There’s nothing I like more than a shopping spree at my local Goodwill or Salvation Army. I never really thought much about how to clean thrift store clothing, until I learned that a fashion editor friend of mine got a nasty infection from wearing secondhand garments without washing them. So, you know, yuck.
Now you might be wondering, do thrift stores clean clothes before selling them? The answer is no.
Admittedly, cleaning protocols in thrift shops are more common than they used to be, what with the pandemic and all. But that level of “cleaning” may be an air wave of Lysol. Because every store is different and you don’t really know how much cleaning goes on, just assume it’s your responsibility. That way, you’re not risking your health for fashion.
Generally, it’s just a good idea to know how to sanitize laundry (with bleach or without). Read on to learn how to clean and disinfect your thrift store shopping finds. You might also want to see: what to buy in thrift stores.
How to clean thrift store clothing: 5 rules
1. Never, ever, wear a thrift store purchase without first cleaning it first
Why? Well, donations may be kept in warehouses where they gather mold, dust, and insects. Also, some donors use thrift stores as their personal “trash bins” and donate items that aren’t in the best shape.
If you’re not convinced, ask to take a peek at the sorting room of your local thrift store. You will notice most employees/volunteers use latex gloves to sort through the items.
2. Dry clean
The dry cleaning process douses your clothes with chemicals and then subjects them to very high heat during steam pressing. The chemicals may do some damage to germs and bacteria, but it’s the heat that’s the true hero. High temperatures can kill bacteria, germs, viruses, and allergens — including the flu and COVID-19.
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3. Wash and dry hot
If the garment can’t be dry cleaned or you don’t want to fund the bill, then try this instead. Wash the garment once in the hottest water possible, with a cap full of Pine Sol or other disinfectant. Then wash a second time with a table spoon of baking soda to remove the Pine Sol smell.
Test your disinfectant on the garment prior to washing to make sure the chemicals don’t stain or otherwise damage the clothing.
Dry the garment in your dryer at the highest setting the clothing can stand.
4. For delicate garments, try antibacterial hand soap
Don’t rely on Woolite. It won’t disinfect your garments. Instead, wash delicates with a capful of baby body wash or shampoo mixed with a capful of anti-bacterial hand soap.
Dry in the machine if you can, at the highest heat possible. You could also use your blow dryer and then iron it once it’s dry.
5. Wipe shoes and accessories with rubbing alcohol
For shoes, jewelry, and other accessories, test a small area with rubbing alcohol or Lysol. If no damage results, wipe the piece down completely. This might not completely disinfect the piece, but it will kill some germs.