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How to Clean Vintage Linens and Fabric

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We have collected vintage tea towels, pillowcases, tablecloths and clothing. Usually we have procured these items from tag sales, thrift stores or antique shops. Sadly, most of the white fabrics are heavily stained or yellowed from improper storage and time. This is how to clean vintage linens and fabric.

Have you ever held a piece of vintage fabric or linen in your hands? Typically the fabric feels buttery soft. It goes without saying that these fabrics have withstood the test of time for good reason. Fabrics were better-made, high quality and more than likely the piece itself is handmade. Caring for vintage fabric is important, especially if you want to display them. This is how to clean vintage linens and fabric.

Before we get started

  • We are not experts, we are sharing a cleaning method that works for us.
  • Determine how invested in your vintage linens you are. Are your pillowcases inherited from great-great-grandma or did you purchase them for $1 at a tag sale?
  • What condition is your piece in? Are there holes in it? Is the fabric rotten from age? Or is it already falling apart?

Take a Leap of Faith

After weighing the pros and cons, here is something else to consider. Are you really going to display or use your vintage piece with the gross yellow and brown stains? For example, take a look at this baby gown.

We wouldn’t showcase this in our homes either. That’s why we promote taking a leap of faith in cleaning our vintage fabrics. Otherwise a vintage baby gown like this would just be stowed away in a closet or box and forgotten about.

Banish the stains

Last week these vintage pieces were purchased at an estate sale for just $5. That’s just $5 for 2 baby gowns, a lace blouse, a lace camisole and two yards of vintage lace! We were told that all of the clothing and trim were from the late 1800’s. The baby gowns and lace had the most stains on them from age and years of being stored in a box. We decided to tackle these items first.

 

 

 

How to clean vintage linens and fabric

  • Read all directions before starting. Use safety and caution when boiling water and adding OxiClean.
  • Fill a 6 -8 quart pot of water, ¾  of the way full and bring to a rolling boil.
  • Remove pot from stove and take it to the bathtub or shower. Be sure to place it on a folded bath towel.
  • Carefully add 2 scoops of powdered OxiClean – keeping your face away from the pot. When you add the OxiClean the pot of water will bubble and foam over. Only do this in the bathtub or shower.
  • Add vintage linens or clothing to the pot. Using an old wooden spoon (not to be used for food or cooking)gently pat down the fabric into the hot water. Do not stir or pull fabric.
  • After one hour, empty the dirty water and gently rinse the clothing.
  • Repeat the above steps.
  • Leave clothing in the OxiClean for 5 hours.
  • Empty the pot and rinse clothing. Check to see if stains are all removed. If not, repeat the cleaning method. For us, all of our items were cleaned.
  • When all of the stains are removed gently rinse fabrics. Do no wring, pull or twist the fabric. To remove excess water, pat the fabric in between the palms of your hands. Kind of like making sand patties at the beach 🙂
  • Lay the linens, clothing or fabrics flat on a clean white towel. Allow to air dry.

Boil the Water

Boil the water on the stovetop but do NOT add OxiClean until the pot has been moved to the bathtub or shower!

This is a photo from an iPhone, but you can see how the OxiClean foams over the sides of the pot. Remember, only add the OxiClean after the pot of boiling water is placed in the bathtub!

OxiClean does not contain any bleach of chlorine. The active agents are hydrogen peroxide and a salt compound.This is what the water looked like after just one hour – yuck!

Prepare to be amazed!

Night and Day Difference

Isn’t the transformation amazing?

These precious baby gowns have been saved from ruin.

Normally we would never boil lace, especially lace that is over 100 years old.

But then we remembered that boiling clothes was how laundry got done all of those years ago. And the lace blouse and lace trim were in such very bad shape we decided to give a try. We are so glad that we did! All of our pieces look beautiful now and we would proudly display them in our homes.

 

We hope that you have found this tutorial for how to clean vintage linens and fabrics helpful and informative.

Keep us informed of your success in cleaning your vintage linens.

Don’t forget to pin this to your favorite Pinterest board!

41 Comments

  1. These pieces look great and the process seems straight forward, just requiring patience!

    1. Hey Gwen –

      Thank you so very much! Yes, we hop that you give it a try! We appreciate you following along!

      Hugs,
      Vicki and Jenn

      1. Will this technique work on vintage printed colored tablecloths and tea towels?

  2. Wow! What a great transformation.

  3. Nice and thanks for sharing. Will have to try that sometime. I have used Efferdent tablets from the dollar store in a pot of warm water and soaked my baby gown and some other items all night moving them around in the pot periodically and they turned out nice and white also.

    1. Hi Anna –

      Thanks for your great suggestion of Efferdent tablets. We will definitely give that a try! We are also experimenting with kosher salt and lemon. It’s wonderful to be able to clean this vintage pieces. We will be looking for more of them and hope that you do too!

      Hugs, Vicki and Jenn

  4. I just had this problem a few weeks ago with some vintage sheets we picked up for Loblolly Manor at Renningers. There were so many sweet ladies that helped us out on Instagram because I had no idea the super hot water mixed with the OxiClean was the key to making it all work! We can’t wait to find even more beautiful pieces of vintage linen now and we love everything you guys found too! Hugs, CoCo

    1. Hey CoCo –

      We are thrilled with this cleaning method for vintage linens and fabrics! We can’t wait to find more bargain-priced items now that we know how to properly clean them and make them look new! Wish we could shop together!

      Hugs,
      Vicki and Jenn

  5. Wow!! I saw those beautiful vintage garments in person before their AMAZING transformation back to life.
    You guys are the best…thanks for sharing ☺️

    1. Hey Darlene –

      The transformation truly is unbelievable. Now we want to go out and find lots of inexpensive vintage linens that need some TLC!

      Hugs,
      Vicki and Jenn

  6. I’ve used OxiClean for years on every type of fabric, color and pattern. “The soak” has never damaged anything. It’s an amazing product as well as being inexpensive. It’s a treasure!

    1. Hi Cherie –
      This is great news! Don’t you just love it when a product works so well? We know that we do. Now we are on the hunt for inexpensive, vintage fabrics since we know how to remove the stains now. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. We greatly appreciate it!

      Vicki and Jenn

  7. Thanks a lot for this great post. I was looking for a solution, and I think I found it. will try out OxiClean and see how it works out. Cheers!

  8. Hi! Great article, just what I needed 🙂
    Quick question: does this method with hot water work also with cotton which usually requires cold water? Thanks!

    1. Hi Caroline – We have had success using this method on cotton pieces. Please keep in mind however that the pieces that we do work on are in very bad shape and have not cost us much money. If your piece is of sentimental or monetary value, you would need to decide if you want to use this method. If you do – then we recommend that you do a test on a very small corner first. ?Hope this helps!

      1. Thank you for your quick reply!

  9. Read with much interest and delight your tutorial. Many years of bringing the old lovelies back to life. I used Biz and kosher salt in the past but will do your method from now on. One thing. I learned from a “restorer” that you need to rinse the item 16 times! (Yes) and the final rinse in distilled water to get any rust that might be lurking in your tap water that might come back to haunt you. So if you don’t want to bother with the 16 thing just do the distilled water.

    1. Hi Mary –

      Yes, we love restoring these beautiful pieces too! We are shocked at the “16 times” suggestion LOL, but a homeowners with hard water – this might be a good idea. And we definitely love the suggestion of distilled water! Seems so very smart.

      Thanks so very much for passing along this good info. We appreciate it so very much!

      Vicki and Jenn ~ The Bees

  10. Just tried this on our family heirloom baptismal gown which looked AWFUL when I pulled it out of the plastic covering for our daughter-in-law. This item is at least 60 years old. The OxiClean in boiling water was like a miracle. Thank you!!!

    1. Lori – We are so excited that this fabric-treatment worked for you! It really is a miracle worker. We currently have a little stack of vintage linens and cloths that we need to clean. Can’t wait to see how they turn out!

      Thanks so much for following along!

      Vicki and Jenn ~ The Bees

  11. Thank you Vicki and Jenn for the great method and clear instructions! I’m currently trying to restore some Chinese linens that my mother inherited from her mother. They’ve been in a teak chest for the past 52 years. I’ve done one doily and … so far, so good! I also did some color fast tests on bits of embroidery threads on some lovely napkins. Testing now….

    One question, do you wait to put the linens in the oxyclean *after* it’s stopped fizzing? Or just go for it while it’s still fizzing?
    With gratitude,
    Lynn

  12. It’s possible I missed this question but I was wondering are you using oxiclean versatile or oxiclean white revive?

  13. Ladies, I want to try this, but the dress is 100 years old and blue silk…what do you think?

  14. Shelley Waugh says:

    Hello Ladies,
    I have kept a few favourite dresses for 30 years and now my daughters who are in their 20’s are wanting to wear them. Sadly my white linen dress has the dreaded stains. Will this method of soaking in boiled water shrink it?

  15. Joan Tortorici says:

    Will this also work on vintage white pillowcases that have been embroidered in bright colors? A little leery of trying.

  16. Marilyn Dynes says:

    Hi Bees, thank you for publishing this wonderful way of dealing with old materials. I was wondering if you had any ideas for an antique woollen shawl which has partially yellowed with age. Since it is woollen I can’t submerge it into boiling/ very hot water without causing a lot of damage and shrinkage. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Regards,
    Marilyn

  17. Have you tried this with items that have color or patterns? I’m wondering if the colors would fade.

  18. Hi,

    I’ve got some vintage towels with embroidery on them. Will the Oxi lighten the colors?

  19. Melinda Saunders says:

    Why five hours for the second soak? After the one hour soak, my mother’s linen handkerchiefs looked great, but I still re-did the process and soaked for five hours. Am planning to clean all my mother’s discolored hankies this way!

  20. Kristin Kale says:

    Thank you SO much for this! I bought a Victorian lace wedding dress at an auction that was brown/yellow and didn’t have the slightest idea as to where to start to clean it. It took several rounds of this method but it’s now a beautiful ivory/white, I wish I could post a picture! Thanks again!

  21. My Grandmother crocheted a pineapple table cloth and it’s beautiful. Still in excellent condition. It’s from the early 1900’s very delicate. It needs to be cleaned only a few stains. Do you think is is a good method for such a delicate crochet item?
    I’d appreciate any expert advise.
    Thank you

  22. Just used this cleaning method on our family’s antique christening gown. We are about to use it for the 5th generation of babies! I used it for my daughter 24 years ago and truly thought it was supposed to be the off-white color. The slight stains that it had then got much worse while it was in storage during this time. I hemmed and hawed for a while about trying to clean it as I didn’t want to further damage it, and finally went for it yesterday. I AM AWESTRUCK!!! It is gorgeous!! I couldn’t be happier. Thanks for sharing

  23. It turns out very well! Thanks for sharing. I can not wait to try out!

  24. WOW!! Unpacked some treasured linens that had been packed away for 10 years and was heart broken to see that there were huge yellow and orange spots on them. I found your website and immediately tried your recipe. All I can say is that it works . . and it banished the terrible spots on the first try!! Thanks for sharing this wonderful trick !!!!!

    1. Marla –

      This is fabulous news! We are so happy that you used our recipe to save your treasured heirlooms!

      All the best-
      Vicki and Jenn ~ 2 Bees

  25. S. E. Cavin says:

    Ladies, thank you!
    Have a situation similar to an above comment regarding a christening gown.
    Ours is only 40 years old, but had an unsightly stain and over all yellowing of lace.
    This treatment has made a remarkable difference!
    Thank you again.
    From a grateful grandmother——

  26. Polly Goldberg says:

    Wow — I tried your method on a large bunch of lace and doilies made by my great-grandmother; it didn’t even require 5 hours of the second immersion to get them as white as when they were new. And the neat thing is that one, which stayed beige, was obviously beige to begin with — and it was nice and clean. What a great discovery — thanks!

  27. I completely agree with the above comments! I used your method on a very old (over 100) baby dress that was worn by my two daughters, then hung in a closet for about 30 years. Now it will be worn by my granddaughter. It came out beautifully after only one time through the process. Such an easy method! Many thanks!

  28. Lisa A. Lewis says:

    Hi Ladies!
    I have been following your web site for some time. I have a “natural” (meaning not bleached white) irish linen bedspread with beautiful embroidered floral details. i see some one has laundered it prior to me and some of the thread color bleed into the linen fabric. I really need to launder this piece due to “rust age spots” It is a very expensive and hand made piece and I am petrified to clean it. I understand, or read that is you soak linens in salt water and white vinegar it will “fix” the colors and able you to launder. What are your recomendations? I have used “restoration” and I’m affraid it will be to harsh. Any advise would be much welcomed and valued. Thank you in advance, Lisa

    1. Hi Lisa! Your bedspread sounds like a true treasure. Personally, we have never dealt with a piece that has any thread color. The pieces that we used our method on, were thrifted or very old family items that were headed for the bin. Our concern is that the thread color had already bled, so we would think if you get it wet again, the same thing can happen. Oxi-Clean has been known to work on articles of color, but we would be afraid of further damaging the colors.

      So sorry we aren’t of more help. Have you consulted with an antiques dealer? Or maybe an online search for vintage Irish fabrics?

      Best wishes. We would love to know how this turns out!

      Vicki and Jenn ~ 2 Bees

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