How To Wash Vintage Bow Ties

How to wash vintage bow ties requires a close examination of the fabric of the bowtie and a decision to dry clean or to wash. Even if a vintage fabric bowtie was once a candidate for the dry cleaners, the fabric may have become fragile over the years that the bowtie may not survive the dry cleaning process. In that case, a gentle washing is in order. Remember that vintage fabric may not be color fast, so always use a mild soap and a water temperature between cool and warm.

You'll need: 

  • Several sizes of clean, used toothbrushes
  • Mild detergent
  • Several old, thick towels
  • Bowl just larger than the bowtie
  • Plastic clothes pins and plastic drying rack
  • Small, thin fabric washcloths
  • Clothes brush
  • Metal polish, if bowtie includes a metal clip
  1. Clean the surface area where the bowtie cleaning will happen. Nothing worse than cleaning the bowtie and supplying more dirt and dust from the surface that is used for the cleaning process.
  2. Clean your hands. Your hands also carry grease and grime. Make sure you start with clean hands to avoid adding any grease to the cleaning process. 
  3. Evaluate the vintage bow tie. Pick up the bowtie, use a magnifying glass if necessary, to examine the dirt spots. If you can't see any specific dirt spots, you may just need to clean off a light layer of dust. Avoiding water is a goal, if it is possible. Examine any visible spots for potential cause. Touch spots to check for grease or hardened food. 
  4. Brush off any extra dirt or dust. Use the clothes brush, or one of the smallest clean toothbrushes, to take off the dust from the bowtie. This is important. Wet dust and dirt make more mess if the bowtie ends up submerged in a water bath for cleaning. Use a stiffer brush to remove any hardened spots of food on the bowtie
  5. Clean metal clip. If your bowtie has a clip, wet a washcloth with a small amount of water and take off any dirt from the metal clip. If the clip is rusted, spring for some rust remover polish to shine things up or replace the clip with a new one. Try the fine sandpaper for light surface scratches. 
  6. Brush again. Brush off any new dirt that landed on the fabric from the clip procedure. 
  7. Dab and evaluate. Put out a cool water cleaning bowl and use a clean washcloth to do some work. Dampen the cloth, don't soak, and lightly brush the surface of the fabric. Air dry the spot. 
  8. Dab again and evaluate. If any dirt or spots remain, do the above step again. Keep going until all the spots are gone. If there are still spots, or you're bored with a cheap purchase that is taking up too much of your time to clean, dunk it in water following the directions in the next step. 
  9. Submerge. Use this technique only when the bowtie is beyond hope and the only other option is to trash the potential treasure. Repeat the dabbing technique until you've exhausted your clean small washcloths or your patience. Since the colorfastness of vintage bowties is usually in question, you'll need to submerge the entire bowtie in a larger container to make sure that, if the bowtie fades or color bleeds, it will do the same technique over the entire bowtie. The thought here is that at least the bleeding matches. The other hint to this technique is similar to open-heart surgery: get in and out as quick as possible. Do not dally in the cleaning technique. Have the equipment out and ready and hit the troublesome spot. Keep in mind you may need to use a toothbrush over the entire bowtie to even out any loss of color.
  10. Dry the bowtie. It may be necessary to block the bowtie to make sure the fabric doesn't shrink. Blocking involves putting heavy items on ends of the bowtie. If blocking isn't necessary, evaluate the possibility of stretching if the bowtie is put on a line to dry. Flat drying with on an aerated line is the best option.
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