Q: Is it possible to clean vintage white linens that are yellowed and stained?
A: Antique fabrics lose their pristine quality over time, often because of dinner-party spills, dirt settling into folds and discolorations caused by ironing starch. Another challenge: They may be too delicate to machine-wash. Fortunately, you can revive them by hand with this method:
1. Presoak: If the pieces have been exiled to the deepest corner of your linen closet for a while, give them a long bath in plain cold or tepid water to loosen set-in grime. Replace the water when it gets cloudy, and repeat until it stays clear. (And we do mean a long one: This can take up to a week.)
2. Wash: Fill a tub with tepid water and mild laundry detergent, as well as powdered oxygen bleach, such as OxiClean (see the soaps' labels for the proportions). Wearing rubber gloves, slosh the linens around gently. Rinse well.
3. Treat: Martha Stewart Living Home Editor Lorna Aragon swears by Engleside Restoration fabric restorer to remove stubborn stains ($18 for 2 pounds, englesideproducts.com). Dissolve three scoops per gallon of water, then soak the fabric for six to eight hours. Remove and rinse.
4. Air-dry: The sun has natural fabric-brightening powers. Lay your items flat on a towel outside (or in a sunny spot inside).
To keep antique linens in mint condition, store them in a dry, dark cupboard on shelves that are painted or lined with acid-free paper (oils in wood can discolor them), and tuck sheets of acid-free paper in their folds, too.