Feature: Cleaning Your Linens Dust, hair, and perspiration pose the biggest danger to linens, cotton fabrics, and lace and they may subtly damage the fibers before you ever notice a problem Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals


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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine Collectibles > Expert Tip: Cleaning Your Linens

Lace collecting

  Dust, hair, and perspiration pose the biggest danger to linens, cotton fabrics, and lace and they may subtly damage the fibers before you ever notice a problem.

Dust acts like "microscopic razor blades." As it settles deeper into fabric, it saws away at the fibers, slowly weakening them. Meanwhile moisture and oils can further deteriorate delicate threads.

For clean linens:
Soak. Rinse. Repeat.
We advise that a periodic cleaning can help prevent damage to the fibers. If your linens have any color it's better to let a professional wash them. All it takes is one unstable color to run and ruin the entire fabric. But for plain whites it's best to "sneak up" on the fabric by using the least aggressive treatments first.

Washing is always better than leaving the fabric dirty and dusty, although it can put some strain on the fibers.

Since old fabric can be quite delicate, make sure it can hold up after each of these steps:
  1. Hold the fabric up to the light to identify thin or worn areas.
  2. Soak in tepid, de-mineralized water.
  3. Rinse with neutral PH soap. (Usually available at curatorial supply shops.)
  4. As an alternative to the neutral PH soap, try a dishwashing detergent that doesn't have any additives. The objective is to find something that will loosen the dirt, but won't damage the fibers. Laundry detergents are okay, but many have whiteners that permanently alter the appearance of the fabric.
  5. Check for stains. Apply a diluted solution of sodium porborate, hydrogen peroxide, or Clorox to the stained area only. Let it stand for about 10 minutes and rinse thoroughly. These chemicals can eat through the fibers, but it's better to have a small hole that can be darned, than a black or brown dot.
Once they're clean display your linens rather than storing them. They can be enjoyed in ways that keep them from being abused. For example, pillowcases don't have to be slept on. Instead, use them as pillow shams.


Elizabeth Kurella is author of The Complete Guide to Vintage Textiles.


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