Welcome to the world of sustainable fashion, where we prioritize secondhand and vintage clothing! Thrifting is super fun, but what do you do when you find a gorgeous piece that looks a bit…dank? And smells funny? Well, a very important part of thrift shopping is to clean your thrifted finds properly. In this guide, we’ll delve into the nitty-gritty of how to wash thrifted clothes, so they look their best and stay fabulous for years to come.
Thrifted and Pre-Owned Clothes Care
It’s not like this is the first clothing item we’re seeing. It’s usually pretty simple to figure out how to clean a clothing item (we even covered how to clean a thrift store leather jacket). But with thrift stores being the way they are, sometimes we just cannot know. Especially if it’s an old, vintage piece with no labels. Newer pieces are usually equipped with instructions on how to clean and maintain them. Wait, though, do you know some key terminology?
Vintage vs. Secondhand
I’ve made this mistake before, using these two terms interchangeably. But there’s a difference. Secondhand clothes are, well, second hand. Pre-owned by someone else, and pre-loved to death before they decided they’d had enough of it and sent it along to the thrift store.
Vintage, on the other hand, literally means “of age” and vintage clothing refers to garments that are at least 20 years old, and up to 100 years old. They can be unused or used, so not all vintage clothes are secondhand, and obviously not all secondhand clothes are vintage.
Anyway, the vast majority of garments can be adequately cleaned, so don’t go to a thrift store only looking for simple pieces (and miss out on that embroidered denim jacket?!). Just follow this guide, and you’ll be fine.
Step-by-Step Cleaning Guide for Thrifted Clothes
Let’s see how we can disinfect, clean and maintain that sweet pre-owned clothing from the thrift store:
1 / Initial Inspection
Thrift stores are a treasure trove of diverse fabrics. So, before you do anything else, conduct a meticulous inspection of your thrifted items. Identify stains, loose threads, and other such damage. Also, check the care label of the garment to see if there’s any information on how to wash it. Some fabrics may require special care, such as dry cleaning, hand washing, or low-temperature washing.
2 / Sorting
Sorting your thrifted finds is the next step.
By Color and Fabric
Create two piles: one for lights and another for darks. Within each pile, further segregate by fabric type. This prevents color bleeding and ensures each fabric gets the specialized care it needs. Also do a spot inspection if you suspect the color may bleed: wet a small part of the cloth and see if the color bleeds. If it does, wash that item separately, or dry clean it.
By Stains and Repairs
Inspect each piece for stains or repairs needed before washing. Pre-treat stains with eco-friendly stain removers, and mend any loose buttons or hems. This way, you’re not exacerbating existing issues during the washing process.
Here’s a quick fabric cheat sheet, if there are no labels to be found:
– Machine wash in cold water to prevent shrinkage.
– Turn clothes inside out to maintain colors.
– Air-dry to preserve the fabric’s integrity.
SILK AND SATIN
– Hand wash with a gentle detergent.
– Avoid wringing to prevent distortion.
– Dry flat to maintain the smooth texture.
– Hand wash in cold water to prevent felting.
– Use a mild detergent to preserve natural fibers.
– Lay flat to dry to prevent stretching.
– Turn jeans inside out to retain color.
– Wash in cold water to prevent fading.
– Air-dry for that authentic worn-in look.
3 / Stain Removal
There are different methods to remove stains from a thrifted garment, depending on the type of fabric, the type of stain, and the care instructions. It’s best to do a quick internet search and find out what specifically to do in your case.
You can make your own stain remover with household products like baking soda, vinegar, or dish soap. For example, you can make a paste with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, and apply it to yellow spots.
Or, you can buy an eco-friendly stain remover.
Next, we wash the items. It’s best to hand wash them, but if you’d rather machine wash the clothes, then we cover that, too.
Hand Washing Thrifted Clothes
1 / Soak, Rinse and Wash
Fill a bathtub or a large bucket with warm water and add some Borax, a household detergent booster and cleaner. Soak the garment in the water and Borax for about 30 minutes, or until the water is clear. This will help remove any dirt, bacteria, or smells from the garment.
Rinse the garment with clean water and wring out the excess water. Then, wash the garment according to the care label instructions, or according to the type of fabric you think it is (if there are no labels). You can use a mild and eco-friendly laundry detergent, and add some fabric softener if you like. If the garment is delicate, you can wash it in a laundry bag or a pillowcase to protect it from snags or tears.
2 / Air Drying
We recommend air-drying. Not only is this less damaging to the already old item, but it’s also less energy intensive and thus more eco-friendly. You can air-dry it on a clothesline or a drying rack. For garments prone to stretching, like sweaters or knits, lay them flat to dry. This ensures they retain their original dimensions without any unsightly distortions. Avoid using prolonged direct sunlight, though, as it can damage or fade the fabric.
Cleaning Thrifted Clothes in the Washing Machine
1 / Cold Water Cycle
Coldwater not only protects colors but also reduces energy consumption. Plus, it’s gentler on your clothes, preserving their quality.
2 / Delicate Cycle or Gentle Setting
Use the delicate cycle for more fragile fabrics. This setting minimizes agitation, preventing unnecessary wear and tear. For sturdier items, a regular cycle on cold is typically sufficient.
3 / Mesh Bag
Delicate items like lace or lingerie deserve extra protection. Pop them into a mesh laundry bag before tossing them in the machine. This prevents snagging and keeps your thrifted lace treasures intact.
Dry Cleaning Thrifted Clothes
Sometimes the garment is very delicate or intricately constructed, and you have to get it dry cleaned. That’s unavoidable, but if it is possible, look for an eco-friendly dry cleaning service. Dry cleaners usually use pretty harsh chemicals to do the job, such as the conventional perchloroethylene (PERC), which is harmful to the environment and human health. Eco-friendly services use non-toxic and biodegradable solvents instead. Eco-friendly dry cleaning also preserves the quality and longevity of the fabrics, and reduces the risk of allergic reactions or skin irritation.
Some eco-friendly dry cleaning methods you can look out for include:
- Wet cleaning: This method uses water and specialized detergents that are gentle on the fabrics and the environment. Wet cleaning can handle most types of garments, including delicate ones, and does not produce any hazardous waste.
- Liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) cleaning: This method uses pressurized liquid CO2 as a solvent, along with a small amount of biodegradable soap. CO2 cleaning is effective in removing stains and odors, and does not leave any residue on the fabrics. The CO2 used in this process is recycled from industrial sources, and does not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
- Silicon-based cleaning: This method uses a solvent called decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (D5), which is derived from sand. D5 cleaning is gentle on the fabrics and the environment, and does not pose any health risks. D5 is also biodegradable and recyclable, and does not emit any volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Search for eco-friendly dry cleaning services near you, and find the best options.
Storing Garments Sustainably
Your thrifted clothes are clean, dry, and ready for the spotlight. Now, let’s discuss proper storage techniques.
1 / Hangers
Invest in quality wooden or padded hangers to maintain the shape of your garments. Avoid wire hangers, as they can cause stretching and misshaping over time. Use garment bags if you want to avoid getting dust on them.
2 / Long Term Storage
Want to store them away for next season? Store your clothes in breathable fabric garment bags or cotton covers. This prevents dust accumulation and allows fabrics to breathe, avoiding musty odors.
This post was about how to wash thrifted clothes
Honestly? Thrifting has become my favorite method of shopping for clothes. This treasure hunt can result in some insanely gorgeous pieces, and many (many) duds. But when you stumble upon a unique piece of clothing, hold on to it and bring it back to life by cleaning it well (following the instructions in this post!). Not only will your closet quality improve, but you just saved this item from ending up in the landfill and clogging the environment.
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NOTE: All brand photographs belong to the respective brands/businesses.