How to Thoroughly Clean Vintage Linens

With a little bit of patience, you can easily remove set-in spots from these heirloom fabrics.

vintage white linens
Photo: Maria Robledo

Antique fabrics lose their pristine quality over time, often due to dinner-party spills, dirt settling into folds, and discolorations caused by ironing starch. Another challenge: They may be too delicate to machine-wash. But hope isn't lost. Fortunately, with a little bit of patience, you can revive them by hand. Consult this method and watch set-in spots and streaks fade away from your favorite heirloom fabrics.


If the pieces have been exiled to the deepest corner of your linen closet for a while, give them a long bath in plain cold or tepid water to loosen set-in grime. Replace the water when it gets cloudy, and repeat until it stays clear. (And we do mean a long one: This can take up to a week.)


Fill a tub with tepid water and mild laundry detergent, as well as powdered oxygen bleach, such as OxiClean ($12.98, (see the soaps' labels for the proportions). Wearing rubber gloves, slosh the linens around gently. Rinse well.


Martha Stewart Living home editor Lorna Aragon swears by Engleside Restoration Fabric Restorer ($20.99, to remove stubborn stains. Dissolve three scoops per gallon of water, then soak the fabric for six to eight hours. Remove and rinse.


The sun has natural fabric-brightening powers. Lay your items flat on a towel outside (or in a sunny spot inside).


To keep antique linens in mint condition, store them in a dry, dark cupboard on shelves that are painted or lined with acid-free paper (oils in wood can discolor them), and tuck sheets of acid-free paper in their folds, too.

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