Basic questions about laundering old clothes

Discussion in 'General Attire & Accoutrements' started by BigBrother, Oct 27, 2021.

  1. BigBrother

    BigBrother One of the Regulars

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    Hey all! I have a progressively larger and larger bag of dirty vintage (basically just old trousers from the 30s through 50s) that I’ve been waiting to take to a dry cleaner. But the more I think about it, and read bits here and there, the more I think I should be washing my vintage myself.

    Two basic questions for ya:

    1. I have absolutely no idea where to begin. Any advice or guides?

    2. In general, is dry cleaning a good or bad idea?

    Thanks!
     
  2. Peacoat

    Peacoat Bartender Bartender

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    Are there any Care Instructions on the garments? If so, I would follow the instructions.
     
  3. Ernest P Shackleton

    Ernest P Shackleton One Too Many

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    If I have any hesitation or caution with a garment, I use the handwash cycle on a front loader with baby shampoo as the detergent. It's gentle, low sud, and inexpensive. If a front loader washer with a dedicated handwash cycle, there's always the bathtub or big bucket and doing it by hand. Always cold water. Roll it up in a thick towel and step on it to get most of the water out, and then dry flat. No hanging.
     
    belfastboy likes this.
  4. CatsCan

    CatsCan A-List Customer

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    Always worse than washing is no washing/cleaning. It's mostly human skin fat, salts and skin proteins many types of bacteria breed on. They can really deteriorate old cloth. I avoid the dry cleaner's myself as I doubt they have the same addiction to my valued garments I have.. They once ruined a Grenfell cloth Rain Coat when they "waterproofed" it... but this was my own fault since I requested to try to re-proof it... *stupid*. It was stained all over.

    On the other hand, my old aunt, 95 yrs of age, always send her "good" clothes to the dry cleaner's and did this for 60 years now.. some of her clothes (once expensive coats, dresses, skirts, jackets) are very vintage now and still in the best of shapes...
    She only washed undergarment and such herself.
     
    Peacoat likes this.
  5. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    I hand wash whatever I can as there are few dry cleaners I would trust with my valued clothing unless like a suit or sport coat requires a skilled ironing and special handling. Unless the garment is heavily stained it just really requires removal of the skin cells, sweat and odour. Usually a rinse in a tepid bath, gentle soap, lots of water in a bath tub, minimal agitation will do the trick. Do as Ernest states above....roll in a large bathtowel, squeeze out excess water, use a dry towel to lay the garment upon....no hanging. I wash even wool garments that state "Dry Clean Only" on the tag this way.
     
  6. Ernest P Shackleton

    Ernest P Shackleton One Too Many

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    If you go the dry cleaning route, do some research. Dry cleaning has changed a lot in the past couple decades. There's only one dry cleaner in my small city that still dry cleans in the same way they did in the 50s 60s 70s. I won't pretend to understand the differences to any great degree, so I'll leave that to your own research. The old way is said to be much better.
     
  7. BigBrother

    BigBrother One of the Regulars

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    142
    Thanks all! I was really hesitant to go the dry cleaning route because of reasons mentioned here, plus cost and time. One pair of 30s trousers I had saw the buttons completely melt off and the dry cleaner replace them with some new ones thinking it was no big deal. Yeah, great times.

    So a cold water bucket with baby shampoo seems to be the way to go. That said, let me just specify what’s getting washed and its care labels:

    - Trousers tend to be standard wool types from eras mentioned. I don’t believe many have care labels.
    - I have lots of WWII militaria, much of which is gabardine wool or tropical worsted wool.
    - Most of those are labeled dry clean only.

    Thoughts?
     
  8. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    I would be hesitant to wash items like this that have structure...much like I would not wash a wool sports jacket or suit. I would find the highest rated dry cleaner in your area and entrust it to them. Then once cleaned take care of them so that you stretch out the duration before you need to do it again. Invest in a good quality hand steamer (Rowenta) and after each use steam the garment before it is put away. Hang the jackets on a good wooden hanger, hang the pants with pants hangers from the cuff. Spot remove any stains right away. If you do this you should be able to extend the period before having to dry clean again. I did this when I wore suits for work. Taking suits to the dry cleaners was the only option and each time it did damage to the fabric. So I took it upon myself to limit the number of times I inflicted the cleaners onto my clothing.
     
  9. BigBrother

    BigBrother One of the Regulars

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    Well to be clear the only WWII items I’m considering hand washing are shirts and trousers, never jackets and the like.
     
    belfastboy likes this.
  10. BigBrother

    BigBrother One of the Regulars

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    So now that all that is pretty much settled :), which soap should I buy? Just Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo?
     
  11. Peacoat

    Peacoat Bartender Bartender

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    Baby shampoo should work, but I've never used it. Always used Woolite as that is what is made for.
     
    bn1966 likes this.
  12. BigBrother

    BigBrother One of the Regulars

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    I was thinking Woolite originally based on what I’ve read earlier. Any specific type or just the standard blue bottle stuff?
     
  13. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    I use Dr Bronners as it can be used for so many other things....just handy to have around.
     
  14. bn1966

    bn1966 Call Me a Cab

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    I’ve been using Woolite too without any problems and where I don’t want to risk damaging an item I’ve sent it to specialist dry cleaners that are experienced in vintage.
     
  15. BigBrother

    BigBrother One of the Regulars

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    142
    So in a previous thread we got into the weeds about what best to do and I think I have my good, simple approach.

    I’m just going to either bucket wash or gentlest cycle wash my garments with Woolite and then do the towel dry method.

    A) Which Woolite specifically would you recommend? As is usually the case with such things today, there are at least three or four different varieties. Thoughts?

    B) Do you think I should be fine for essentially anything from the 30s or 40s? (It would be nothing that would require hard-core architectural considerations like a suit jacket. I’m talking simply trousers and maybe an occasional necktie or something to that effect.)

    C) Creases are interesting to me. Many of these have permanent creases (think military pants) that are absolutely gorgeous and are some of my favorite parts of my collection. After washing, do these have to be given special consideration if they are permanently in there? I was planning on honestly just steaming everything once done drying.

    Thank you so much everyone!
     
  16. Peacoat

    Peacoat Bartender Bartender

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    The different concoctions of Woolite are probably similar to Pecard in that they are all essentially the same.
     
  17. BigBrother

    BigBrother One of the Regulars

    Messages:
    142
    So I keep going back and forth and back and forth on my cleaning path for the vintage items I’ve been collecting (both militaria and non-). Before I get into it, to clarify this is not for “I just bought something and need to deep clean it (ala summer whites)”, this is for, say, shirts or pants after they’re worn for a day. Normal laundry stuff. And this would be for standard cotton and wool items, nothing exotic or that very obviously requires one method or the other (like a suit jacket which I would only dry clean).

    So, here goes!

    Hand washing

    - Would be done with cold water in a bucket with very gentle soap (delicate-variety Woolite, etc.), then roll-dried and laid flat on a towel to dry, and finally steamed.
    - Pros: I have control over the whole process. Most delicate/least damaging approach (I think. Maybe water in general is bad over time (?)) Effectively free. I don’t have to rely on dry cleaner hours and the whole rigmarole.
    - Cons: LABOR and TIME. Between militaria and normal vintage, a laundry day like this would literally entail an entire day, not to mention drying and then steaming time. Don’t think I could steam things as well as a dry cleaner could press them. And I’m not sure that constant soaking is good over time (?)

    Dry cleaning

    - This was going to be my approach until my first time when I took a pair of vintage 1935 trousers to a place and got them back with all buttons replaced as the originals had melted off. That said, all the vintage and militaria dealers I talk to seem to rely on dry cleaners regularly.
    - Pros: convenience. Much sharper final look, I feel, than with steaming.
    - Cons: riskier? Much more expensive. Not sure if more damaging over time than cold water soaking.

    So what do you all think, and what have been your experiences?

    Thanks all!
     
  18. Peacoat

    Peacoat Bartender Bartender

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    Take your clothes to the dry cleaners and be done with it. No way would I ever spend a day on washing clothes. Probably not even an hour. I have been taking my clothes to the cleaners for over 30 years and never had anything damaged.

    Go to the cleaners—problem solved with a minimum of time spent on the project.
     
    Short Balding Guy likes this.
  19. BigBrother

    BigBrother One of the Regulars

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    142
    (Repeated on my various laundry threads.) Well, that was revealing. I don’t know how you guys manage to wash wool and avoid what just happened to me: I tried a single pair of wool trousers and they lost about an inch on inseam and waist :\. Granted I used a machine on gentle, cold water (couldn’t do the bucket just yet) but I don’t think that should’ve made a difference (?) Dried it carefully, flat, and lost the sizing as described. I think it’s dry cleaning for me from here on out.
     

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