How to Restore Antique Fabric

Written by michelle powell-smith
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Time, age and poor storage conditions have all taken a toll on antique cotton and antique linen fabric; however, much of this damage can be stopped or even totally reversed. Restore antique fabric and linens to their original beauty with a thorough cleaning and stain removal. Use this fabric restoration on white, natural or light coloured antique fabrics, but exercise extra care when embroidery or lace are present.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Gentle quilt wash or pure soap flakes
  • Oxygen-based cleaning agent
  • Non-chlorine bleach
  • Large basin or bathtub
  • Clean white bath towels
  • Clean white paper towels
  • Small hand sewing needle
  • Matching linen or cotton thread

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Gently submerge the antique fabric in a tub of clean, lukewarm water to rinse it if it is especially dusty or dirty. Use distilled water if your tap water is especially hard or mineral laden. Press the antique fabric gently into the water to remove surface dirt and debris. Lift the fabric out of the water after rinsing, placing it onto a clean bath towel. Discard the dirty water.

  2. 2

    Add a small amount of quilt wash or pure soap flakes to a tub full of lukewarm water. Submerge the linens in the water and allow to soak. Allow the antique fabric to soak for at least 30 minutes; however, you may soak for several days if necessary. Rinse by submerging into a tub or sink of clean water or by pouring fresh water over the fabric, then roll in a towel to remove excess moisture.

  3. 3

    Examine the antique fabric for remaining stains. Prepare a soak of oxygen-based bleach and very hot water for durable cotton and linen fabrics with all-over yellowing or staining. Treat smaller stains with a paste of oxygen-based bleach and hot water. Rinse very well after using harsher cleansers to restore antique fabric. Try a non-chlorine bleach as an alternative for fabrics that you may not want to expose to very hot water.

  4. 4

    Dry antique fabrics flat. Consider drying in full sunlight to achieve a whiter-white; however, allow especially delicate antique fabrics to dry away from direct sunlight. Press once the restored antique fabrics are completely dry; however, avoiding starching the antique fabric if it will be stored.

  5. 5

    Use a hand sewing needle and matching linen or cotton thread to darn small holes in the fabric. Try patching larger holes with matching fabric.

Tips and warnings

  • While this process is not at all costly or difficult, it is time-consuming, so be sure to allow plenty of time, and expect to apply some elbow grease.
  • Look for Orvus quilt wash in a local or online quilt shop.
  • Pure soap flakes can be found under brand names including Lux or Ivory Soap Flakes and may be available in your grocery or a discount store.
  • OxiClean is one of the most commonly found oxygen-based bleaches.
  • Non-chlorine bleach options include Biz Bleach, available in the laundry supplies aisle of your local stores.
  • Rayons and some silks will dissolve if you attempt to wash them. Consult an experienced dry cleaner or textile conservator for assistance.

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