Cleaning YellowedVintage Linens

Cleaning YellowedVintage Linens

Lately I’ve been on a vintage linens kick. If you’re watching my YouTube channel then you’ve seen the pieces I’ve been hoarding – Pillow cases, table clothes, table runners. Pretty much anything with embroidery on it has been coming home with me.

Most of the linens I find at garage sales and thrift stores unfortunately are plagued with stains. Most recently I found an amazing set of embroidered pillow cases at a garage sale for 50 cents. I know! I had to take them home in spite of the distinctly yellow cast to them.

The yellow was more noticeable after I wet the pillowcase

Pillow cases can be nasty because people sweat on them at night. Sometime we get to add cigarettes to the mix and you get some interesting stains.

These were strange. They were yellow up to the edge but the part around the embroidery was still white. At the very least if I couldn’t remove the yellowing then at least I could repurpose the embroidery. 

If I could remove the stain these would be $15 in my shop. Quite a nice profit.

Removing yellowing from vintage linens

When I was working at Junk Bonanza, I met HGTV’s The Laundry Guy Patric Richardson. I’m not sure if you’ve seen his show but he’s an expert in getting clothes and linens clean. He is also a very nice guy. He gave me a few tips when we chatted and his book Laundry Love is full of helpful hints.

While I was there, I picked up some of his oxygen bleach. He says it’s the best oxygen bleach on the market. I don’t know all the specifics but I do know it’s pretty darn good. You can of course use Oxyclean if you have that on hand.

I used a tablespoon in very hot tap water for these pillow cases.Keep in mind that you’re fabrics need to be color safe when soaking in hot water. You don’t want dyes bleeding out all over your linens so make sure you check before you soak.

I use a bucket when I soak any of my linens because I never know how long I’ll have to soak something and I don’t want my sink or bathtub tied up for a long time. I like ice cream buckets because they have a lid to keep animals and bugs from testing the waters.

Of course I didn’t take photos of the soaking process for these pillow cases! Mainly because I didn’t know I was going to want to write a blog post about them. But here’s a photo of some other linens I have been soaking. The process is the same.

My fancy bucket

Because it’s been really warm here right now, I put the bucket on the deck so the water stays warm.

The water almost always turns yellow right away but resist the urge to take the linens out. Let the oxygen bleach have a chance to really work its magic. I know it’s gross but the results are worth it. So be patient.

I start with soaking overnight. The next day I dump the water out and rinse the linens thoroughly. If they still look yellow. I repeat the process, because that’s what my grandmother taught me to do (sorry Patric! grandma gets credit here because she told me that first).

I use the same solution of 1 tablespoon to a bucket full of hot water.

The water should be clearer each time you soak. You will also notice the yellow color lifting and getting lighter.

I’m going to confess that these pillow cases took 5 days of rinse and repeat soaking. On the fifth day they looked a lot better but still looked yellow to me, so I did the other thing my grandma told me do, I hung them out on the laundry line in the bright sunlight. If you don’t have the luxury of a laundry poles you can always lay them flat on a clean surface in the sunlight. Just remember to turn them so both sides get sunlight. Or if you have space and the ability to invest in a folding drying rack. They fold flat so they’re easy to store in the back of the closet, and they’re good to have on hand. When I lived in a apartment I kept one so I didn’t have to pay for a dryer if I was a little strapped.

Thankfully sunlight removed that last bit of yellow from the fabric. You can see from the photos that they are as white as the first time they were used. Ignore the wrinkles. I was too excited to wait for photos.

Perfect white pillowcases!

I’m always amazed at what a bit of soaking and sunlight can do for vintage linens.

Sharing is caring, and by sharing this post on platforms like Pinterest or Facebook, you’re not just spreading the word – you’re helping others bring back the beauty of their heirloom textiles. Let’s make sure these timeless treasures are enjoyed for generations to come.

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