How to Launder Vintage Linens

I just love vintage linens.  They bring back fond memories of watching my Grandma, Aunt, and mom sitting around crocheting/embroidering/tatting/knitting.  It reminds me of the love and care that was put into each project done by hand, stitch by stitch.  My mom made sure each of us 3 girls had a cedar chest that we could put these treasures in to be used someday in our own homes.

Although I’m not wild about every kind of vintage linen, I do like to use some – mainly white and cream – on my table top and dresser displays.  If you keep your eye out, you can find them at thrift stores, antique shops, garage sales, and I’m sure many etsy and e-bay sites.

Sometimes, however, you may acquire ~ along with the charm and memories of days gone by ~ some vintage linen that come with (free of charge!) a horrible smell!

Such is what I encountered recently.  I was a little nervous to put the old, delicate fabric in the washing machine, but the odor gave me no choice.  It set my allergies off into a sneezing frenzy like you wouldn’t believe!

I carefully piled them in the washing machine, poured some laundry detergent and fabric softener into their bins, and set it on the “delicate” cycle.

After it was finished, I removed them one by one and was thrilled that none of them had ripped.

I’ve learned over the years that it works best if they are ironed when wet, or at least damp.

iron when damp

I ironed away happy as a clam thinking I was accomplishing great things, when suddenly I caught a whiff of that horrible smell again.

Oh, dear.

Back into the washer they went.

This time, I added a big glug of vinegar along with the detergent.

And, guess what?

It worked like a charm.

I hung the wet linens outside to dry (I think that helps, too?), and I’m happy to report the smell is gone.


vintage linens with words

Do you have any other tips for removing odor from fabric?

Update:  Since I wrote this post, I’ve had 2 more tips given to me regarding getting smell out of linens.  One is a product called “Biz” (I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen it in stores around here?) and the other is to put them in a container with some newspapers (just make sure the newspaper doesn’t touch the pretty linen!).  The newspapers absorb the smell, apparently.  Who knew??

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  1. I keep a bowl of vinegar by my stove, on the counter since I don’t have a range hood. It keeps all unwanted cooking odors at bay. Fish, fried cabbage, onions, smells are almost non existent. I had a boss who would not cook any type of food that would leave a smell in the house. So I’m not surprised by the use of it to remove odors from linens. Great tip!

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