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Cleaning vintage pieces can be easier than you might think! Many vintage pieces are made from cotton or linen, which are durable fibers.
First, determine whether the fabric is strong enough to wash. If the fabric smells of must or mildew, or if it feels dry and brittle, it may not stand up to submersion in water and should be taken to a professional cleaner. Otherwise, follow these steps:
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Place the garment on a piece of nylon net to support the delicate fibers, then soak it in cool water.
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Choose a mild detergent such as Orvus Paste, which is available at many sewing and art supply stores. It has cleaning and whitening properties but is gentle on fabric.
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Treat the Stains
With delicate fabrics, do not try to remove small stains, but if the fabric is sturdy, you can try a detergent that contains a color-safe bleach. This will help to lighten yellow age marks on fabric and brighten whites that haven't been laundered for many years.
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Rinse well to remove all traces of detergent and air-dry. Always air-dry.
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Soak overnight in plain, tepid water (keeping like colors together). Soaking will begin to remove dirt and old detergent, and will rehydrate the fabric. If linens are yellowed, add 1/2 cup oxygen bleach to 2 to 3 gallons of water (do not use chlorine bleach, which can weaken fibers). Gently agitate by hand, then let soak until the cloth appears white (this may take several hours). Rinse with cold water.
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Keep It Flat
After dealing with stains, put linens into a tub of warm water with a mild detergent, such as Ivory Snow. Agitate gently; don't wring or rub hard. Drain off the dirty water, and rinse with fresh warm water. Don't run the water directly onto the fabric. Repeat until the rinse water runs clear. Don't wring or twist.
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Enjoy Your Like-New Linens
Roll up the article in a clean, white towel and blot excess water. Dry on a line or rack. Iron while still slightly damp with a dry iron.