How to clean vintage tablecloths after a holiday dinner

It’s a familiar feeling – a mixture of awe, pride, and dread as you lay out your heirloom holiday linens. They’re so delicate and beautiful – but they also feel terrifyingly fragile. You don’t know how your grandmother kept them so spotless through two generations of holiday family dinners, but you’re pretty sure these shouldn’t go in the washing machine. But you can’t let fear ruin your perfectly planned holiday table! Grandmother would not have approved of her linens sitting in a drawer instead of being used. 

So Hangers is here to help! Let’s talk about how to keep those linens clean and good as new – no matter what mess the holidays may bring!

Using Your Vintage Tablecloth

Special Occasion Only

We know we just gave the inspiring speech about not putting Baby in a corner, but vintage fabrics and other delicate cloth items can only survive so many washings. And to keep down the number of times they need to be cleaned, you have to reduce the number of times you use the tablecloth per year – it’s simple laundry math. 

We rcommend that you use your best linens for small, light dinners. Chocolate cake you may be able to get out yourself, but red wine and lipstick and gravy are much more likely to stain and set before you can have them cleaned. If you do use your good linens for Christmas dinner and end up with a particularly difficult spill, we recommend taking it straight to the cleaners rather than attempting to remove the stain yourself. There’s a danger that you may accidentally set the stain in the process.  

Iron Sparingly

If your vintage tablecloth has been well-preserved, you can likely still iron it. Lay it out on the ironing board, spritz it with water, and smooth the iron over the cloth – on the lowest setting that still allows it to be effective. Starch is optional and can make your table look extra crisp, but it can yellow your linens over time so be careful and use sparingly! We suggest that you iron right before you place the tablecloth on the table for the best results. 

If your tablecloth is embroidered, never iron directly over the embroidery! The heat can bleach the color from the threads, melt gold or silver threads, or scorch the needlework. Instead, place a terrycloth towel on the ironing board, flip the tablecloth over, and iron the reverse side. 

Cleaning Vintage Tablecloths and Linens

Soak Them

The delicate and aging fibers in vintage linens make them a cleaning conundrum. You want them to be as white as possible, but using harsh bleach and soap can damage the fibers and hasten their retirement. Instead, soak your linens in warm water for 15 minutes. Add a mild phosphate-free soap and gently swish them around. Rinse thoroughly and let them air dry. They should look as good as new (or new to you at least)!

Know When to Call in the Pros 

If your linens are already starting to look translucent or if you suspect that red wine dribble will not come out with swishing alone, you may need to have them professionally cleaned. When it comes to heirlooms, better safe than sorry. You’ll never regret spending a little extra on protecting them – but you may regret accidentally ruining them forever. 

If your vintage tablecloth, napkins, runners, etc. are especially fragile or worn, take them to a fabric specialist or a dry cleaner – they should be able to recommend the best repair/care plan for your linens. 

If you’re in need of dry cleaning for your vintage linens, contact Hangers Cleaners. We’re here to help you preserve your favorite items and your precious family memories.