Friday, May 20, 2016

HOW TO: Wash & Iron a Dress: Caring for Fashion, Wash & Press Techniques

How to clean and iron a dress or other styles of fashion is something we should all know. Although pressing was a skill most young girls learned as late as the 1980's, few people are taught this today.  Once casual wear, polyester and Lycra fabrics dominated the wardrobe, these techniques became unnecessary and forgotten.

The following suggestions should help anyone to learn how to wash, iron or press their favorite fashions, including vintage.  Please note that no technique is fool proof. Some fabrics and garments may appear washable, but are not. It is important to learn how to identify delicate garments. Even so, some fashions will 'fail' when cleaned, and may not be salvageable. Select garments carefully, and learn how to care for them. It is worth the effort.

1--Details:  Garments with tailoring or delicate details should be dry cleaned, while more simple dresses are often washable.  This gingham dress was washed and pressed.

Fiber:  What kind of fabric is it?  For the past 30+ years, apparel has had fiber content and care labels.  But these can be cut off, worn down or if it is vintage, not present.  Check the chart at the end of this post for more details about fiber, because learning to 'know what it is' can be essential when facing laundry tasks.

Fabric Color and Print: You'll want to test a bit of fabric first by wetting a hidden area with a damp wash cloth, looking to see if the fabric color rubs off.  Avoid washing dark colors or shiny fabrics like vintage acetate and rayons.  Luxury fabrics such as velvet, brocades and satins are not washable in most cases.

3--Seamlines: Check inside the garment to see if the inner seam lines are wide and not un-raveling.  Avoid washing garments with loose or raveling seam allowances inside the garment.

4--Linings: It may be safer to send lined garments to be dry cleaned because some linings can often shrink or wrinkle more than the outer fashion fabric.  Tailored jackets, vests, men's pants and women's lined skirts are best dry cleaned to preserve the inner tailoring.

5--Whites: Bleached cottons and linens were traditionally washed, and were often called 'wash dresses' in the early decades of the 20th century. Some vintage garments are not color fast, and contrast details such as bias trim, braid, ribbons and stitching may run or bleed into the main fabric. Avoid washing these, and use dry cleaning instead.


For modern ready to wear, medium water temperature in a washing machine will be fine. But for vintage, washing by hand in cold water and baby shampoo will make a good wash for natural and older fabrics. Rinse out the soap after hand washing, and hang the wet garment up to drip dry (try your shower head as a hanging 'rack'). You may find it easiest to wash in a bowl or bucket in your bath tub, then hand the dripping wet dress there.

If using a washing machine, select a gentle cycle and cold water. You may want to test your machine first with a simple garment to be certain that the agitation is not too rough on the fabric and seams. You also may want to pull it out before the spin cycle, as that can wring it with many tight wrinkles. If you want a damp garment, try rolling it in a big beach towel and pressing out the water.

Use a plastic hanger or a padded one and hang up to dry away from direct sunlight.  I have used an umbrella on sunny days to hang clothes outside.  On breezy days, hanging clothes to dry from the curtain rod of an open window works well too.  For soft delicate fabrics, try wrapping a towel around the hanger like a shawl first to create absorbent padded shoulders.  Long items can be dried if you throw a big beach towel over the top of an open door, then drape your dress over that, usually the waistline can be placed along the door's top edge.  This method also works for sweaters and jeans.

Press natural fibers such as linen, cotton, silk and wool while they are damp. This might be towards the end of the hang dry period. If that is not possible, after drying use a spray bottle with water to completely dampen the fabric again.

Using a Spray bottle or Steam iron:
Dampen the entire garment and let is sit to absorb the water. You can also use the spray bottle to dampen specific areas that need pressing. To start, press from the inside of the garment first. This will prevent shiny areas of the good side of the outfit at hems and facings.

Flip to the good side of the garment for details such as collars, bows and tucks. You may want to 'spritz' the fabric damp again before pressing these areas.

Using a steam iron can replace the spray bottle.  Be careful not to over steam or 'shrink' some fabrics.

Using a Press Cloth:
Prevent shine and get a wrinkle free skirt by using a press cloth.  This can be an old linen or cotton napkin, dish cloth or washed fabric.  Wet the press cloth and wring out the excess water.  Lay this out smooth over the garment fabric.  Lift and press with the iron, being careful to avoid the hot steam.

When the garment has been pressed, it may still be damp. Hang on a padded hanger to dry completely before wearing or placing in a closet.

These methods will keep your fashion garments and vintage in great shape, and help to avoid damages to your favorite pieces.


Natural fibers are available in several forms, the most popular are listed here.

Wool, cashmere:  Protein yarns made from animal fur.  Treat this in the same way your do human hair, so wash it in cold water using baby shampoo and hang to dry.  Press using steam iron or mist.  Press or seam while damp.  Use a hair dryer to dry damp spots.  Dark or bright colors can sometimes 'bleed' or  'run' into the wash water.  Fabric will shrink under hot washing and 'felt' or thicken under hot water agitation.  Store in dry, dark place and avoid moth or bug infestations that cause holes.

Silk: Protein yarns made from silk worm cucoons.  Treat this fabric like wool.  Colored fabric may fade or run in washing.  Laundry may wash out crisp texture and make it softer.  It can shrink in hot water.

Cotton and Linen: Cellulose yarns made from plant fiber.  These these are sturdy fabrics.  They will shrink in hot water.  Older washed garments most likely were shrunk when originally worn.  Older colors and prints may bleed color when washed.  Bright prints may fade in sunlight or repeated hard washing.  Press with steam or mist.  Avoid hot dry iron that may 'scorch' or burn fabric.  White only fabrics can be bleached.

Synthetic fibers come in many forms.

Rayon and Acetate: Cellulose fibers that are a by-product of wood pulp production.  These act somewhat like natural cellulose fabrics (cotton and linen) in that they absorb water and wrinkle.  Fibers can break more easily and seam lines may unravel.  These will shrink in washing and colors may 'bleed' into the wash water.  These are best dry cleaned, but many garments such as Hawaiian shirts are home washed.  Bamboo fabric is in this same category.  Older acetate and rayon fabrics are prone to fade easily, so keep away from light ans store in the dark.

Nylon: This will turn yellow with age.  It can be washed and hung to dry.  Be very careful about temperature while pressing, as this fabric can melt easily.

Polyester:  This is a byproduct of the oil industry, and it will attract oil stains that may not be removed easily (or at all).  This can be washed warm in a machine and dryed on warm setting.  Press using a light mix of water and white vinegar to remove wrinkles or press open seams flat.  Avoid a hot iron that will melt the plastic fibers.  When sewing a ball point needle may be required to avoid skipped stitches.

I hope this helps you to learn more about fashion fabrics and how to keep them clean and pressed!

1 comment:

Second Hand Rose said...

This is really such an informative and helpful article with so much advice! Thanks so much for this, I'm always scared of caring for vintage clothing and particular fabrics. I've bookmarked this article, thank you! XxxX