Secondhand Cleaning Care

It is officially Secondhand September! Buying items secondhand is more sustainable than buying new. This month I challenge you to try to buy any items you might need secondhand! I have been purchasing secondhand clothing for years now without any issue and I have previously discussed secondhand clothing purchases in detail here. Today I thought I would let you know how I wash my secondhand clothing after I bring it home. It is important to note that just because you are purchasing something secondhand or vintage, doesn’t mean you have to use harsh chemicals to disinfect or sanitize the item.

Secondhand Purchases

Visit good vintage, thrift, second-hand and consignment shops that display the items on racks instead of in large boxes or piles. Never purchase an item without fully inspecting it. Most thrift stores inspect items before they are put up for sale, therefore they will not allow infested items to be sold. However, you always want to ensure you wash each item properly anyway. Whenever I am out at a thrift store, vintage store, secondhand store or consignment store, I always bring my reusable bags with me. Secondhand goodies can be brought home in reusable bags without an issue, just make sure you wash the reusable bags with each use. Since the reusable bags will need to be washed often, ensure they are made from natural materials so that when they are washed, they are not releasing synthetic microfibres into the environment.

Wash Immediately

As soon as you bring your secondhand goodies home, wash them promptly. Remove all tags and pocket finds first, then inspect the items thoroughly. Take time to look over each item and see if there are instructions for how to wash the item, what fibres the item is made from, if there are any rips or damage, and if there are any stains.

The goal is to follow the care instructions on the clothing. If there are no instructions on the clothing, go with your best guess and handwash if you are unsure. Treat any stains and wash the secondhand clothing with other similar coloured items or with items composed of the same material. Stains can be tackled with a plethora of natural stain removers, avoid harsh chemicals if you can. If you are washing any synthetic clothing, ensure you have a GUPPYFRIEND Washing Bag to wash your clothing in. If the secondhand clothing is too delicate to wash, or cannot be washed in a washing machine, handwash it or take it to a green dry cleaner. If the material can handle it, wash with hot water for the initial wash as this can help eliminate any nasties that might be lurking on the clothing. I swear by adding distilled white vinegar into the fabric softener dispenser, alongside a natural detergent, because it helps to remove any odours that your secondhand clothing might have. I usually add ½ cup to 1 cup depending on the load size. Adding vinegar to your wash cycle also helps to remove any excess detergent, therefore leaving your clothing feeling softer.

If it is a secondhand furniture or décor piece, wipe it down with a vinegar and water cleaning solution, like this, or whatever cleaning regimen fits for your specific piece.


After washing your clothing, inspect the items and see if any stains have been removed or if they need more attention. If the items are good to go, check to see which can go into the dryer. Hang the rest of the clothing. Make any necessary repairs you might need to make to your items after you have washed and dried them (this rule only stands for secondhand clothing that you need to sanitize before touching, if the item has already been sanitized make sure to repair the item before the washing process as the friction from the washing and drying process may make the damage worse). Drying, if possible, is important to eliminate any bacteria or nasties that may be lurking. However, after the initial sanitization of the items, drying can be avoided and your items can be hung to dry, followed by steaming.


Steaming is an essential process that I swear by for all secondhand (and new) clothing. I steam all my clothing and I focus on steaming clothing more thoroughly that cannot be dried. I actually bought my steamer secondhand off of Kijiji. Not only does steaming help to remove odours from the clothing, it also helps to sanitize the clothing as well. For secondhand clothing that is new-to-you, focus on steaming those items particularly well. I will usually steam the outside of the garment slowly, on the front and back, then flip it inside out and repeat the process. Do not neglect the nooks and crannies or the armpit areas!

I swear by steaming all my clothing. When used correctly, steaming can prolong the life of your clothing and reduce the amount of resources that would initially be used to wash and/or dry the clothing item after each wash. I will also steam my clothing instead of washing it after every wear to get rid of bacteria, odours, and wrinkles, until washing is unavoidable. Yes, most steamers have plastic parts, however if you invest in a high-quality steamer it will last you several years and help to save a lot of resources and banish any nasties for once and for all!


If you do not have a steamer, ironing items that can be ironed (check clothing tag or do a quick internet search) will also help to eliminate any nasties that might be lurking. Make sure to iron on both sides of the clothing, inside and out. I prefer steaming because with a steamer, I can choose whether to have direct contact with the clothing or not, while with an iron you have to have direct contact with the clothing item – this may jeopardize some clothing items. You can probably see a pattern here, prolonged heat exposure to any clothing item will ensure that it is safe to wear – however make sure that the option you have chosen will not ruin the clothing item!


If clothing is hung in an area with good circulation, it will actually last longer! If you have an overcrowded closet it might increase the spread of bacteria, try to ensure your clothing has space. Also know which clothing items shouldn’t be hung. Some heavy sweaters might stretch if they are hung. In this case, folding them may prolong their life.

I want to reiterate that that I have been purchasing vintage and secondhand clothing for almost a decade and I have never had an issue with it. I always make sure to clean my clothing very well initially and steam it thoroughly afterward. However, after the initial wash, I tend to try and wear my clothes for as many wears as I can without washing them, then I switch to washing them in cold water. This will prolong the life of your clothing and will also reduce the amount of resources used to maintain it as well. Shopping for items secondhand is so important and ultimately entertaining. I cannot tell you how much fun I have had, by myself or with friends, looking for secondhand goodies to take home. Enjoy your next treasure hunt!

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