How to Wash Your Vintage Fabrics

I’ve been sewing since childhood, so I have a lot of tools.  But the one tool I use on just about all my fabric finds is my front loading washing machine.

I’ll wash anything but silk and outdoor fabrics like Sunbrella.    Honestly.  I’ve washed Black Watch Pendleton Wool, old wedding gowns, and tons of vintage upholstery fabrics over the years.   Most of them went right in the drier.

And they came out so much better.  Honestly.   Cleaner.  Softer.  Fresh smelling.

Sometimes, washing will give old fabrics an interesting texture.  Like the 70s geometric below.  It went into the wash looking a little “bad motel”, but came out looking almost like a batik.  Much better.

Another reason to wash–I want my Kiki’s Rewind Designs to be sturdy.  If a fabric can’t stand up to washing and drying, I certainly don’t want to use it in a garden apron or heavy-duty bag.  These things are meant to get dirty (and clean again).

Garden tool belts get drity. They're designed to take many washings.

Front-loading machines are best because they have a gentle action compared to top loaders.  They also handle bulky yardage better.   Water savings is another big plus.

I wash on  the bulky cycle.   And if you think a fabric might fade, wash it alone.   Ethnic fabrics,  plus old American denim that’s never been washed will sometimes bleed dye.

RE detergent:  All has a new product out that I’m getting good results with:  A Free and Clear liquid with Oxy.

Stains are a whole different post– I usually fill up the bath tub with a very strong Oxy powder solution  and soak things overnight.  Just make sure to dissolve the oxy powder before adding fabric.

But if you’ve got a better way to handle stains on old fabrics, please share.  Like I said–a whole different post and I’d love some fresh input from other fabric lovers.


    • Thanks, I’ll try that. I have never used Borax, but another friend just told me she uses it to kill ants. Sounds like one of those really useful products like baking soda. I’ll buy some.
      By the way–All the fabrics in this post are from the Scarp Exchange. $3 a yard and they were bringing more out, but shopping pal Melissa made me quit. I think it’s called intervention. How do you like my choices?

  1. LOVE them! I use Borax (with dish deteregent) for cleaning my outdoor Sunbrella cushions, followed by a good spray of Kiwi Camp Dri. I also use it (with white vinegar) on my slate and tile floors.

    • Great tip about cleaning Sunbrella. I’ll try it soon. And don’t just you love that fabric?? It was developed next to my home town in Glen Raven, NC. I remember seeing the swatches being tested outside around the mill when I was a girl. Great stuff–and no, all outdoor fabrics are NOT created equal–not by a long shot.
      By the way, we’re always finding great Sunbrella swatches at the Scrap Exchange. They make wonderful throw pillows. I couldn’t afford it other wise.

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