Thrifted & Vintage

Cleaning Vintage Clothing: My Two Secret Weapons

Thrifting vintage clothing can feel like a huge challenge when you first start out. Nothing off the racks in a thrift store looks anything like what you’d find in a nicely curated vintage boutique. The secret is to see potential in every item, and be willing to put in some elbow grease to cleaning vintage clothing, and fixing and mending discarded gems.

This is the first post in a sporadic series that I’ve been wanting to start for a while now: how to fix, mend, and restore vintage clothes. And I’m starting at the very beginning — with the two major secret weapons I keep on hand at all times. These are the secrets to fixing 1) odor and 2) dingy color.

Two secret weapons for cleaning vintage clothing:

cleaning vintage clothing: before oxiclean

The color was so dingy it threw off my whole white balance. Ick!


cleaning vintage clothing: after oxiclean

Bright, white, and good as new.


When I thrifted this beautiful 1960’s dress, the color was dingy, which made the whole piece feel kind of bleh. But I knew that it was an amazing piece, with beautiful detail in the trim on the front. Plus, unlike so many vintage dresses, it’s sized to fit an average-sized woman of today — not easy to find, with so many vintage dresses being teeny tiny.

I soaked it for a few hours in Oxi-clean (Biz is also a great choice for this, and many vintage fans swear by it over Oxi-clean) before running it through the wash on the gentle cycle. (I hand-wash many of my vintage pieces, but this dress seemed plenty sturdy enough to withstand the machine.) Out it came, looking good as new. Most importantly, the white was bright white, no longer dingy, and even the blue and yellow trim was brighter.


When odor is an issue with vintage clothing– musty smells are often the problem– I do a similar process, subbing out the Oxi-clean for vinegar. Vinegar does a number of wonders for clothing, from brightening the color and helping with colorfastness to removing odor. Once your piece is done soaking, rinse thoroughly. If a vinegar odor remains, try air drying outside in the sunshine.

And that’s it! With those two tools alone you can freshen up the vast majority of vintage finds, but be on the lookout for further posts that go more into stain removal, easy mending, and fixing other flaws.

By the way, if you’ve fallen in love with this dress like I did, it’s now available in my Etsy shop. 

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