How to Care for Vintage Lingerie
Due to the age and delicate components of vintage lingerie, you may find yourself questioning what techniques you should use to wash and care for it. Fortunately, once you find a few tips and tricks that suit your needs, it’s relatively easy.
Before you purchase any vintage lingerie keep in mind that, despite the beauty of a particular lace inset or boning in a girdle, not all vintage lingerie will be wearable. Take a look at this article on how to buy vintage lingerie for a quick overview of what to stay away from.
If you’re buying online, you will not be able to feel and examine the garment, so don’t purchase a piece that you wouldn’t be willing to send back or salvage.
The First Cleaning
When you first receive a garment, particularly if you are purchasing online, you may notice that the garment has an odor to it. It may be musty from storage or just the leftover scent from the previous owner.
Hot Water Soak - While it isn’t a great idea to wash vintage lingerie in hot water on a regular basis, it works really well to get rid of that storage smell. When filling up your tub with hot water, make sure that it’s not too hot. You want to be able to submerge your hands in water without being scalded.
Once you have the tub filled, add a mild detergent (such as The Laundress), then gently tumble the fabric with your hands for three to five minutes. Let the garment soak for another five minutes, and then rinse with lukewarm water.
A few cautions: Before submerging your entire garment, dip just a small piece in the water and hold it there for one minute, to see how it reacts. I’ve honestly never had a problem with this technique, but I have heard of silk shattering when placed in water. I also wouldn’t recommend this for nylon stockings. If you are nervous about submerging your beautiful vintage, try either the Vodka Spray technique or the Freezing technique.
Vodka Spray - One of the weirder but more effective techniques. It’s best to do this outside on a clear day with minimal wind. Mix 1 part Vodka with 3 parts water and pour into a spray bottle. Hang your lingerie up and stand about a foot away. Mist the entire garment and let air for 10 minutes. If the smell persists, repeat the process a maximum of two more times.
Freezing - You may have heard of freezing your denim in order to get odors out, but it works just as well with other garments. This method works because freezing kills odor-causing bacteria. Since vintage lingerie is delicate, you don’t want to just throw it in the freezer. Instead, lay the garment between two breathable pieces of cotton fabric, and then fold. Place in the freezer for five-minute intervals, checking for odors each time you remove it. Once the fabric loses its smell, wash in lukewarm water. I wouldn’t recommend more than 30 minutes of freezer time.
Fill a tub with lukewarm or room temperature water, then add your detergent. Allow the garment to soak for a half-hour to an hour, then rinse clean. Do not wring or pull the fabric in any way. Remember, you are washing something delicate! After washing, lay the garment flat to dry. If you don’t have the space to lay out a full chemise or robe, you can always use a drying rack. However, if you are using a drying rack, lay a towel over the rod before placing your garment. DO NOT let the garment dry in sunlight. Direct sun causes the dye to fade!
If you’re noticing any odor from regular wear, try doing a pre-soak with vinegar. I usually do 1 part vinegar to 5 parts water. Allow the garment to soak for half an hour, then rinse thoroughly before wearing.
Never use bleach on your vintage! While bleach will allow you to get your whites bright, it breaks down the fibers. If you use bleach on a particularly delicate fabric, you run the risk of the garment literally disintegrating.
If you can, try to spot clean silk and rayon. Though they tend to wash well enough, they will wrinkle, and ironing can cause unnecessary stress to the fibers. If you must de-wrinkle, it is best to invest in a steamer! But because a good steamer can be expensive, if you do use your iron, remember to turn the garments inside-out first.
Always consider the age of a garment and how it is constructed. If your lingerie predates WWII there is a pretty good chance that it was hand sewn. Though there was great care put into the creation of delicate lace negligees in the 1920s, the construction will not be as durable as a piece of modern lingerie. Do not pull or put stretch your garment. Handle each piece with care by washing in small batches. You don’t want anything getting tangled in there!
Store your vintage lingerie in drawers or on shelves folded neatly. Never hang your vintage. Hangers may cause straps on older garments to stretch or cause indentations in the fabric. If you are dead set on hanging up your vintage lingerie, never use plastic or wire hangers and never use clamps. You will need to use lingerie hangers, which are padded and covered in fabric. Never store your vintage in plastic bags or bins; it needs to be able to breathe and air out. Keep your vintage stored in a cool and shady place, never in direct sunlight. Make sure to take your garments out of storage once a month to air out.
Honestly, the best product for removing stains from vintage is Oxy-Clean powder. Follow the product's instructions for soaking. Don’t use any aggressive spot removers you find at the drug store, as they can break down the fiber in that area, causing holes.
Hydrogen peroxide is great for removing blood stains. Just dab a bit on with a cotton ball, let it sit for a few minutes, and rinse clean. Repeat the process until the stain clears.
Baby powder will remove fresh oil stains. Just pour some on and allow it to soak up the oil. You should notice a difference before washing.
The most important tip I can give is to treasure your vintage lingerie. If you use proper care in handling your delicates, they will last you a long time. Accidents happen, but try to be mindful of what you’ll be doing when you are wearing a certain piece.
Do you love vintage? If you have any ideas or suggestions for how to care for vintage lingeire, please let me know in the comments!