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How to Clean Thrift Store Clothes

How to Safely Wash Vintage & Thrift Store Finds

Have you recently found yourself browsing through crowded racks of second-hand clothing stores hoping to find that perfect new vintage jacket? Thrift store shopping is quickly growing in popularity as individuals of all ages and preferred style run to the latest vintage clothing shop. Not every second-hand store is made the same. Some house solely high-end designer goods, selling for upwards to $5,000 for a second-hand Gucci dress to more affordable choice. 

Whichever is your style or preference, there are some ways to make sure you properly wash your new-to-you clothes! Whether you scored an awesome 80’s denim jacket, a vintage Fendi scarf, or a few pairs of on-trend mom-jeans, you’re going to want them fresh of any odors or lingering grime.

Which Vintage Items Should You Dry Clean

If bringing clothes to a dry cleaner is not apart of your weekly or monthly routine, it might seem like a pain. However, these are the experts on maintaining the quality of your clothes, even after a thorough wash. Getting certain vintage pieces professionally cleaned can help elongate the garment’s second life. 

A good rule of thumb is to bring any delicate fabric and textiles or elaborate silhouettes like shoulder pads to a dry cleaner. It’s important to note that not all dry cleaners are made the same. When dealing with delicate, specialty fabrics, try to opt for a dry cleaner who has experience or even specializes in certain garment types.

Some specialty vintage items that should be professionally cleaned include anything made from: 

  • Velvet
  • Silk
  • Leather & suede
  • Wool
  • Embellished fabric or flocking detail
  • Textured & structured items (i.e., pleats or padding)

Now, not every item you find thrifting through your favorite Goodwill will require such high-maintenance attention. More often than not, thrift store finds usually just need a good wash to get rid of any musty odors. These items are generally more durable and can handle an at-home clean. 

Thrift-shop finds you can wash at home are made from:

  • Cotton
  • Blended knits
  • Synthetic fabrics (i.e., nylon, polyester, spandex)
  • Denim
  • Cashmere

Simply tossing second-hand clothes in a regular wash doesn’t always cut it. Some of these at-home fabrics still need to be handled with care. With higher-end clothing like cashmere, handwashing is the best choice to preserve the quality of the material.

How to Wash Vintage Clothes at Home

You may be able to look past these set-in odors when picking that new blouse. Sometimes you have to see beyond the stink to appreciate the potential! However, now it’s time to bust the smell out of the new pieces and truly give them a second chance at style. 

For most at-home washes, there are a few options: handwash, delicate wash cycle (i.e., cold water), or regular wash cycle (i.e., warm water). Each fabric has a preferred temperature and wash speed, so always be sure to check on the inside garment tag for any special washing instructions before proceeding.

Active Wear Soak for Thrift Store Finds 

An Active Wear soak is the easiest and most powerful way to eliminate any remaining thrift-store odors from your clothes. Using Rockin’ Green’s Platinum Series Active Wear detergent, you can gently yet effectively rid those clothes of any unwanted odors, stains, and hidden dirt. So pieces may require a soak followed by a wash cycle where other garments will just need a solid soak, rinse, and dry! 

      1. To start, categorize your thrift store finds by the type of wash they call for (i.e., hand wash, dry clean, warm water, etc.). Once separated, toss your first pile in the bathtub, kitchen sink, or any bucket that will fit a decent amount of water and clothes.

      2. Cover the clothes in cool to luke-warm water and toss in one or two scoops of Active Wear detergent (depending on the size of “load”).

      3. Let the clothes soak for at least an hour, sometimes two depending on the severity of odor or dirtiness.

      4. Once you feel like your clothes, have soaked long enough, drain the water, and wring out excess water.

      5. From here, go with the specific garment washing etiquette. If you are tossing your clothes into the wash cycle, you don’t need any added detergent. Simply transfer to the washer and run through a rinse cycle.

      6. Dry as instructed.

Popular Second-hand Clothing Items that Will Benefit from an Active Wear Soak

Vintage Denim

Denim comes in a vast range of washes, fit, and details. From the classic high-waist jeans to the oversized denim jacket, this material may seem invincible, but there’s a proper way to wash your vintage denim. Jean experts say to avoid washing your jeans in the washer, aka never wash your jeans in the washing machine. 

Since jeans only need a thorough washing after several wears handwashing is an easy way to keep those jeans in mint condition! Toss your jeans in an Active Wear soak, allowing them to sit for at least an hour or so. From there, rinse jeans rigorously to ensure all of the detergent is flushed out and then hang them to dry. 

Thrift Store Accessories

When it comes to accessories, thrift stores are where you need to hunt. Purses, scarves, and hats are bountiful at vintage shops. Many of which are unique pieces that even with an imperfection or two are tres Magnifique! With accessories comes a little bit of a curveball when it comes to laundry. These delicate and at times, oddly shaped items require a more spot-treatment style of cleaning. 

Grab a damp cloth to dry and wipe away any visible dirt, dust, stain sweats, etc. Spot cleaning is the best way to try and alleviate those eye-sores without risking any detriment to the item. For accessories like scarves and baseball hats, an Active Wear Soak can do the trick! 

Second-Hand Shoes

Shoes, out of all thrift items, should be disinfected appropriately before wearing. Now many shops, especially in today’s market demand, a lot of second-hand items will only be sold if they’re in good condition. However, shoes are a different ball game. The outside may look decent, the shape of the shoe maybe mint, but the inside is still ridden with whatever germs the previous owner left. Yuck. 

Toss your new kicks in a sink of water with a scoop of Active Wear detergent for at least a few hours. Stains on the shoes are typically more set in which requires more time soaking. For the real gnarly cases, go ahead and leave the shoes in a soak overnight. Before rinsing, spot treat any stubborn stains with a cloth or toothbrush depending on the shoe’s fabric. Rinse thoroughly and allow your shoes to air dry, then you are ready to rock! 



Chemical-Free Detergent for All Your Laundry Needs

From thrift store treasures to blankets, workout clothes, cloth diapers and more, Rockin’ Green has you covered with laundry detergent free of any toxins or harmful additives. Keep your clothes fresh and your skin safe with a detergent fit for any mess. If you just scored an awesome new vintage tee or got mud on your new white kicks, reach for our Platinum Series Active Wear to give new life to all your garments.


Need a refresher on how to rock a soak?

Watch the video below!

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