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After years to being an antique dealer with a special affinity for vintage fabrics, I have found that the absolutely best cleaner for washable fabrics is the product Oxiclean, widely available (with the large tubs frequently on sale at Costco.)  On whites, it is far better – and safer – than bleach because no cleaning product residue remains in the fabric. Here are some very special instructions that will insure the best possible outcome for your cleaning project.

First of all, make sure that the item in question is washable. Many, many fabrics are, but some may be susceptible to shrinkage, particularly considering the hot temperatures I am going to recommend. If the item seems to be ruined anyway, you have nothing to lose by trying this.

  Find a container with a lid that is large enough to soak your item. It could be a large soup pot, your older-model washing machine that actually can be filled with water, or even a camping cooler (more on this innovation later.)  It should be large enough to allow some space around the item being cleaned, so that the solution can easily and evenly penetrate the fabric.

Fill this container with either the very hottest tap water you have, or with boiling water. Oxiclean works best with HOT water.

Dissolve a suitable amount of Oxiclean in the water, stirring it thoroughly so that there is no particulate matter. Use a metal cooking spoon or some other utensil that can be washed afterwards. Sometimes I use a brush with a handle. Stir well. Set the container out of the way, because it’s going to be there for awhile.

Add the item to be cleaned to the HOT Oxiclean solution, stir it around (gently if it is an antique fabric) and even pull it up and push it down in the water in a gentle agitating movement.

Close the lid on the container and walk away. Every now and then return to gently swish the item around, but always replace the lid when you’re done.

Let it sit there for 24 hours. Really!

After 24 hours, remove the item from the soaking bath and rinse it thoroughly.  If the stains in question are still there, you may opt to repeat the whole process, or you could decide to follow-up with conventional washing. Be sure to rinse the item thoroughly (particularly if it is antique) and allow it to line dry unless you’re sure it won’t shrink

I’m pretty sure you’re going to be pleasantly surprised….if not amazed!

My two favorite stories about particular successes are these. One of my garage sale buddies had a grimy and disgusting olive green canvas bag from World War 1 in which he stored gun-cleaning items. His wife wouldn’t let him use any of her pots or the bathtub, so he’s the one that came up with the brilliant idea to use his camping cooler. He followed all my instructions, and 24 hours later the bag came out of the soak looking nearly brand new, with all the pen writing of the soldier’s name cleaned off, along with years of grunge.  The second surprise success was when I was visiting my niece and she sheepishly showed me that an outfit I had made for her young daughter had been spoiled with a black marker line. I didn’t think Oxiclean would get it out, but after the same process I outlined, the shirt came back perfectly clean, and the outfit was salvaged.