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Is Washing or Dry Cleaning a tunic a good idea or bad idea
Old 12-30-2009, 06:42 PM   #1
Paul R.
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Default Is Washing or Dry Cleaning a tunic a good idea or bad idea

Several weeks ago there was a posting on washing tunics. I was not able to respond due to a busy schedule. I usually donít drop product names due in part of being accused of receiving kick backs from companies. Sorry fellas, that's far from the truth.
I am not a fan of the Dry Cleaning process of antique fabric. I know that Iíll hear about it from the Nay Sayers on this site for some time to come. There are a lot of people that quickly jump on the 'me too' platform without researching a thing who have all the answers to conservation questions. As collectors we spend hours, days, years researching a tunic that we eagerly want to buy. We study certain battles, certain maneuvers etc.

But we throw all common sense out when it comes to taking care of our several thousand dollar tunics. I donít understand it.

First of all there are many ways to clean and maintain antique fabrics. There are very few methods that are a good way to clean and preserve them.
For cleaning those Family Heirloom items from Grandmaís handmade quilt to Grandpaís military tunic. There is no one sizes fits all approach to cleaning antique fabric. The best rule of thumb is: If you are unsure how to clean your military uniform. Either leave it alone or conduct a simple research and ask questions until you are completely comfortable with any cleaning process! If you are confused on which method is best. I recommend conferencing with a textile conservator to get more information on your specific fabric, or military uniform. Don't settle for one opinion only.

DO NOT EVER DRY CLEAN ANY VINTAGE OR ANTIQUE FABRIC MATERIAL! HEREíS WHY YOU SHOULD NOT DRY CLEAN OR USE WOOLLITE.


WHY NOT? EVERYBODY ELSE IS? Antique and Vintage Fabrics are generally organic materials such as cotton and wools with other natural fibers. Organic materials were once alive and made into thread, cloth, and fabric. These all have cell structures that can deteriorate with time. Products like soap and other chemical treatments help destroy plant cell structures. A lot of these also contain fabric brighteners and chemical softeners. Dry Cleaning would certainly have damaging effects. Even with the Dry Cleaners new approach to a safer green clean ďThe Green Dry Clean ChemicalsĒ. These are chemicals no matter how itís sliced, diced of cut in to new catch phases. No matter how ďgreenĒ they claim to be they are not.

T o put this into simple terms we ourselves are organic and we don't take chemical baths, use harsh detergents, or go through the dry cleaning process... So, why on earth would you submit your antique fabric or military tunic to such a process? If you clean your favorite military tunic like you clean yourself. Your military tunic life expectancy will be greatly extended. Cleaners can only clean and not bring new life back to any material. However, organic material can be cleaned up nicely if it has been preserved and not exposed to a great deal of improper storage, chemicals, harsh detergents that leave residue, and doesn't use bleach like cleaners. These tunics will have a very, very long life span. So what can you use safely without damaging your prizes possessions? There are some products that are out there that can safely clean your military tunic and will do no harm. One product that comes to mind is a neutral soap called ORVUS.

ORVUS is a white paste that is fairly neutral based ph balanced soap thatís made by Proctor & Gamble. Itís been around for almost 50 years and is highly sought after and is used by and advanced quilters, and textile conservators. I have used it myself on my tunics.
ORVUS has sodium lauryl sulfate (The active cleaning ingredient) and is a wetting agent. ORVUS is an excellent choice for washing your handmade quilts and antique linens as it will not strip or fade the colors or weaken the fabric and is organically safe. ORVUS actually makes water wetter and will not leave a residue on your tunic. ORVUS soap and water mixture gets into the fibers of the fabric easily to float out the dirt and oils. When Orvus is warm it has a liquid property and when cool, or cold, it has a paste property and can be used in either state. Just be sure to mix Orvus into the wash water so it is evenly distributed before washing any antique fabric.
ORVUS is a neutral synthetic extremely gentle and highly effective cleaner which is soluble in both lukewarm and cold water and rinses out freely. Of course do not wash any wool or plant based material in HOT WATER.
No chemicals, no residue. Unlike Woolite, ORVUS contains no bleaches and doesn't discolor or fade dyes to harm any type of fabric from lace to fine vintage wool rugs.
Overall ORVUS is a high sudsing soap to clean your fine tunics, or fabrics. The down side is ORVUS leaves behind a very faint fresh scent. Leaves fabrics, clothes soft, and not stiff feeling. You only need a teaspoonful for hand washing! A little goes a long way and is fabulous for all sorts of vintage clothing. It contains no phosphates to harm delicate fabrics and the surfactants are1 00% biodegradable. How much greener can you get?

At last... Remember when the tunic or other vintage material is wet it is very venerable stage. It is ofcourse heavy with water. So don't go pulling it out of the standinf water. Please do not wring it out completely gently squeeze out the water out. If need be have another person help you lift out the tunic after you have rinsed to several times use plenty of towels and slowly air dry.
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Old 12-31-2009, 12:18 AM   #2
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Paull thanx for the advice and taking the time to post. Jacques
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Old 12-31-2009, 12:31 AM   #3
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Yes excellent advice,,what about cleaning a wool party banner?
how can I be sure the red wont run into the white??

Thats what I'm paranoid about
would this Orvus product work?

Thanks for the post paul
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Old 12-31-2009, 04:49 AM   #4
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Seems like very good advice.

I believe there is such resistance to the information because it is so unpleasant.
It is unpleasant to hear it is not simple and quick and easy to take good care of these items...
I add to that paper and photos and helmets, etc....no one wants to accept it is a job in itself to take care of it all.
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Old 12-31-2009, 10:12 AM   #5
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Not to mention archival safe storage supplies arent cheap either,,
I know!
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Old 12-31-2009, 11:00 AM   #6
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I ADD SOME MORE CLEANING INFORMATION.
PLEASE READ CAREFULLY...

DO NOT RUSH THIS PROCESS

BEFORE YOU START ANY CLEANING PROJECT LOOK OVER THE ITEM THAT YO WANT TO CLEAN. PLEASE DO NOT CLEAN BADLY TORN OR SHREADED FABRIC. DO NOT ATTEMPT IF THE SHREADED FABRIC IS WOOL, TRICOT, SILK, OR COMBINATION FABRIC.


USE COMMON SENCE HERE... WATER WEIGHT CAN DISTROY A TUNIC, OR FLAG FURTHER



When a tunic or pants are going to be wet cleaned. Itís important to test for color fastness. To conduct fabric color fast test step is to gently rub each fabric type with a cotton swab moistened only with a little drop of water. If no color rubs off on the Q tip then the dyes are set. Conduct this test in a not so visual spot on a tunic pants or flag. If you are dealing with a flag made from multiple colors or different types of fabrics. You may want to conduct several color tests. Always use new Q-tips. I prefer the 100% cotton ones they seem to pick up any dies faster. ORVUS soap can also safely clean fabric material with indigo dyes. Coming from Egypt, Africa, silks from Asia, and can clean old battle warn tunic from the 1940ís.

If there is a color bleed itís a good idea to add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to a pre soaking of your tunic in cool water. Before you actually add ORVUS soap why add vinegar? If you have ever dyed Easter eggs and used the Hass dye packs, white vinegar was part of the process... The vinegar sets the dyes and keeps the colors from running, particularly reds. For this next step fill the tub with cool water. Add your vinegar to the water before placing your tunic in the water use an old sheet as a sling to lower the tunic. Leave in for about 5 minutes. Use your hands to push up and down the tunic/ garment, or flag several times. Drain off the water replace the vinegar water using fresh water lightly rinse and add new water again for your ORVUS wash. I use an old water pitcher fill it up with water and add my soap mix into the pitcher. Sort of a pre mix process. ORVUS soap itself will not fade or run dyes. If you do the swab dye test with a little water you should already know if you will have a problem with just water.
Once color fastness is determined, one of the easiest way to wash a tunic. Is to half fill a bathtub with lukewarm water and mix in ORVUS. (About 1- 1/2 Tbsp for half a tub) If the tunic is fragile from normal wear or it is moth eaten. I place a piece the tunic or pants on top of an old bed sheet and then gently lower your item into the water in a sling type fashion. The sheet will act as a support for the tunic/pants when removing from the tub. This step is particularly important! Remember the dry tunic is like a dry sponge itís going to soak up water and double its dry weight. Please (I canít say this enough)
A wet tunic or pants should never be lifted by itself as the extra weight of the water could cause the tunic to come undone or tear! Use your hands for gentle agitation of the water and press the tunic gently up and down to move the water through the tunic and get the water and ORVUS to pass through the lining as well. You may soak tunic or pants for 30 minutes or several hours, depending on how soiled the tunic/ pants are. Remember there may be some stains, or other soiled areas that may not be removed 100% such as dried blood and grease.
Then drain water and allowing the tunic to remain in the tub and drain as much water as possible. Using your hands to press down and expunge water out of the tunic and DO NOT WRING! Continue rinsing until all soap is gone and water is clean. (Be sure to rinse, rinse, and re-rinse to expel all soils and cleaner. Repeat processes until you are satisfied that tunic is as clean as you can get it. What you see is what you get. Remember that garments will not be 100% new again.
By using the old sheet as a sling (grabbing the sheet only) carefully lift out the garment of the tub. Place everything sheet and all on the floor. Remember do not pick up the garment. Use several old towels to blot dry the tunic carefully turning the garment over to dry the back and sleeves.

Dry the wet garment as quickly possible to prevent molding.

When drying any garment it should be dried as quickly as possible. Never place a garment in the direct sunlight. You run a high risk of fading fabric. If you plan on washing and drying several large items you may want to build a drying rack. What I have done is get some 2X4ís make a wood frame. Make it roughly 1 Ĺ foot wider than the tunic all the way around. In the center I nail in a 1 inch X 1 inch piece of wood to support the wet garment. I purchase a roll of vinyl window screening tack that screen to the wood frame. Carefully lifting the sheet with the garment in it, and placing it on to the vinyl screen wooden 2 X 4 frame. Next step is to roll off the garment from the sheet onto the vinyl screed frame. I use some saw horses to set the frame on. Place a fan on low air movement somewhat close to the garment. Move the fan around the wood frame every Ĺ hour. Make sure to open the tunic exposing the interior to drying. When the garment is completely dry. I use a garment steamer to touch it up a bit.

I'm washing a pair of late war course wool pant over the weekend using this method
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Last edited by Paul R.; 12-31-2009 at 11:11 AM.
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Old 12-31-2009, 11:09 AM   #7
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Wow thanks for the great info!
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Old 01-02-2010, 08:28 PM   #8
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I got some photos during the washing process. I was not able to bet before photos of the late war Wehrmacht pants. I used a piece of used cotton muslin under my washed pants. I used 1 1/2 table spoon of the ORVUS paste soap in cool water. Brownish colored water after 20 minutes of soaking. With a few pushing pants down into the water.
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Old 01-02-2010, 08:32 PM   #9
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Note the brown color water after 40 minutes. Photo taken just before rinsing.
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Old 01-02-2010, 08:35 PM   #10
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Just minutes after the draining of the soapy water. Upper right corner evidence of the dirt. More grime under muslin.
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Old 01-02-2010, 08:39 PM   #11
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can sure see more grime after 3 rinses. This pair took 6 rinses
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Old 01-03-2010, 10:30 AM   #12
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Paul, I worked in museums as well, I know you mention it but I would suggest you should look into Green Clean and talk to a dry cleaner, it uses less harsh cleaning fluids. As long as the clothing is solid I have never had a problem aside from one or two buttons coming off after cleaning at least 50 tunics if not more. The trick is finding someone that knows what they are doing. Hand washing is great but some items can be dry cleaned and benefit from a more though cleaning than is possible in a tub.
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Old 01-03-2010, 12:13 PM   #13
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Johnny... I am happy to hear you have had success with dry cleaners. You are correct. The artifact piece has to be solid. This series was meant to offer an alternative to the dry cleaning process. Of course as I stated serious problems could arrive if the piece is damaged or to rotten, and the sling method is not used for support in removing the item from the wash. Due impart of the weight of the garment. Granted this method may not be 100% idea, but its better that nothing. I also find some dry cleaner method of pre cleaning s is harsher than cleaner process. Sometime leaving a lighter spot in color to the rest of the garment. I also find cleaners process over clean garments. Having a nice worn garment coming out pristine. Offering another choice.
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Old 01-03-2010, 12:57 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jacquesf View Post
Paull thanx for the advice and taking the time to post. Jacques
I agree completely....This advice is an excellent alternative to dry cleaning......Thanks should be offered, as well as credit given, to Rich Gehrke, whose Quilt and Fabric Cleaning Guide is extensively quoted here.....
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Old 01-03-2010, 01:34 PM   #15
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I am lucky becasue I have a dry cleaner that is interested in history etc. he will clean the tunic himself, wash them seprateley etc. so that is light years away from standard treatment. He has looked at several tunics and told me to hand wash them because there was a risk etc.

IMO as long as the cloth is not dry or fragile etc. My Dad who is 84 said during the War they used to clean clothes and remove stains with kerosene. I think in the case of some tunics there may be all kinds of bad things in the fabric, older chemicals etc. that need to be removed the preserve the cloth.
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