A Guide to Washing and Fixing Second Hand Clothing

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The following blog post is written by Sarah, a fan of thrift stores, op shops, rummage sales, markets and all things vintage.  Sarah shares some of her rather excellent tips on fixing up stained or difficult-to-clean thrifted garments.  Do take note, there are some great techniques I've not tried before, but will be in future. (Cat litter! who knew? read on ...)

About Sarah 

I have am involved in a passionate, lifelong love affair of all things vintage.  I am on a never ending search for the perfect pair of shoes for every outfit, a handbag that will hold my whole life and look good for years. But I hunt for clothes and the fabric to make clothes with like a woman possessed.

Remember that Simpsons episode where Marge finds a Chanel suit in the outlet mall?  I am chasing that moment and I am not afraid to rummage, not even unpleasant odours or the odd mystery stain will get in my way.  Even if it doesn’t fit, if I love it I will refashion it, use it for fabric, buttons or draft a pattern I can size up for myself, but these are blog posts for another day.

 :: Sarah ::

 A Guide to Washing and Fixing Second Hand Clothing

If you've ever been put off by that ‘op shop’ smell, mothballs, body odour or worried about getting a stain, mark or bit of shmutz out of the otherwise perfect second hand find, this blog post is for you.  Here is my guide for getting rid of the gross.

Eliminating Smells from Machine Washables

If you have a stain you need to treat, rub a few drops of undiluted dishwashing liquid directly on the mark. Throw it into the wash on cold, with your usual amount of laundry detergent, and 1 cup white vinegar.  Dry in the sun with the mark showing, if you can, this is great for fabric such as polyester which yellow when bleached.  The sun and vinegar together act as a mild, coloursafe bleach.  Dishwashing liquid removes grease and is great on all manner of stains, mystery stains included!  The vinegar can really help with BO, op shop and mothball smell, even animal pee.

If your stain persists, you can repeat and see how you go but after that I would probably consider concealment, which I will get to shortly.

For bad smells, the vinegar wash and ideally some time in the sun and the breeze between treatments, even inside in a well ventilated area will help.  Sometimes, that just isn’t enough for persistent smells such as mothballs.  Another normal wash with 1 cup of bicarb added, more airing, and then a final wash, this time normal wash plus 1 cup vinegar and fabric softener, followed by more airing.  This should really do the trick for the grossest, strongest, mothbally smells.  This is fine for your regular clothes to endure, but be aware that a very strong mothball may transfer to other garments – ask me how I know!

Cleaning Non Washable Fabrics and Dry Clean Only 

I offer this advice with the following rider – please do not ruin your dear Grans vintage silk taffeta wedding gown or any other precious garment which may result in harmful effects, especially on older vintage garments.  Some fabrics (especially vintage, less colourfast and more fragile) fabrics will react poorly when cleaned – you have been warned!

Your first choice for dry clean only is definitely a dry cleaner, but talk to them about their processes and if they think there could be damage.  Dry cleaning won’t necessarily alleviate bad smell though.  You can put bicarb, unused tea leaves, crystal cat litter (yes, really. It’s silca gel and absorbs moisture. Just make sure it’s unused!) or a mix in a little organza gift bag with a bay leaf, cinnamon sticks or a few drops of essential oil/s, and hang it with your garment while it airs.  Quite good in your closet too.

If you are going to hand wash a woolen or hand wash/dry clean only garment, you can buy special cleaning solutions designed for vintage fabrics, or you can use a small amount of liquid washing detergent for this.  Dissolve your detergent in a cup of warm water, add to a bucket/laundry tub/bath and fill with cold water.  Dip your garment in, and gently agitate by hand for about 5 minutes. If you see any colour run (common with vintage) now is the time to rinse!  If not, allow the garment to languish in the water for 15-20 minutes, but not too much longer.  Rinse in cold running water. Support the fabric as you drain the water, but do not wring, just gently squeeze the water out.  Do this comprehensively but do not pull, tug or twist.  Most things can be hung on a clothes hanger and put on the washing line, but woolens should be laid on a towel over the line/clothes airer, and pulled into shape like so.

Cleaning Leather and Shoes 

Always start by cleaning leather with a damp rag to remove dirt, polish with coloured polish and finish with a leather conditioner.  A leather conditioner does wonders for shoes, belts, bags and clothing.  Fill a smelly shoe or hand bag with little organza gift bag full of bicarb, unused tea leaves, crystal cat litter (as mentioned above, it’s silca gel and absorbs moisture. Just make sure it’s unused!) otherwise a mix of those with a bay leaf, cinnamon sticks or a few drops of essential oil/s. Also a good spritz with Glen 20 never hurt. 

Stain Concealment 

So, you still love it and no stain removal will fix the mark on your perfect find? My question to you is can you hide it? With a button, with a cute little trim, with a little appliqué?  Same goes for moth and pin holes. If you have a stain, can you dye it?  If you are dyeing, try to get the right dye for the job, see if there is a tag with fibre content to guide you. Get creative and really own your garment. No one will know unless you tell them. Can you guess which one of these pics is hiding a flaw?

The Untouchables 

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you end up with a lost cause.  I only have two, and both are vintage fabrics. I could never get the mothball out of the fabric, it’s definitely improved, but after 5 washes it retains a little mothball taint.  I didn’t see the age spotting when I bought this 60yr old peach crepe online. It is a very large piece of fabric and I should be able to cut some smaller garments around it, but it is badly stained. Age spotting (often looks kinda like a rust mark) rarely comes out and is to be avoided unless you can conceal it.

I hope that this 'how to' guide has you ready to take a chance on that almost great garment that was a little funky smelling of had pizza sauce on the front, or maybe you just want to clean Aunt Ednas old frock for that 50’s party coming up.  I am always happy to answer questions about specific stenches and gory mystery stains.  Good thrifting to all!   Sarah

Read more of Sarah's amazing recipe's, cleaning tips, DIY's and sewing and more on her fantastic blog: AskSarah.



Eddie's Room said...

Great ideas, thanks for the guest post :-)
I was wondering, do you have any advice about removing perfume smells from laundry detergent or fabric softener. This is the one that gets me as I am getting more and more intolerant to perfumes.

Iliska Dreams said...

Great post! Will definitely be trying out all of these options at some time or another.

Maxabella said...

Sarah is so cute!

I confess that all just sounds like way too much hard work for me. I'm a stretch-jersey fashionista all the way... :) x

Sarah said...

Eddie - Try the method for 'op shop' smell. It works quite well. There are quite a few uncented products now, mostly marketed as sensitive. I hope that helps xx

Thank you Iliska & Maxabella

Unknown said...

I love how much you enjoy vintage clothes; as do I! These dresses, skirts, and my husband's suits all have a problem in common. Their fabric. I haven't taken them to the dry cleaners, but am looking to see if the fabric will respond well to that type of cleaning over others. After seeing your dry cleaning section, I was really impressed with the second paragraph of putting bicarb, unused tea leaves, crystal cat litter to get rid of the smell after dry cleaning. Thanks so much for all these marvelous tips!

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