When you purchase vintage clothing, you are buying a piece of history. Vintage clothing has had a prior life and, like most of us, is neither perfect nor pristine. This history is what gives it character! Knowing how to care for your vintage wardrobe will ensure that each piece lasts so that you can get the most wear and enjoyment from it. Read below to see how to wash and care for different types of vintage garments.

    Machine Washing Vintage Clothes

    Only wash vintage clothes that have machine washing instructions. If in doubt, do not put into a washing machine. Make sure to zip all zippers and fasten buttons before washing so that your clothes do not snag on each other. Do as your mother taught you and separate your whites and darks – make sure there are no red socks near your whites.

    What you can machine wash:


    Linen– note that linen needs steaming or pressing if machine washed. It is best cleaned by professionals.

    Polyester, nylon, some acetates, spandex, and synthetics were created to be able to be machine washed.

    How to Hand Wash Vintage Clothes

    Make sure that the sink, tub, or basin that you are using is in fact also clean before you begin, wipe it down with a white towel to see if you missed any spots. Start with hot water to dissolve your detergent, we recommend RetroWash and RetroClean, then add cold or warm water depending on your fabric and dyes.  Add the garment. Slowly push and pull the garment through the water, allowing the entire garment to become soaked. Constantly check for bleeding or shrinking. When the water turns yellow, drain the water and press out excess water from the garment, do not wring out the garment. Lift the garment by its entire weight and not by one area – such as a leg/arm as this can lead to unnecessary stretching or breaking of fibers. Refill the container. Repeat until water stays fresh with no yellow. Make sure the water runs clear – usually 2 or more rinses are necessary. When there are no suds or remaining soap residue, gently squeeze excess water from the garment – hang or lie flat to dry (depending on weight).


    What you should hand wash:

    Silk – in pure form. Note that crepes, knits, and raw silks all need to be professionally cleaned.

    Rayon – if it is a plain weave. Crepe should be attended to by a professional cleaner.

    Cottons, linens, and polyester blends with ornate detailing or embroidery.

    Tips for handwashing vintage clothes

    Make sure all buttons, zippers, hooks and eyes, etc. are closed prior to washing. These can often get snagged on materials causing tears and snags.

    If you are washing a garment for the first time, make sure to test a hidden seam with water before soaking the entire garment. If you see any puckering in the area, do not submerge, your garment will shrink. Also make sure that dye does not run from the area as you do not want to lose color either. We also use Shout color catchers in our basins to help grab run away dye out of the water.

    If you garment has stains, research the best way to remove the stain before washing. Using heat on the stain may set the stain. Make sure to inspect the area that was stained before drying the item.

    If an item cannot be cleaned, we recommend using a fine mister bottle full of vodka to spray the garment. Vodka will help disinfect and deodorize.

    Tricks for Line Drying Vintage Clothes

     Hang or lie flat your wet garments immediately. Use a padded hanger. Second best –use a plastic hanger.

    Many items are too heavy to hang to dry. Make surer to lay sweaters, dresses, and bulky items flat to dry.

    Do not hang clothing on a wire hanger to dry or else you will end up with stretching on the shoulders. Wire hangers may also rust, thus discoloring your garment.

    Make sure to reshape a garment before laying it flat to dry, otherwise you will end up with unwanted bulges and wrinkles in the garment.

    How to Press Vintage Clothes

    Ironing Vintage Clothes

    Make sure your garment can be pressed before beginning, do not press fabrics such as velvet or crepe materials. Do not iron items with embroidery, special trims such as beads/sequins. If you are unsure, try a test patch on an interior seam. It is always best to press the interior of the garment.

    Different Heat for Different Materials:

    Low Heat– nylon, rayon, silks, and polyester, as well as most synthetics.

    Medium Heat – many blends of natural and synthetic fibers, like a cotton-polyester blend.

    High Heat – pure cotton and linen.

    Steaming Vintage Clothes
    We recommend a handheld or professional steamer to remove wrinkles and pressing garments. It is fast, easy and you can steam many fabrics that cannot otherwise be pressed. Never iron velvet – steam from the inside and brush as you go. Velvet has a thick nap that can be ruined by pressing with an iron. A Dry Cleaner should be your first choice. If you must do it yourself, steam, not iron. Always steam rayon on the inside – otherwise shiny spots will appear. Rayon is another tricky fabric. You, again, should let a dry cleaner do it. But if you insist on doing it yourself, steaming from the inside while pulling fabric slightly taut will give it a flawless finish.

    Dry Cleaning Vintage Clothes

    Note that any dry cleaner will make you sign off responsibility on vintage garments, so make sure you use a reputable cleaner in your area. In Austin, we have been using Zips Cleaners very successfully.

    Cottons, Linens, and Silks 1970s and newer.

    Wool – if washed, this fabric will most likely shrink severely.


    Iron-on Patches and Other Trims

    What you should not dry clean:

    Antique silks are often too delicate to dry clean.

    Rhinestone buttons or adornments. Remove if possible before cleaning the garment.

    Heavy beading.

    Fur, including collars or adornments. Take to a furrier for special cleaning.

    Leather. Seek a professional specializing in cleaning leather. 

    Other Vintage Clothing Care Tips

    Remember: Prevention is best for preserving vintage clothes.

    Take care in handling delicate fabrics. Wash your hands often as to not transfer grease, make-up or food stains from your hands to your clothing.

    Hang your clothing inside out when you remove it to dry and air it out. Don't bundle it in a hamper where odors are more likely to set in.

    Adorn yourself with jewelry once you have dressed and remove first when changing to prevent snags and holes.

    Hem your gowns to the appropriate height so that you do not drag material as you walk.

    Stuff hats with acid-free paper, then store in trunks or boxes. Store in a cool, dry place.

    Never store your vintage clothing in plastic bags – clothing needs to breathe. Old pillowcases/sheets are perfect for storage.

    No more wire hangers! They will stretch your clothes and can rust, leading to discoloration.

    Always fold heavy pieces such as beaded gowns and sweaters. Try not to stack heavy folded items as this will cause unnecessary wrinkles and fold marks if stored for a long period of time.

    Make sure your clothing is in a climate-controlled environment – dampness can cause mold and mildew and heat can cause discoloration. Both can attract unwanted pests and critters.

    Any items with fur should be stored in cedar-closet, chest, etc.

    Keep fabrics away from light. Light will cause discoloration and fading over time.

    Lavender will keep away pests, make sure it is near but not touching your vintage clothing.