I suspect this is the subject many of you have been waiting for. If you missed any of the previous topics, we covered washing HERE, drying HERE and ironing HERE.
Because there are so many different kinds of stains, I’m going to break this topic into at least two posts.
Today, let’s focus on what I’ve found to be the most common stains on old linens: oxidation stains – often simply called “storage stains.” Their color is typically some shade of yellow or brown, sometimes orange.
I must warn you … This is not going to be the prettiest post I’ve ever published. In fact, there’s a whole lot of “nastiness” in it, but since supposedly a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s best that I show you what storage stains look like. Remember … Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I hope you can see past the Eeewwwww.
Behold … storage stains
I warned you. Not pretty … but hopefully helpful. If you’ve been thrifting … or digging in Grandma’s dresser … and you have old linens that look like these, today’s your lucky day! I’ll tell you how to clean them.
But first, let me offer one word of caution. Please ask yourself the question: Will it be “the end of the world” if the item I’m about to wash gets ruined? While that’s a rare occurrence, there is always some level of risk to laundering a vintage textile for the first time. If you aren’t comfortable with any level of risk, you should consult a textile professional. Otherwise, keep reading…
There are many different methods and products for removing storage stains in vintage linens. I’ve tried a lot of them, and some of them work well. But through the years, one product made it to “all-time favorite linen cleaner” status; I now use it almost exclusively. What is it?
Restoration Linen Cleaner
2015 UPDATE I’m surprised to tell you that after many years, I have a new all-time favorite cleaner for antique and vintage linens. Mama’s Miracle Linen Soak cleans just as well as Restoration AND cleans silk. (No other cleaner I know of cleans vintage silk!) Read how MMLS won me over HERE.
Environmentally friendly … and safe for most fabrics and colors. (Not for use on silk or wool)
It’s also easy to use. Here’s what I do…
I fill my tub (or sink) with the hottest water safe for my fabric. At the same time, I add Restoration and stir well to dissolve.
Most of the time, I’m working with very hot water, so I gently lay my linens on top of the water then carefully press them into the water using a wooden spoon I’ve reserved especially for that purpose.
Although the Restoration packaging suggests pre-soaking, I only pre-soak when the storage stains are really significant. If that’s the case, it’s common for the water to begin to turn brown within only minutes. When that happens, I let the linens soak for about 30 minutes, and then I drain the water … and start the process again.
Very often, it only takes one soak in Restoration Linen Cleaner to turn old beauties from dingy yellow to pristine white. If the storage stains are significant, however, it will probably take longer … maybe even 2-3 soaks. Once the water stays fairly clean, I usually soak for 6-8 hours … then rinse well. Rinsing is really important. As long as you see even the slightest bit of bubble or sparkle, keep rinsing!
Since I’ve already written the tutorial for washing, I won’t repeat the basic steps in this post. I strongly encourage you to read what I wrote about washing before laundering any of your linens.
So what about …
- Bleach – As a rule, don’t do it! Bleach weakens fibers and can even facilitate disintegration. It is an absolute last resort … and usually not necessary. We’ll talk more about it next time when we talk about specific stain removal.
- OxiClean – When it comes to removing many basic storage stains, I’ve had very good success with OxiClean; in fact, I’ll occasionally use it as my pre-soak on exceptionally dirty linens. But, I don’t like to use OxiClean on my personal linens (and so I won’t recommend it to you). When comparing linens laundered in Restoration with those laundered in OxiClean, I’ve found that the Restoration linens retain their “clean” for longer. In other words, the OxiClean linens begin to show yellowing sooner.
- Dry cleaning – It’s an option, but I prefer to keep harsh chemicals away from vintage beauties whenever possible … and it’s almost always possible!
See what I mean?
So did the storage stains come out of all 12 of the “before” pics at the top of this post?
No … not yet.
(From the beginning of this post)
Top collage: I haven’t laundered the cross-stitch tablecloth or the pieces of lace, but I predict quick success with those.
Middle collage: The beautiful matelasse coverlet (bottom right) is from the late 1800s and belonged to a friend’s great-great-grandmother. My friend just received it … and purchased Restoration from me immediately. I’ve asked her to take pics so I can share them with you sometime.
Bottom collage: See the little hemstitched piece (bottom right)? The light oxidation stains came right out, but the horrid, all-over rust-colored stains remained. Obviously they weren’t oxidation stains…
… and if the stains aren’t oxidation stains?
That’s where we’ll pick up next time…
If there’s something I haven’t covered here that you’re wondering about, PLEASE leave a comment and ask me! Someone else may have the same question…<
Next time we’ll talk about how to remove specific storage stains … and “mystery” stains.