Dawn’s Corset Class – cleaning

If you make your own corset, or if you’ve bought one, at some point you’re probably going to need to clean it somehow….

Caveat & read first

First of all, the most important care instructions should be included with your corset. In a store-bought corset, there must be a label in the garment which includes care instructions (at least according to Canadian labeling laws – your local laws may differ).  However if you have purchased a custom-made corset or have bought one from an independent corsetiere, you may not have a label sewn into your corset and instead should have received care instructions from whomever made the corset.

These instructions supersede any other instructions you might read online, think up, hear from a friend, and certainly my suggestions…  If the instructions say “dry clean only” (and in most cases, that’s exactly what they will say…) you should follow those instructions – to do otherwise is at your own risk…

Some fabrics just shouldn’t be washed.  If you have a leather, fur, suede, or similar corset,  you won’t want to wash it.  While you may consider your potential for risk in cleaning the lining, the non-washable ‘fabric’ shouldn’t be washed. Art corsets (paper, paper mache, plastic, duct tape, etc) should be considered art, and treated as needed to maintain their integrity.

Spot treatment

If there are just small areas needing to be cleaned, you’ll be looking to spot-clean the garment.  First of all you need to figure out what the soil or stain is, what your corset is made of, and where the spot is.

Before using any chemical on your corset, you should test it.  Pick an inconspicuous spot (on the inside of the corset, under the arm, on the modesty panel, or if you were really lucky, on the self-fabric swatch or bag provided by your corsetiere.  Use a small amount of whatever cleaner you want to use on a clean, white facecloth, and ‘clean’ the hidden spot as if it were the soiled area.

  • Check the white cloth; did any dye come off onto the facecloth?
  • Check the corset; did the cleaner change the colour of your corset in any way?

If everything is good – go ahead and use your preferred cleaner specifically on the small spot needing to be cleaned.  If there are any problems, you’ll want to take your corset to a professional cleaner.

If you have a leather or PVC corset you may be able to simply wipe the spot with a clean, dry cloth.

Different types of ‘soiling’ may require different kinds of treatment.  For instance oily stains (body oil, lipstick, some food, etc) require a lot more attention than dry material.  Consider the type of ‘soil’ in choosing your cleaning technique.

Scents (oh that smokey nightclub…)

I’m ecstatic that bars and clubs in my area have gone smoke-free, but smoke is a pretty common complaint – along with perfume and other scents that your corset may have absorbed.  Different fabrics are more susceptible to absorbing scents too, but there are a few ways you can try to get rid of the scents.

1) Just air it out….  Let the corset hang in a well-ventilated area, with as much air movement on all sides for a while, and mild scents will disappear with time.

2) Fabreeze – Some people have recommended (although I’ve never done it, and thus can’t recommend it) spraying your corset with a scent-remover spray like Fabreeze.  I personally think that Fabreeze smells terrible, so I don’t do it.  The same caveat for cleaning chemicals applies – test first.

3) Vodka – Likewise, some people have recommended (although I’ve never done it, and thus can’t recommend it) spraying your corset with a mix of vodka and water. (I’ve heard of a 10% vodka to water mix, to 50/50% – if you use this technique, please post your recommendation in the comments below!)  The same caveat for cleaning chemicals applies – test first.

4) Association – I’ve never tried this either, but I’ve read people suggesting ‘pulling’ the scent out using either baking soda or Fabreeze. The technique is to put the corset in a container or bag along with a box of baking soda (like you would put in your fridge) or a cloth sprayed with Fabreeze.  With this method the product doesn’t ever touch the corset – but just being in the container with it will ‘pull’ out the unwanted scent.   Once the scent is removed, remove the corset from the container for storage. (I’ll have storage suggestions in another post.)

5) Cleaning – sometimes just airing my corset out isn’t enough for me, in which case I clean it… see below for how I do that.

A corset of mine with the round nylon cord for back lacing.  (Shown on a dressform, so it doesn't fit properly...

A corset of mine with the round nylon cord for back lacing. (Shown on a dressform, so it doesn’t fit properly…

My personal thoughts on dry cleaners

Personally, I’ve never worked for a dry cleaner, nor have I really taken many garments to dry cleaners… however I have heard dozens of stories about items being wrecked at dry cleaners while working at fabric stores (where people came in to replace buttons that were melted or destroyed) and for a custom clothing designer (where people came in hoping a damaged garment could be saved or replaced).

My personal opinion of dry cleaners; I don’t use them.

Most of the time clothing items are constructed without fabric being pre-washed; pre-washing fabrics for mass production just isn’t cost-efficient.  However, pre-washing fabrics can do a number of things – it removes excess sizing, removes some excess dye (but not always all), softens fibers, pre-shrinks fabrics, etc.  If a garment is made up with fabric that has not been pre-washed – then all of those negatives can happen to your garment if you wash it.  That’s why clothing makers put “dry clean only” on a lot of garments – even those where the fabrics don’t normally need to be dry cleaned.  Basically, it puts the problem in the hands of the dry cleaners or customer and out of their hands…

Cleaning

Since I make most of my own corsets, I know how the fabrics have been treated before the corset was made.  I also am aware of the condition of the boning and other material that has gone into the corset – thus I know exactly what kind of cleaning I can do.

If you don’t make your own corsets, here are some things to be aware of:

1) Rust – if water sits on the bones for a while, rust can form.  Additionally, although most “white bones” are covered (the white materials), I have seen bones where the white plastic has split – rust is a definite factor with those.  Plastic bones are not affected by water.  You can reduce your risk of rust by ensuring that your corset dries quickly (but without excess heat which can cause other problems).

2) Colour bleeding – just like when you’ve washed your white towels with the red t-shirt – dye can bleed.  This isn’t a big deal if you wash your corset by itself, and the trim, laces, and lining are all the same colour, but if you have a black corset with white piping or lace, this might be a concern.  There are ‘dye magnets’ that may help with this – but if you have a high-contrast corset, you may wish to test for colour bleeding before washing your corset, or send it to a professional cleaner.

3) Shrinkage – while it’s not going to make your 30″ corset a 24″… fabric can shrink.  More importantly, it can shrink differently in each direction.  This means that the fabrics, held in place with your boning, can seem to ‘warp’ if they shrink.  You can minimize shrinkage by avoiding high heat, using mild cleansers (if any) and minimizing agitation (rubbing).

4) Changing the texture – while washing can soften fabrics, sometimes it can also change the texture through shrinkage or changing the sheen of the fabric.  I’ve found this most frequently happens with those “Chinese brocades” that are commonly used for corsets, and a lot of silks. Your best bet to avoid this is to test the fabric in an inconspicuous spot, and follow the suggestions for shrinkage.

5) Warping – you will also want to avoid warping your corset in the cleaning process.  This is pretty easy to do – avoid washing machines, avoid wringing the corset to dry, and avoid rolling the corset in a towel in a way that doesn’t follow the direction of your boning. You’ll also want to avoid excessive heat which can warp plastic boning, and avoid laundry dryers.

6) Bleaching – obviously… avoid bleach! You’ll also want to avoid any cleaners that might bleach colour out of the corset fabric.  Don’t forget the power of the sun; the sun can bleach colour out of fabrics as well- so as tempting as a bright sunny window might be for drying your corset, keep that in mind.

My techniques

As I mentioned, I make my own corsets and thus know what is safe for them.  Your experience may be different, but here is what I do:

1) First I handle any spot-cleaning that might be needed.

2) Next, in a large sink I will use a very mild laundry detergent and a sufficient amount of water to hand-wash the corset in lukewarm water.  I rinse in the sink.

3) Next, I hang the corset by the laces from two plastic coat hangers in my shower, and ‘hose’ them off. If the corset just needs to be rinsed, I’ll skip steps 1 & 2 and go straight to this step.

4) To dry, I hang the corset by the laces from the two plastic hangers so that the two sides of the corset stay apart, and let it drip-dry in the shower, which has decent ventilation.

5) I don’t store the corset until it is completely dry.

Other cleaning options

Some of the other techniques for cleaning that I’ve heard from fellow corset lovers include:

“I wash my corsets by hand in the kitchen sink and then hang them by their laces over the shower rod. I use a free and clear laundry detergent.” – Isabelle

“Corsets are dry clean only, as any steel boning would rust if left wet” – Sassy

“Hand wash the corset in warm water with a mild powder and rinse in cold running water. Don’t wring the corset, and then wrap in a towel to remove moisture. Dry on a drying frame away from heat.” – Lisa

“Mix a mild washing powder with warm water and sponge the corset to clean.” – Mata

If professional cleaning is your preferred option

As you know, I personally don’t use dry cleaners, but, if your corset label instructs “Dry Clean Only” and you don’t want to risk your investment by using any other option, you’ll want to pick the RIGHT cleaner.

Dry cleaners don’t see a lot of corsets.  They’re unusual garments, and have a few aspects that require unique treatment and care.  Taking your corset to the closest strip-mall dry cleaner might be a bad idea.  I remember a wedding dress where all of the bustle-ties were cut (rather than untied) in order to clean the skirt… your loopy laces could suffer the same fate if the cleaner was equally as oblivious.

Generally speaking, I’d suggest finding out which cleaner in your area specializes in wedding dresses. A cleaner who works with wedding dresses has probably seen a few corsets, and will understand special treatment for fine fabrics, embroidery, boning, and lacing. Talk to them in advance and ask about their experience with corsets and how they intend to clean yours. Alternately (and harder to find) you can look for a cleaner who specializes in theatrical and ballet costumes.

Your turn!

How do you clean and care for your corsets? Leave us some comments in the field below!  If you want more information from my “corset class”, just follow the category link!

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