How to get stains out of vintage clothes

From the National Museum of Denmark

Washing clothes the old-fashioned way

We’ve all done it: found the perfect retro outfit, only to either find an old stain or create a new one! It can be stressful to figure out how to get things back to their original state, so we’d like to provide you with some options. Remember that you’ll want to consider the type of fabric, color, and it’s overall condition. Always be cautious and consult a seamstress or cleaning expert if you have any doubts about how to get discolorations out of vintage clothes. Once you find the best approach, be sure to test a small area of the fabric first. Kind of like the old adage: measure twice and cut once. Have patience and work in small sections – it will pay off in the end. We’ve compiled a list of the most common stains, but as always let us know if you have additional tips or tricks.

How to remove blood stains from fabric

Soak the fabric in cold water and wash with a mild soap. If you’d like to pre-treat the stain, mix up water and cornstarch into a paste. Cover the fresh stain with the paste, let it dry, and brush it off. If the article of clothing in question is leather, the quickest way to work out the blemish is to take a q-tip and apply a tiny amount of hydrogen peroxide. After it is done bubbling, wipe it off. Working on sewing repairs is a common time for blood stains to occur. If you find yourself in this situation, wet a new piece of thread with your tongue and place it over the blood drops. The thread should absorb the liquid.

Check out this comprehensive list of the best cleaning products for all sorts of situations!

How to remove wine stains from fabric

Image by Jon Sullivan

Port wine

If you spill white wine, take a deep breath of relief. White wine is the much easier blemish to conquer. For this, just use a hot soapy mixture. Red wine involves a few more steps. One method is to sprinkle salt on the discoloration and then soak it thoroughly in cold water. If that doesn’t work then patiently rub salt into the area until it’s gone. You can then wash as usual.

If salt isn’t your speed, you can always use club soda or a mixture of baking soda with water. Soak the stain in either of these recipes and launder once the stain is removed. Here’s another great tip for removing wine stains!

How to remove brown spots from fabric

Most experts recommend using Oxi Clean to free your fabric from those unsightly brown blemishes.

How to remove coffee or tea stains from fabric

If it’s a fresh spill, you’ll want to treat the spot as soon as possible. A good solution is to mix one part borax with six parts water. You can also wash in warm, soapy water.

Coffee, image by takkk


If it’s being ornery, try moistening the stain with lemon juice and let it sit out in the sun. This combination will work together to lighten and remove the discoloration. If the fabric is prone to running, you’ll want to stick with lukewarm water and a mild detergent. (To remove coffee stains from carpet – check out this post.)

How to remove grass stains from fabric

Mix one part dish soap to two parts hydrogen peroxide; apply to stain and scrub to remove the green blemish.

How to remove grease and oil stains from fabric

The first thing to do is remove what you can by blotting with paper towels. Next cover the stain with a heaping pile of either baby powder or cornstarch. Let it sit for a moment and then remove the excess with a spoon and/or towel. Pour on a small amount of dish soap on the affected area. Using a toothbrush, work in circular motions to scrub away the stain. You will want to work from both sides of the fabric – front and back. Then launder as usual and air dry. (Heat can seal in any lingering oil stains.)

How to remove ink stains from fabric

If there’s an Olympic level for clothing stains, ink is gold medal type stuff. Test a small area with either hair spray or nail polish remover. If that seems to be effective, blot the rest of the area with a cloth moistened with the spray or remover. Once it’s gone, soak up the remaining liquid with a dry cloth. If the clothing is white cotton in nature, apply some petroleum jelly and rub gently in a soapy mixture.

Image from Library of Congress

Madeline Breckinridge, hoping she doesn’t spill ink on her awesome dress

For felt tip markers, place the section of fabric under a thick towel and blot the area with a soapy cloth. Let the stain dry in the sun as it will lighten the blemish.

How to remove mildew stains from fabric

Nothing does the trick like ice-cold water and borax!

How to remove rust stains from fabric

Rust is another notoriously challenging stain to conquer. One approach is to soak the area in lemon juice and dry it in the sun so it will bleach out. Once it’s dry, rinse thoroughly. But there’s another homemade remedy to try as well. Make a mixture of vinegar and salt, until it’s got a paste-like texture. Let the paste sit on the stain for a half an hour and then launder as usual. Cream of tartar and hot water is another┬ávaluable substitute for the vinegar/salt concoction.

Cause A Frockus would like to thank their tremendous resources: Tips, Tools & Techniques To care for antiques, collectibles, and other treasures by Georgia Kemp Caraway, WikiHow, Service Master, Readers Digest, Spoonful, and the people who post their images without restriction.

For our readers: What’s your go-to stain removal solution?

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