| Vintage Clothes Care

| Vintage Clothes Care


We’ve cleaned thousands of vintage garments over the years at HOTCAKES, here’s a list of what we consider to be the best methods, and what not to do. 

First up: A note on care labels (if present) on a vintage garment.  

Way back when…top loading washing machines used to be the norm in the UK.  So great was the spin on a top-loader that it could make jumper sleeves stretch down to your ankles.  Many vintage clothing garments with care labels attached stating ‘dry clean only’ had that on the label because of the machines in use back in the day.  Nowadays many of these can be washed - carefully, by hand or in gentle machine cycles. Technology and detergents have come on a bit, some machines have a steam refresh cycle too and this is great for freshening up knitwear, jackets and coats.   

Many clothing manufacturers still label delicate fabrics as “dry clean” to keep you from ruining them in the washing machine. However, this doesn't mean you must dry clean every delicate clothing item. Dry cleaning is effective, it’s not as eco-friendly as washing with water though, and it can be harsh on older garments.  So if you are dry cleaning a vintage garment be prepared to be handed an envelope containing all the buttons which fell off that 1950’s coat during the cleaning cycle to sew back on - cotton is a plant fibre, the cellulose has naturally deteriorated over time and couldn’t take the chemical process.   



This applies to plant and animal fibres, and synthetic textiles.

1. Hand wash anything extremely delicate.  If in doubt always hand wash it. 

2. Test in the sink first in cold water.  Test just a part of the garment initially. By testing something in the sink you get a feel of how the textile reacts to water. Will the colour run? Does the weight of the water add strain on the textile? That one will give you an idea of how the garment will react to the spin cycle or if it’s best to gently hand wring it and rub in a towel.   Almost every piece of washable vintage we have through our hands gets the sink test to determine whether it goes in the machine or not. Again, if in doubt about machine washing continue with gentle hand washing only, or stop and opt to dry clean. 

2. Wash cold. Many textiles will shrink in the wash, viscose especially.  A cotton shirt doesn’t necessarily need a thermo-clinical disinfection temperature.  Washing in cold water is more eco and budget friendly too. 

3. If it can go in the wash then use the wool cycle or delicate cycle for everything.  It’s just a cotton dress, but if that dress is 50 years old it’s delicate.  A noughties T shirt was likely mass-produced from short-staple cotton, so it’s delicate. 

3. Use the slowest spin speed you can for wool and delicate garments.  Dry flat if there is a lot of residual moisture. Always dry knitwear flat, and reshape whilst damp.  Wool is very delicate when it’s damp, hang it up and you risk stretching and tearing it. 

5. Silks - hand wash, or delicate/silk cycle only if you use the machine. We hand wash anything silk and roll in a towel to absorb the excess moisture just to ensure there is no print lift from the spin cycle which can cause a marbling effect. 

6. Faux furs - most vintage pieces will have a dry clean only label but we wash cold in a wool cycle. Whilst it’s damp use an old hairbrush and brush the pile in the direction it should lie, repeat the brushing when it’s dry.

7. Do. Not. Tumble. Dry. Anything. 

8. Wash screen-printed T shirts inside out. 

9. Ditto for denim. For heavily dyed black denim we recommend plunging it in cold water first before it goes in the washing machine to get the fibres well-soaked. This will help prevent mottled dye lift.  

10. We don’t recommended washing wool jackets and coats.  Tailored garments especially, as these will often have interfacing bonded to the underside of the cloth. Should that shrink in a wash (it most likely will) then it will cause crinkling on the face side of the fabric and that’s a big repair job.   

11.  Use non-bio detergents only. A biological detergent is the worst thing you can use on wool, silk, dyed, or delicate textiles.  Consider eco-detergents, they’re just as effective if not more so than some big name brands out there. We recommend visiting our lovely chums at Friendly Soap for excellent plant-friendly cleaning products. 

12. Try not to overfill your washing machine, it’s the action of the water moving around the textile fibres and opening them up which facilitates the best clean, not necessarily the amount of detergent you use. 


Stain Removal:

1. Cosmetics. Many cosmetics contain fats and oils.  To get rid of lipstick and foundation marks on a garment hand wash in good old washing-up liquid in the sink.  Just a drop is needed.  Tried and trusted, we’ve cleaned countless silk scarves this way, including Hermès. It’s important to make sure to test a small area of any printed or dyed textile first though, just to check for colour-fastness.  

2. Yellowing and sweat stains - soak in white vinegar and water overnight, 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water, hang up to dry in the sunshine if you can.  White vinegar is wondrous stuff, soak a cardboard-crisp pair of jeans or denim jacket with it overnight or add some to your denim wash. It softens the fibres up beautifully and naturally. 

3. White vinegar and bicarbonate of soda paste makes a good spot stain remover.  Or mix white vinegar with distilled alcohol (vodka works). Dab stains with the mixture - a cotton wool bud works well for application.  

4. Old ‘rust’ marks. These tend to occur on antique textiles only after decades of storage. Difficult to shift. You will need a specialist cleaning solution for this. It’s toxic stuff and the results are variable.

5. If it’s a fresh stain and still damp then try and keep it damp until you can see to it.  Stains can be much harder to remove when they’ve dried.  

6. When spot-stain removing take your time.  If you rub at the textile too harshly you risk lifting dye off any print in that area or weakening the textile in that spot. Dab, don’t rub. 

7. Oxy cleaners - we use these very occasionally, but only on what we consider to be still strong fibres, on pieces dating from 1980’s onwards. Never use a product containing bleach on animal-derived fibres. 



Cool as you can. Iron inside out. Use a pressing cloth between the iron and the textile if possible, you don’t need anything special, an old white T shirt will do.  A pressing cloth will protect the garment from damage, protect interfacing against accidental shrinkage, and prevent iron shine.  If you are pressing a silk scarf with rolled edges don’t iron over the roll, it will flatten and never bounce back, so just press up to it. 

Antique, fragile, and leather garments:

Fragile antique garments, lace etc, always seek out a specialist cleaning service.  It’s well worth contacting a specialist wedding gown cleaning company as they have experience and know-how of cleaning some incredibly delicate and expensive pieces.           

Crêpe: Do not attempt to wash or steam crêpe textiles - always dry clean only on these, you might need to repair a seam on a 1930’s piece where a line of stitching deteriorated during a dry clean, but that’s better than losing the entire dress. 

Suede and leather: specialist cleaning is recommended and most dry cleaners offer this.  Suede and leather cleaning kits are widely available too. We recommend using a quality suede brush to remove any dust,  and applying suede and leather protector spray periodically. If suede gets wet, let it dry naturally then brush gently with a suede stone. 

High-end vintage or designer pieces: err on the safe side and specialist dry clean. These are often ‘investment pieces’, pieces to treasure which will also most likely increase in financial value over time, so treat them with kid gloves. 


Caring for vintage isn’t as difficult as I’ve probably made it sound, just go easy on your garments, show them some love and you’ll be fine.  I want you to love the pieces you buy from HOTCAKES as much as we loved them when we unearthed them during handpicking, and for them to last.  You are of course always more than welcome to contact us for more guidance on caring for any vintage garment you’ve purchased from us.

Sam x






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