How To: Wash Delicate & Vintage Clothing at Home

Wash Delicate & Vintage Clothing At Home
How To – Never Not Dreaming

Hello, my vintage lovers! With years of collecting vintage clothing, I’ve found a few ways to care for delicate garments.

I no longer put the fate of my treasures in the hands of a dry cleaning attendant. In part, out of my pocketbook’s occasional limit, but mostly because I’m a bit of a control freak.

A must have for hand washing is a good size wash basin like this one from Sterlite. A hanging rack will come in handy, too! I love, love, love this one from Greenco, because I can hang it right on the door in our laundry “room” and keep my items flat to dry.

Here is a comprehensive guide to get you started:


Okay, let’s be honest, we’ve all shrunken a wool garment from time to time. It happens! While it may be funny for a moment to behold a miniature sweater fit for a doll, let’s not let this tragedy happen to your beautiful thrift find. Wool is pretty resilient, in fact. Think of the weather it’s made to endure while keeping it’s sheep warm and dry! So don’t be scared off or put your wool wears on the shelf waiting to be worn until you can take it to the cleaners. Here’s how I wash my favorite wool pieces…

  • Fill your basin with cool water and bit of low pH detergent. I like to use a 1 to 9 ratio here as a rule – 1 small load measurement of detergent (the 1st marker on the measuring cup, that is) to 9 cups cool water. My personal favorite, tried and true, is Ecos Lavender Detergent.
  • Submerge your garment, being careful not to agitate too much. Wool doesn’t need to be roughed up to get clean, just let it set in the basin for about half an hour – make sure you’ve given the wash a good stir before you add your garment. I like to wash 2 or 3 wool pieces at once if I can with this method.
  • Gently squeeze garments out over basin, not wringing, to maintain shape and set aside on a clean bath towel.
  • Empty basin and fill halfway with cool water. Re-submerge your garments and flip over a few times, lifting out of water and letting it drip, with each flip. Rinsing in my opinion is the most important part of the process. You don’t want any detergent left behind to eat away at the fibers! I typically repeat this step twice. Once finished, again gently squeeze over basin.
  • Lay your garment on a dry cotton towel. Fold towel over it or place a second towel on top and press…press it good.
  • Gently stretch the garment back to shape, although since you’ve taken such care up to this point there shouldn’t be much of a change to the shape.
  • Lay flat on drying rack and let dry 24 hours. Never, I repeat, never put your wool on a hanger when it’s wet.
Other fabrics that should be hand washed the same way as WOOL: Angora, Alpaca, Cashmere, Rabbit Blends


Silk is pretty amazing isn’t it? Especially of the vintage variety. Just take a moment to think about silk production pre-1980…okay, that’s a neat thought. It can be a bit intimidating to think about washing silk at home. Goodness forbid you strip it of it’s oil or bleed it’s dye. If it’s extra delicate and seriously see-through, I might even suggest skipping wash altogether and only wearing on very special occasions. Oh, but that’s no fun is it?! Okay let me tell you what I’ve found works great for my extra specials…

  • As with wool, fill your basin with water and a bit of low pH detergent. I recommend using warm (not hot) water and higher water to detergent ratio here – 1 small load measure of detergent to 12 cups warm water works great! If you can find a bleed safe detergent I absolutely say go for that. If not, Ecos will be just fine to maintain the natural oils living on your silk. If you’re looking for a bleed safe detergent specifically made for vintage, look no further, Retro Clean’s got you. If you opt for that, the ratio is 1 scoop to 9 cups of warm water.
  • Extra gently place the silk in the wash basin. On second thought, set the garment on top of the water and let it submerge itself. Let it soak for about 15 minutes. ALWAYS wash your silk items individually in case the dye decides to free itself at all.
  • Now, slowly scrunch garment into itself in a long roll. Swish, squeeze gently, and swirl it around for about a minute.
  • Remove the silk pretty (yes, as in pretty thing – did I mention I love silk?) from basin and extra gently squeeze (not wring) over the basin before you set aside. Empty basin and refill with cool water for rinsing.
  • Place your garment in the fresh water and swirl around a few times, lifting out of water and letting it drip, with each circle. Remove garment and gently squeeze again.
  • Place garment on a clean dry towel and slowly roll the towel up, adding a small amount of pressure as you go.
  • Hang dry your pretty thing and wear at your leisure knowing how easy it is to take care of!
Other fabrics that should be washed the same way as SILK: Acetate, Brocade, Chiffon, Crepe, Organza, Satin, Taffeta, Velvet – just be sure to wash 1 item at a time and treat them gently.


Rayon may bring visions of Disco Queens, but production really took off for this unique wood blend fiber in the 1920s. It’s the original artificial silk. Often nowadays it is labeled as Modal or Viscose. Original Rayon garments are some of my favorite finds and they are easy to maintain at home…

  • As with wool and silk, fill your basin with water and your low pH detergent. Another good option for Rayon, being that it becomes a delicate and weak fiber after 20 years (or more) of wear, is Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Castile Soap. I also really love the Rose scent, but we’ll stick with the Lavender theme. The same 1 to 9 ratio is good for rayon, using cool water to avoid any shrinkage. If you opt to use Bronner’s, a 1/3 cup liquid measure to 9 cups of water will do the trick.
  • Submerge your garment, being careful not to agitate it at all. Rayon is more delicate than you might think and doesn’t need to be roughed up to get clean. Let it set in the basin for about 15 minutes. Again, like silk, one item at a time, the risk of dye bleeding is high.
  • Swirl your garment around a few times once it’s had time to soak. A good trick for this fabric is one circle clockwise, one circle counter clockwise, repeating two or three times. This may sound tedious, but as the fibers are woven tight, a clean boost will come with different directions.
  • Remove from basin, gently squeezing to remove any excess water. Empty basin and fill with fresh cool water.
  • Return the rayon garment to basin and tumble very gently to remove detergent. I like to do this step two or three times (with a fresh basin of water each time), to ensure all detergent is removed from the temperamental fiber. Gently squeeze over basin after final rinse.
  • Place on clean dry towel as you did with your silk pretties, rolling up and gently pressing to prepare it for the hang dry.
  • For tops and dresses – keep on rack, not a hanger, as rayon can get a bit dry and stiff with age…nobody likes the pokey shoulder look.
Other fabrics that should be washed the same way as RAYON: Acrylic, Nylon, Rayon Pique. Polyester can be washed like Rayon, but it’s much more durable so agitating slightly, as you did with wool, is okay.


Finally, everybody’s favorite fiber. You might think because it’s cotton you can just toss your 30+ year old item in the wash because, well, it’s cotton. I wouldn’t! If the fibers seem to be deteriorating at all, the washer will only speed up this process. I have a collection of vintage aprons and tea towels. It took me a year or so of washing on the delicate cycle to realize that that’s even is too rough for the aging cotton. Alternatively, I have a few tee shirts that I’ve purposely sped up the aging process on and now they’re part of hand washing day, too! That being said – wash cotton garments as you would wash wool…see above.

Other fabrics that should be washed the same was as COTTON: Corduroy, Cotton Voile, Denim, Dungaree, Linen, Muslin, Moleskin, Pique, and Poplin. Never use bleach on aging cotton or cotton like fabrics.

For items too delicate to wash anymore:

It’s true, there are some garments too fragile for washing anymore, let alone the harsh chemicals of a dry cleaner.

My all time favorite method is to grab a plastic bag large enough to hold the article; Ziploc preferred, but not necessary. If it’s silk use an acid free paper sack, beacause plastic will only deteriorate the fibers quicker. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of everyday baking soda in the bag. Put the garment loosely in the bag and seal. Gently shake for about a minute to evenly distribute the soda. Now be patient and let it sit with the baking soda for a full 24 hours. Take the garment outside and give a few good shakes in the wind.

This method obviously really only works for the smell factor. Some items are worth wearing even if they’re, in all honesty, quite dirty…y.o.l.o?! As you would use baking soda to rid odor from the fridge or garbage can, use baking soda to freshen up things you can’t wash.

Alternatively, you can spot clean with a vinegar/water mixture or a cheap vodka/water mixture to up the clean factor. A 1 oz. to 2 oz. mixture is what you’re looking for here. Simply spray the garment, from a fair distance of 8″ to a foot, focusing on stinkiest areas. Now, hang in front of a low fan or breezy window, but be careful not to leave it in the sun! As the liquid evaporates the funky odor will, too. These methods are anti-bacterial, a real bonus when you think of the years the garments have seen.

Well there you have it! Hand washing at home is an excellent alternative. These methods are great for any delicate pieces, not just vintage, but of course especially vintage…always.

If you have any methods you’ve tried I’d like to hear how they worked for you. I’m so happy you LOVE vintage. Let’s talk about it! If you have any questions, I’d be thrilled to help you. I’ve seen a lot and learned a lot about thrifting and vintage goods – what works, what doesn’t work, what’s worth the work.

Let’s all admire dear Pippi’s cleaning skill for a moment…

As always, if you’re in the mood for shopping, stop on by my vintage shop Five & Dime Vintage – Detroit and treat yourself to ready to wear (i.e. super clean) pieces!

Always wearing something old & yours truly,

Elyn E.


Owner of Five & Dime Vintage – Detroit and Never Not Dreaming Blog

P.S. Really, really, let’s talk about how we get our favorite delicate things clean! Comment below or send me a quick message. I look forward to it.

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