Catherine of Crochet Bee has been kind enough to share with us some amazing "tricks of the trade" for cleaning vintage linens.
The Basics Of Cleaning Linens
My hope is that after you read these cleaning tips you will be more comfortable using your antique and vintage linens. I write from personal experience. My closets are bursting with vintage tablecloths, napkins, doilies and runners. It was a shame I didn't use and enjoy them. I have come a long way, finally getting enjoyment from those long stored beauties because I know how to keep them clean.
Your vintage linens will more than likely be yellowed, show brown age spots and maybe have a stain or two. The folds in the fabric are sometimes yellowed. I have yet to find a product than will remove old blood stains. I do buy seemingly hopeless tablecloths and napkins. Usually they come clean. Sometimes I get the spots to a very pale yellow that I can see in natural light, but not on the table.
Make sure your fabric is colorfast before you use any of these cleaning methods. We will start with the gentlest method first.
(pictured left, Vintage Red Paisley Apron at Crochet Bee)
White Vinegar and Water.
I use vinegar and water on linens that look brown, tan, are stained and smelly with cigarette smoke or look like they need a brightening. Check to see if your fabrics are colorfast. Put the material on a white towel and dab the colors in an inconspicuous area with a white cloth and cool water. If the dyes run, you can see color on the towel, your item is not colorfast. If your water is rusty or has little particles in it, I recommend that you use bottled or distilled water to soak your linens. The minerals can stain your fabric. (pictured left Vintage Reversible Apron)
Soak your linens in about two gallons of cool water
with one cup of white vinegar. You can soak more than one thing at a
time as long as you can freely slosh it around. Usually the water will
turn yellow in short order. Sometimes you have to let things sit for a
few hours checking the progress every hour or so. When the
discoloration is gone, rinse well in clear water and hand wash in your
favorite detergent, rinse again and hang or lay flat to dry. If the
discoloration persists you can move on to the next step.
Twenty Mule Team Borax.
I recommend using a dust mask when you use any cleaning powders. You can buy these little masks just about anywhere. The dust from Borax and Oxiclean (or any cleaning powder) can irritate your lungs. I recently added a cup of Borax to my wash and inhaled some of the dust. Turning your face away doesn`t work-get a mask! Had to go out to the fresh air to catch my breath. I use the Twenty Mule Team in my normal washing all the time. Borax will remove light discolorations and brighten and it`s a great water softener.
Put the items in a sink or clean bucket, add a quarter cup of Borax to two gallons of hot, not boiling water. If you think your fabric will shrink, don`t put it in hot water. You have to stir this till the Borax is all dissolved. Don`t put the powder directly on your fabric. I've had some linen come up with holes after I let the dry powder drop on it. Check every hour or so. When clean, wash as usual. If the spot is still there, rinse and we will move on to lemon juice and salt. (pictured Vintage tan and white gingham apron).
That's it for part one of this series of cleaning vintage linens. If you love the aprons featured and the information provided, head over to Catherine's shop Crochet Bee for a huge selection of vintage aprons and more.