Have you had as much fun as I have?
What?! You haven’t been celebrating one of the most exciting events of the year?
According to the Textile Ranger, it’s National Laundry and Linen Week! Woohoo!
I’ve soaked, I’ve scrubbed, I’ve starched, I’ve ironed. I’ve even combed fringe. This holiday season is always such a whirlwind!
Over the last couple of years, I’ve answered questions from a few readers about caring for vintage linens. I thought that, to celebrate this week where the whole entire world focuses its attention on laundry and linen, I’d formalize some of the advice I’ve given.*
Cleaning vintage linens
If you have vintage fabrics or you find some at a thrift shop, they probably have spots or stains from use and storage. If napkins and tablecloths are used for a meal, let’s face it—they get spots. As I’ve said, I think of these as “the ghosts of good times past.”
But, if you want your linens as pristine as possible, those stains can be lightened considerably or removed altogether with the right products and patience. If what you own is very fragile or very precious to you, or made of something other than linen and cotton, you need to decide whether to take the chance of laundering.
OxiClean—I start with OxiClean, a powdered laundry booster. Depending how fragile my linens seem, I use either the washer or wash by hand. I use the hottest water that comes from my tap (and it’s HOT!) and dissolve the OxiClean. Then I let the linens soak for a long time, sometimes overnight.
The water may turn a tea-like shade—this should convince you that the process is doing its job!
Then I just finish the wash. I make sure I rinse really well and often add a glug or two of white vinegar, just to neutralize anything that remains on the fabric.
Biz and Cascade—If the OxiClean does not get all the stains out, I go for the big guns. I first saw this combination recommended on Pinterest and have been amazed at how effective it can be!
Biz is an enzyme-based laundry booster and Cascade is a dishwasher detergent. I use the powder forms of both, although I’m not sure that matters. The Pinterest recipe says one half gallon of water, with one half cup each of Biz and Cascade. That’s a lot! I’ve never used that much. Depending on the size wash I’m doing, I throw some of each product in—if I need to do another wash with a stronger solution, I will.
Again, I use very hot water, either in the machine or the sink. I dissolve the ingredients and let my stained linens soak. Even when I’ve already done the OxiClean soak, the water often turns a distinct brown with this concoction!
I don’t start with this combo, though, because I worry a little about the strength of it. And I don’t use it for anything I would be devastated to lose. I have seen no evidence of it hurting fabrics in any way but still . . .
When using this combination, multiple rinses are very important!
Whink—If you have linens that have rust marks, look for a product called Whink—it’s available in Walmart and often in hardware stores.
This product, when used according to directions, is like magic. The rust spots will fade and disappear before your eyes.
Again, I would not use this product except as a last resort. It can happen that the rust has damaged the fabric and, when the rust goes, so does the fabric.
I don’t use bleach—too easy to damage fabric. I do use sunshine—I keep the fabric damp with a spray bottle. It works!
Retro Clean is a newer product for linens. It is getting raves but I haven’t seen the results others have. Besides, it’s expensive and I would need a lot of it! You might want to try it, though.
Storing vintage linens
Since you may not keep your pretty old linens on display year-round, you need to store them away—do it safely!
This boils down to two rules—no plastic and no starch.
Fabric should be able to breathe during changes in temperature and humidity. Plastic doesn’t allow that. It makes sense to me to tuck your nice tablecloth and napkins into an old cotton pillowcase. Or you can buy acid-free tissue paper.
Regarding starch: starched linens are surely lovely. That crispness! But the rule is to iron and starch your linens before using them but always wash everything clean of starch before you store it away!
Consider it—starch comes from things like potatoes. Potatoes are food. Insects and rodents search for food. In eating the starch, they will chew on the fabric as well. I just went through a batch of old linens from an auction and it broke my heart how many items were damaged this way!
So, those are the basics:
If you have your own linen and laundry secrets, let us know! If you have other questions about the care of your linens, please ask! You should be using and enjoying these pretty things.
And don’t forget to mark National Laundry and Linen Week on your calendar for next year–I think a parade is in order! See you soon—I’m off to celebrate!
* I think the products I mention by name are probably all North American products. They work, though, because they have certain ingredients, like sodium percarbonate in OxiClean, for example. If you want to try these products and can’t order them on-line, you might look for a product available in your country that includes the active ingredients.