Vintage Linens: Soaks & Cleaning Recipes

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For old vintage linens that are yellowed with age and need more than spot cleaning, here are some recipes for soaking the entire piece.

Notes:

  • 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.
Vintage Linens Chest

Vintage Linens Chest

Recipe #1

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.

#2

  • 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

Rinse Method

  • 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.

Bleaching Stains

Picture of Bleach Bottle - Tipnut.comHere’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.

Stack Of Vintage Quilts In Closet

Stack Of Vintage Quilts In Closet

  • 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.

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Published: August 7, 2007
Updated: November 24, 2011

What Readers Are Saying:
6 Comments to “Vintage Linens: Soaks & Cleaning Recipes”
  1. B Grimes says:

    Thank you, thank you!! I received a PILE of old linens when my parents moved to a retirement center this year – a combination of my mother’s, my grandmother’s, and my great-grandmother’s. Most had not been touched in years and were yellowed with age. I found your site and used recipe #4. It’s amazing!! Every single item cleaned beautifully. I’m using 20 of the luncheon napkins tomorrow for a bridal shower – probably the first time some of them have been used in 80 years. After the shower, I’ll soak them again. We use heavy white cotten napkins regularly rather than paper, and this recipe has kept them pristine for company use also. Many thanks!

  2. John says:

    I tried #4 as well with astounding results. I had found an old cloth in a rag bag and realized it was linen. A friend said it had been an altar cloth and since it had no holes I decided to try to clean it up using the recipe I found your site. The cloth looked like it had been used to mop floors, it looked so bad, but I thought at least some of it might be salvaged. After a 36 hour soak I was amazed to see a cloth that looked like a new piece of fabric emerge. Thank you so much!

  3. Long Time Archival Linen Collector. says:

    I am a studied archival linen purchaser/collector and do not recommend any hydrogen peroxide or related peroxide products, bleach, or any man-made definably chemical-based formulations to wash or treat linen and/or relatedly fine cottons.

    Use of these products creates irreprable hardship on the fibers and you will notice shortly thereafter that the texture of the article(s) will have changed (first detected to the touch, or ‘feel’ as it is deemed) then over time the fabric in question will begin to break and separate in the form of small holes, frayed/worn edges which often appear at the edge-seams or openings of your fabrics, garments or bedding material.

    Vinegar, blueing liquid, buttermilk, lemon juice, salt soaks and mild ph detergent soaks (no extreme hot water temperatures must ever be employed) is best recommended. Wash fabrics on the gentle cycle of your washing machine using only a ph balanced soap like “Zero” or equivalent ph balanced soap.

    Sun bleaching and/or hang drying is always best for for archival fabrics, including natural linen or cotton. Caution: Never use Sun Bleaching if the fabric has been dyed–vegetable dyes will readily fade with sun exposure. Often
    antiquated quilts have depreciated in value considerably for oversights such as sun exposured and related sun bleaching.

    Best regards.

    • Sara Edward says:

      Hi

      What would you recommend to whiten an aged white silk wedding saree and the wedding lace. It is in very good condition except that it is aged and has a yellow colour.

      Thanks

      Sara

  4. Allene says:

    I had made a cross-stitch pillow for my Mom of MI when she moved to Florida.
    Florida rots fabric as well as yellows items. This pillow was the color of
    dirty water. I used #4 and WOW I wish I had a before photo. I put a new back
    on which I also soaked as it was yellowed. White as snow!! I have been going
    thru linens of Mom and my Grandmother to clean them up. This receipe is
    the BEST!! I can’t tell you how much it means to be able to do something that works, use it or pass it on to other family members for them to enjoy. Thank you so much!!

  5. betty says:

    I used the oxiclean_Biz method on my granddaughters used cloths and it worked really well. The colors Blue and red did run but washed out easily. This method is great. Also used on old spotted birth announcements. Worded great!


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