Our Art and Business Is Laundry

Care Guide For Vintage Linens

Vintage linens from the 1920's through 1950's represent some of the best value in linens for every day use and special occasions. Materials and craftsmanship are usually unequalled at affordable price points today, and quite often linens made during that period are of superior quality to what one may find today similar prices.

Vintage linens were designed to be cared for by laundering methods of the particular period they were made in. To keep them looking their best and reduce the risk of damage here are some tips from Allo Laverie, your personal French hand laundry.

1. Do not use detergents contaning bleaches, optical fabric brighteners, or harsh chemicals.

Up until about the 1940's most households used pure soap for doing laundry, and this included linens. Fabrics not previously treated with optical fabric whiteners may change colour if laundered with products that contain these chemicals. This could result in ecru, off white and coloured linens changing color after just one wash.

Allo Laverie recommends our pure soap flakes or a gentle detergent for laundering vintage linens. It is safe, gentle and contains no harmful added chemicals that may harm your precious linens. Harsh detergents can cause holes and or weaken the fibers of vintage linens, so it is better to avoid using them. Chlorine bleaches should never be used on pure linen and with great care on cottons. In general it is better to avoid chlorine bleaches all together and instead use oxygen bleach. Always test for colour-fastness before using any bleach on vintage linens for even oxygen type bleaches can cause damage. If in doubt consult a local quality laundry or textile conservation professional.

2. Do Not Boil or Use Excessively High Water Temperatures.

Unless your linens have a tag or label specifically advising it is safe to "boil wash", it is better to use warm to cool water. Water temperatures that are too hot can fade colours, weaken or damage fibers and cause shrinkage.

3. Use the Gentle or Delicate Cycle

Automatic washing machines can be quite harsh on fibers, especially top loading models with central beaters. If you do not have access to a front loading type washing machine, better to launder your vintage linens on either the gentle or delicate settings. Linens with lace, fringe, embroidery, trim and other decorations should be placed in a mesh bag before laundering. Very fine vintage linens made of lace or cutwork should be either laundered by hand or professionally cleaned.

4. Do Not Store Vintage Linens Folded.

Linens that remain folded for long periods of time can develop creases along the fold lines which may become impossible to remove with any amount of ironing. Items made of linen in particular are subject to developing holes and weakened areas along these folds. Linen fibers although strong will break if folded or left folded in the same area again and again.

One reason so much vintage linens are found in places such as eBay or at estate sales, is many times these items were given as gifts to a wife or new bride, who decided to save them for "special events". Well more often than not no event was "special" enough and the linens were stored away and forgotten. This pattern usually is repeated though generations as the linens are handed down to daughters, grand-daughters and so on, each time with the same result; they are stored away for a "special event".

Linens made of natural fibers need frequent airing and laundering to stay looking their best. In short they need to be used. Linens stored folded away under improper conditions can develop stains, mold, crease marks, and in general breakdown until they are no longer of use. Laundering and airing revives and renews fibers, prolonging useful life of the article. Laundering also keeps creases from developing along the same fold lines.