How to Clean Vintage Embroidery

Updated July 18, 2017

Whether you have inherited a piece of vintage embroidery from your grandmother or found it at a garage sale, it is likely to have acquired dirt and stains over the years. Depending on the types of soiling and the origins of the embroidery, cleaning vintage embroidery may be an easy task--or a nearly impossible one. You will need to approach the job carefully to avoid putting unnecessary wear on the embroidered piece.

Consider the value of the embroidery. If it has strong sentimental value to you, or if you believe it may be a rare antique, you may want to take it to a professional textile restorer rather than risk damaging it by washing.

Vacuum the piece gentle with a hand-held vacuum to remove dust and other dry surface contaminants.

Wet a small portion of the embroidery with plain water, and then hold a piece of white cloth to the wet spot for a few minutes. Check to see if any of the dyes bleed. If so, you may want to spot clean instead of immersing the item, especially if the embroidery itself is relatively clean and only the backing cloth is dirty.

Immerse the embroidery in cold water containing a small amount of dish detergent. Wash the item gently.

Rinse thoroughly in cold water. Lay flat to dry. Iron on a low setting if necessary to remove wrinkles.


Spot clean by applying a small amount of water with a little detergent mixed in to individual spots. Wipe away with a damp cloth. To remove stains from white backing material, try soaking in lemon juice or vinegar, or allow the piece to sit out in bright sunlight for an hour or two. However, be aware that sunlight may fade coloured embroidery. Display vintage embroidery out of the sunlight, in a covered case if possible, to avoid further soiling.


Never put vintage embroidery, or any other delicate vintage textiles, through the washing machine.

Things You'll Need

  • Water
  • Dish detergent
  • White scrap or rag cloth
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About the Author

Rachel Conoley has been a newspaper copy editor and page designer since 1997. She has dual bachelor's degrees in classical culture and history from the University of Oklahoma. On the side, she has been making and selling tie-dye since 2007.