A Beginner’s Guide: Caring for Vintage Clothing

by Kacey Bradley in Comment — Updated November 16, 2023

With the popularity of fast fashion, unique clothing from the past stands out. Vintage pieces that relatives hand down can be special heirlooms, and thrift store items can be stylish additions to your wardrobe. Either way, these wearable vintage pieces need extra attention, which requires proper care, cleaning and storage. Let’s look at how to maintain your vintage clothing.

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1. Practice Preventative Care

Handling your vintage clothing and preserving it takes effort. Before major damages call for serious repair, you can protect your fashionable items. The following tips can prevent extra wear and deterioration:

  • Keep your classic pieces away from sunlight, because the rays damage the clothing fibers.
  • Wash your hands well before touching or wearing the garment, because you could transfer oils and stain the piece.
  • If stains appear and you want to do a spot treatment, don’t immediately apply stain remover to the garment. Test the product on a different, less valuable item first, or use it on the seam.

2. Find out If It’s Washable

Vintage clothing items are delicate and washing them incorrectly can do irreversible damage. Not all fabrics can be washed in the traditional sense, so determine what kind your vintage item is. Before washing the entire garment, you can spot clean it to get rid of minor stains. The following fabrics can usually be machine washed:

  • Cotton
  • Polyester
  • Nylon
  • Synthetics
  • Spandex

Rayon, satin and silk should be hand washed, and linen requires specific steps if you’re washing it at home. Leather, velvet, plastics, wool, vinyl and fur each have unique requirements, so let a professional dry cleaner treat them.

3. Use Gentle Detergent

The older clothing becomes, the harsher chemicals and substances can take their toll. While liquid detergent can keep powder from affecting the fabric, you should use a light one. You can also apply a limited amount of it because each garment should be washed individually.

If you’re mixing your own solution, you can use de-ionized or distilled water. Orvis detergent, which is often used as horse soap, is scent free and contains fewer substances that could cause deterioration. It’s used on vintage clothing because it’s mild but effective.

4. Hang It to Dry


Vintage clothing should be hung right after you’ve worn it so that it can air out and continue to be odor-free. To protect the outer part of the clothing, turn it inside out.

Refrain from hanging your items on metal hangers, and instead use wooden ones to distance the material from rust and discoloration. If you’re worried about garments being stretched out, you can pad a hanger with cushioning to preserve their shape.

5. Cleaning Special Items

Certain older fabrics like leather and linen require different cleaning methods than typical garments. Consider the following steps when you clean these vintage goods:

  • Maintain leather: Whether you need to keep for your vintage leather jacket spotless or restore your boots, you can implement annual maintenance. Condition the leather to protect it from cracking as you wear it from day to day. Before using a leather cleaner, use a dry brush to remove dust and stray particles. Put the leather cleaner on a sponge, then apply it all over the garment. For the final step, let the leather air dry on a hanger.
  • Pre-soak linens: Linens can become dry and brittle, but if you soak them before a light wash, they can regain a little strength and hydration. Put them in lukewarm water without additives the night before you plan to wash them. A little oxygen bleach can brighten white linen that’s showing signs of age. If you wash linen in a machine, it needs to be steamed or pressed right after.

6. Safely Store the Clothing


Storage for vintage clothing should keep harmful substances clear of the pieces and avoid extra stress from hanging or stretching. To preserve your items, keep them flat so that they can stay in the best shape possible. Try to store items separately too so that the delicate ones aren’t crushed underneath the weight of others.

Frequently, older garments are stored in wooden boxes, but wood and cardboard contain acid that can stain your clothing. A preventative measure you can take to keep stains away is to layer the area with acid-free paper. Then, place the items in a dry and cool area.

Keep Your Vintage Items Pristine

To keep wearing your rare clothing items, you need to practice preventative care, correct washing and secure storage. Help your vintage pieces stay in excellent condition by shielding them from harsh elements. You’ll find that you can wear and appreciate your clothing for years with a few mindful precautions.

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