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Caring for Antique Clothes

Washing and caring for antique clothes can be simple if the right steps are taken. This can come in handy in many industries from dry cleaning to wedding alterations to costume design. Here are some commonly found antique garment types and how to care for them.


Separate any dyed silk garment and soak them separately in cool salt water. Following a thorough rinse, soak the garment in cool water and soap for 15 minutes. Rinse several times with clean water. Do not put the garment in the dryer – air-dry only as the heat may set wrinkles.

Here’s the special trick to removing wrinkles and storing sink garments – sprinkle the clean garment with warm water, fold it neatly, and put in a plastic bag. Place the bag in the fridge for an hour. Upon removal, turn the garment inside out and iron. Spritz with water while ironing. A clean spray bottle is typically safer to use than the iron’s steam when working with antique fabrics.


Linen is often silky to the touch after years of washing. Old linen, especially handkerchief quality, can be mistaken for cotton. To help tell the difference between linen and cotton, lay a piece of fabric on the back of your hand – if it’s linen, it will feel cool to the touch. Cotton, placed in the same location feels warm and dry.

When cleaning white linen, wash with cold water, soap and a few drops of household ammonia. Follow this wash with a good soaking in hot water, liquid soap, and a small amount of chlorine bleach to brighten.

Rust stains on your linen? These can be the result of iron in your water. To correct the issue, you simply need lemon juice and salt. Sprinkle the salt and lemon juice over the dampened rust stain. Suspend the fabric over a bowl and pour boiling water through the stain from about 12″ away. Repeat until the stain is removed.

When cleaning colored linen, soak the fabric in warm water and a cup of salt to set the dye. Rinse out the salt solution, and wash out the garment in warm water and a small amount of liquid laundry soap. Rinse the garment several times, and then soak in a white vinegar bath.


Most people have experienced the new life a good washing can give to a fine sweater. To wash an antique sweater, soak and wash it in cold-water soap solution. Rinse it several times to gently remove the soap. DO not rub – this will cause pilling.

Soak the sweater in a vinegar bath. Squeeze – don’t wring – the water, or lay it out on a screen over a sink to let the water drain out. Another option is to wrap the sweater in a clean towel, place it on the floor, and stand on it. Your body weight will push out the water. Gently press the sweater with an iron on medium heat.


Tailored suits of the 30’s and 40’s are well liked for their distinct shape and cut. Tip: look under the collar to determine the original color of the suit – years of washing and sun will fade. The many layers of interfacing and structured pleats means the garment needs to be cleaned with extra care.

Repair any loose seams before washing. Soak the garment in a bathtub of lukewarm water and soap. Press down on the suit to remove dirt. Repeat with clean water until the water runs clear. Use the same drying process as used on sweaters above. A suit is best steam-press professionally.