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Responsible Resale Rehab

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Buying vintage or used is a great way to reduce, reuse, and develop a unique sense of style, but if your finds need a little TLC, you may discover that restoration can be a less-than-green venture. Here are tips to get your used clothes and furniture into prime condition, in the kindest way possible.


There's nothing like the thrill of finding a gorgeous vintage dress at a thrift store or scoring a perfect loveseat at a flea market. Not only does buying used or vintage clothing and furniture save money and help you find one-of-a-kind pieces, but those purchases also help the environment by extending an item's life cycle.

No matter how great the deal or the discovery, sometime your finds need a little TLC to get them back into working condition. You might find that your treasure smells musty, there's a stain, or a button or handle is missing. Here are some earth-friendly ways to get your finds looking great.

First, shop wisely...

As you get more experienced buying used and vintage items, you'll develop a knack for knowing what can be fixed or cleaned, and what's beyond repair. For instance, tears in fabric are most easily mended when they're along a seam, and scratches and scuffs in wooden furniture can usually be fixed or minimized. While a musty smell might fade with some fresh air, upholstered furniture with a strong odor should probably be avoided — who knows what sort of yuckiness is lurking beneath the fabric!, clean green...

You don't need to use harsh, chemical detergents to clean old fabrics. Instead, find some eco-friendly methods and products for laundering your dirty duds. You can make your own laundry soap, but it's also easy to find effective and affordable biodegradable and earth-friendly options. Other cleaning tips:

  • Hand wash old, delicate fabrics in warm water; you'll want to avoid using a washing machine, because the turbulence can damage the fabric.
  • Get white fabrics crisp again without using toxic bleach. Instead, try using chlorine-free oxygen bleach, which not only whitens fabric but will also remove mildew smells. This type of earth-friendly bleach is made of hydrogen peroxide, which naturally breaks down into oxygen and water.
  • Reconsider fabric softener sheets and line-dry any vintage pieces made of particularly old, delicate fabric. The gentleness of line-drying is better for the material anyway, and you'll avoid the unnecessary waste of a used dryer sheet. Too late? Try to reuse the dryer sheet.
  • Use common kitchen ingredients to make nontoxic, natural furniture polishes that aren't as damaging to the earth as the chemical cleaners in aerosol cans. Try squeezing a little lemon into a half-cup of olive oil, or a few drops of lemon oil in warm water. Rub it lightly onto wooden furniture with a soft, dry cloth.
  • Spot-clean vintage upholstery with a non-toxic product like Nature's Miracle, which is designed for pet stains and odors. You can remove odors from upholstered pieces by sprinkling the piece with baking soda, letting it sit for a day, then vacuuming it up, or spraying the fabric lightly with vodka, which will evaporate quickly, along with the odor.

...and then, repair well.

After you've gotten your pieces clean, it's time to get them in perfect, presentable shape. Here's how:

  • For clothing with buttons, check to make sure that they're all sewn on securely, so you won't lose any of them mid-wear. If your piece of clothing is missing one or more buttons, find a set of similarly-styled or -sized buttons to replace them. Sometimes you can even find sets of vintage buttons at flea markets, which would help you maintain the same style throughout the garment.
  • For wooden furniture, knobs, or armrests, fix any scratches or similar flaws with a retouching crayon or furniture polish.
  • If your furniture requires major repairs or refinishing, reconsider the tools you use. Seek out earth-friendly tools, such as biodegradable painting accessories, as well as hand tools and rechargeable tools rather than those that use lots of electricity. If you paint your pieces, use paints that emit little or no VOCs [Volatile Organic Compounds], such as Milk Paint.
  • For clothing or upholstery, strategically hide any stains, tears, or other imperfections that can't be fixed. On clothing, you can pin a brooch over a small stain or sew a decorative patch over a flaw. For furniture, throw pillows or blankets can hide damage.

Are you smart when it comes to buying and fixing up used and vintage clothes and furniture? Share your secrets in the comments below.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.