How to Clean Vintage Lace
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.
General Tips for Cleaning Vintage Fabric
There are a few general guidelines for cleaning all types of vintage and antique textiles.
- 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.
- Air dry or line dry all older fabrics for the same reason. They can shrink in the dryer.
- Wash a test area or a test patch to ensure color fastness.
- Do not use bleach! It can destroy vintage fibers.
- 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
- Place a basin in the kitchen sink. Fill it with cold water.
- Add 1/4 cup of baking soda.
- Swish the water around to dissolve the baking soda.
- Add the fabric, using your hand to gently swish it in the water.
- Let it soak for approximately one hour.
- Remove the linens, fabrics and laces.
- Use the spray attachment on the kitchen faucet with cold water to rinse the textiles.
- 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.
- Fill the basin with warm (not hot) water.
- Add the amount of detergent recommend by the manufacturer.
- Test a corner of the fabric. If it holds up well to the test, clean as above, but use warm water.
- Rinse with warm and cool water.
- Line dry on a sunny day.
Comparison of Cleaning Techniques
Detergent (Oxy Clean, Woolite)
Purchase at the store
Safe to use
Effective on old stains
Safe to use
Brightens whites safetly
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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