11 Must-Know Tips on How to Care for Vintage Clothes and Shoes

Want to know how to take care of vintage clothing? We’ve got tips for caring for your vintage pieces and keeping them looking new.

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How to care for vintage clothes and shoes -- the ultimate guide

In the comments of this post, reader Suzi asked this very important question:

Is there anything CF readers should know about proper care of vintage pieces? Dorm rooms and small apartments don’t really have room for walk-in closets, etc.

As most of you know by now, I love vintage clothes – I love shopping vintage and thrift stores, especially for shoes! That’s not to say I don’t get clothes from other places, but vintage stores are my favorite places to look, even if I don’t buy anything that day.

{RELATED POST: Our Favorite Vintage Summer Outfits of All Time}

One of the many problems people have with vintage clothes, aside from finding correct sizes, good stores, and high quality pieces, is learning to care for these clothes! Obviously, there has been a lot of stress on vintage and thrift clothing that clothes you buy from the department store haven’t experienced. So here one some tips to taking care of your favorite thrifted and vintage clothes!

Care Tips for Clothing

1. Hang clothes inside out before washing.

I know this sounds like a weird step – and it is! I had never done this before until I read about in Martha Stewart Living! It’s a way to let your clothing dry (in case you’ve perspired on them or if it’s been raining etc.) and a way to let any odors (like smoke) out of your clothing before you throw it in the hamper.

Fun fact: If you throw wet clothing into the hamper without letting it dry properly before hand, it can cause your clothes to grow mildew! This is a great tip for any clothing, not just vintage or thrifted clothing. I put my clothes over the end of my bed after I wear them before throwing them in the hamper or I will put them on a hanger and let it hang from a drawer handle.

2. Check for any weak seams, holes forming, etc.

This is so important for vintage and thrifted clothing! Vintage clothes differ from new – there has been stress on seams and zippers from wear, so those areas are a little more delicate than usual. If anything seems weak, consider hand washing the garment to avoid further damage.

3. Zip zippers, fasten hooks, etc. before washing.

This will avoid, say, a hook getting caught in the delicate knit of your favorite vintage sweater and causing it to tear. That would be tragic!

4. Use liquid detergent, if possible.

This prevents deposits of powder getting on your clothes and having to rewash.

5. For natural fibers, wash cold. For synthetic fibers, wash warm. For both, always choose the delicate cycle.

6. Be careful with spot treatments!

If you need to spot treat, test what you are using on an inside fabric seam before putting it on the stain. Make sure it doesn’t cause dye to run or damage the fabric in anyway, then go ahead and spot treat!

7. Make sure the garment is washable.

Some fabrics just are not meant to be washed! Fabrics that are guaranteed washable are: cotton, linen, polyester, nylon, and synthetics. Be careful with silk and rayon (I recommend hand-washing anything silk!) Have wool dry-cleaned, if possible (I use Dryel!)

Some fabrics require special care. These include: velvet, fur and leather, vinyl and solidplastic (pleather, for example), anything with irononpatches, or anything with specialtytrimlike glass buttons.

8. Once your clothes are done washing, lie them flat to dry!

I know this is really hard in dorm rooms, but utilize any space possible. I use primarily my bed for letting things to dry and sometimes I will put down a clean sheet on the floor and use that if I need more space. This is the best possible method for drying vintage clothes. If you really need to use a dryer, use the delicate and lowest heat setting possible to avoid shrinkage or damage.

9. Once your clothes are dry, put them away.

Most vintage clothes can be hung up in a closet on a hanger, but some pieces, like knits, should be folded and stacked in a drawer to avoid any stretching. This really depends on the fabric of the garment, as well as if it stretches easily. If something is very delicate, I would recommend keeping it folded away to keep it from being damaged.

Care Tips for Shoes

1. Keep them safe.

Avoid throwing any vintage or thrift shoes in big bins with other shoes where they could get crushed or damaged. The glue and seams on most vintage shoes are just not as strong as those on new shoes.

Over-the-door shoe racks work really well for storing vintage shoes, but a small shelf underneath your bed in your dorm could work as well!

I have two bins of shoes underneath my bed and behind them on top of a suitcase, I line up my vintage shoes in a row to keep them safe. They are a little harder to get to, but at least they’re safe!

2. Keep them fresh.

Shoes get odors. It happens! Especially if you wear them without socks or tights, which almost everyone does!

I use baking soda inside my vintage (and non-vintage) shoes to keep them fresh. I dampen the inside sole the tiniest bit and then sprinkle about a tablespoon of baking soda on top. I make sure the inside is covered and then let the shoes sit for about two or three hours (or overnight). I then shake out the excess baking soda and wipe out the inside of the shoe with a damp cloth.

3. Be careful with cleaning!

Obviously, avoid trekking through the mud in your vintage shoes! Just kidding, but seriously: if you need to clean your shoes for whatever reason, be careful!

For leather and suede, use specialty leather cleaning products (do a test patch beforehand, just in case!) Most other shoes can be wiped clean, unless they are canvas or another porous material. I have a pair of tan canvas wedges that I love to death and I use a damp washcloth on them if they ever get dirty.

What do you think?

What do you think? Do you have any tips or tricks for caring for vintage or thrifted clothing? Let me know in the comments!

10 thoughts on “11 Must-Know Tips on How to Care for Vintage Clothes and Shoes”

  1. oh, this is so useful, and not just with vintage clothes! i love it!! can i please request an article about how to remove various stains (like dirt, or food-spill, or wine, etc)? thanks!! 😀

  2. The one about zipping zippers etc. is really inportant- make sure to fasten your bras or they become a tangled MESS.

  3. Great article. I would add using bowling shoe disinfectant to sanitize the inside of your vintage shoes. You never know what’s lurking in there!

  4. Yes! I so needed this article! Thank you so much for these original tips; you may have just solved about half my vintage wardobe issues 🙂

  5. I found the best way to dry vintage/delicate tops without the luxury of a drying rack or extra space is to take a big, clean beach towel and lay it out on the floor. I just lay my no-dryer tops flat on it and they’re dry in a few hours. This is especially good if you have to dry sweaters.

  6. That tip with the baking soda is great, definitely going to try that!
    It’s so true, you can’t really do anything about it, especially with pumps- they’re pretty ‘closed off’ so your feet can’t breathe like with strappy sandals, but you still often wear them on bare feet! So when you have them for a long time and wear them often, a tip like this is definitely useful.

    And Luinae, another idea might be putting bra’s in those little netted washing bags 🙂

  7. YAY!

    Great article, Michelle. The baking soda hint is brilliant, I wouldn’t have thought of that.

    *Hanging* clothes inside out to remove odors after wearing is a neat one too! One of my big hobbies is cooking, and my clothes always smell like whatever I was preparing–even though I make a point of wearing indoor lounge outfits and an apron while cooking anyway. Don’t want oil spots on my favourite tshirts!

    Keep up the good work. 🙂


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