How to Clean Vintage Items You’ve Brought Home

How should you clean the vintage items you bring home is a question I get all the time. So many items you find at thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales, and the dump are in need of a serious thorough cleaning before you can use them.

vintage wares and finds Finnegan's Flea Market Hudson Quebec

There are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself before digging in with a cleaner though.

How is the piece going to be used?
Is the piece going to be painted?
What is the item made out of?

Once you know the answers to these, it will help to determine how to clean your new-to-you item.

pile of clothes for dusting

Basics to Start

No matter what your pieces are made out of or how you plan to use them, there are a couple of basics that should always be done.

Start by using a dry cloth to wipe the piece off. You want to remove any loose dirt and bits with a wipe. If the piece is larger, you can use the soft bristle attachment to your vacuum and give it an initial cleaning that way.

Dawn dish soap used for cleaning paint brushes

Remove the Grime

Once you have removed any loose dust, dirt, and debris it’s time to give your items a deeper clean. The best way to start this is with good old soap and water. Just about anything can be given a cleaning with soap and water. Pour some warm water into a dish, add a few drops of soap, and then use a soft cloth to wipe your pieces down.

Remember to rewipe your items down with a clean cloth and water after cleaning to remove any soap.

Fusion TSP alternative for cleaning

Deeper Cleaning

If your piece or items need a deeper cleaning, you can turn to antibacterial wipes or a TSP alternative product. These will help to remove any buildup and grease that may be there.

If you are planning on using these products keep in mind what the eventual outcome of your piece will be. If you are planning on painting it, you will want to avoid antibacterial wipes or anything harsher than soap and water or a TSP alternative. Any products that leave behind a residue may hinder your paint from sticking later on.

bright sun

Getting out the Smells

One thing that can turn people off from buying vintage is the smell. Sometimes pieces will smell musty or smoky and it can be hard to remove those smells.

If your piece still smells after giving a thorough cleaning there are a few things you can try…

Place it out in the sun.
Place it in or near kitty litter or baking soda.
Or, if it is a piece of furniture, use a clear coat to seal any raw wood (the entire inside of the structure, back/bottom of the drawers, bottom of the piece, etc…) It is the raw wood parts that will trap the smells.

scrub brush laying in a dish

Scrub Away

One final tip is to scrub away whenever possible. A naturally abrasive texture can go a long way in helping to clean a piece. Choose an appropriate size brush and scrub the surface with soap and water to clean it up. If your piece is small, use a toothbrush. If it is larger, turn to a soft-bristled scrub brush. Use care when scrubbing a surface so that you don’t damage your piece.

a variety of old wood pieces

Remember that anything vintage you bring home has had a previous life. Even if it doesn’t look dirty, you always need to clean it up before using it in your space. You never know where a piece has been, what it may have touched, or who may have lived inside of it.

Don’t let a little dirt discourage you from bringing home vintage though! There is not much that can’t be cleaned.

Find more posts on the basics of bringing home vintage here…

Finding Junk
Tips for Picking Good Junk
Tools of the {Creative} Trade
Furniture and Home Decor Paint
Finishes and Topcoats

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