10 Tips for Cleaning & Restoring Vintage Finds
While it can be exciting finding the perfect vintage piece to add to your home, secondhand shopping sometimes means your treasure is covered in layers of grime and dirt from storage. Here’s how to polish, wash and bring new life to some common vintage finds.
Most people find washing wood a little nerve-wracking, but it is one of the best ways to clean up dirt and grease, and get odors out. Use warm soapy water and a scrub brush to wash the wood. Get in all the nooks and crannies. Then, find an old towel to wipe the surface of excess moisture. Let the piece dry completely before refinishing, painting or use.
In some cases, the wood isn’t dirty, but has some water damage or is dried out. For this, wipe down the piece with a mix of three parts oil (choose an oil that won’t go rancid, such as wood-finishing hemp oil or walnut oil) and one part white vinegar. Rub or brush the oil mixture into the wood. Wipe off any excess with a clean cloth.
It is often impossible to get the inside of glass bottles clean, especially those with narrow necks. Instead of trying to shove some sort of scrubber or cloth inside the bottles, consider making a “scrub brush” with uncooked rice (not instant). Simply pour the rice into the bottle and add some vinegar. Cover the spout with the palm of your hand and shake the bottle to clean and shine the inside of the glass. While you can repeat this step as many times as needed, it typically takes only one or two times to clean the bottle. Once clean, rinse the bottle with water and turn it upside down to dry.
Stained antique marble can be saved by making a paste out of flour and hydrogen peroxide. Spread the mixture over the stain and cover in plastic wrap so that the paste doesn’t dry out. Let it sit this way for at least 24 hours before you remove the plastic and clean the stain with a mild dish soap and water. Pat dry.
As crazy as it sounds, the best way to clean vintage white linens is to boil them. Fill a large pot with water, add the linens and boil them for 45 minutes to an hour. Old school, but effective. Your linen tablecloths, napkins, christening gowns, etc. will be bright and white again.
Some linens are too big to boil on the stovetop. In those cases, try adding boiling water to a bathtub or utility sink and soaking the linens until the water is cool. You can add vinegar to the water to soften the fabric, and an oxygen-activated cleaner to help remove dirt and stains. Repeat this process until the stains are gone. Then machine wash with gentle detergent and hang or machine dry, depending on the fabric.
Dyed Textiles, Embroidery and Quilt Fabrics
Linens with dyes may bleed when washed. If you think this is a possibility, wipe the colored fabric, thread or printing with a wet, white cloth. If color transfers to the cloth, it isn’t colorfast and should definitely not be soaked or machine washed. Instead, try taking it to a dry cleaner and having it professionally cleaned.
Easily found at yard sales and thrift stores, silver-plated items have a bad reputation for being hard to polish. The good news? Polishing silver is easier than most people think. Use a gently foaming silver polish and a soft sponge to remove tarnish. Then for smaller, more detailed pieces like fork tines, dip them into a silver dip cleaner. If you’re not going to be using the silver for a long period of time, wrap it in plastic to prevent tarnishing.
As a more utilitarian type item, baskets see a lot of use. Because of this, vintage baskets are often found dirty. To clean them, use a vacuum with a brush attachment to suck up any loose dirt. For any bad smells or stains, take the basket outside on a nice day and rinse it off with a hose. Gently scrub with a soft brush to remove any stubborn dirt, if necessary. Once clean, allow the basket to dry completely before putting it to use.
For rusted areas of metal, scrub with a metal scouring pad or wire brush to remove the rust. Test this technique first in a small area, though, to make sure it doesn’t scratch the metal. Once the rust is gone, bring the shine and luster back by applying hemp or walnut oil to the surface. Use a soft cloth to apply the oil and a clean cloth to wipe away excess oil.