Saturday, August 28, 2010

Some laundry experiments

As my arms are slowly healing and I have had a self imposed sabbatical from blogging and sewing, I have spent some time experimenting with laundry techniques.

I managed to get hold of 2 beautiful dresses from the 1940's, both black. One made from silk crêpe and the other from wool crêpe. Both dresses smelled rather bad. The wool crêpe dress smelled of old sweat and musty awfulness, the silk dress had bad underarm odour. I am lucky enough to own a book from the 1930's which amongst other useful things also has a chapter on laundry and dry cleaning, and I decided to see if the tips listed in the book would work.

The book lists vinegar as the best solution on removing armpit stains. This did work on the salts which formed the stain, but the smell did not go away. In fact, the vinegar added a certain something to the existing smell which did nothing to improve it.

I then heard that rubbing alcohol might work, and decided to give it a try. So far I found that the alcohol kills just about any odour, be it sweat or the musty smell that sometimes clings to vintage garments. I have so far only tested alcohol on cotton, silk and wool, but it seems to work beautifully, and so far it looks as if the garments takes well to the treatment.

What I do is I use a spray can with alcohol to dampen the garments (or rather, I have my better half doing this part due to the wrists). Once the garment is dry it needs to be washed (I always hand was any garments pre dating 1950).

I also found that even though vintage wool crêpe shrinks, it can be returned to it's original size with some patience and an iron. Use a dry pressing cloth between the garment and the iron, and gently pull the garment into shape.


  1. Welcome back to blogland. I hope that you are healing well. Try not to strain your hands - glad to see that you are getting help with your experiments.
    Do you have many vintage items? I have 3 that immediately spring to mind, but mine are from the 60's. One my mum wore in 1962 and I wore in 1980s and two coats. I should grab them out and blog about them - shouldn't I??
    Baby steps to recovery, then a full on return to your craft that you love.

  2. Thanks for your nice comment, Bronny :o)

    I love vintage fashion, and would love to see pictures of your items. I have quite a few myself; the first one I got was a 1960's wool mini dress which belonged to my mum. She also gave me her swimsuit when she decided she no longer had any use of it. It's probably from the 1940's. She got it as a gift from one of my aunts which got it at a flea market in the 70's. Perhaps I should photograph more of my vintage clothing an post pictures?

    My arms seem to be recovering well, but as you said, best to take baby steps :o)

  3. I have found that steam gets the odor out. they have those new steam machines for 'freshing up' clothes, so I took a steam iron to the 'pits' of a garment that just wouldn't let them go, no matter what I tried and if you steam and steam some more and flip the fabric over and steam some more...after a while, the ordor goes away, and the garment is saved!

  4. Hmmm... I think I'll see if I can get hold of one of those. Maybe I could use it on the taffeta dress, I'm really nervous about dry cleaning it. It's a lovely dress, and it would be such a pity if it was destroyed.