Monday, March 9, 2009

Because You Asked So Sweetly..Cleaning Vintage Linens

I would like to thank everyone for their comments to my post last week for Vintage Thingie Thursday. If you missed the original post you will find it HERE.
And because so many of you were interested in knowing how to clean your vintage linens, and you asked so sweetly, here is the post you asked for.

Warning....there are lots of pictures, and if that is annoying, I am sorry. I happen to like a lot of pictures when I want to learn how to do something. So, this is the method I will use to show you how to clean all of your vintage treasures so they sparkle like new.

These first two pictures are of some recent estate sale finds that were not in perfect shape. The top picture is of a set of napkins, and the napkins were yellowed especially around the creases and folds.

You can see in this piece of vintage fabric, the yellow spots in the middle of the picture. This fabric was a wonderful vintage find, but it was riddles with yellow spots from age. I was pretty certain I could fix this problem.

Important: You will need to spot test your fabric using the method below and make sure there will be damage to the fabric or colors before you soak the whole piece. I do this only on brightly colored items and so far, all have been fine using this method.

You will need the following things:

White Vinegar, Biz Detergent, Oxi-Clean, large bucket.

First measure one gallon of water. If you are going to be cleaning several items at once, you will need to measure out the water accordingly. I usually use about 4-5 gallons of water at a time and wash several pieces together.

Heat the water on the stove. You need to use hot water, not boiling water. This is about 4 gallons of water I used on this particular day. If I am going to be soaking mostly whites, I heat the water a bit longer than if I am soaking reds or darker colors. You will know if the water is warm enough if you can stick your finger in the water and it is not scalding. Like I said for whites, I heat the water almost to the boiling point.

Next: while the water is heating, pour your soaps into a large bucket or tub. I use this red tub from Wal-mart and it works really well.

You will use:
Per gallon of water
1 scoop of Oxi-clean
1 scoop of Biz (Use the Oxi-clean scoop, not the scoop in the Biz)If you are mixing up 4 gallons of water, like I did here, you will need to use this recipe times 4 for it to be the correct mixture:

For example:
4 gallons of water
4 scoops of Oxi-Clean
4 scoops of Biz - using the Oxi-Clean scoop

Once your water is heated, poor into the bucket and mix well. Warning....the first time I did this, I thought I would just pour the soaps into the water on the stove, stir and then add to bucket....DON'T DO THAT!! Why?? Well, this will bubble and expand and my stove top looked like a Science Fair experiment with soaps oozing and flowing out of the pots. Trust was a mess!

Next, add your linens. Stir well and mix well. I use a old wooden spoon for this step. Soak all of the items well.

This is what your bucket should look like once everything is wet and mixed well. Leave the mixture alone and let it soak. This can soak for up to 48 hours. For whites, I usually soak the full 48 hours. If I am soaking colors like reds, I will check on them after about 24 hours and if they look clean, pull them from the mixture. Do not be alarmed if the water begins to look like this:

You will not believe what will be pulled out of the fabric. If the water turns too gross, I will repeat the process after the first 24 hours and let the linens soak another 24 hours in fresh soap mixed water.

This is what a batch looked like after I had a tablecloth soaking that had lots of red in the fabric. I don't really know if it was the red in the fabric or if it was just that this stuff was so dirty. I got scared none the less and thought I had ruined everything and pulled everything out and checked it. Nothing was ruined at all. I did re-mix the mixture to soak again, and soaked the red tablecloth by itself....still no damage to anything. Just a bunch of gross looking water. Can you just imagine the years of dirt and grime trapped in the fibers of this fabric?

Once you have soaked the linens for the instructed time frame, Gently squeeze the soapy water out of the fabric and rinse in the sink by hand in fresh water. You are going to rinse, rinse and rinse some more.

The key is to remove all of the soap from the rinse...rinse....rinse.

If you are having still a lot of soap appear in the rinse water, you can use the following in only ONE of the rinse sinks and only use it one time.

Pour 2 cups of white vinegar to two gallons of fresh water.

Now, rinse all your linens by hand in the vinegar water. Follow with a rinse in plain fresh water.

I usually will rinse these about 4-5 times, some fabrics seem to hold more soap than others, you will be able to tell, you want the rinse water to be without soap residue before you go to the next step.

Now, take all of these freshly rinsed linens and put them into your washer. I use the hand wash cycle, double rinse option on my washer. Add a very mild detergent to wash your linens with. Be sure to check your last rinse cycle....If you rinse water looks like this.......

Rinse again. You want to remove all the soap from your fabrics before they are dried.

I line dry everything. Heavy tablecloths can be dried flat on the grass on top of large towels as can all vintage linens. I make sure everything is hung out straight on the line, the sun does wonders for whites.
Don't worry if you do not have a clothes line, this method of drying works the same way when you lay them out flat on towels to dry.

The final step would be to remove from drying method, and press with hot iron.

This seems like a lot of steps, but really it is not. The results are so worth the effort, trust me. This was a quilt block I acquired from an estate sale, the white was all yellowed and dingy. This is the final result after I removed it from the line. It is sparkly clean and white again, looks like new. I think this will make a really cute pillow.

All the spots came out of everything. If you have any rust spots, this will not remove the rust. I am working on finding the perfect solution for those spots.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on cleaning vintage linens....Be sure to report back here and tell me how it worked for you....I am quiet sure I know what you will have to say! I even used this method to soak a batch of vintage lace last week. You have to be very careful with the lace however, because it is so fragile when wet, but it worked well, and the lace came out very clean and bright.

Recipe for Cleaning Vintage Linens:
1 scoop of Oxi-Clean
1 scoop of Biz Detergent - use the Oxi-clean scoop
Soak in one gallon of hot, heated water for up to 48 hours.
Rinse well....Use 1 cup white vinegar to 1 gallon of water to rinse out soap residue
Wash in washer on gentle cycle using a mild detergent. Rinse well.
Line dry or dry in the sun. Press with iron if needed.

Now, go on and get your vintage treasure out of the closet, and give them a good will be so amazed at the results!


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I've recently been given some old quilts and quilt tops that were my grandmother's and I haven't known how to clean them.

    This is a GREAT tutorial! I love all of the pictures.

  2. Thanks for posting this, I'm going to bookmark it!

  3. Thanks so much for your detailed instructions. I'm wondering what the equivalent products are in that a particular brannd of laundry soap or just a regular one? We do have some products for stain removal with Oxygen in the title so I'm thinking these might be similar. I'll experiment and see. I do remember using one on a doily my Gran had crocheted (you know the ones with beads that were to cover milk jugs?) and it actually ate through the thread! I probably used it directly and it was too strong. This method looks great - thanks again.

  4. Thank you so much! I have asked others how to do this but never got such a great answer. I have some linens in need of rescue and I can't wait to get to them.

  5. Thanks for the great instructions and pictures! There have been times where I've hesitated to buy a table cloth or other item simply because it looked yellowed in the areas you pictured. Next time if I see something I like, I will know what to do to get it looking good again!
    Say - I sent you a few emails concerning the embroidered doxie - did you ever receive them?

  6. Thank you so much...I can hardly wait to try your my vintage goodies will look this yummy! I am so thankful!

  7. Since you are showing a bottle of Distilled vinegar I'm assuming that the line should read 2 cups vinegar to 2 gallons fresh water. I would also assume it MUST be distilled. Not white and especially not apple cider vinegar.

    Over all though Great tutorial.


  8. Thank you so much for this post. I used to use a product called "Nancy Vintage Wash", but I guess the co. went out of business. I can't find it any more. I'll certainly be trying your recipe. Thanks for the detailed tutorial. I need details and pictures! laurie

  9. THANK YOU so much for this Information..this will be a life saver to me Suzanne..great job with all the pics..hugs and smiles Gl♥ria

  10. Thanks for taking the time to explain so clearly.

  11. Hi Suzanne...this was a super tutorial...and I'm glad you had a lot of photos. At this point I don't have anything to try this method on, but I'm saving this info just in case. Thanks!
    ;-) Bo

  12. Wow! It's really incredible how much "grime" you got out of the linens, isn't it? Thanks for the tutorial.

  13. This was great information. Thanks so much!

  14. Suzanne, this is a great post, thank you. those results are amazing. I am definitely trying this on my linens come Spring.

  15. Thank you for the really informative post. I am going to make a not of this if I find something to clean.

    Roberta Anne

  16. Thanks for posting this. I have used Oxyclean by itself with great success but had not mixed it with Biz. I have never had a problem with the fabric fading or bleeding.

  17. You need to post this to Tip Junkie!
    Personally, I love lots of pictures, too.

  18. I'm sooo happy I found your site from ClassyChassy! My grand mother gave me an old quilt top that she made years ago. It has many yellowed stains on it. I was thinking about just soaking it in some tea and try to give it an old look about it. I have had this quilt top for almost a year and I'm glad that I didn't do that to it yet! I will try this once I get better, I'm sick, and I will let you know the results. I'll take before and after pictures for you to see.
    I can't wait to do it!

  19. Hi! And THANKS A MILLION for sending me this link. I will do this to SO MANY linens I have that need freshening and I am afraid to do anything with them -- they are old and some have handwork.

    Yay again ... thanks! Cass
    PS How can ANYONE resist old linens? I have piles from my Mom, too, who also couldn't resist them!

  20. I'm doing my second batch of linens this way, and I am AMAZED at the results! I had purchased a bunch of old linens that were pretty badly stained, with the intention of cutting out what I could salvage to use in sewing projects. I figured it wouldn't hurt to try this, and maybe brighten up the good bits. Now, the majority of them look so good, I feel bad cutting them up! They look like new! It was so much fun watching the colors of various embroidery appear, that had been lost under a brown dinge for years. They almost don't look vintage anymore they are so clean! I picked up a 1940's baby blanket today with the most fantastic kitten fabric, and I got it for a steal because it looked so bad. It's only been in the soak a few minutes, and I can already seen those dingy kitten pop with orange and yellow. Thanks so much for this!

  21. I stumbled upon your post through pinterest, and I am absolutely thrilled! Much like Becky above, I purchased some linens from a 'by the pound' linen vendor, intending to use them as cutters. Same results for me - with the exception of a very few spots left (look like rust spots), the linens look like new! One tablecloth took 3 days, but it is so beautiful, it's on my table now and is well worth the work! Thanks again ...


  22. Wow! Does this ever work! I sent all day laundering my rather large stash of vintage linens because the results were so amazing that I couldn't stop. Now, I am sad because I have too much guilt about cutting some of them up for a purse project I had planned. I was going to use some stained ones that don't have stains anymore.

  23. This may be an old post, but boy, it sure it a good one. Tried this on some vintage off-white cotton muslin kitchen curtains that had yellowed over time and no doubt exposure to all the cooking. I never thought this would work, no detergents, no special soaps or preparations I've tried have, but after soaking in your recipe for about 24 hours, well, it's a laundry miracle! Glad to have these curtains looking fresh again, I thought they were done for.


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