can require such different treatment. And listen, I am not an expert; even when I think I know what I’m doing, I sometimes mess up and make a small issue even bigger. That’s just a risk we all take with vintage clothing. That being said, don’t hesitate to reach out for advice. If I can’t help you, I may be able to point you to some resources that can.

When repairs are needed:

So many garments end up in landfills over tiny issues with easy to do repairs. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to lose any more vintage to this problem, so let’s be a part of the solution! Rips, tears, missing buttons, loose threads, undone hems, all of these things can easily be repaired at home by watching a couple of videos or by picking up a book on basic sewing techniques. If you lack the confidence to make repairs, even with guidance, it’s ok! Simply find a seamstress. 

When it comes to making small repairs, a seamstress is a lot more affordable than most people think. If I need to use someone’s services for a repair, it generally costs less than $10 for most every small problem. Bigger issues may cost more but when you consider the grand scheme – having to buy a new garment vs. repairing the one you already own – repairing a garment is so worth it! If you are lucky enough to live somewhere with a fashion school, look out for students advertising their services. You may be able to score a really great deal while helping a student earn money and possibly even a grade!

When an item no longer fits:

Much like a seamstress, a tailor is a worthwhile investment in prolonging the life of a vintage garment. Having an item tailored can save you money in the long run (vs. buying a new garment) and it’s also an act of giving yourself some love and movie star treatment. You think anyone in Hollywood walks around in items straight off the rack? No! EVERYTHING is tailored to fit a body. While I don’t typically look to Hollywood for advice, I do think this is one thing they’ve gotten right. Shop around for a tailor you are comfortable with and one that can make temporary adjustments in case the garment needs to be adjusted again in the future. If you build a good relationship with a tailor you can really count on prolonging the life of your clothes.

Last resort:

If you have an item that you just don’t wear anymore, it has rips, it has stains and you are ready to throw it in the bin…WAIT! Often times, vintage dealers are happy to take on project pieces if you offer them for free or even for a low price. Why throw something away that could have value to someone else? There are many Facebook groups specific to vintage clothing where items such as this can be listed. You can also try Buy Nothing groups. Or, why not try taking it to your local vintage shop to see if they would take the item? Vintage clothing is a limited resource. As vintage clothing owners I feel it is our duty to keep each garment in circulation for as long as possible so future generations will also get to enjoy a plethora of vintage clothing. The goal here at Cicada Moon Vintage is to leave the throw away economy far behind and always remain entrenched in the circular economy. I hope you will join me.