Whether they're new lace sheers that were soiled when dirt came into an open window or panels of vintage lace found tucked into a chest in the attic, laundering lace curtains remains a dilemma for those wishing to preserve the delicate detail of their frothy window treatments. With a long tradition of using vinegar to draw soil out of fabrics, it seems natural that this environmentally acceptable additive would also work on all types of lace. There are several strategies included in this article, so start with the first and work your way down until your lace curtains look perfect.
Identify your lace and thread or fabric content by locating an authoritative book on the subject of lace styles or visit one of several websites devoted to lace identification (see Resources below) to match your curtain designs to one of the 100+ types of lace listed on the roster before you head for the vinegar.
Try a simple soak to see what results. Soak the lace curtains in cold water; using your hands, rather than a washing machine, swish the panels around your basin. Spread the window curtains over thick layers of towels and gently pat the lace dry. Repeat this soak and swish technique several times if the first bath doesn't get it clean.
Try the following methodology if you're not satisfied with the results you received by using the soaking method described in Step 2. Pour a bit of mild detergent made for delicate fabrics (e.g., Woolite) into the basin and add equal parts of white vinegar and hot water. Gently work the lace with your hands for a few moments, turn the curtains out onto a thick towel, spread the panels out and allow them to air dry.
Follow tips offered by websites dedicated to laundering fragile fabrics like lace (see Resources below) if you are working with dyed lace panels. Mix 1 cup of vinegar into 1 gallon of water and use your hands to gently work the lace back and forth. Expect to get excellent results if you are attempting to restore pink, mauve and blue lace panels. Alternately, combine 1/2 cup vinegar, 1 cup salt, 1 tablespoon of alum and 1 tablespoon of sugar to remove stains, soil, rust or other marks from lace curtains that are dyed a combination of colors.
Borrow the advice grandmothers have been dispensing for generations when faced with trying to restore lace to its pristine condition: Bring to a boil 1 gallon of water, 1/2 cup of vinegar and 1 cup of salt before plunging the lace curtains into the bubbling pot where it must boil for a few minutes before you can expect to see results.