Saturday, May 1, 2010

Laundering Vintage Linens


This beautiful post is from Stone Gable, check out her heart lifting blog.

Wash Day, Part I

Today is Wash Day at StoneGable. I am freshening up some lovely old napkins and a vintage pillowcase.

Caring for antique table linens takes a gentle hand and a little know how. Today I am focusing on general laundry care for linens. More aggressive stain removal will be addressed on a future post.

Always launder vintage linens by hand. Never use a washing machine or dryer. They are too rough and may damage fragile fabric.
Start by inspecting your linens for any stains. Very badly stained fabric will need extra cleaning steps, look for a post coming soon to address stain issues. If your linens are not heavily soiled proceed with washing instructions.

Use a very mild detergent or soap and cool water.  Never use hot water as this could damage the fabric.

I like to use Ivory Snow or Dreft laundry detergent. They are very mild and leave linens smelling wonderful.

If I feel that I need a laundry booster I use Borax All Natural Laundry Booster.  A little bit of Oxiclean can be used in place of the Borax. DO NOT USE BLEACH OF ANY KIND! Bleach is very hard on even todays fabrics.

Because these cleaning agents are powder they must first be dissolved in hot water. Let the water cool before putting the articles to be washed in the water. I usually put the laundry powders in a large pitcher and fill it with hot water. I set it aside until the detergent is dissolved and the water is cool. Then I pour it into an old basin and add cold water. Do not use a metal basin. The detergents may react with it.

Before putting linens in the water, test a corner to see if it is color safe. Wet the corner with water. Using a dry paper towel dab the wet area. If no color comes off of the fabric and on to the paper towel, it is PROBABLY color safe.

Launder like colors together.


Soak linens for a couple hours or overnight.  This will gently loosen soil and light stains.

Gentle squeeze fabric with both hands moving water around and through the fabric. If there is any light stain left, gently rub Fels Naptha soap right into the stain. Continue to let that linen soak for an additional hour or so.

Rinse lines 3-4 times with cool water. Agitate water with your hands. Do not use a fabric softener.

Do not wring water out of linens, but roll linens in a white towel to absorb extra water.

Linens can be hung to dry out of direct sunlight or dried flat. I like to hang my linens out on my porch. Do not hang linens if it is windy, as this could damage the fabric.


When linen are dry they can be pressed with an iron.  Be very careful to test how your linens react to the heat of the iron. If the iron is too hot the fabric could scorch or stick to the iron. 

Starching linens gives them a crisp refined look.  I use a heavy type spray starch or a liquid starch.  Look for an upcoming post about old fashion liquid starching. Once you use a liquid starch on your linens it will be hard to go back to the spray!


A word of caution. If your linens are priceless or have irreplaceable sentimental value, have them done by a professional.

Laundering any type of vintage fabric has its risks. So don't launder it you could not part with it.

That being said, most fabrics launder very nicely if you are nice to them.

The best way to keep freshly laundered vintage linen is to roll it around an acid free tube. Linens can also be place in a Linen Keeper (look for an upcoming post to make one).  Never put them in plastic bags. I just press mine and keep them lying flat. If at all possible do not iron creases in the fabric.(I don't follow my own advice here- but it is better for the fabric not to have creases). I have an old cedar chest that I keep some of my more sentimentally valuable pieces in, just as my grandmother did.


 Look for upcoming StoneGable posts on:

~Removing Stains from Vintage Linens
~Old Fashion Liquid Starching Vintage Linens
~ Making a Linen Keeper

2 comments:

Cherie said...

Wonderful post. I am definately a lover of Vintage Linens - They are so beautiful and feminine.

I also hang mine after washing and drying. I buy pants hangers that has a nice round part on it so the linens do not get creased and then hang them in the closet.

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