Any suggestions on how to get yellow out of vintage pillow cases?

polly929February 9, 2009

I have 2 pairs of pillow cases that were hand embroidered by my late great grandmother. My late grandmother gave them to me several years ago before she passed and I forgot I had them. I recently came across them and they are lovely, and I would like to use them on my daughters' beds as pillow shams, only thing is they have yellowed over time. I tried soaking them in oxi-clean, but the yellow remained. Any suggestions?

Thanks in advance-


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Have you tried a water and bleach solution to soak them in? I would start with 2/3 water to 1/3 bleach and soak in cold water.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2009 at 3:19PM
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Bleach would not work, the embroidery is colored.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2009 at 3:34PM
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Previously there was a post conserning using Auto dish detergent disolved in hot water to soak yellowed cotton items in. I've used an Oxy-clean soak that works well. I'm not sure about the color fastness of the embroidery though.

Hopefully someone else will chime in here and give you some more ideas.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2009 at 4:08PM
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We do white sheers twice a year soaking them first in cold water with Twenty Mule Team Borax overnight then washing them in warm water with woolite. They come out snow white and no shrinkage.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2009 at 9:57PM
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A little peroxide in the water may help, just do them by hand in the bathroom sink so you can prevent the water from touching the embroidery.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2009 at 10:53PM
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The Borax/woolite method has worked for me, too. I inherited linen sheets that had yellowed, and soaking in Borax and then a warm, gentle wash in Woolite followed by line drying on a sunny day made them white again.
Good luck with your precious pillowcases. How nice that you have such a tangible memory of your great-grandmother.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2009 at 8:23AM
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I had bedding, not embroidered, not vintage, that I just hung out in the sunlight for some period of time and it got remarkably whiter. (We rarely have clouds here and I forgot the experiment. The items may have been in full winter sun for a couple of weeks.)

    Bookmark   February 10, 2009 at 12:47PM
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This may sound like a silly question, but where can I find borax? I wouldn't even know what the container looked like.

Marlingardner: Yes it is nice that I have them to remember her by, I only met her once as a child, she lived in Texas and I lived in NY. But I was very close to my grandmother, and she did not have a lot of money, but I cherish those pillow cases and some other embroidered doilies that she gave me before she passed more than anything I could simply buy in a store.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2009 at 8:18PM
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Borax should be available in the detergent/soap aisle of almost any grocery store.
Your vintage fabrics will last a long time with good care, which I am sure you will give them. Most people put these things away--use them and keep the memory of your grandmother and great-grandmother fresh and in front of you!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2009 at 7:58AM
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NO BLEACH! Not only will it remove the color....but seriously weaken the fabric and lessen it's life.
I would try soaking them in a very VERY strong solution of an enzyme laundry Biz. Dilute some biz with 4 times the amount of 1/2 cup biz to2 cups water and soak in that for 24 hours.....rinse and see what has happened....and you might try several days in oxyclean.
I suspect there is some residue of hair oil or something in them.
Linda C

    Bookmark   February 12, 2009 at 9:30AM
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I collect old linens, and I use a wonderful product called "Restoration" from Engleside Products (no, I have no affiliation with them). It is as close to a miracle product as I have ever found. I used to use an overnight soak of Snowy bleach in solution, which works pretty well on newer stains...things like red wine in the good damask napkins... but this is much better, and takes away years of yellowing without damaging fragile old things. With colors, it's a good idea to test a small area on the back for colorfastness, of course.
Here's a link.

Here is a link that might be useful: Restoration fabric wash

    Bookmark   February 12, 2009 at 9:43AM
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My Mother used to whiten old linens using two methods-she'd soak them in a solution of warm (not hot) water and lemon juice. I don't recall the proportions. She also hung them outside in the sun or laid them on the grass in the sun and left them for several hours. Good luck with yours-they sound like a real heirloom.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2009 at 5:29PM
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Thanks for all the tips! I think I will try the restoration fabric wash that brownysmom suggested. I'll let you all know how it works out.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2009 at 7:43AM
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If it doesn't work, soak your items in warmish water with a generous squirt of shampoo and a cup of lemon juice. Lay them outside on a shrub or hedge overnight and turn them over and let them remain in the sun the next day. Wash again in warmish water with any good laundry detergent.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 11:02AM
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I was once told by a local antique dealer to soak yellowed linens in denture cleaner. The effervescent kind. I've not tried it, but if an antique dealer recommended it, it might be worth a try. I have no idea how it would affect the colored embroidery, nor do I remember if she said how strong to mix it. Perhaps a Google search might help on this?

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 5:41PM
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Just because someone is "an antique dealer" meaning that they buy and sell old stuff, doesn't mean that they know how to care for old things.
I do know from experience that "Efferdent" is pretty good for cleaning old vases, but would hesitate to use it on old fabric.
I guess I am more tolerant of a little yellow stain than of something that falls apart after a few washings.
I have bought a few things from dealers that were pure and without stains, but which developed holes after a washing.
Linda C

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 11:24PM
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The best product I've ever used on antique or vintage linens is Mama's Miracle Linen Soak. It gets rid of practically any stain, including old yellow or brown stains or the dingy gray that comes with age. It even removes perspiration stains and red wine. Just heat water, dissolve the powder, and soak your linens... the product is so gentle that you can use it on your most fragile pieces without damaging their delicate fibers. But the stains will be GONE!

Here is a link that might be useful: Mama's Miracle Linen Soak

    Bookmark   September 7, 2014 at 7:46PM
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