Caring for Vintage French Linens
How to care for vintage linens is one of the most asked questions both on the blog and when shopping with clients.
While these are far from being the only ways, here are a few tips to help keep your linens looking white while protecting their natural fibers.
NOTE—these tips are for white and natural colored linens only.
Have Patience is the most important thing to remember when dealing with vintage linens. Resist the urge to rush the process. Stains have set in to the fabric’s fibers over many years.
Trying to hurry the cleaning by pouring bleach on the spot or giving it a harsh scrubbing will only result in frustration and damaged linens.
Soak before cleaning. Stain removal should never start with a dry fabric. Natural fibers contract and harden when they are dry. Stains are often wet, causing the fabric’s fibers to expand, allowing the liquid to seep in. When the fabric dries, the stain is trapped. Natural fibers need to absorb water and expand, only then can the cleaning begin.
Soaking is a slow process and many French women swear by keeping items immersed for days at a time.
To begin, mix cool to tepid water and a mild detergent in a bucket or large bowl. Open the fabric piece and submerge in the mixture. Gently move it around to avoid missing any areas. Allow fabric to soak based on size. Sheets normally need at least an hour in between water changes.
Replace water as needed and rinse, rinse, rinse fabric before placing in a fresh water solution. Many stains and surface dirt will clean simply by soaking and this is the most gentle method for vintage fabrics.
Natural Cleaners can be used on spots if the soaking method does not completely clean the stain.
Lemon juice or white vinegar can be dabbed on to a (pre soaked) spot and allowed to dry in the sun. The combination will often lighten spots with repeated application.
Salt can be poured on to a (pre soaked) spot and allowed to absorb color from the fiber. The salt will swell up pulling liquid and color away with it. Just brush away the salt and repeat as needed.
Milk can be used to soak fabrics with a difficult stain. The belief is that the enzymes in milk will help release stubborn stains.
Chemical Products such as an oxy type powder can be added to a soaking solution if the above methods are not successful. This may help with more stubborn stains such as blood or rust. Follow all of the same instructions and times as for soaking.
If all else fails a mild bleach solution can be dabbed on to a (pre soaked) spot with a cotton swab. Start with a well diluted mix and gradually increase the strength, rinsing well between applications and never allowing the fabric to dry out. Wash thoroughly after.
Air Dry Vintage linens should not be placed in a dryer. The intense heat dries out and breaks fibers, significantly shortening the life of a vintage item.
Linens should be air dried and most can be gently stretched back in to shape while damp, avoiding the need for ironing.
Lastly, do not use fabric softeners on vintage linens. Softeners work by coating the natural fibers. This traps stains and prevents the fibers from breathing, eventually causing them to become brittle and damaged.
With a little patience and time vintage linens can be returned to beautiful condition and enjoyed for years to come.
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