Vintage tool kit: Clothing

Continuing this little series about tools and methods I use to freshen up vintage pieces, it’s time to talk about clothing.

There’s a lot of uncertainty here, and a lot of wiggle room. After all, there are so many fabrics, care instructions, and home remedies…how do you know which way is up? Here are my methods and tools, along with some I’ve collected from some wise vintage-lovers.

For dyeing or soaking away stains, start with:

  • 10 qt. bucket, or
  • A large plastic container (like a storage bin) for anything larger than a shirt or skirt
  • Rubber gloves (the dish-washing kind). Essential if you’re dyeing.

(For a great dye DIY, check out Thrift and Style.)

For cleaning:

  • Woolite: If I’m washing vintage by hand, I’m doing it with Woolite. I grew up with this stuff, and it’s always a reliable starting point. 80 percent of stains and general ick I encounter are solved by Woolite.
Oxi Clean

My choice for pre-treating stains or erasing stains on hard-to-launder items like neckties.

  • OxiClean: It comes in many names and packages, but an oxygen cleaner is your best bet for bubbling out old stains (and new ones!). For small spots, I love the laundry spray shown above. I spray the affected area generously, let sit, and then launder as I usually would (in the gentle cycle on warm or cold—never hot for vintage!—or by hand). For bigger projects, all the vintage pros swear by OxiClean powder, which comes in everything from small containers you can haul home from Target or Big Boxes you should have delivered if you care about your back.

There doesn’t seem to be much science to the OxiClean soak ratio. Depending on how confident you feel about the fabric, fill a container with warm or hot water. Add a 1/4 to 1/2 scoop of OxiClean (you’ll get a scoop in the big box) to the container, and let it fizz! Don’t be afraid to let it sit overnight or for one or two whole days. Move the garment around a bit every few hours to make sure every spot gets soaked.


  • Borax: The ladies of Ginger Root Design swear by Borax for its gentle power. During a recent visit, Erin told me about how she used it to lift away embroidery colors that had spread onto all the wrong parts of a vintage top. The “staining” disappeared and the shirt looked bright and new again. I haven’t used Borax yet, but I’ll be picking up a box soon.
  • Vinegar: @DeseoVintage recommends a vinegar soak for removing old, musty smells from garments. Try a 1-to-1 water and vinegar soak, but don’t be afraid of using more vinegar, she says. She’s even soaked garments in straight vinegar and says it’s gentle enough while still battling smells like a champ. (Check out Deseo Vintage on Etsy.)
  • Old towels: If you’re washing by hand or soaking an item, it can get pretty heavy. Instead of struggling to wring it out—which can strain the fabric if you’re not careful—I like to wrap the item in an old towel or two, like a nice vintage burrito. If the piece doesn’t have boning, I’ll even step on the entire parcel to squeeze out excess water.

For mending:

Sewers of every level need a sewing kit! But in a pinch (and as my mending pile grows), here are the two items I use most.

  • Safety pins: Use them to mark areas that need further attention, or to recall where you’d like to have a piece altered. And a few well-placed safety pins can save your butt in a fashion emergency. You can always find one or two in my purse.
  • Push pins: Yes, the ones from your office bulletin board! I hate finding that I garment I love has tiny pulls and snags that make it look messy (sometimes I’m the reason these happen!). Sweaters with big, chunky knits are easiest to push through and tug smooth, but vintage polyester in particular can pose a problem. A push pin is thick enough to poke the loose or fuzzy fiber through the garment to the underside, where you can tug it taut, then smooth the outer side. Every thread will go back into its proper place!

Added Aug. 29, 2012:

What’s in your laundry cabinet or sewing kit? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!


Filed under Repairs, Vintage

5 responses to “Vintage tool kit: Clothing

  1. Love these posts! I almost always sell our pieces as-is (I don’t buy anything with a terrible smell and try to avoid stains–I’ve only bought things with holes in the seam, etc.) but sometimes I pass up something because it seems unsalvagable and I just don’t have the time…rethinking now!


    • It’s always the most satisfying to buy something in mint condition, but there are so many variables! Sometimes a smell doesn’t really unearth itself until you get the garment home. Sometimes human error post-shopping trip can be the cause of a rip or snag! You’ve gotta be prepared, both for quick fixes and also and spurts of creativity.

      Thanks for reading! :)

  2. Pingback: Vintage tool kit: Bags | Quarter Life

  3. Pingback: How do you clean vintage jewelry? | Quarter Life

  4. Pingback: Vintage tool kit: Jewelry | Quarter Life

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