Laundering True Vintage Dresses

How To Wash Your Vintage DressesThere is nothing quite like the joy of finding a true vintage dress that fits well and looks great. But that original elation can be short lived when you remember that at some point you are going to need to wash it!

Laundry care labels didn't appear until the 1950s which coincided with the increased ownership of the automatic washing machine. The first labels were predominantly text-based. Laundry symbols became a standard part of clothing manufacture from 1963 when GINETEX, the International Association for Textile Care Labelling, was formed creating standard laundry care symbols.

Selection of care symbols

So anything before the mid 50s and you'll have to wing it I'm afraid!

Here I would like to share some of the methods and tips that have worked for me through the many years of taking care of vintage garments.

Which Vintage Dresses Can We Sling In The Machine?


Synthetic Fabrics Are Fine To Machine Wash

A lot of mid century synthetics are robust enough to withstand the rigors of a modern washing machine. I recommend using a max 30 degree wool or hand wash cycle with no spin.

Once the wash is complete I shake off excess water from the dress outside or over the sink and hang on a chunky black plastic menswear hanger to allow it to dry naturally.

Hanging it allows any pleats to fall back into place. There should not normally be a need to press these easy-care garments. One word of advice, many are synthetic knitted jersey so don't use a thin hanger unless you want distorted bumps on your shoulders. Also worthy of a note, the flock type are rarely colour fast so beware, they will stain if used for a wet garment.


Cotton Dresses Get The Thumbs Up

Again you can get away with machine washing this type of dress if it is a simple shirt-waister shape. If there are additional styling features or contrast trimmings, move it over to your hand wash pile as they can easily bleed colour into the main fabric. Also fabric adornments will have minimal seam allowance so will easily fray apart.

Use a cool cycle despite the cotton content to avoid fading. I tend to wash true vintage items on their own unless washing 2 or 3 very similar colours. Leaving plenty of room in the drum allows the dress to oscillate freely and not end up twisted in a knot. Vintage cotton frocks can also dry naturally on a suitable hanger, or be pegged on a washing line from the hem.


One of the most appealing features of vintage inspired garments is the very fact they have washing instructions at all and that most can be put straight in a modern machine.

Hand Washing Techniques

Crepes, Silks & Other Delicate Fabrics

1930s/40s Crepes and Rayons I would definitely not be machine washing. I have learnt the hard way they are rarely colour-fast and are prone to shrinking. See my most recent wash day disaster below!

Honey I Shrunk The Hem

Honey I Shrunk The Hem

Sometimes sequins or beads are glued on which literally dissolves away in an abrasive wash.

Hand Washing Using Revival Laundry Day Detergent Sheets
For small items, it's best to use a large bowl of clean cold or tepid water with a specialist laundry sheet such as one from our Laundry Day range or an alternative mild liquid added and allowed to dissolve. Stir the water to ensure full distribution of the product then slowly add the garment to ensure full coverage. If you leave your bowl or bucket outside on a warm day the water remains at an optimum temperature.

I follow this with 2 or 3 bowls of fresh cold water until the water remains clear and all the detergent appears to have left the garment.

Do not wring the dress, use a patting motion with a clean dry towel. Hang to dry naturally on a thick padded colourfast hanger or lay flat on another large clean towel.

For most true vintage dresses a bowl will be too small so use a super-sized version, commonly known as a bath tub. Another tip is to dissolve one of our sheets into a clean spray bottle, use to spray your dress paying particular attention to any stains or areas of body odour such as under the arms. Follow this procedure with a hose down in the shower! It honestly works a treat. You can leave it in there until the worst of the water has evaporated, gently squeezing the hem occasionally where the water will accumulate.

Washing Clothes In The Shower

Revival Laundry Day Products

Revival Laundry Day Products
Revival have developed mild washing detergent sheets with vintage clothing in mind. They can be used in a modern machine but are also great for hand washing. They are formulated with a mild natural scent and have additional anti-bacterial properties.

These lightweight alternative to pods have the added benefit of being convenient to store and are not going to burst open if you have packed to travel with. Moreover no more melty bits of plastic stuck to your clothes when you use a cool cycle.

If you think your vintage clothing needs an additional injection of fragrance we have produced matching scent boosters. Place a handful in your washing machine for a long lasting fragrance. Another pearl of wisdom is to part fill a drawstring organza bag with them and they will fragrance your wardrobe, car and even your husband's gym bag!

Laundry Day Fragrance Booster Ideas

Over To You

We recently sent out a survey to find out if any of our Instagram followers had some share worthy tips. A couple that stood out for us were:

1. Pickle Ingrained Perspiration Stains & Odour 
Soak the item in a an equal mix of water and white vinegar for up to 30 mins. The acid in the vinegar will counter the odours by balancing out the pH levels.

2. Spirit Away Musty Smells
Spray cheap - it would have to be wouldn't it? - vodka onto musty clothing. Not tried this one yet, probably because all our vodka is cheap! Don't worry the resulting alcohol smell doesn't stay around for long.

3. Snow Go
Some of our followers suggested laying knitted garments on snow. One I haven't experimented with, global warming is playing havoc with my snow washing but we love to hear your alternative ideas, keep them coming.  

4. Move Over Moths
If you are worried about those pesky creatures munching their way through your entire wardrobe, place the offending item in your freezer for at least a day. This will kill off any larvae which are the babies that do the damage.

Additional Hacks The Revival Way

Improve Underarm Yellowing
The cause of these yellowish stains is a mixture of minerals mostly due to natural body oils and salty sweat mixing with the ingredients in antiperspirant or deodorant (primarily aluminium). 

For these pesky stains, mix baking powder with enough water to make a paste, brush into the area with a toothbrush, allow to dry before washing the whole dress.

Magic Sun Rays
Hanging fusty garments outside on a breezy day can make all the difference. The rays of sunshine also bleach out any age related stains. Don't over do it though or you could also lose your fabric pattern too.

I first discovered this when I watched the food stains on my daughter's bibs disappear in front of my eyes one sunny day.

Bleach Baby
Lemon juice is another natural bleaching agent that I have used for spot stains. Before washing, combine equal parts lemon juice and water, and scrub until the stain is gone. Again a firm toothbrush in a circular motion works well.

Don't Forget To Wash The Washer
Don't forget to keep your washing machine clean. Months of washing dusty vintage clothing can gather an icky sludge in the seals of your machine drum. I get old cloths with an all purpose cleaner to go around all the layers followed by a commercial machine cleaner or a bottle of disinfectant. Dishwasher tablets also work well run through an empty cycle.

Remember To Clean Your Washing Machine Drawer
I release my washing machine drawer every couple of months (press the little release lever in the open drawer) then wash thoroughly in soapy water before returning it. Another advantage of our laundry sheets, no mess in the drawer.

H Says Forget Washday Blues, Make It A Laundry Day Yay!!

Mark Helps Out With Laundy On An Industrial Scale

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