Saturday, October 16, 2010
Laundering Old Linens - An Update and a New Product Range from Ariel
I buy most of my antique and vintage linens at auction, in large mixed lots, generally from house clearances, so preparing them for sale is a long and time-consuming process. First of all the boxes must be sorted (this is the exciting bit!) so that you know exactly what you've got, which items need light laundering, which need more serious attention, which are so delicate that they need special care, and which items can be recycled back to the saleroom, or the local charity shop because they don't quite fit into my online shop.
Once washed, of course, they have to be dried (preferably outside in the fresh Scottish air - but winter makes this a bit difficult!) ironed with our big industrial steam iron (my husband is a dab hand at that, and quite enjoys doing it) checked for faults, and then stored away with lavender to deter the moths.
Many of the linens, especially table linens, have been stored away complete with original tea stains, or have crease lines along hundred year old folds, so some of them demand very careful laundering. At the same time, linen is a very forgiving textile, and you can wash it at quite high temperatures, and can also use whitening products that you would be very reluctant to use on more delicate pieces.
I normally pre-treat the worst marks with a stain removing gel, which I leave on for a little while, and then wash on a long 60 degree wash - the one usually marked cottons. (I never boil anything - I think a boil wash is too harsh for old textiles of any kind.) For this I will use an in-wash whitener such as Vanish or - more recently - Ariel along with my usual non-bio detergent. For this process, I have found the new Ariel stain removers to be very effective, although I must confess that a sheet with a horrible, old, yellow sellotape mark (it had been in its original packaging, which, over fifty years, had left a deposit on the sheet itself) took a couple of washes and the application of gel to remove, so it wasn't instant, by any means! However, I was impressed enough to go out and buy a bottle of the gel stain remover, and used it to wash three large, old, and rather badly marked damask tablecloths, again on a long 60 degree wash, with detergent, and the gel poured onto the top of the linen in the machine, as directed. It worked very well indeed, and these tablecloths are, so far as I can see (they are hanging out on the line in the sunshine, even as I type this) bright white and very fresh.
The only problem, however, was with the bottle itself. It is a large bottle and the big screw-on clear plastic top is used to measure out the liquid and pour it into the machine. Because it is a screw-on top it has a rather narrow neck, and the bottle itself is in quite a soft plastic. Twice now, I have found myself with the 'gel' (which is actually more of a liquid than a gel, in my book, being quite runny) splashing out over my fingers, the floor and the laundry basket. And the second time, I was aware of the problem and it still happened. So, 9/10 for the product and 3/10 for the packaging of the gel, folks!
Will I use it again? I probably will. And where two products are equally effective, price becomes very important.
What I haven't yet experimented with is soaking. Many of my old textiles are so badly marked and so very delicate, that the only way to deal with them is to soak them in a weak solution of stain remover in lukewarm water, sometimes over a number of days, changing the water, very gently, and handling them as little as possible. I rinse them in the bath with the shower head, rather than pulling at the delicate fibres, and finally, I give them a very gentle wash in soap solution, rinse them well, with fabric conditioner in the last rinse and dry them flat. I haven't yet tried Ariel in this way, but I'll be experimenting over the next couple of weeks, and will let you know how it goes!
Posted by Catherine Czerkawska at 1:40 pm