How to Wash Thrifted Clothes - Birdbath’s Guide

Ah, thrifting. The great equalizer of fashion, the affordable way to stay on trend and recycle existing clothing items. However, one caveat to buying second-hand clothes is that you must wash them first. 

If you're like me, you love a good bargain, especially when it comes to clothes. But there's one major thing you must be careful of when shopping at thrift stores - not teenagers, but bacteria.

how to wash thrifted clothes

Thrift stores rarely wash their clothes before putting them up for sale, so it is crucial to do so when you get them home. 

Here is your guide to help you wash thrifted clothes properly and keep them looking their best. 

This article will teach you how to wash your thrifted clothes without ruining them. We will also answer your questions, including "do thrift stores wash clothes?" and "how dirty are thrifted clothes?"

Do Thrift Stores Wash Clothes Before Displaying them?

For the fashion-savvy shopper, thrift stores are a veritable treasure trove of hidden gems. But one question always looms in the back of the mind: do thrift stores wash clothes before they sell them? 

The answer depends on each thrift store, but for the most part, thrift stores do not wash clothes before they hit the sales floor. If they are washed, it is with minimal soap or detergent and washed in industrial-sized washing machines that do not do a good job of getting rid of stains or bacteria.

Do thrift stores wash their clothes? Unfortunately, the answer is no. In most cases, thrift stores don't have the resources to wash every item that comes through their doors. 

However, that doesn't mean you should turn your nose to any thrift store. There are many things you can do to clean vintage clothing before you wear it. 

Why Should You Wash Thrifted Clothes?

Cleaning thrifted clothes is a bit of tricky business. Some people are bold and might not wash them at all, while others have stringent protocols for cleaning everything before wear. 

Thrifted clothes, like any used clothing, can carry bacteria and dirt. Washing thrifted clothes before wearing them is critical to prevent the spread of disease and keep yourself healthy. Moreover, washing your thrifted items will help ensure that they last longer by getting rid of any dirt or built-up residue that can damage the fabric.

When you wash your thrifted clothes, you can see the amount of filth by the way the water will turn brown, gray, or even black. It is clear that you will want to take extra steps to clean your thrifted clothes before you wear them or sell them.

How Dirty Are Thrifted Clothes?

Some thrift stores take extra steps to inspect and clean clothes before putting them out on the sales floor, while others simply brush off any visible dirt or dust and hang them up for display. As a result, thrifted clothes can have varying levels of cleanliness.

Depending on how well the thrift store handles things, you may find clothes that are relatively clean or ones that have layers of built-up dirt and grime.

But 95% of the time, the items you thrift will be extremely dirty, even if it's not noticeable at first glance. When you wash the items, you will see how dirty they were as the water turns from clear to brown.

This makes it all the more important to wash your thrifted clothes yourself at home.

How to Clean Thrifted Clothes

With a little bit of effort, you'll be able to find some great clothes at your local thrift store - and you won't have to worry about what's lurking beneath the surface. 

cleaning thrifted clothes

Here's how to ensure your thrifted clothing is clean and safe.

The Basics of Washing Thrifted Clothes 

Washing thrifted clothes can be daunting for first-timers, but don’t panic—it’s not as hard as it seems. Here are the basics of washing thrifted clothes:

  • Read the tags! It may seem like a no-brainer, but reading the tags is one of the most important steps in washing any piece of clothing. Some items may require special stain treatments or handwashing; make sure to follow the instructions carefully. 
  • Check for loose threads and buttons before washing. Loose threads can get caught in your machine and cause snags in your clothing; buttons can come off during the spin cycle, leading to a much bigger laundry issue down the line. So be sure to inspect each item before tossing it in with your other garments.  
  • Turn your item inside out if it has any kind of print or design on it. This will help preserve the color and also keep any embellishments from coming loose during agitation. 
  • Set your machine on a delicate cycle with cold water, and use only a mild detergent like Woolite or Seventh Generation (which is eco-friendly). Hot water tends to shrink garments and fade colors quickly; best to avoid that if possible.

Deep Cleaning Techniques for Stains & Odors 

We understand that sometimes thrifted items come with lingering odors or tough stains that need extra treatment before they can be washed safely in a machine.

Here are some tips for getting those stubborn spots out of your thrifted treasure without damaging your garment.

  • For minor stains like sweat or deodorant marks, use a prewash spray like Shout or Oxi-Clean on the affected areas prior to washing. Let sit for 5 minutes before laundering as usual.  
  • For heavier dirt stains and odors (this is especially important when dealing with vintage items), soak them overnight in 1 part white vinegar mixed with 2 parts cold water before washing as usual in a gentle cycle with cold water and mild detergent/soap.
  • Finally, if all else fails, take your garment directly to the dry cleaner—just make sure they know what type of fabric it is so they can choose an appropriate cleaning method. 

How to Clean Thrifted Clothes in the Bathtub

If you're anything like me, you love a good thrifting haul. But there's one downside to scouring second-hand stores for treasures: you never know what kind of dirt and grime your new clothes have been harboring. 

Luckily, there's an easy way to clean them before you wear them. Just fill up your tub with water and a mild detergent, and let your clothes soak for 30 minutes. After that, simply rinse them in clean water and hang them up to dry. And voila! Your thrifted clothes are now refreshed and ready to wear. 

So go forth and thrift to your heart's content, knowing that you can easily get your new clothes clean with this simple method.

The No-Wash Method:

This method is exactly what it sounds like - you simply don't wash the clothing item at all. The logic behind this is that most Thrift Stores wash the clothing before putting it out on the sales floor, so it should be clean enough to wear. 

However, this is a common misconception. There is a very low chance that your clothes are free of gross bacteria. I have done this before, and I didn’t die or get sick, so you may be fine, but do not be surprised when you break out into a rash the next day. 

The Dry-Clean Only Method: 

This method is best for delicate items that can't be machine washed, like silk or beaded dresses. 

Simply take the item to your local dry cleaner, and they'll take care of the rest. 

Just be sure to remove any major stains before taking it in, as dry cleaners often charge extra for heavily soiled items.

The Machine Wash Method

For most thrifted clothing items, a good old-fashioned machine washing will do the trick. Be sure to read the care label first, and if there is no label, simply err on the side of caution and wash on a gentle cycle with cold water. You can also add a cup of vinegar to the wash cycle to help kill any lingering bacteria.

Green Cleaning Solutions 

If you want an even more eco-friendly way to clean your thrifted clothes, try using natural products like baking soda or vinegar instead of harsh chemicals. 

Baking soda has natural cleansing properties that can make it a great alternative for cleaning delicate fabrics like silk and wool—just add 1/4 cup of baking soda directly into the washer with your load of laundry. 

Vinegar is great for removing odors from smelly clothes; just add 1/2 cup white vinegar into the rinse cycle of your washer at the same time as your regular detergent. Both baking soda and vinegar are natural deodorizers, so they will also help keep your clothes smelling fresh between washes.

Drying Techniques After Washing Thrifted Clothes

After washing your thrifted clothes, it’s just as important to dry them properly too. 

Avoid drying on high heat as this could cause shrinkage in certain fabrics; instead, opt for low heat or line dry whenever possible. 

For items that require dry cleaning only (like suits or dresses), look up local dry cleaners in your area that offer discounts on bulk orders—this could save you money in the long run.

Finally, always make sure that all zippers are closed before throwing them into the washer, so they don’t get caught in any other clothing items during the spin cycle. 

How to Wash Vintage Clothes - Take Extra Steps

If you're lucky enough to own a piece of vintage clothing, you'll want to take extra care when cleaning it. The first step is to check the care label if there is one. 

Many vintage garments are made of delicate fabrics like silk or wool, which require special care. If the label is missing, you can do a "spot test" by trying a small hidden area of the garment with your chosen cleaning method. 

Once you've determined how to wash the item, you'll need to take into account its age and condition. Older garments may be more fragile and more likely to shrink or bleed, so you may want to hand wash or dry clean them instead of machine washing them 

If the garment is in good condition, however, machine washing may be fine. Just be sure to use a gentle cycle and cool water. When drying, always air dry or tumble dry on low heat to avoid damage.

With a little bit of care, you can keep your vintage clothes looking fabulous for years to come.

Do Resellers Wash Thrifted Clothes Before Selling Them?

When you buy clothes from a reseller, you might be wondering if they take the time to wash them before sending them your way. The answer is: it depends on how trustworthy the seller is.

Some resellers do wash the clothes before shipping them off, but others don't. If you're buying from a reputable seller, though, you can be pretty sure that they've taken the time to launder the garments before listing them for sale. 

After all, providing good quality service is an important part of running a successful business - and that includes making sure the clothes are clean and ready to wear. So next time you're scrolling through your favorite reselling app, don't hesitate to buy that cute dress or pair of jeans - chances are, it's been washed and is ready to ship.

Thrift stores are a great place to find cheap clothes, but thrift stores usually do not wash them properly before selling them.

It's important that you learn how to clean thrifted clothes properly before wearing them. You don't know what bacteria could be living on these dirty, thrifted clothes.

Washing Machines vs. Hand Washing 

The most efficient way to thoroughly clean thrifted clothes is by using a washing machine. A powerful spin cycle can knock dirt and debris out of fabric fibers more effectively than hand washing will. 

Most washing machines also have settings specifically designed for delicates or extra-dirty fabrics that can be used when washing your thrifted finds.

If you don’t have access to a washing machine or if your item requires hand washing only, then use lukewarm water and mild detergent (or baby shampoo) when handwashing. 

It’s also important to avoid wringing or twisting the fabric while cleaning it as this can damage delicate fabrics like silk or cashmere.            

Washing Thrifted Clothes with Birdbath - Conclusion 

Thrift shopping can be an incredibly fun and affordable way to update your wardrobe without breaking the bank, but it comes with one caveat: make sure you wash those second-hand pieces first.

Washing thrifted clothes isn't rocket science. All it takes to know how to wash thrifted clothes is a bit of care and attention.

Be sure to read tags carefully and inspect each item before throwing them into your washer; this will ensure that nothing gets damaged during laundering. 

If needed, try some deep cleaning techniques, such as soaking overnight in white vinegar or using pre-wash sprays on stubborn spots. These should help remove tough dirt stains without damage to fabric color or texture.

When you buy clothes from a thrift store, the last thing you want to do is ruin them in the wash. Unfortunately, many people do this because they don't know how to clean vintage clothes properly.

Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be intimidating or difficult; follow our guide for using both traditional and green cleaning methods to ensure that all of your thrifted finds come out looking their best every time.

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