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Vintage bandana care


You’ve bought a vintage bandana and you love it- congratulations! A little TLC is all you need to keep it looking good. All the bandanas listed on Retromonde Vintage have been (depending on their age & condition) either carefully machine or washed by hand, line or machine dried and ironed so they look their best. 


If the bandana is newer vintage (80s-90s) and in sturdy condition there’s no reason not to machine wash & dry. Washing by hand and hanging to dry is gentler on the actual fabric fibers because of less agitation and will prolong it best. The more you machine wash & dry it, the thinner the fabric becomes until you can actually see thru it! 


Bleach is a no-no unless you’re using it as a functional handkerchief. But remember that bleach is caustic and will wear the fabric out faster and may fade the colors. 


If it’s a ‘new’ vintage bandana (either NOS or never-been-laundered) beware of the color running. The color red is notorious for this but blue and other colors will bleed too. That’s why bandanas usually say ‘color fast, wash fast’ or some variation of the phrase. Don’t count on that being 100% true. Don’t wash a new bandana with whites or light colors for a few wash cycles. You can set the color using some vinegar in the rinse water but this isn’t reliable. 

OMG, what's happening?!!

If you place your old bandana in the water and the water turns red, blue or whatever, you have to act FAST! You may or may not be screwed at this point… vintage can be a cruel mistress. Here's what I've learned (the hard way of course) that could help you prevent disaster when washing bandanas, scarves or other vintage textiles. 


If you have a truly old bandana and the color seems very intense, you should test just a small corner first. Use a sink or small bowl and get an inch or 2 of the corner sopping wet. Then press it against something white- a cotton ball or paper towel. If any dye color transfers to the white stuff, you've got a fussy bandana. You have two options now.


  1. This requires you to have purchased a special product called a color catcher. It’s a white fiber-based square, sold under various names, that when immersed in the water will attract the floating dye to itself, preventing it from bleeding or migrating color onto other areas of the fabric. Use this as directed on the package. Color catchers are sold with regular laundry products at most stores. 

  2. If you don’t have this product, here’s what you can do. Your goal is to get that bandana or scarf out of the water and dry as fast as possible. Quickly rinse the soap off the bandana and get it rolled up in a towel asap. Once the excess water is out and the fabric isn't drippy, lay it flat and let it dry. You can use a hair dryer to speed the drying. Fingers crossed it worked but there’s no guarantee. 

Washing bandanas

I use regular Dawn dish soap for hand washing almost everything I wash by hand. A  bathroom sink basin is perfect for this. Squirt a couple of drops into the sink and fill with tepid (or lukewarm) water. Put the bandana in the sink and swish it around 20-30 seconds. Then drain the water and rinse in more tepid water. 


You're almost finished now but don’t rush. Be gentle with the wet fabric- no wringing allowed! Instead, gently squeeze the fabric with your hand to remove as much water as possible. Next you lay the wet bandana on a towel and roll the towel up. I step on the towel to remove even more water. Once this is done it’s easy to dry the bandana either laying flat or hanging on a clothesline or over the shower curtain bar. Drying should only take a few hours if you got most of the water out. Once dry, either press it or not… your choice. 

By the way...

Believe it or not, vintage poly/cotton bandanas from the 70s-90s can be finicky in their own way. The polyester fibers that were added to make textiles easy to care for can after prolonged wash & dry start to get bumps or pills on the surface. I still machine wash my poly/cotton blend textiles on gentle cycle but hang them to dry. If you hang dry them they probably won't need to be ironed. If you do, don't use a hot iron but instead use a synthetic setting. Your Garfield or Snoopy bandanas will thank you for this, lol! 

I just thought of this bit- some souvenir bandanas were/are printed with a kinda raised-surface ink that will stick to your hot iron surface. If you use an iron on one of these, put a piece of fabric between the printed surface and your iron. This should preserve the printing and protect your iron from a gunky mess. :-)

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