Vintage Care Guide

Vintage care guide

Your vintage clothes have lasted this long -there's no reason they can't last even longer!

Here are Oxfam's top tips for taking care of vintage clothes.

Cleaning your clothing

When washing vintage clothing it's best to check the garment's care label. Remember: not all fabrics are suitable for machine washing! Some can cope with a quick spin but others shouldn't be tumble dried; they should be left to dry naturally on a hanger. Some fabrics will melt under a hot iron and others will felt in hot water.

We're here to help you navigate the caring minefield.

If your clothing is delicate, read caring for delicate vintage clothing.

Fabric characteristics and cleaning tips

Wool

Characteristics

Wool fibres have crimps or curls that create pockets, give the wool a spongy feel and create insulation. The outside surface of the fibre consists of a series of serrated scales that overlap each other much like the scales of a fish.

Cleaning

Dry clean or hand wash. Wool may be damaged by traditional soaps and detergents - it's better to use Stergene or baby shampoo. Put wool through the washing machine or tumble dryer only on settings specifically designated for this fibre. If wrinkled, hang dry woollens in steamy bathroom. (Hot water will shrink wool and the barbs will felt together, and all natural movement and elasticity will be lost)

Cotton

Characteristics

This fabric is used in a large number of clothes & accessories. It is soft, light and thin. The cotton fibre is from the cotton plant's seed pod. The fibre is hollow in the centre and, under a microscope looks like a twisted ribbon. "Absorbent" cotton will retain 24-27 times its own weight in water and is stronger when wet than dry. This fibre absorbs and releases perspiration quickly, thus allowing the fabric to "breathe".

Cleaning

Separate lights & darks and machine wash. Iron at a cool temperature.

Silk

Characteristics

Smooth and soft. It reflects light at many angles, giving silk a natural shine. This fabric is commonly used in dresses, tops and skirts. Silk is a natural protein fibre, like human hair, taken from the cocoon of the silkworm. The natural glue, sericin, secreted by silkworms and not totally removed during manufacturing of the silk, is a natural sizing which is brought out when washing in warm water.

Cleaning

Dry clean or hand wash in cool water with Stergene or a similar gentle product. Do not rub or a chalky bloom may arise due to broken filaments. Hang or dry flat. Take care with spot cleaning, as this may leave rings. Shirts and blouses should be steamed or ironed on a cool temperature.

Acetate

Characteristics

Has a luxurious feel and appearance, is made in a wide range of colours, is very soft, drapes well, is fast drying and is shrink-, moth- and mildew-resistant. Used mainly in blouses and dresses.

Cleaning

Dry clean, or machine or hand wash at a cool temperature. Do not wring when wet or put through spin cycle in washer. Hang or dry flat (do not tumble dry). Iron while damp at a cool temperature.

Acrylic

Characteristics

Is quick drying to remove moisture from body surface, easily washed, retains shape, is resistant to moths, oil, and chemicals, can be dyed to bright shades, and is resistant to sunlight degradation. Mainly used in sweaters, socks, fleece wear, circular knit apparel, sportswear and childrenswear.

Cleaning

Machine wash. Hang or dry flat. Iron at a cool temperature.

Nylon

Characteristics

Is exceptionally strong, lustrous, easy to wash, resistant to damage from oil and many chemicals, can be dyed in wide range of colours and is resilient. Low in moisture absorbency. Frequently used in blouses, dresses, hosiery, lingerie, underwear, raincoats, ski apparel and swimwear.

Cleaning

Wash by hand or machine at a cool temperature with similar colours. Nylon's natural hue is grayish and it will revert if mislaundered. Special nylon whiteners can be purchased at the supermarket. Iron cool.

Polyester

Characteristics

Has a strong resistance to stretching and shrinking and is resistant to most chemicals. Is also quick drying and wrinkle resistant and retains heat-set pleats and creases.

Cleaning

Most items made from polyester can be machine washed and dried. To wash use warm water and add a fabric softener to the final rinse cycle. If ironing is required, use a moderately warm iron.

Rayon

Characteristics

Is highly absorbent, soft and comfortable, easy to dye, and drapes well on the user.

Cleaning

If washing instructions are missing, dry clean only. Wash at a cool temperature. Iron cool.

Corduroy

Characteristics

Is considered a durable fabric. It is easily recognisable as the corduroy has ridges in it. These are commonly referred to as the size of the "wale" (i.e. the number of ridges per inch) - the lower the number, the thicker the width of the wale. Wide wale is more commonly found on trousers; medium, narrow, and fine wale fabrics are usually found in garments used above the waist.

Cleaning

Wash as per material (usually cotton), turning inside out. Leave inside out for ironing and iron at cool temperature.

Denim

Characteristics

Is a heavy and rather thick fabric, which after a long period of time tends to fade. It is commonly used in jeans, shorts, jackets and skirts and in a variety of colours. But is also used in a wider variety of clothing and accessories.

Cleaning

Wash as per cotton, but wash it alone the first time so that dye does not stain other clothing. Turn inside out to discourage fading. Hang dry to avoid shortening and shrinkage.

Leather

Characteristics

Leather is used in a variety of clothing and accessories, such as coats and jackets, trousers, skirts, shoes, bags and belts. Leather is mainly sold in four forms. The first, full-grain, means leather that has not been sanded, buffed, or snuffed (cleaned up), & is commonly used in shoes. The second, top-grain, means the leather has been sanded and a finish coat has been added. This gives a plastic feel that has less breathability. The third, corrected-grain, has artificial grain applied to its surface. And the fourth, split leather, is made from leather that has been left once the top-grain has been taken out, then had artificial layer applied to the surface. There are other types of leather such as patent and nubuck, but these are less common.

Cleaning

Send to specialist dry cleaner.

Suede

Characteristics

Is made from split leather. Suede is primarily used on coats and jackets and has a 'fuzzy' feel to it when touched.

Cleaning

Dry clean only. Protect with suede protector spray once back from the cleaner.