How to Clean and Repair Your Favorite Vintage Clothes

Posted by on Nov 29, 2011

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Repairing vintage clothes and accessories can daunt even the most enamored shopper. Vintage expert Linda Lindroth, author of "Virtual Vintage: The Insider's Guide to Buying and Selling Fashion Online," gave us an easy guide to repairing and maintaining our favorite vintage shoes, jewelry and clothes.

Removing Smells from Vintage Clothes

Behold, the Power of a Breezy Day

Lindroth says, "For removing smells, if they're not too bad, I hang the vintage garment outside on a tree on a breezy day. I bring it in at night, and if the smell isn’t gone, I put it out the next day."
She even recommends this for removing smells from leather, though that fabric may need more time than just a day or two.

Vintage, in the Washing Machine? 

Certain fabrics can even be washed to remove smells. Yes, that's right... in the washing machine.

"A friend gave me a pair of vintage wool gloves, this gorgeous shade of green. But it smelled of mothballs. My friend thought the smell was just part of buying vintage. But I can't stand mothballs, so I washed them. I've washed wool several times before, always wash gently in cool water. I let the pieces air dry, or I iron them, as a last resort. I did this with the gloves, and they were fine."

Thus, some vintage pieces can be washed, particularly if they're made of cotton, but certain fabrics, like leather, should never even see a washing machine. For fabrics that can't be machine washed or dry-cleaned, if air drying doesn't work, sadly this might mean that the smell never comes out.

Repairing Vintage Jewelry and Shoes

Jewel of Our Eye

Surprisingly, repairing vintage jewelry can be a rather easy thing.

Lindroth says, "I bought a Hattie Carnegie pin. It was fabulous, but it was missing a rhinestone and so the price had been reduced to $40. If it'd had the stone, the dealer said it would have been worth $250. So, I took it to jeweler, and for $5 he replaced the stone." For those that want to do it themselves, she recommends salvaging antique rhinestones from vintage cat eye glasses.

Another tip she offers when shopping vintage jewelry is to know that 14 carat doesn’t always mean pure gold.

"Gold doesn’t tarnish," says  Lindroth. "It is always shiny. If a vintage gold piece looks tarnished or dull, but says 14 carat, don’t buy it; 9 out of 10 times it's forged and not real." On the other hand, Lindroth says that antique silver should have a little tarnish, or a patina, to it.

Vintage diamonds are almost exclusively old mine or European cut. Lindroth says, "They won’t be as sparky as contemporary diamonds, which have a billion cut facets, but there is no blood on those diamonds." DIY jewelers might consider, just like the rhinestones, harvesting antique diamonds for their own unique promise or engagement rings.


Just like vintage garments, the best bet for removing smells from shoes is to air dry them or even throw in a sneaker ball.

Buying vintage shoes is always a bit of gamble. The most common damage are worn-down soles and heels. But, Lindroth says, if the leather is still on the shoes, the heels are not worn down, they don’t need resoled, then go for it. But keep in mind that resoling shoes could cost you up to $50. It's up to each person to decide if the cost is worth it.

Some shoes — again, not leather — can be washed. To clean, Lindroth says, "take a hose to them and use a scrub brush, like a nail brush, on the soles. Leave them outside in the sun to dry, but be sure that they are completely dry before storing them so that they don't get moldy."

But what happens if your favorite lace-up vintage go-go boots get caught in the snow? Lindroth recommends stuffing them with newspaper to draw out the water and keep changing the paper until the boot is completely dry. Do the same for running shoes.

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