How to Clean Thrifted Fabric Finds


This year’s 100 mile yard sale turned out to be a fabric lover’s dream!  I stumbled upon a man with bolts & bolts of fabric & he was practically giving it away!  Many fabrics bought second hand tend to have a musty smell like they’ve been sitting in someone’s attic for eons.  Today I’m going to show you what I found {of course!}, talk about testing for fiber content, & give y’all some tips on how to get rid of those funky mothball odors.  Then you’ll be able to clean thrifted fabric with confidence!  : D

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My Fabric Finds

The man I bought this fabric from didn’t seem to know what he had or what it was worth.  It seemed like he just wanted to get rid of it!  I would just pick up something and ask how much & he would give me a number – no rhyme or reason.  What’s the fabric leaning on?  You’ll find out later on in a DIY post!  ; )

This is a roll of what looks like linen backed with a coating.  It will be perfect for making roman shades & it was $3 for 12 3/4 yards!

I got this whole bolt {12 1/4 yards} of houndstooth plaid for $1.50!!  Can you believe that?!?  That breaks down to just 12 cents a yard!  : D  So many possibilities!

I picked up this fabric because I liked the way it looked.  When I got home I realized it had a tag & it’s a silk & wool blend.  It’s just over a yard & I gave a whole $1 for it!

This fabric reminded me of denim & I thought it would be great for throw pillows or maybe even I lined jacket.  There’s a little over 7 yards of it & it cost me 2 bucks!

This funky fabric stash came from a different yard.  I really love the pattern & colors & for $5 it had to come home with me!  It’s several large pieces that look like leftovers from a major project, but I already have ideas swirling in my head for this fabric…  ; )

My total payout for fabric was $12.50!  Since most of these fabrics would be that much per yard or more, I’d say this was fabulous fabric haul!  Now, I just need to figure out what they are made of so I can get out that funky odor – phew!

Testing Fabric Content

I used what’s called a “burn test” to get a better idea of what my thrifted fabric is made of.  This will help me determine the best way to clean it.  You only need to cut a small piece off the corner to do this.  My “denim striped” fabric came with some little swatches pinned to the end which were a little big, but kept me from cutting the fabric yardage.

I’m not going to go into great detail about doing the burn test, because you can find out what you need to know in this Craftsy blog article.



I will show you what my results looked like & I’ll also tell you why I came to the conclusions I did.  Most of these fabrics surprised me!  Starting from the top & going clockwise ~>

  • denim stripe ~ I really thought from the texture of this it was mostly polyester.  It definitely has cotton in it because of the way it burned & the ash.  I feel like it’s most likely a blend of cotton & possibly rayon.
  • coated linen ~ I also thought this was all synthetic, but the frayed ends burn like a linen.  It only curled & gummed up a bit when it hit the coated portion.
  • funky print ~ I would have almost bet money that this was polyester or acetate, but it burns like cotton or rayon!
  • silk & wool herringbone ~ I knew what this was because of the label, however I wanted to see if it burned like the instructions suggest.  It did!  No real ash, would not stay lit, & boy did it stink!  Ugh!
  • houndstooth plaid {not pictured} ~ Definitely not wool because the smell was more neutral, like cotton.  I think it’s mostly cotton with maybe a little rayon or polyester blended in.


These tests are designed to help decided the content, but a blended fabric can give strange results.  This does give me a better idea of what I’m dealing with.  Now it’s time to get rid of the funky odors, so I can make something fabulous!

Refreshing Fabric

I haven’t been able to actually clean these fabrics yet, so there will be no pictures in this section.  Just a list of each fabric & what I intend to do.  Maybe a reference or link as well.  ; )

  • I’ll be spraying these fabrics down with a homemade fabric refresher.  Just some water, vinegar, & lemon essential oil.  Then I’ll take them outside to sit in the sun for maybe 30 minutes to an hour.  It depends on how hot it is!
    • denim stripe
    • funky print
  • coated linen ~ I’ll just wipe this down with a damp cloth sprayed with my fabric refresher.  I may leave it outside for a little bit too.
  • silk & wool herringbone ~ This will be hand washed used a very mild detergent.  Then I’ll drape it over a clothes line to dry.  If your washer & dryer are equipped to handle very delicate things, you can clean it that way.
  • houndstooth plaid ~ Because this is a blend & there is so much of this fabric, I will wash it in the washing machine.  I’ll use a warm water temperature, mild detergent, & dry it on the gentle cycle.  Oh – my dryer has no gentle cycle!  Guess I’ll be air drying it!  : 0

For the most part, these odors are just from being stored in a stuffy place that maybe had some moth balls laying around.  Most fabrics I find while thrifting smell much better with just a spritz of fabric refresher & being “aired out” a little in the sun.

The Elastic Box

I also bought a box full of 1″ elastic & some other interesting things for $3…

I realized after plundering through the box that this is someone’s leftovers from making shirt stays!  There was even a pack of them already assembled.

I also found some colorful button covers & lace panels.  There was a bag full of garter adjusters & even a few stray garter clips.  If I ever want to go into the shirt stay making business, I’ve got a head start!  ; D

Y’all have a great week!

Linking to Tips & Tutorials Tuesday #24 at Quilting Jetgirl.

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    • Kristie Cook says:

      We never make it the whole 100 miles! Kind of impossible since it only runs from 8 to 4. You’re really going to like some of my DIY project finds! 😉

  1. Joyce says:

    Great tips for resting and cleaning fabric. And, you got some great fabrics. Loving the plaid. If I were still working I’d be making some new clothes. I often buy fabric at the thrift store and it sometimes smells bad. I’ll be trying your homemade fabric refresher.

    Thank you for another interesting article.

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