Editor’s Note: The article below was assigned before social distancing measures were widely enacted. With thrift stores beginning to reopen, we thought it was an apt time to share the piece. We hope you find Meggie’s tips helpful.
I wrote this article during my second week of social distancing. It was so nice to think about thrifting for a change. Walking through my entire process of cleaning thrift items spoke to my routine-loving heart. I hope that when we’re able to move about freely in the world again, visiting stores and hanging with pals, we’ll bring some of the things we thought about and read about during our slow, quiet self-isolation period with us, like giving secondhand shopping a try.
Maybe you’re hanging at home now, browsing the Internet, thinking of cute outfits you could wear, when our outfits will be seen by someone other than our pets (like my dog, Meatloaf, who knows nothing about fashion). Maybe the itch to shop comes over you. The good news is, you can try shopping secondhand right now! There are great folks selling vintage via Instagram. Some of my favorites are Tandem Vintage and Peppered Goods. For kids’ items, I love Rad Kids Vintage. And Etsy is also a treasure trove.
Now, without further ado, allow me to walk you through the cleaning process, starting with what happens when I get home from the store.
Okay, you’re finally home from the thrift store! You’re high from scoring so many wonderful items at teeny prices. If you’re like me, you’re also a little tired because you ate all the Thai food with your best friend after thrifting. And, you’re sweating from the tricky maneuvering of getting everything inside in one trip. (I will NOT go out to the car a second time.)
First up, gently set your things in an out-of-the-way corner to sort. Next, scrub your hands, of course. If you want, you can call your mom and/or sister to gloat about your finds, and maybe take some pictures of your haul for the Internet. (Especially if your items are neatly bagged in cute Baggu bags and the lighting is right.) Maybe you pour an afternoon coffee, get a big glass of ice water, and put on a Spotify playlist made specifically for this moment. Whatever works for you. Now, you’re ready to clean up your thrifted items.
Here’s the deal: These are my personal practices for cleaning thrift things. My mom passed many of these tips down to me. Cleaning thrift stuff will look different for everyone. I know some thrifters who leave all items in their garage in plastic totes for two to three months to ensure there’s no bugs or lice. This is one end of the spectrum. Then, there are thrifters (my sister) who have been known to let their kids wear thrifted clothes before they’ve been washed. This is the other end of the spectrum. (Sorry, Erin! That was probably just that one time at the cabin.)
We will have varying levels of comfort around how to clean and what feels safest for ourselves and our families. I believe in hot water + soap + white vinegar + rubbing alcohol (in various combinations) and going with your gut. (Unless your gut says, Ew, thrifting is gross. It’s safer to buy all my stuff at the mall. If this is your gut, put her on, I have to talk to her for a minute.)
I want to shift the perspective some folks have that thrifting as icky. Thrifting is recycling. Thrifting is stemming the flow of clothes to landfills. We’re putting dollars someplace other than fast fashion when we thrift. We’re flexing creative muscles and being original, economical, and intentional when we thrift. Mother Earth is giving us a leafy high five when we thrift our next work ensemble instead of ordering online. Thrifting is good, clean fun and we should see it as such.
I want to shift the perspective some folks have that thrifting as icky. Thrifting is recycling. Thrifting is stemming the flow of clothes to landfills. We’re putting dollars someplace other than fast fashion when we thrift.
I’ve heard all the complaints about thrifting: the clothes are stinky when I get them home; I don’t want to put my kids in clothes that aren’t fresh from Baby Gap; the texture of new clothes is better. I get it. However, those nicely pressed, brightly colored clothes are often made with harsh, unhealthy chemicals.
Our perception can be, “new means clean,” but that’s just not accurate. The “new” smell associated with new clothes is often formaldehyde, friends, or perfumes engineered to cover it. Other chemicals typically found in new clothes are heavy metals, flame retardants, silicone waxes, ammonia, and sulfur. Sometimes I get a headache while shopping at the mall and this can be from handling clothes with new dyes. We can remove these unhealthy chemicals by washing our new clothes or by buying organic and natural fabrics. Organic and natural clothes are lovely, but they can be spendy or hard to find. New clothes are not inherently more healthy than used clothes. We should wash all new or used clothing before wearing them.
Alright! So! Onto the cleaning process. First, start by sorting your newly purchased thrift finds.
The best strategy is dividing and conquering. Next, bring the laundry things to the laundry area, the kitchen things to the kitchen, and then tackle the miscellaneous pile.
Here’s what you’ll need:
Inside the spray bottle, put 2 cups of rubbing alcohol, 1 cup of warm water, and a few drops of an essential oil, if you’re feeling fancy. (I like tea tree oil because it smells minty and clean to me.) The CDC recommends using alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol for sanitizing. There are many recipes for DIY sanitizing spray. Research and play around with the formula until you’ve found the right one for you!
To clean hard miscellaneous items:
To clean shoes:
There are many options for cleaning thrifted shoes. You can:
Okay, that was the hard part! The miscellaneous stuff takes the most time and you’ve done it. Great! Though the miscellaneous pile may seem daunting, it will only take a few minutes once you’ve got the hang of it and you have all your supplies at the ready.
Next, head to the kitchen and place all your kitchen items into the dishwasher. Feel free to use the sanitizing setting if you don’t think anything will be damaged from extremely hot water. The only items you shouldn’t put in the dishwasher are old Pyrex or wooden kitchen items—those should be washed by hand.
Finally, (you’re nearly there!) it’s time to wash your new clothes in the washing machine. I personally make a detergent because I’m from a long line of people with sensitive skin and I’ve passed the condition down to both my kids. I also make detergent because it works really well and it’s easy to put together!
What you’ll need to make laundry detergent:
To clean clothing items:
Sort the clothes as you normally would and put a few tablespoons of detergent directly into the washing machine tub along with a squirt of dish soap. I also prefer to put white vinegar into the dispenser labeled “fabric softener.” Vinegar is great at getting out smells.
If an item has a spot, I’ll try pretreating it. I’ll put a pinch of homemade detergent on the spot and then add a little white vinegar on top. It makes a lovely hiss, like a science project, and gives me the sensation I’m really getting after the spot. I’ve also had good results with Grandma’s Spot Remover.
If clothes are dry clean only or (gasp) silk, I’ll wash them with similar items and a tiny bit of detergent on the gentlest cycle possible and then let the items air dry. If there’s something that simply cannot be washed, I’ll take it to the cleaners. Or, I’ll spray it with a mixture of ¼ cup rubbing alcohol, ¾ cup water, and few drops of lavender essential oil and see how it smells and feels when it’s dried.
You’ve done it! You’re done cleaning your thrift items and each time you do this it will be an easier and more efficient process. You deserve a gold star, an approving nod, and ice cream in your favorite flavor. Happy thrifting!
When not caring for her two small but weirdly strong kids, Meggie enjoys all the thrifting, teaching barre and kids’ yoga classes at Blooma Yoga, reading fiction, watching Shrill, hanging out with buds and/or her husband, and laughing at her own jokes.
BY Meggie Maas - June 9, 2020
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.