How to care for and clean vintage coats

Vintage coats need special care and handling to look their best. With the right cleaning, storage, and maintenance techniques, you can wear vintage and antique outerwear for many years.

care for and clean vintage coats

Whether you find, purchase, or inherit a vintage coat, check it for damage. Carefully dust it off, and repair any weak or torn seams, or loose buttons immediately. If you aren’t certain how to do this, have the repairs made by a good tailor or seamstress. Local department stores can refer you to someone in your area.

If your vintage coat’s lining is too worn to repair, carefully remove and replace it. Any good tailor can do this. Don’t simply cut out the lining and wear the coat as is. The lining supports the heavy coat and is an important part of most outerwear. Without the lining, the coat’s seams may weaken and tear as you wear them.


When you acquire a vintage coat, your first concern–after repairing obvious damage–should be cleaning it. Even carefully stored garments can collect dust, and overlooked stains can become more evident with time. So, your first task is to find a dry cleaner that can be trusted with your treasured items.

The best way to find a trustworthy dry cleaner is to check with several local businesses. Start with museums that exhibit anything made of cloth, including quilts, tapestries, furniture, and–of course–vintage and antique clothing. Ask them which dry cleaning service they use.

You can also ask for better department stores, antique dealers, and auction houses. All of them use dry cleaners from time to time, and their recommendations should point you toward at least one reputable choice.

Even if your coat is cotton and has been laundered or hand-washed before, dry cleaning is the safest way to ensure that it will remain wearable for years to come. If you’re on a strict budget and the coat is not especially valuable, some vintage clothing collectors and dealers use an at-home dry cleaning product such as Dryel. But, if your coat is valuable, it’s best to use a professional dry cleaner.

The one exception to this is leather or fur coats. Regular dry cleaning can damage them. Even a small amount of leather trim can dry and crack when exposed to dry cleaning chemicals. Once you’ve found a trustworthy dry cleaning service, consult them about coats made of fragile or unusual materials, or trims on regular coats. They may refer you to another company that can better handle these special garments.

When you bring your coat to the dry cleaner, be sure to point out unusual or fragile trim, buttons that may discolor or crack, stains that need special treatment, and anything else that concerns you about cleaning your coat.

Never use a stain-protecting spray or similar chemical treatment on your vintage clothing. The long-term effects may prove hazardous with fragile fibers.


Once your coat is clean, store it safely. In most cases, store the coat flat, and gently folded with acid-free tissue paper or clean muslin between the layers. However, if the coat is in daily use and it’s more practical to hang it in a closet, be certain to use padded hangers, not metal or flimsy plastic.

If your coat is made from wool or may attract bugs, keep a few mothballs in the closet where your coat is stored. Cedar is another bug repellant, but unless the closet is lined with cedar, there is still some risk of moths or other fabric-eating insects.

Whether your coat is hung in a closet or stored flat, be sure that air can circulate freely around it. Never stack coats on top of each other, or put anything heavy on top of your coat. Never store vintage fabrics in plastic, and avoid paper and cardboard unless it is acid-free. And, never store any fabrics where they are exposed to bright light or even indirect sunlight; they can fade.

If you store your coat during the warmer months, be sure to have it dry-cleaned before placing it in storage. If there are stains, including perspiration stains that you haven’t noticed, they can be set permanently into the fibers.

Likewise, if your coat is stored with mothballs, have it cleaned again before wearing it. This will remove unpleasant odors, as well as halt any chemical interactions between the mothballs and the coat. Mothballs should never come in direct contact with any fabric, ever.

Many dry cleaning services offer storage for winter coats during the warmer months. This can be a smart choice if your vintage coat is particularly valuable, or if you don’t have adequate space to store it properly.


Avoid applying perfume or hair spray while wearing your coat. If your hair is treated with gel or any product that will come in direct contact with the collar of your coat, drape a scarf between your hair and the collar, Grace Kelly style. The chemicals in perfumes and beauty products can dry or discolor vintage fabrics. Likewise, use a scarf at the neckline of your coat if your makeup might rub onto the fabric.

If you want to accent your vintage coat with a brooch or pin, check the weave of the fabric carefully. Too often, the pin breaks a small thread in the fabric and causes a hole that cannot be repaired.

If you wear your coat to work, be sure to hang it on a plastic or padded coat hanger, not a hook.

When you remove your vintage coat at a party, don’t just drape it over a chair or leave it on a bed. Turn the coat so that the lining is on the outside; if someone carelessly spills a drink, a stained lining is not as tragic as a permanently stained coat.

If your coat gets wet, do not put it in the dryer. Let it air dry. Fur trim on your coat should be dried with your hair dryer set at the lowest possible temperature. Fluff the fur gently as you dry it.

Regularly–at least weekly if the coat is worn often–check for fragile seams and loose buttons, dirt or fraying near the hemline, and other signs of damage. Repair it immediately.

Your vintage coat deserves proper care, cleaning, and storage. Treat it with care, and enjoy the compliments as you wear it for many happy years.

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