Caring For Vintage Clothing

This information is available as a free pdf. file to download HERE 

Items made before the 1960s were not made for modern machine washing. Even some garments that were robust and machine washed in their day will not last long if washed like that today. These ladies are more than 50 years old, they need to be treated with care and respect.

Cleaning Vintage Clothing

Your vintage (and modern) garments will last better if they are cleaned less often.

  • If a garment does not look dirty and does not smell, don't clean it, even if you have worn it three (or more) times.
  • Spot clean or gently sponge your garment where possible.
  • Consider using underarm or dress shields. Women in the past knew they couldn't wash their dresses and to avoid cleaning expenses they used dress shields. If you can sew a little, make your own. They are just circles of absorbent fabric. You can attach press studs to the shields and to the underarm seam of your garment so that they can be easily removed for laundering. See my blog article on this topic  Dress Shields

Dry Cleaning

Use a cleaner you trust. Ask them whether they have experience with vintage garments.

Recommended for coats and evening wear, and for rayon crepe, velvets, silk and some woolens.

Washing Vintage Garments


  • Hand wash silk or rayon lingerie and any garment with lots of lace.
  • Do not soak silk.
  • Roll your silks and rayons between two towels and gently squeeze out the excess water. Dry on a clothes rail (without pegs, which can leave marks). Iron underneath an ironing cloth while still slightly damp. Use the silk setting on your iron for rayon.
  • Protect silk and rayon from moths during storage.
  • Cotton underwear can be soaked in commercial laundry soakers, but rinse well.


  • Hand wash vintage cotton garments. Garments made in the 1960s or earlier may be sewn with cotton thread, which becomes fragile over time.
  • Dry whites in the sunshine. There's nothing like a hot Australian summer for bleaching whites.
  • Dry coloreds in the shade or risk fade.
  • Tumble drying is not recommended for vintage garments.
  • Iron with a hot iron and steam.

vintage clothing drying 1940s

Rayon Crepe

  • Do not wash it, it will shrink.
  • Dry clean only.
  • Spot clean carefully.
  • If pressing, press underneath an ironing cloth to prevent shine.


  • Most woolen garments can be hand washed with care, or dry cleaned.
  • Do not soak woolens, they will shrink.
  • Hand wash in a commercial wool wash in warm water and rinse well.
  • Roll between two towels to remove excess water.
  • Dry flat on a towel.
  • If you are ironing it, iron underneath a cloth to preserve the shape.
  • Protect from moths during storage.


  • Polyester and other synthetics are relatively robust and generally machine washing is safe, unless the item is lacy or appears delicate.

  • Line dry and hang to avoid creasing.

    Storing your vintage clothing

    • Protect your vintage clothing from moths and other hungry insects. Apparently, wool, silk and rayon are delicious.
    • Do not store in plastic. Fabrics need to breathe. Storing in plastic can cause those nasty brown oxidation marks that plague vintage lovers.
    • Cotton bags such as pillow cases protect against insect damage and smell better than moth balls. You can make longer cotton bags for items you want to store on a hanger from old cotton sheets or tablecloths. I buy mine from the op shop. You can label them if you have a few, or take a photo and attach to the bag
    • Store in a dark, dry and cool place. Keep away from direct sunlight, e.g. windows, as this can cause fade
    • Damp environments can cause mildew. Save silica dessicants, the little sachets that come in lots of packages and say "Do not eat", and put them in with your bags and shoes to help keep the air dry and minimise mildew
    • Check and air items that have been in storage  at least once a year
    • Vacuum your wardrobes regularly
    • Handbags, hats and shoes also store well in pillow cases
    • You can stick labels on your cotton bags if you have a few, or even photos.