How to Clean Vintage Lace

Sunlight through vintage reproduction lace curtains.
Sunlight through vintage reproduction lace curtains. | Source

Vintage Fabric and Lace

Perhaps you've inherited a box of beautiful hand-tatted doilies from your grandmother. Or you've found a treasure, a box of vintage laces and fabrics, at an antiques store or a yard sale. Vintage and antique laces and fabrics make beautiful decorative items and can be incorporated into crafts, clothing and jewelry. However, before you use them, there's the matter of cleaning them.

Many antique and vintage laces and fabrics have yellowed over time. Some vintage tablecloths, table linens and aprons reflect old stains from yesterday's meals. And odors? Most of these fabric items hail from a time when people thought nothing of smoking, while some were stored in musty old basements. Odors can definitely be a problem with vintages textiles.

This short tutorial on how to clean vintage fabrics and laces will help you restore the beauty of the original craftsmanship. Please use care and caution when working with vintage fabrics. Some may not hold up to washing, even with the most gentle hand washing. Use this information at your own risk. When in doubt. seek professional help cleaning older textiles.

Clean vintage lace.
Clean vintage lace. | Source

General Tips for Cleaning Vintage Fabric

There are a few general guidelines for cleaning all types of vintage and antique textiles.

  1. Never machine wash old lace, vintage fabric, or older crochet, knitted and tatted items. Many of these items are fragile, and even on the delicate setting of the washing machine, they can be ripped to shreds. Others are made from natural fibers that shrink easily. Hand wash all vintage fabric and lace.
  2. Air dry or line dry all older fabrics for the same reason. They can shrink in the dryer.
  3. Wash a test area or a test patch to ensure color fastness.
  4. Do not use bleach! It can destroy vintage fibers.
  5. Use only cold water. Hot water can also cause shrinkage.

How to Remove Stains and Odors

There are two methods of washing vintage linens, textiles, and laces to remove stains: cold water and baking soda, or cold water and detergent.

Cold Water and Baking Soda

  1. Place a basin in the kitchen sink. Fill it with cold water.
  2. Add 1/4 cup of baking soda.
  3. Swish the water around to dissolve the baking soda.
  4. Add the fabric, using your hand to gently swish it in the water.
  5. Let it soak for approximately one hour.
  6. Remove the linens, fabrics and laces.
  7. Use the spray attachment on the kitchen faucet with cold water to rinse the textiles.
  8. Line dry on a sunny day, outside. Sunshine will also brighten fabrics naturally.

Another benefit from the baking soda wash is that baking soda is a natural odor fighter. It can eliminate or reduce musty or smoky smells from older fabrics.

Detergent Clean Wash

Oxi Clean or Oxy Clean is a fabric detergent sold in most stores. Please follow label directions for use, and test it on a corner of the fabric. I have heard that sometimes it can damage fabric, so use at your own risk!

Another detergent that can be used is Woolite. It is useful for hand-washing delicate fabrics. I have personally cleaned many old lace doilies and tablecloths using Woolite and cold water.

  1. Fill the basin with warm (not hot) water.
  2. Add the amount of detergent recommend by the manufacturer.
  3. Test a corner of the fabric. If it holds up well to the test, clean as above, but use warm water.
  4. Rinse with warm and cool water.
  5. Line dry on a sunny day.

Comparison of Cleaning Techniques

Baking Soda
Detergent (Oxy Clean, Woolite)
Purchase at the store
Safe to use
Effective on old stains
Safe to use
Removes odors
Removes odors
Brightens whites safetly
Comparison of cleaning techniques for vintage lace.

Summary of Cleaning Tips for Vintage Fabric

  • Be sure the fabric or lace isn't valuable; have it appraised before working on it yourself.
  • Never machine wash or dry it.
  • Sunlight will naturally lighten most fabric stains.
  • Baking soda removes odors.
  • Line dry all older fabrics.
  • Roll them or blot them in bath towels to soak up excess water.

What If the Fabric Won't Come Clean?

You may be faced with ground-in stains or fabric that is too badly stained to clean using these methods. Then you have a decision to make: do you keep the fabric "as is" or dye it? Plain old tea, the kind you use to make a cup of hot tea, can be used with hot water to create a natural dye. Place the tea bags in hot water and soak the fabric in the water to stain it a natural dark cream or ivory color. You can often dye the entire piece of lace or fabric to match the stain using this method. But be sure that the lace or fabric isn't rare or valuable before staining it; you can't reverse the process once it's stained.

© 2013 Jeanne Grunert

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purl3agony profile image

purl3agony 3 years ago from USA

This is some really useful information. My mother has collected vintage linens for years and I've just started my own collection. My mother always said that Oxi Clean didn't really work, so I've always used Woolite and cold water to clean my linens. However, I think it really depends on the material and type of mark or stain on the linen. I might try some Oxi Clean on some of my tougher stains :)

Glad to meet another collector! Thanks for sharing!

Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert 3 years ago from Virginia Author

I inherited boxes of antique lace from my husband's family. His great-grandmother was a lace maker from Italy. I too use Woolite, by Oxy Clean works well, too. Sunlight brightens the newly hand-washed laces very well too. Thanks for your comment!

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

A good look at cleaning vintage laces here--thanks! Wow on your lace inheritance!

Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

Great advice, I know I have ruined some things years ago and am really very careful now. I like the Oxi clean for really dirty stuff. My mom taught me how to even use bleach on a really bad stain by first soaping the spot, pour bleach from a cap onto this spot them rinse immediately in cold running water. Taking just seconds. Depends on the item and chance you want to take of course. lol But some spots are so bad it is worth the try. ^

grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 3 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

I'm glad to learn these techniques. I have a box full of vintage laces and crochet edgings I inherited from my husband's great aunt. Cleaning them was something I had not even tried to tackle, but will definitely attempt now.

Thanks for sharing;) Pearl

Voted Up++

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 3 years ago from Georgia

This was very useful and easy to follow. I have a lot of crochet pieces from my mother's great aunt. They are all handmade and beautiful. My mother's great aunt would wash the pieces by hand using Ivory Snow which came in flakes. After rinsing, she would starch the piece and then roll it up in a towel to dry. When they were dry, she ironed it and the piece would have these rolls in the fabric that were stiff enough to stand up. They were beautiful. You brought that memory back just reading some of your techniques for restoring lace and other delicate pieces.

Congrats on Hub of the Day. Voted up.

Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert 3 years ago from Virginia Author

Thank you! Yes, Cyndi, that sounds like a good way to clean them too. I used method #2 above with Woolite to and hung the laces in bright sunlight. They were cleaner, lost the musty smell, but never got bright white. That's okay. I like them antique looking! Thanks for your comment.

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

Congratulations on HOTD. I love vintage lace and all things Victorian. Thank you for sharing this important information for those of us who have this taste. Voted up and more!

sallybea profile image

sallybea 3 years ago from Norfolk

Contratulations on your HOTD. I have quite a collection of vintage lace - many pieces looked beyond redemption but I took the step of using a product called Vanish on them, just added a little of the product in water and soaked them for a few minutes, longer if they were badly stained. I have to say it really worked well and took out even old rust stains and left them smelling nice and looking beautiful. I probably should have gone the more old fashioned route! Nevertheless I enjoyed your hub and would try your method first next time.

purl3agony profile image

purl3agony 3 years ago from USA

Just wanted to stop by again and congratulate you on your HOTD!! Well deserved :)

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 3 years ago from Deep South, USA

I inherited vintage lace curtains, lace tablecloth and a lot of pieces with either crocheted or tatted edgework. I've cleaned them using Woolite in cold water, handwashed and laid out to dry on a towel...also used a bit of baking soda for a stain.

These treasures should be preserved, and I'm enjoying mine until I pass them on to another generation.

Voted Up++


Genna East profile image

Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

I have vintage lace from my great grandmother that I was terrified to clean for fear of damaging it. So, this hub was especially wonderful to read. Thank you! :-)

CraftytotheCore profile image

CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

Congratulations on Hub of the Day!

I used to collect vintage lace and linens.

One Thanksgiving I went to a few antique stores and found a bunch of pieces for my dinner table. They were so beautiful. But I had no idea how to clean them.

This recipe will surely come in handy in the future.

Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert 3 years ago from Virginia Author

Thank you all for taking the time out of your busy day to share your comments. I appreciate it so much! Enjoy those vintage laces -- I love showing off my collection and need to clean more.....

Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 3 years ago from Hereford, AZ

Interesting article. Fels naptha works well too. It is used for fragile things that need soap but are too delicate for detergent. It is recommended for pictures made with yarn (needlework) to add sizing and clean it.

I moved about 20 years ago and had a pile of old white tablecloths, doilies, and lace waiting to be cleaned by hand. It was next to the washer in the laundry room. A large bottle of X-TRA w/bleach (non-chlorine) got knocked over and spilled all over the whites. I found it a day or two later and figured I might as well throw them all in the washer. I put it on delicate, cold water and started putting them in the washer, trying not to put the worst soaked together so my washer wouldn't suds up too bad. Then they got an extra rinse, since there was so much soap spilled. I hung them on the clothesline to dry. They were so white, they sparkled and were blinding. I use that on them now and it has never failed me. None of them have been damaged by it and some were my great-grandmothers. OLD stains from my childhood came out when they got that detergent bath. It was an act of a desperate, overly tired person.

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

Stopping back by to say congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this useful, informative hub!

SEEMA AQUA profile image

SEEMA AQUA 3 years ago


goood advice

thanx 4 sharing

God bless u

kschimmel profile image

kschimmel 3 years ago from North Carolina, USA

Excellent, accurate information

Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert 2 years ago from Virginia Author

Thank you for leaving a comment, kschimmel! I appreciate it!

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