Corset Care 101: How to Clean a Corset
It's been a while since my last installment on corset care, 3 Reasons to Unlace Before Unbusking Your Corset, and today's feature on cleaning a corset has been a long time in coming. Some of the tips in here will be repeated from the first Corset Care 101 piece; as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
What can you do to minimize the need to clean your corset, and why does it matter? First off, it's important to remember that both wear and cleaning are inherently somewhat destructive to garments. The less stressed your corset is throughout both processes, the longer it will last. To that end, do try to wear a layer between you and your corset, which will protect your corset from your body's natural oils and shed skin cells. After you've taken off your corset for the day, let it air out over the back of a chair. If at all possible, try to avoid wearing the same corset day after day: rotate between at least two corsets and it should dramatically increase their combined lifespan.
Now that we've got those basics out of the way, let's talk about options for cleaning your corset(s). The best thing you can do is ask your corsetmaker how they recommend you clean your corset. That said, chances are they will tell you your corset is dry clean only: never machine wash a corset. But how to find a good dry cleaner? This is not the time to go to the $2 same-day dry cleaner; you need to make sure your dry cleaner can be trusted with your corset. If there is a local theater company, there may be a particular dry cleaner where they send their costumes and corsets. Bridal shops may also have a recommendation. Confirm with your dry cleaner that they have experience with corsets, or at least bridal/eveningwear, which will often have similar structure and compenents as well as delicate embellishment. Look up reviews on Yelp.
Your corset probably won't need a full-blown dry cleaning very often, though. In the meantime, you can spritz it down with a mixture of vodka and water. A 1:1 ratio of cheap vodka and water in a spray bottle (such as a plant mister) will do you just fine. Mist the interior of your corset before you leave it out to air for the night. The vodka will dry odorless. (Thank you to my friends at Dark Garden for this particular tip.)
Should you need to spot clean the exterior, be sure you know the fiber content and proceed accordingly. If at all possible, check with your corsetmaker regarding their suggestions. Since your corsetmaker probably also wears corsets fairly regularly, it's a good bet they've also spilled a cocktail or dripped sauce on a corset at some point, just like the rest of us. Be gentle and match your cleaning methods to the fiber content of your corset's fashion fabric, which will probably also be fused or backed with another layer aside from the strength layer. Products for spot cleaning may leave a watermark around the edges, which you may be able to best by carefully monitoring and blending the drying patch, or by treating the whole panel. Clean, undyed washcloths are your friend.
Lastly, if you really feel the need to immerse your corset in water for some reason, StayLace has excellent, detailed instructions for hand-washing a corset. In short, gently hand-wash in warm water with a non-biological detergent, rinse thoroughly (but still delicately) with cool water, and roll into a towel to blot out much of the water out, then allow to air-dry atop another towel. I have used these directions once to no ill effect, long ago on a mass-produced corset. Needless to say, this method is not recommended for silk corsets, or any other fabrics or treatments (such as hand-dyeing) that will suffer from exposure to water.
Do you have any corset cleaning tips? Had any particular successes (or mishaps) with any of the methods described above? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!
PS: If you're interested in corsetmaking and were intrigued by my write-up of last month's amazing Oxford Conference of Corsetry, I have excellent news for you. Julia Bremble of Sew Curvy has confirmed that there will be another OCOC in 2014, over the same bank holiday weekend. With any luck, I will be there next year as well, representing Pop Antique and teaching a workshop.