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How to care for and clean your Victorian Corset by Sidney Eileen on 11-19-2009
Reproduction Victorian Corset Care and cleaning
With proper care, any well-made corset should last for years of regular wearing. For centuries in Europe and America, most women and some men wore corsets day in and day out for most of their lives. Before the advent of mass-production in the Victorian, all those Victorian corsets were made by hand, weeks of work even for a speedy and experienced seamstress. Even the inexpensive mass-produced Victorian corsets cost about a dollar, no small amount at the time. Just like with modern bras, no one would be happy about a corset that fell apart after only a few wearings, even if it were relatively inexpensive. If historic corsets lasted under the rigors of daily wear, there is no reason modern corsets can't last just as well.
Storage of your Victorian corset
Keep your Victorian or Edwardian corset (authentic or reproduction) in a cool, dry place such as an acid-free archival box, lined first with unbleached muslin, or a use an unbleached pure cotton pillowcase, or make a specially made Corset bag where the corset can lie flat inside. Excessive moisture can cause rusting of the spring steel bones, so you want to avoid moisture. Ideally, your Victorian corset should be laid flat to prevent distortion in the fabric or bones.
After Wearing your corset
When you remove your corset, lay it flat, lining side up, to air out. If the edging material is not prone to sun-damage, set it in the sun occasionally for short periods to help refresh the lining. (Leaving out for long periods in the sun will cause fading). If you put your corset away while it is still slightly damp from perspiration, it may become musty, or even start to smell reminiscent of a gym sock.
Cleaning your corset
Any corset (Victorian style corset, Edwardian style corset, etc...) should be washed as little as possible, and NEVER in a washing machine. The spring steel boning can be damaged by a washing machine, and so makes it difficult to deep-clean a corset. However, there are many things you can do to extend time between cleanings, while keeping your corset smelling fresh and clean. Orvis quilt care is one of the best, gentle cleansers on the market used with tepid water. (Always test a small, inconspicuous area before dunking.) Make sure to rinse well.
Removing Odors from your corset
If the corset smells slightly, there are several different products that can be used to help remove the odors. Which you use will depend in large part upon the materials your corset is made with, and particularly the cover material. Talcum powder, especially anti-bacterial powders, can work very effectively, but be careful of the dust residue grinding into the cover material and potentially causing discoloration. Rubbing alcohol may be dabbed onto the inside, helping to remove not only odors, but sweat stains as well, but be careful of cover materials that may show moisture spots should any of the rubbing alcohol soak through to the cover. The product "Febreze," especially the anti-bacterial kinds, is also an effective choice for removing odors, but be sure to allow the corset to dry and air completely before putting it away.
Removing Spots and Stains from your corset
Any garment may from time to time encounter an accidental stain or spotting, a situation that can be problematic in a garment like a corset that is difficult to clean thoroughly. Any spot cleaning product should be used with care, and tested on a hidden or inconspicuous part of the cover to see whether the product will damage the cover material.
One product I am particularly fond of is Borax. Test it on a hidden part of the cover to see whether it lifts any color from the cover material. There is very little chance of color lift, but it's always good to check anyway. To lift the stain, place a small pile of Borax over the stain and lightly drip water onto it. The Borax will warm slightly as it lifts the stain, the Borax will harden slightly, and if it's going to work, the stain will pull up into the Borax. This may need to be repeated several times before the stain is completely removed, and then the area must be rinsed to remove Borax residue. The worst effect I have had from using Borax is a residual water stain to the affected area.
Hand Washing your corset
When odor removal and spot cleaning are not enough, some corsets may be washed gently by hand. Check with the maker of your corset to confirm that the materials are safe to hand-wash (you don't want any colors to bleed together), and if there are any specific recommendations for detergents or soaps to use.
To hand-wash a corset, use cold water to fill your bath tub, or use a tub large enough to lay out the corset completely. Use a very light solution of a mild detergent to gently massage out the stains and dirt. Rinse the soap or detergent completely out of the corset and lay it out to dry. Pat moisture rather than squeezing out water with a light colored, unbleached towel. If possible, set or hang corset so air may circulate entirely around the corset. The easiest way I have found to do this is to hang the corset by the grommets. Try not to submerge the corset frequently, because every time you soak your corset there is a chance of rusting. Modern spring steel boning and busks are coated to prevent rusting, but this is not a complete guarantee.
Dry Cleaning your corset
If hand washing is not an option, every corset, even leather corsets, may be dry-cleaned. Be sure to speak with the dry-cleaner before leaving your corset to make sure they are equipped to handle a genuine spring steel boned corset. Just as with leather, not every dry cleaner will have the knowledge and experience to clean them.
Have other questions that aren't answered here? Just email me, and I'll be happy to answer them. www.sidneyeileen.com
I look forward to hearing from you!