Vintage lingerie addicts and those who love to dress head-to-toe vintage know that authentic finds many times come generally used and in cases, a bit worn too.
And because many of these items, especially lingerie, are made of silk, satin, and such fine fabrics, the issue of cleaning is something that will crop up occasionally, and depending on which piece of lingerie it is will determine how often.
Even if you are a collector that simply finds pleasure in amassing vintage underwear, you'll still need to know how to clean and store them to avoid damage. Fabrics over half a century (and more) old need the right care in order to preserve them for a bit longer.
So whether you’ve been sifting through the family ‘treasure chest’ and found your great-great grandmother’s private peignoir sets and Vanity Fair slips, found some a great but slightly worn bullet bra lingerie in a vintage store online, or bought some dead-stock (unused) knickers from a local thrift store, you’ll want to know how to keep them clean.
But how should you clean delicate underwear without damaging its delicate material?
Common Damages of Vintage Lingerie
Because these pieces of lingerie have been stored away for decades, many of them may have become soiled because of fine dust accumulation or dirt trapped within the folds of the garment.
Also, prolonged exposure to heat, light, dampness, and dust may have caused damages that are almost irrevocable so if cleaning is not done with great care you’ll find that some may tear while being cleaned.
How to Clean and What You Need
Caution must be applied when you clean vintage lingerie. It is a painstaking task to clean items like silk panties or satin bras, but it can be done.
Before you start, ensure you have a wide flat surface (counter or tabletop). This is important because laying them out on a flat surface makes it easier to clean carefully.
To clean, you will require the following:
- A couple of soft sponges
- 2 large towels
- 1 hand towel
- A mild detergent or soap flakes
- Mild softener
- White vinegar (distilled)
- On the flat table or counter, lay out a large towel
- Moisten the soft hand towel and rub it gently over the surface of the lingerie
- Mix water, mild detergent and softener in one of the bowls – ratio 1/8 detergent to softener to 3 cups of clean water
- Dip soft sponge in the soapy solution, lightly squeeze out excess solution and gently rub the sponge on areas/spots you aim to clean
- Go with the grain of the material while applying the gentle rub and for a tiny spot stain, use a cotton swab instead of the sponge
- Dip the 2nd sponge in a bowl of clean water, squeeze lightly, and gently blot the soapy residue from the vintage lingerie. Blot, don’t rub
- Prepare a mix of water and the white vinegar - 4 tablespoons vinegar to 2 cups of water
- Dip the clean towel in this mix and use it to gently dab the lingerie. This balances the alkalinity from the soapy mix thereby helping to preserve the underwear
Drying steps as follows:
- To dry, lay a large dry towel on the table and place the undergarment on the towel. Fold the towel over it and press on it very gently and then leave to air dry. Don’t wring wet vintage materials!
- Iron gently on a low iron setting to remove all wrinkles but don’t set on steam
Cleaning Vintage Lingerie Professionally
If your vintage underwear is, say, an antique or cherished family heirloom and you’d rather not clean it yourself for fear that you may cause some damage, you can always have it cleaned professionally.
You can also contact a vintage clothing restoration expert to help repair minor damages if any, for a small fee.