I spent the morning at Salvation Army with my mom- we LOVE bargain hunting and you never know what kind of treasures you can find at the local Goodwill, Salvation Army or any other type of second hand shop. I love a great bargain more than just about anything else, but I don't love how I feel so grungy after pawing through the racks. Some nicer consignment shops require the pieces they sell to be dry cleaned immediately prior to taking them, but shops like Sal's and Goodwill aren't as discriminating.
If you're like me and get the heebie-jeebies when you think about wearing another person's dirty clothes, then this post is for you. I never wear a second-hand item without cleaning it first. Even if the garment still has the original tags on it, there's something about it being on a rack next to all the other potentially dirty clothes that gets my mind reeling and before I know it, I'm having nightmares about microscopic bugs infesting my closet. Ok, you really didn't need that visual, I know, but it's definitely something you should think about if you shop second hand.
I've bought clothes and accessories from vintage and thrift shops and not noticed their smell until I was home and it wasn't until then that I realized how overwhelming it was. Of course everything I buy second hand goes through the wash, but that doesn't always do the trick. Strong cigarette smoke, body odor and even some perfumes are absolute nightmares to get out. Fortunately, I have a few tricks up my sleeve for just such a situation.
For starters, make sure that you inspect every garment carefully in the store before you purchase.
1.) Look at all the seams to make sure they are all secure and free of holes or tears.
2.) Always check out the armpits and necklines for staining and discoloration- those are the areas that will have the worst discoloration. Deodorant may keep us from being stinky, but it is not always kind to our clothing.
3.) If the garment has a lining, check to make sure it is in as good shape as the outer part of the garment. Linings on coats, jackets, pants and dresses can be close to disintegration while the outside appears brand new.
4.) Hold knits and felted knits up to the light to look for moth holes. If your local thrift shop is warehouse-style and not particularly well lit, carry a small flashlight with you to get a really good look at the garment.
5.) Make sure all zippers and closures work and are fastened securely. The last thing you want is for a button or hook & eye to fall off immediately after you purchase.
Once you have determined the garment is in good condition and worth the purchase, go for it. Have it cleaned or take it home and wash it prior to wearing. If the garment still smells musty, or has a residual scent you want to get rid of (perfume, cigarettes, B.O., etc.), then grab a bottle of- you may be surprised- VODKA. I'm not kidding. Straight vodka acts as a disinfectant and deodorizer when used on clothing and even upholstery. Simply use a spray bottle filled with straight or slightly diluted vodka and saturate the garment, just like you would with a bottle of FeBreze. (I find it to be most effective if you spray both the outside and the inside of the garment.) Hang the garment in a well-ventilated area and let it dry. The vodka kills any bacteria in the garment and when it evaporates it leaves no scent behind. In my experience, vodka has removed all offensive odors from many different types of fabrics and textiles. In extreme cases, I've had to apply it two or three times before the smell would go away entirely. In those cases, it was usually the smell of stale cigarettes that was the culprit.
If a garment I see in a thrift or second-hand store has any kind of stain, I will always pass on it. Generally, the stains are old and set-in and I don't consider it to be worth my time to try to get it out. I would rather move on and find something that is stain-free. Occasionally, however, I won't notice a stain until I get home. In that case, I try to determine what it is and go from there. I posted a few months ago about getting different types of stains out. You can view that post here and apply the various methods to the stain you've found. In other cases, I may find I've stained a vintage garment myself. Usually it's that I've managed to get lipstick on the neckline or my foundation has rubbed off somewhere. In that case, I want to get the stain out, but because the garment is old, it's more delicate. I don't want to just spray it with Shout and toss it in the wash! That's when I go to the shower and pull out my clarifying shampoo. It doesn't have to be an expensive brand- in fact, I've had success with both White Rain and Suave brands in the past- usually they cost around a dollar or two at the most for a pretty large bottle. To remove a stain using clarifying shampoo, simply take a damp washcloth and a small amount of the shampoo and massage the stain in a circular motion, allowing the shampoo to foam up a bit and continuing the motion beyond the stain. Rinse the area thoroughly and repeat until the stain is gone.
These tips can of course be used on clothing that has not been thrifted, too. Happy thrift shopping and cleaning!