How to Restore Vintage Linens to Their Former Glory

One obstacle of working so much with vintage linens is the presence of stains and odors. Whether you want to recycle yours for sewing projects or just use them for their original purpose, you’ll first want to restore those vintage linens to their former glory.

Take a look at this embroidered linen. I absolutely fell in love with the little orange birds. I’m not entirely sure what it was used for though. Dresser scarf maybe? The flower basket in the middle is upside down. Maybe it was used to wrap bread?  If you happen to know what this is, please leave a comment. I would love to know! 😍

Do you know what this was used for?
This linen had so much starch, you could practically fold a paper airplane out of it!
These stains are probably a few decades old.

Here’s how to do it: 😍

Vinegar!  White distilled vinegar works wonders for a few things.

First, it is awesome for combating starch. Starch is usually corn-based and designed to come out in the wash. But with so much of it here, it will need a little more than just a quick wash. A nice long soak in vinegar bath should help dissolve all that starch. (**Note: If vinegar doesn’t work, you may be dealing with fabric stiffener. Not starch. Fabric stiffener is more like glue and harder to remove. You could try boiling the linen in water but there are no guarantees.) 😍
It will also help neutralize the musty smell of years in storage. Because of the severity of both starch and odors, I am going to let it soak for 24 hours. But really, there’s no limit to how long you can let your linens soak. I’ll soak items for a week or longer if needed.
Another perk? Vinegar helps whiten without fading colors. Perfect for linens that are so colorfully embroidered. There’s no real science to what measurements you need either. I basically just filled my sink with a couple inches (enough to cover the fabric) with warm water and poured in about a half cup of vinegar.


Dish Soap. All those years in storage can also leave linens a bit dusty and dirty. I like to add a little bit of dish soap to the vinegar bath. Dish soap is mild on your linens but designed to remove heavy grime.  About a teaspoon of dish soap to launder the item is good. Of course you could add more if needed.

Soak in a vinegar and dish soap bath. 😍

Stain Removal: The vinegar bath helped with some of those stains, but some of the more stubborn ones will need treatment. Color-Safe Stain Remover from Clorox or Oxi Clean Laundry Stain Remover will do the trick (In my experience, Color-Safe Stain Remover from Clorox has proven more effective. You can find it in many stores. I think I got mine at Target).

Spray the problem areas and put it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap (so it doesn’t dry out) and let it sit for a couple days. This is another one of those things that you could let sit as long as you need to get the stains out. I recently made a skirt from a table cloth that was absolutely covered in foxing spots. I just poured the stain remover in a big bowl to saturate the entire thing and let it soak for over a week. 😍 The finished product came out beautifully and no one would ever know the horrible state the table cloth was in when I found it. So basically, just keep checking it periodically and know that it could take anywhere from a couple hours to more than a week depending on the severity of the stains. And be patient 😉

😍 Be patient, this may take a while 😉

**BTW: I have no affiliation with any of the products or companies listed here. I don’t get paid to promote any of these (I wish I did. Someone should let them know!) This is just what I have found to work for me personally.

Rinse well. Once the stains are finally gone, you can give your linen a good rinse. It wouldn’t hurt to give it a quick wash with dish soap again too, just to get the smell of the stain remover out.

Air dry. You could line dry outside if the weather’s good. I live in the Pacific Northwest where we get rain more often not, so I usually just lay my linens flat to dry. Just don’t put them in the dryer. Embroidery tends to shrink and you’ll end up with “puckering”…and nobody likes puckering. 😍

Iron. Linens usually need to be ironed before use. Iron on medium-high heat or use the linen setting if your iron has it.

And you’re done! If you’re looking for ideas for your newly restored vintage linens,  7 Ways to Use Vintage Embroidered Linens can provide some inspiration.

Here’s how I used mine…. 😍

Blue and white polka-dot cotton material and simple pink buttons to go with the embroidered linen.

This linen was a good fit for the Hide and Seek Dress by Oliver + S. For lack of having enough material for an entire dress I opted for the tunic version instead. The dark blue with white polka dot cotton fabric contrasts nicely with the little orange bird.

😍 A cute little stain-free tunic.

I switched out the sleeves with those from the Library Dress (also from Oliver + S). They add a little structure to a very casual fitting tunic and the notches in the sleeves mimic the neckline of the dress.

My little snoop….
Who’d of thought this starchy, stained linen could look like this!
Adorable <3
We’ll close with an action shot.

I shared this dress in the Oliver + S Pattern Mash-Up Party. The idea is to combine patterns to come up with an original look. A fun little challenge to get the creative juices flowing 🙂

😍 Cheers!

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