Vintage Linens: Soaks & Cleaning Recipes
For old vintage linens that are yellowed with age and need more than spot cleaning, here are some recipes for soaking the entire piece.
- Check a spot to make sure the recipe won’t damage the fabric or colors before soaking the entire item.
- When drying linens in the sun, lay them directly on the grass instead of hanging them–the weight of hanging wet items can warp or damage the fibers.
1/4 cup Kosher or Sea salt
Gallon hot water
- Cover piece entirely and soak for at least 48 hours. Rinse well and lay out in the sun to dry. See notes below for rinse method.
- In a large roaster or pot, fill with hot water and several slices of lemon. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and add your linens. Use a wooden spoon to push them down until they become completely submerged and saturated with the water. Cover the pot and leave overnight.
- Rinse well, wash with mild detergent and water as usual and then lay the items out in the sun to dry.
Buttermilk – #3
1 Quart Buttermilk
1 Gallon Water
1 TBS Fresh Lemon Juice
- Soak items in the buttermilk recipe for up to 24 hours, rinse twice, then launder as usual.
Biz & Oxyclean – #4
1 Scoop* Biz
1 Scoop* Oxyclean
1 Gallon Hot Water
- Soak in the hot water for up to 48 hours, then rinse and launder as usual.
- *Use the oxyclean scoop
- After washing linens, give them a good vinegar rinse to remove as much of the soap as possible. Use one cup of white vinegar per gallon of water. After the vinegar rinse, rinse again with plain water a time or two.
And here’s another spot treater:
3/4 cup rubbing alcohol
1/4 cup water
10 drops mild dish detergent
How Long To Soak?
You can soak items for a few days if they are heavily yellowed and the cleaning solutions aren’t giving you the results you want. Just replace with fresh hot water + recipe every day or two.
Here’s a cleaning solution for bleaching stains out of old linens, spot test first before using:
2 quarts distilled water
1/4 cup bleach
1/4 cup shaved Ivory Soap bar
- Mix ingredients and soak item for approximately one hour.
- Dry in sun.
- Repeat again if necessary (you can still use the original bleach mixture you used the first time–just store til needed).
Old vintage items are lovely, but they can yellow in spots as well as hold stains. Here’s a recipe to help brighten things up:
1 Gallon warm water
2 TBS Ivory Soap (grated)
1 TBS Bleach
- Mix and let sit to cool until liquid has gelled a bit. Apply to stain.
- You can soak linens, even colored embroidered pieces, in this for several days.
- As with all vintage pieces, rinse very well, over and over, to remove every trace of soap.
*Important: Make sure to test a small area first before using
Caring For Vintage Quilts
Here’s an article I found in a very old household notebook that I was lucky enough to come in possession of, it gives helpful information for cleaning and caring for old quilts. Note: Don’t dry clean a cotton quilt since the weight of the fluid may place more stress than water on old fabric.
- Washing in mild soap and warm water will brighten the colors, or you might use dishwashing (not dishwasher) detergent. Most quilts can take a short, gentle washer agitation. Rinse thoroughly.
- If the quilt is age-marked, soak in a solution of one quart buttermilk and one tablespoon white vinegar to each gallon of water before washing. This won’t damage a cotton quilt.
- Hang a wet quilt over two lines to distribute weight while drying. You can finish drying by a short fluffing on warm temperature in the dryer.
- If fortunate enough to have an all-white quilt, try sunbleaching. Our grandmothers placed white garments on clean grass and the sun–not the bleach bottle–did the job.
- Don’t store quilts in plastic; it may cause yellowing. Instead, wrap in clean paper and then wrap with several sheets of newspaper to prevent mildew.
- Store singly in boxes as stacking quilts will weaken the fabric at the folds.