STORAGE STAIN REMOVAL: How to Care for Vintage Linens & Lace


 

Stain removal

 
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

(Click any pic to enlarge.)


 
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.

Remember …
The best thing you can do for your vintage linens
is use them!

Comments

  1. YES! Use them… especially when they are as beautifully de-stained as yours. Whoa. Positively remarkable!

    Learned a TON from this post!

    Hugs,
    Kelley of Kelley Highway… in Connecticut

  2. Perfect advice, Susan. I have also had very good luck using Cascade (or any dishwasher detergent) for lifting stains that nothing else seemed to work on. I make it into a paste and work it in and let it sit for a while before laundering. xo Diana

  3. I am a vintage and antique linen nut! They seem to call out to me. I find this post so interesting!

    Also, thank you for linking up your creme post. It truly warms my heart!

  4. My experience with this is listed as a testimonial (the one about the christening dress) and I cannot tell all of you how fabulous this product is. Susan really knows what she’s talking about!
    Nancy

  5. Hello, Susan. How nice to see your comment on my recent post–thanks for the “welcome back.” This is a fabulous post, and I am here to report that this product is WONDERFUL. As much as I love vintage linens, this is a MUST-HAVE product for me! I saved many of my babies’ precious linen outfits, and they ended up with several spots I hadn’t been able to remove–until I ordered this product from you, so thank you! ~Zuni

  6. I’m so thrilled I found you, I believe from Entertaining Women blog. I ordered your last 2 lb. on your Etsy site. PTL, you are a fellow believer!

  7. Thank you for all the wonderful advice. I do have two questions:
    1. in the final rinsings, does that also have to be hot water or can I use our very cold PA water.
    2. Can I do the soak and rinse in plastic buckets, or must it be metal or porcelain?
    Thank you very much for everything!

    • Bob, I’m so glad you are finding My Place to Yours to be a valuable resource! To answer your questions:
      1) Cold water rinsing is fine; in fact, that is my preference
      2) Although I’m no expert on the chemistry, I don’t know of any reason why you shouldn’t use plastic. My soaking sink is acrylic, and I’ve never had any adverse reactions.

      Hope this helps!

  8. Zsa Klina says:

    Greetings from Sydney, Australia. I am so happy to have stumbled here – so much to be learned reading everyone’s experiences – I thought I was alone in my commitment to resurrect seemingly ruined antique and vintage linens (outside of a museum). I recently inherited 4 generations of my family’s linens, doilies, tablecloths, napkins, under and outer garments, collars, caps, infant items, chenille bedspreads and more – distressingly suffering from these ‘storage stains” (I didn’t know that was a thing!) and also (and worse) coin size rust spots. My laundry floor is so backed up with buckets and containers of ‘experiments’ at various stages there is no room/suitable vessels for more. I’ve trawled the www for advice and can report tmy best results so far achieved from patient soaking items for a really long times (like 2 – 3 weeks) with a gentle product like liquid Woolwash then thorough rinsing and repeat extended soaking/rinsing . I’ve tried various combinations of baking soda, vinegar, washing soda, oxy soaker, amonia, dish detergent, bathroom products – the jury is still out, but I think the long long soaking with periodic poking around and refreshing the soaking water and mild wool washing detergent has reaped the best results.
    Unfortunately I haven’t been able to move the coin shaped rust spots. I’ve decided the rust spot isn’t the same sort of stain as the storage stain. I’ve noticed after getting the rest of the item looking pretty good, the rust spot seems like its affected the nature of the fabric. The fabric in the rusty spot has sort of ‘seized up’ and in some cases a hole has appeared rather than the spot disappearing. Corrosion, like rust on metal?
    I’m thinking I will try a hint I read online: With the item fully wet from the soaking, cover the spot in mild soap (like sunlight) and dab a little neat laundry bleach just on the spot, then rinse it out right away and repeat if necessary. Any thoughts on this method, and or any other advice for the dark rusty spots?
    And thanks for being here… Not sure I’ll find that MML easily but looking forward to giving that a shot soon.
    🙂

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