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corset should be dry cleaned, but unfortunately cleaners who would handle
corsets are few and far between unless you know of a theatrical cleaner in your
area. If you must wash one do it so:
1. Wash the corset by hand in warm not hot water, NEVER in a washing machine, and wash in a mild powder and in a non-biological detergent, as they tend to attack the materials. They are all right for modern clothing that aren't expected to last very long, but corsets are put under a lot of stress and any deterioration will vastly shorten its life.
2. Rinse well in running cold water - do not try to wring it, just swish around until the water runs clear.
3. Wrap in a highly absorbent towel and rub gently to remove as much moisture as possible.
4. Dry on a frame, as you would a real wool garment, and NEVER place near a heat source like a radiator, as it can warp the steels and cause uneven drying, which will warp the garment itself.
Corsets should not be washed frequently, as the metalwork, even though it may be stainless, will exhibit some corrosion, which will eventually show. The reason that Victorian women wore a chemise under, and a cover over their corsets, was so that they didn't then need washing too frequently. They had more experience with these garments so heed the wisdom of our ancestors.
NEVER attempt to dry clean your corset yourself, because it has to be done under controlled conditions, and the fumes of the solvent are toxic; but the point must be firmly made that even dry cleaning of a corset should be done only very rarely, and certainly not more than a couple of times per year. The fact is that no matter how you clean a corset, its bad for it. It weakens and changes the nature of the fabric, causing it to fail far sooner than it should. (and water will generally shrink the fabric, causing, in some causes, the steels to poke through the ends). Remember, a corset is under a great deal of stress all the time it's being worn. Far better to take care not to get it dirty and to use corset liner tubes changed at frequent intervals. Keep in mind also is that methyl alcohol or even isopropyl alcohol is also not as effective as dry cleaning fluid, which is even more toxic. (And all can ignite!)
Cleaning a fabric corset is not difficult when done by hand and in very hot water, to start with. Unlace the two stays and and soak them for five minutes in a hot mixture of hand-wash liquid. Then perform on each rolled-up stay with a "crunching" movement between your two hands. If necessary, brush gently with a nail brush all over the surfaces of both stays. Finally, make a movement like milking a cow down the length of each, so that you push the washing water out of them.
Lay them to one side and prepare another bowl of cool water for the rinsing. Rinse by the same procedure. Finally, rinse them in hot water again, so that there is a lot of residual heat in the fabric and metal parts when you have finished.
Now wrap each stay into a towel, as if making a Swiss roll (a British cake, perhaps not known everywhere; think of a roulade) and squeeze each all over, to press out the water into the towel. Place the stays flat on another dry towel in a warm place such as the drying/airing cupboard, or in the boiler house, on on a warm window sill.
I have used this process for many years and never needed to dry clean corsets. In Britain, methyl alcohol is given a colour and a distinctive odour which would not leave fabric for many days or weeks. I should not recommend it."
C&S Constructions responds:
Regarding washing corsets with water, we entirely agree with this method other than the part about using very hot water. The water should be warm, not very hot. This will cause less thermal stress on the fabric. The final rinse can be a little hotter but not very hot. We know that this means drying takes a little longer, but from personal experience we feel that the less thermal shock the fabric is subjected to, the longer it will last. Also, some of the flat bones and some busk types have a painted or plastic coating which can start to crack or flake off when the metal gets very hot and then cools down again. The best busks are not, contrary to popular belief, stainless steel, but are spring carbon steel, and this will rust if water gets into little cracks in the coating. The amount of rusting will be very small and may not be visible under the coating but, will weaken the steel eventually. This is also the reason that dry cleaning very often is not recommended.
Also, as stated in the text below, it's vital that hand washing soap is used and not detergent, and certainly nothing classed as 'biological,' as these will build up in the fabrics no matter how well you rinse them out and will eventually weaken the fabric, causing premature failure, and also contributing to skin irritation under the corset.
Use of fabric fresheners such as Fabreze must be avoided at all costs as these cause severe and uneven shrinkage of the corset to the extent that it will rip and tear very quickly indeed.
We stress, however, that whatever method is used to clean the corset, it is something that should be done very infrequently and only when absolutely necessary. Use of corset liners and care not to get the corset dirty, plus airing in fresh air are the best way to avoid the need to wash the corset much.
Cleaning your corset is very different from the other regular cleaning tasks you perform at home. While cleaning your corset may be a bit time-consuming and should be done with the utmost care, any NYC cleaning service knows a house can be fully cleaned in an hour or two.
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