What a week it has been! Such a celebration! The parties, the festivities!
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.
I confess that the only vintage linens I use regularly are cloth napkins. I have lots which I inherited. They are a lovely touch of luxury at meals. I do iron them after washing, but use no starch. Your comment about starch makes me wonder if I should wash the starched crocheted doilies I also inherited. They’ve been starched for decades (!)
I’m very leery of starch, although they do make the doilies look nice! Honestly, I’ve just been through a pile of gorgeous, high-quality stuff that is complete ruined by nibbled holes. Ugh!
Yup, we can do OxiClean here in the UK, and Im delighted to know it’s OK on fragile older fabrics. And I’d never realised starch was no-no, but of course it makes sense. Any tips for giving a bit of ‘body’ to thin, weathered fabrics? Must get things in order for National Laundry and Linen Week. No, let’s make the INTERnational Laundry and Linen Week.
Oh, my! You’re right–this is too big to be only an American holiday!! The OxiClean shouldn’t hurt your older fabrics unless it takes out a stain that was, in effect, holding the old fabric together. That happened to me just yesterday! Starch is good for adding body to fabric and shouldn’t be a problem unless you’re storing things away with the starch still on the fabric. With actual linen, I find that a firm pressing with a hot iron (not ironing where you slide the iron around randomly but real sustained pressing) can add stiffness. Just be wary of scorching!
I don’t iron often enough to scorch anything 😉
National Laundry and Linen Week; no wonder I have spent so much time in the laundry this week. The laundry, but not I, knew it was time to party. Great tips to improve my laundry experience.
Laundry has a way of asserting its right to celebrate itself!
Thank you for the tips about cleaning and storage! I think I feel inspired to tidy my linen closet! 🙂
Oh, good! I wish I was there to help–I love other people’s linen closets!
Of course I celebrated…I am wearing my favorite towel as a headdress all week! But dear Kerry, thank you so much for sharing this knowledge! xo Johanna
That image of you in a towel headdress is one I will treasure, Johanna–it’ll keep me giggling all day!
You’ve provided valuable info here, Kerry. Thank you! I’m saving this post. Hopefully I’ll be able to find it if I need it!
You probably have a trove of tips about the care and feeding of old flatware and china, too! The things we learn!
Biz. What a flash from the past! Trisodium phosphate or TSP. We used it in an archeological lab to to clean off bones when we wanted to create a skeleton model. pretty powerful stuff. Those bones got clean as a whistle,. So you’re wise to use it sparingly. I Have used something called Mrs. Stewart’s Liquid Bluing,, which can get rid of yellowing on fabrics that aren’t fragile. thanks for all the good advice!
Ah, such good tips! Thank you so much Kerry-
I buy OxiClean at Sam’s Club in these great big boxes–I’m a believer!
I’ve made notes… xxx
Oh, good–you’ll be ready for the quiz. 😉
I would add another don’t – don’t iron the creases in the napkins, or maybe do that just before they are used. My mother had a woman come in and iron (ahhhh…..hand ironed trousseau sheets…I will never forget the luscious feel of them) and she would iron the napkins. After some years, the lines became a part of the fabric. It’s not such a big deal with white or off white fabrics, but it really shows in colored ones. Martha Stewart (;-D) rolls her table cloths up to avoid the creases. I do that with some of my more precious quilts. I have fabric stitched around one of those plastic pool noodles and then I wrap the quilts around the noodle and store in the top of a closet.
This is an excellent point! Those fold lines can also become weak spots in the fabric over time–I see lots of holes appearing on fold lines. Your idea for the pool noodles as a means of storing quilts is great, too. I used to layer all my older quilts on a bed in my guest room but, really, it was such a pain to move them when we had company!
interesting tips on the starch part… I’mt not sure if there’s such a thing as a commercial made starch? (maybe mixed with some chemicals to prevent the pests from coming?) thank you.. i always feel i learn something new from your post.. 😉
What a nice thing to say! I should look into a non-food-based starch–you’re right that it makes sense that it’s out there somewhere!
Well, didn’t you just have a blast 🙂 and that information was the best! thank you.
Do I know how to party or what?! Ha! I hope you can use the info at some point!
I regret passing up some stained towels at a thrift store. Next time I will give your soaking and cleaning methods a try.
I’m pretty sure you’ll find more linens in more thrift stores so you’ll get your chance! Just stay away from things with holes–MUCH harder to deal with!
What fun you’re having over here. I love your writing style, and the fact that you blend humor with useful information.
When I worked in the costume shop at San Jose State, we would often use lemon juice on a stain. We placed it out in the sun for a few hours for some gentle bleaching.
Thank you so for your nice words! I know lots of people swear by lemon juice–I need to do more research. I think I read somewhere that it was problematic but I can’t remember why!
I was just passed down a lot of linens from my grandmother’s collection. A few are sporting some stains but I’ve been nervous to start working on them. But I know I can trust your advice, so I guess it’s time for me to get the laundry festivities started! 😉
I think you will be amazed and pleased with how much of that staining will come out! Just be careful with fragile pieces and rinse everything well!
When I want to remove the brown, almost rusty spots on old linen, I can get rid of it all by rubbing with lemon juice and coarse salt and then washing as normal.
I need to do more research on using lemon juice. I know I read somewhere that it wasn’t a great solution–but I can’t remember where I read that or why the solution was problematic!
What fabulous resources, Kerry. Thanks for sharing. Also thanks to those who have commented.
I hope you can use the information, Cynthia–there’s something so nice about seeing old linens become beautiful again!
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Keeping this info in a safe place.
You know where to find me, if you have questions!
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