Unfortunately not all items are able to be washed at home. If you know what the fabric is take it to a dry cleaner. In my experience taking a vintage evening gown to a dry cleaner can cost more than the item itself so make sure you call around and get some quotes. Try to avoid mentioning the item is vintage unless it is particularly fragile and needs extra attention.
If cost is not an issue there are dry cleaners who specialize in vintage items. These dry cleaners will be well versed in vintage fabrics and will provide the best care if your item is particularly special. Keep in mind with most vintage items they are irreplaceable!
Don't despair... if dry cleaning is not in your budget there are always other options!
THINGS TO TRY AT HOME
The most obvious solution is to wash the item. If you're lucky enough to find an item with a label that says handwash or machine wash by all means go ahead. Add a quater of a cup of vinegar to your wash to kill the mildew and your item will be good as new!
If your item can go in the dryer your job is easy. The heat of the dryer will kill off the bacteria and spores that cause the odour. If you feel confident using your dryer you can also add a dryer sheet for freshness.
Hang your item outside on a warm sunny day by placing the item on a coat hanger on your washing line. The heat and sun is usually enough to completely dry the item and kill off the mildew. If after one day the smell is still there give it another day or two out in the sun before trying something else.
Steam is another great way to kill off mildew. You can go over the piece with a garment steamer however this can be a little time consuming. Alternatively you can add a cup or two of vinegar to a hot steamy bath of water and hang your item over it. Close the door and leave the item in the steamy room overnight. Hang your item out in the sun the next day to allow the vinegar smell to evaporate. Steaming is also a great way to get the wrinles out of items so it kills two birds with one stone!
If you buy vintage items regularly it is worth investing in a humidifier. Fill the humidifier with 80% water and 20% vinegar and place the item in a closed room overnight. As before, hang the item out in the sun to allow the vinegar to evaporate.
Caring for your vintage item
When you do get the odour out of your items you want to keep it that way! A great way to store your items is in a well ventilated area. Do not use plastic garment bags as this traps moisture, use cotton or any other material that allows the item to breathe.
Another great little trick is to collect the little silica sachets you get in shoe boxes or handbags. Place the sachets in the bottom of your garment bag as it absorbs moisture and will keep the mildew at bay.
Finally, pop your favorite scented sachet in your garment bag with your item keeping it ready for your next
R&M @ GoS