Organize & Clean

Vintage Fabric Lovers Guide to Identifying Textiles for Cleaning

published Apr 15, 2014
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(Image credit: Elizabeth Giorgi)

I’m addicted to picking up new and vintage textiles online and at my local boutiques, but one thing that always worries me when I’m considering a purchase is whether I’ll be able to figure out how to clean it. Well, no more.

I found this helpful guide from Pacific Fabrics, which includes a test to help you determine just what kind of textile you have in hand before you try to clean it. And get this: it involves burning. I know, it sounds scary, but it really works. Here’s the basic premise:

  1. Pull a small sample of at least six to eight yarns from your fabric, about four inches long, and twist them together into a bundle about 1/8 inch in diameter. You can also use a small snippet of the fabric if you only need to determine whether it is a synthetic or natural fiber fabric, and you are not seeking to determine the specific fiber(s) that make up the fabric.
  2. Hold one end of the bundle with tweezers over a sink or a sheet of aluminum foil (about 10 to 12 inches square) to protect your working area. If the sample ignites, it can be dropped into the sink or onto the foil without damage. Use either a candle or a match (automatic lighters work well) as your flame.

Based on how the sample burns (and what it smells like when it does), you can determine what kind of fabric you’re dealing with. The way different kinds of fabric burn is outlined in the guide from Pacific Fabric, which you can download here.