Tutorial–Vintage Kimono Stain Removal

Vinegar Edition.

If you’re reading this, you might have come here from the Global Kimono Facebook group, at which point: Hi! If not, I have been posting little pictures and updates here and there about my stain removal process. Just last night (Hahaha, who are we kidding, it was 5 in the morning for me, what even is time?), I posted a before and after of my stain removal progress on this furisode. The response was pretty positive!

So! Today I’ll post a how-to guide on spot treating stains on silk using distilled white vinegar. This post will only cover the vinegar method.

Big ol’ fat disclaimer: I don’t do this for profit, I’m not a museum, and you’re trying this at your own risk. I can’t take responsibility for items I can’t evaluate, and I won’t. With that out of the way, LET’S DO THIS.

Pictured: USE A KNIFE.

My tools above are as follows from top to bottom: a shot glass of 70% distilled white vinegar and water solution (Edit for clarity, the shot glass is full of 70% vinegar and 30% water–I didn’t buy 70% vinegar), a jar of distilled water, a flat soft paintbrush, an angled soft paintbrush, a weird toothbrush I got from the dentist, an Exacto knife, cotton buds, and they’re all sitting on a clean white cotton cloth. Also there’s some paper towels there.

To begin, we select a stained area. I’ll start here:

Pictured: Kimono pox.

It’s helpful if you can identify what the stain is to begin with. Oftentimes, you can better decide what will take it out of you know what it is. Before the pandemic, I was known to touch stains with my tongue because I’m arguably insane. I’ve identified a lot of sauces and…other fluids. But this isn’t the year to fuck around with that, so I actually skipped that step on this piece. I also can’t, in good conscience, recommend anyone else do that EVER.

I think that most of these stains are a result of the kinsai (gold paint) deteriorating, and the sizing (adhesive) leftovers attracting gunk. They’re not sticky, they don’t scratch off. But boy do they hug those deteriorated kinsai lines. That said. It’s time to begin. We start by popping the seam closest to the stained area, and placing the cotton cloth between the shell and the lining.

Pictured: Yes, we get to use the knife!

This has two functions. The first is to prevent any dye from bleeding anywhere it doesn’t belong. The second is to absorb the fluids and stain as it releases.

Now, this is INCREDIBLY important. Before you do SHIT. ELSE. You need to test to make sure that the dye won’t come up with the stain. I do this on the seam allowance, which luckily for me, was also quite stained!

Pictured: Shit else.

I didn’t take a picture because I’m just terrible, but in my case, the vinegar is not a danger to the dye, and we’re good to go!

We start by dipping one of the soft paintbrushes into the vinegar solution and saturating the stain. I move the brush back and forth, and in circles in a soft scrubbing motion while I do this. I will typically work on as many stains as I can in an area that I have with the cotton beneath it, but sometimes I focus on just one if it’s a particularly bad stain.

Pictured: I don’t own a tripod, so this was the best photo I could take!

You’ll notice that some stains will only lighten when they’ve been soaking for a but, and some just fuck right off immediately. You will probably also run into stains that this doesn’t move at all, at which point I’ll have other tutorials on specific removals later.

Some stains will start to dilute and bleed as the vinegar goes to work. Don’t. Panic. This is what the cotton buds are for! Simply keep the area saturated with vinegar solution, and slowly soak up the running stain with the cotton buds. You’ll see that the dry cotton is just a gunk magnet, so it’s pretty fun to watch it just slurp up all of the nastiness. Repeat this until the offending stain is gone.

When stains are as light as the vinegar solution will get them or are otherwise gone, dip your paintbrush into the distilled water jar and apply a very small amount over the dampened area. Then use the paper towels and dab to soak up as much moisture as you can. This is to prevent any water spotting. If you DO end up with water stains, vinegar will take that out, too, so you can always treat the area again.

I ideally, this is a result you can hope for:

Now! Some important notes for a successful stain removal session!

1. Avoid ironing, steaming, or otherwise heat treating the kimono before stain removal. Heat can set stains, and you don’t want this to be any harder than it already is.

2. Test. Test. TEST your solution on an inside area before you start! Never experiment on visible places!

3. You might have to treat an area several times. Be patient.

4. Temper your expectations. Not every stain can be removed completely. Not every stain can be removed without destroying the dye. Not every stain can be removed at all. Sometimes your best case scenario is clean, not spotless.

I hope this was helpful! If you have any questions, please feel free to drop a comment and I’ll do my best to answer. Thanks for reading!

29 thoughts on “Tutorial–Vintage Kimono Stain Removal

  1. Do you have a chart on what solutions work best for different types of stains?
    For instance: what treatments work best for
    soy sauce, pen, sweat, blood, water spots, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t. I have a notebook of scribblings and results. Until recently, I haven’t bothered to sort it for anyone’s purposes but my own.

      I am, however, working on doing exactly that. So I will have a post soon with a more in depth write up on what helps, what doesn’t, and what to avoid.

      Vinegar actually works on most of those! But it’s not instant. It’s important to give it time as many stains often take a few rounds of treatment.


  2. I ugly laugh every time at ‘shit else’.
    Anyway so I have an off white ro piece with some brown stains splattered in the worst places. They lightened a little after some ‘shout’ and a soak with some retro detergent (seriously I thought it was synthetic but now I fear I’ve made a mistake) and today I thought I’d snag some RIT products, but my local store had nothing.
    But I have vinegar, so will be giving that a try while I order some of the other things you’ve recommended. After shattering some lovely meisen many years ago, I stopped trying to clean vintage pieces but time heals all wounds so I’ll try again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m super excited to try this! I have a vintage haori that is in perfect condition except that some previous wearer wasn’t paying attention and dragged the corner of her sleeve into her coffee cup (or possibly black tea). Time for a science experiment… 😁


    1. Hi!

      For wool, consider adding a small amount of glycerin to the vinegar solution. This will lubricate the stain, and help it lift.

      There are many versions of the vinegar method that I haven’t published yet, but if anyone ever has any questions about how to approach a stain, I check my email daily! 💜


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