How to Clean Vintage Clothing

Have you ever wondered how vintage clothing dealers present such perfect examples of 100 year old clothing? I’ll share a wonderful stain remover recipe with you.

Stain Remover

One Cup of Cascade Dishwashing Powder  and Two Cups of BIZ to Five Gallons of Hot Water. Soak a minimum of three days.

If the textile is strong (like a 1940s tablecloth with no holes) wash in the washing machine. Delicate things without holes are washed using the Delicate Cycle. If there are holes or the fabric is very old like the clothing I’ve been working on and shown below, always wash by hand.

You must test before soaking to see if the color is colorfast. Antique reds are notorious for bleeding on to whatever they are next to when wet.



This dress must have been purchased for a graduation or other special occasion. I love the kick pleat at the bottom with the lace insert.


 How to Remove Old Stains from White Fabric

These beautiful dresses with the handmade lace had stains remaining on the bodice after the stain remover soak. It rarely happens that a stain doesn’t come out and I didn’t want to give up on these dresses. I thought a tiny drop of bleach on the stain might work, but it might damage the thread. I put a mixture of half water and half bleach in an eye dropper, immersed the dress in water with the stain area showing and dropped a drip of the bleach mixture on the stain. I thought, being in the water, the bleach would dispense immediately. And, it worked perfectly with the stain removed and handmade lace undamaged. Successful endeavor!


This is a lady’s morning coat or, as we would call it, a bathrobe. All the lace is handmade. There are 40 crocheted buttons.


 Does anyone know how to do the Toodle?

Four 1920s Beaded Blouses







I also bought the four 1920’s Flapper Blouses with glass beads and that fabulous silk embroidery shown above. These silks are not colorfast and could only be rinsed in cold water – quickly. Because the silk was not colorfast, those with perspiration stains from dancing the Charleston, the Black Bottom and the Toodle were often ruined. They can be redyed now with a special silk dye that covers all the thread evenly. The dye costs between 2.50 – 5.00 a bottle.


When wondering what I could do with several cartons of canning jars, I decided to make up some homemade clothing soap for the shop. It cleans well and is economical. It has sold well.

Homemade Laundry Soap

One Bar of Fels Naptha Soap, grated or pulverized in a blender or food processor, One Cup of Borax and One Cup of Arm & Hammer Washing Soda. Use Two Tablespoons per Load. I think it does a good job of cleaning and I’ll never go back to commercial laundry soap. A lot of people like the smell and keep the lid off the jar. The washed clothes will have no scent except clean.


Everyone is asking me how my flowers are growing so well on the north side at the entrance to my shop. I’ve had so many people ask to buy this cart or the flowers this summer. The answer to the exuberant blooming is…2 Tablespoons of Miracle Grow in the water every two weeks.


This year, I didn’t pull out the clover that always seems to spring out of the potted soil. I think the clover is a cute addition.


My sister sent me this picture last night to show me how she used old galvanized janitorial buckets on wheels as planters . I think that is a great idea for a home with a rustic, farm, cottage or country setting. Both of my sisters can think outside of the box.


Here is one of Margaret’s design ideas. This is a stone baptismal bowl next to her front door. She walks out to her garden and picks flower heads to place in the water. Now why didn’t we think of that?

I still have many more vintage dresses to mend and wash. I was telling myself that I won’t buy anymore vintage clothing for sometime to come. Then, Saturday morning arrived, and as I opened the doors to the shop, I met a lovely couple who came in with armloads of vintage clothing. The clothing was custom-made for a famous (if you traveled in those circles and I wish I did!) Connecticut American folk art antique dealer, you know, the kind that deals in 100,000.00 increments?  The clothing was swathed in garment bags and is pristine.  Oh, my gosh, you wouldn’t believe the beautiful clothing! I’ll be selling vintage clothing on eBay and Etsy this fall. I hope their sale will pay the heating bill.

I had fun researching the life of the folk art dealer. She was the model for the cover of the June 28, 1947 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. The painting shows  the young antique dealer looking from the porch of her original shop in Connecticut at a brand new car while the older owners of the new car are looking in the window of the antique shop.


 The grass is always greener!

26 thoughts on “How to Clean Vintage Clothing

  1. Ginene, how clever you are to have come up with such recipes for stain removal and clothing soap, and they’re both so simple to make, from what I can understand. I’m not surprised that the clothing soap is selling so well as it is packaged in such pretty attire! Your flower displays are very charming and they made me smile! What a lovely welcome they are to your customers and passersby, who surely stop in their tracks to take in their beauty. Thanks for sharing all your savvy tips!


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Ginene, I love beautiful handmade lace. Can you imagine the hours it must have taken to crochet? I am saving lace I bought from a dealer – I don’t want to use it until I have the perfect project. I have one of my mom’s baby dresses that I’ll have to try the stain removal recipe on. Your tip solved one of my questions, but here’s another: How do dealers get such a crisp (starch?) finished look? I’ve tried, but it never compares.

    BTW, beautiful, colorful flowers. I can see why many would like to take them home. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Joanne,
      I buy the boxes of starch and make my own starching liquid. The washed clothing is soaked in the mixture, allowed to dry partially and then ironed. When I first bought the shop, I mixed too much starch in the water and the vintage linens I ironed could stand up by themselves so don’t do that. The starch to water ratio is listed on the box. I still starch my white long-sleeve cotton shirts because they look so nice and resist wrinkling. So, get boxed starch, Joanne, that is the way to get crisp ironing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What great reading! My mode in life is work and related emails take up lots of time. When I spot your post in the midst of them it is a few splendid moments of warmth and relaxation. Funny that this was on washing and soap recipes. I walk the neighborhood early morning and late day and the smell of perfumes in the laundry emitting out the dryer vents is overwhelming .I’m going to make your recipes (and should pass them out in the neighborhood!) The clothing is lovely, what a beautiful representation of our women of past eras.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your flowers are beautiful and I especially love the cart. Thanks for the tip on stain removal and I’ll try this on several antique linens recently purchased. I hope you are having a wonderful holiday weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ginene,
    I loved all of the clothes you showed today, the blouses are especially beautiful and could be today’s fashions! And then on to your flowers! I use Miracle Grow also and it has been a great year for my flowers as well. Would love to come to your shop sometime.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh my stars Ginene.. Those dresses are beautiful! You are truly a saint to take the time and care for them. I have to admit lovingly you’re a better woman :) … I hope whoever gets them will adhere your measures and maintain them.. There was a reason the rest landed on your doorstep …:). I look forward to seeing more of them..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree, What great reading! The lace on the gowns are beautiful. Another option for small stains in a rush, In my workroom we always used hydrogen peroxide to remove small stains, we were always pricking fingers from the pins and needles. :-). The beautiful delicate details on the lace and buttons on the morning coat is amazing. One day in my travels I would love to visit your shop, it sounds wonderful.


  8. Those are really great tips Ginene. I have quite a lace stash that I use in many of my jewelry designs, and I rarely find lace that is stain-free. Sometimes I will just tea stain the whole piece, but I will store these tips away to use on pieces that I want to keep natural.


  9. Soak thREE days, huh? Woah. That first outfit is just lovely. Where do you get your Fels Naptha and Washing Soda? I considered making my own detergent but never got around to it – small matter of time. Is your detergent safe for High Efficiency machines?


    • I get Fels Naptha and Art and Hammer Washing Soda at the local Jewel. Yes, it is safe for HE machines. I recently found that grating the Fels Naptha is better for cleaning than completely grinding it to a powder. Bigger pieces seem to get wash cleaner. Thank you for stopping over today. I haven’t been on line much this week….sooo busy.


      • You’re funny, G. You don’t have to explain why you haven’t been online. You prove today’s post (of mine) on guilt. But you’ll get to it if/when you do. =)

        I’m a teeny bit closer to making my own detergent, thanks to you. Dumb question: is Fels Naptha natural? AnY chemicals or fragrance? I wonder if I can get it online.



        • Did I answer your question or did I just think I did?
          From Wikipedia: Fels-Naptha is an American brand of bar laundry soap used for pre-treating stains on clothing and as a home remedy for exposure to poison ivy and other skin irritants. The soap was originally created around 1893 by Fels and Co. and was the first soap to include naphtha. The inclusion of naphtha made the soap very effective for cleaning laundry, but it was not generally safe for personal use.
          I read that they took out the solvent that was irritating to eye and skin (after prolonged use) but I wouldn’t use it on my skin without doing more research. Many people use different kinds of bar soap in detergent recipes because the sale of Fels Naptha seems to be regional. Some people use Ivory.
          Talk soon,


    • Hi Diane,
      Yes, I agree, vinegar is good but it won’t get those old stains out. You’ll be amazed how dirty the water will be after three days even on clothes that have gone through the washing machine. I wash everything first in the washing machine because I have to know that what I’m selling is strong. I love old linens…love the fabric. Love the name of your blog. I have lavender dreams, too!


  10. Thank you so much for your washing solution for vintage fabric. I just found a lovely stitched child’s apron at an estate sale and plan to begin the soaking today. I’m looking forward to seeing the beautiful results!


      • Ginene, just want to let you know that the apron looks beautiful…white and bright!
        And what a wonderful experience for my sister and me when we visited your lovely shop yesterday. It was our first time and am so looking forward to our next. Even though we had quite a time with the camera (what fun) we finally achieved success! Thank you for your hospitality. You made us feel like old friends, and that’s quite a gift.

        Liked by 1 person

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