The Vintage Stink


All vintage lovers know what I am talking about. You find a beautiful vintage dress, it is so you that you’re practically singing. Then you take a whiff and you smell it. The Goodwill musk, the basement wet linger, the grandmother’s attic aroma that seems to be imbedded in the very stitching.

Now in this post I am sharing how I clean my own vintage clothing. These are big wedding dresses that have gone yellow, long gowns that have seen better days. Every piece will be different, one more delicate than the other. I have thrown some pieces into the laundry on delicate, had my fair share of oops and in no ways am I professional vintage dress cleaner. Just remember this is a process, not all your smelly troubles will go away in one try.

Jessica LaRue Photography Vintage dresses

The first thing I do is assess the kind of clothing. Is it strong linen? Cotton? Does it seem sturdy? If there is anything delicate or lacy you know that it won’t survive a go through the washer? The key to this whole thing is persistence, sometimes I have to do all these steps. Other times one works and I am free to twirl. If you believe the fabric is strong enough, run it through the wash on delicate using natural detergent. If you are dealing with a giant wedding dress things will be a little different…..

Jessica LaRue Photography Vintage dresses

Step 1: Seal & Bake

I take a huge zip lock bag and jam the clothes in it.

In a glass jar I add: a few scoops of baking soda, a few drops of essential oils (Lavender, tea tree, lemon, orange). 

Shake the jar up! 

Put the stinky clothing in the bag and sprinkle all the baking soda inside.

Seal it and let it sit for 3 days.

Jessica LaRue Photography Vintage dresses

Step 2: Soak & Vinegar it up 

Fill the tub slightly or bucket with lukewarm water. If you have reds or vibrant colors CAREFUL, they’ll bleed. Best to do one at a time.

Take another jar and fill it with white vinegar and add essential oils. 

Give it a good shake and dump it in over the clothes. 

Let it sit allllll day and stir it occasionally


Jessica LaRue Photography Vintage dresses


I leave those babies outside on a clothes line for a few days. Make sure it isn’t going to rain before you do. I have found that sunshine is the best stink killer. I wouldn’t put them in direct sun on a summer day, find some shade if that is the season you’re in. But a good air out and a few days later and you should have some nice smelling goodness. 

If it’s winter by the time you’re reading this, find a good sunny window, a place that gets light and good airflow. Be careful though, fabric gets very heavy when wet and can stretch fabric. Find a chair outside to drape the clothing over first so the majority of the heavy water comes out. When it is dry, feel free to hang it.

Jessica LaRue Photography Vintage dresses

Other helpful tips:

Did you buy a wedding dress at goodwill and there are tons of big nasty stains all over it? Fill up the bathtub with lukewarm water and add a scoop of Oxiclean. Mix it up, make sure your stain gets a little attention, wait an hour or two, rinse and you’ll have a fresh white dress!

BEWARE the lace. When clothing gets wet, it gets heavy and the pull can end up ripping some of your pretty beauties. So if you are soaking, handle with care and lay on a flat service for dying.

-Watch those colors. Vintage clothing can just sort of be near warm water and those colors will bleed all over the place. Stick with lukewarm water.

-Persistence is key! You might have to do this a couple of times to get the years of moth ball stink out! Don’t be discouraged, keep on at it.

LaRue Photography