Clothes going into a washing machine

The Clean Truth: Do Secondhand Clothing Stores Wash Their Clothes and When You Should Too

Welcome to the savvy world of secondhand clothing, thrift store gems, and vintage finds! So far I've scoured countless racks to unearth secondhand clothing that tells a story with style. The allure of thrifting isn't just in the unique pieces you can find; it's also in the thrill of the hunt and the sustainability it promotes. However, amidst the excitement lies a common query: Do secondhand clothing stores, wash their clothes before they hit the shelves? Navigating the racks can be a delightful treasure hunt, but it's important to consider the cleanliness of your secondhand clothing haul. Join me as we delve into the reality behind pre-loved apparel and learn how to ensure your fabulous finds are fresh and ready to wear.


The Thrift Store Process

Behind the Scenes at Thrift Stores

Venturing behind the 'Employees Only' sign, I've seen the bustling backrooms where the fate of fashion is decided. Clothes arrive in mountains of generous donations. Workers swiftly sort through, separating the chic from the shabby.  I advise building rapport with the staff; they can offer a peek at prized pieces before they hit the floor. Once, while assisting on a thrift store photo shoot, I learned that many stores categorise items not just by type but by potential - designer, vintage, everyday wear. This knowledge is golden; understanding the sorting system can lead you straight to the treasures. Always befriend the gatekeepers of thrift!


Washing Policies Vary

Diving into the world of thrift, I've learned one rule: each store's washing policy is as unique as their inventory. Some stores, especially smaller local ones, might lack the resources for washing, opting for a visual inspection instead. On the flip side, larger chains might have a more systematic approach. A memorable moment was finding a gorgeous silk scarf that slipped through unwashed, its story whispered through faint perfume. My advice: inquire about the store's policy. Not only does this show initiative, but it also demonstrates your engagement with the quality of your fashion finds. Always wash your finds, but first, understand the journey they've taken to reach you.


The Importance of Clean Clothing

Health Considerations

As a stylist, I prioritise health as much as aesthetics. Unwashed thrift clothes can harbour bacteria or pests, a lesson I learned after an itchy encounter with a seemingly perfect wool sweater. To avoid such fashion faux pas, I suggest a 'clean first' policy. Don't just toss your thrift finds into the wash; inspect them thoroughly. Check the care labels and if in doubt, dry cleaning is your best friend, especially for delicate fabrics that can be breeding grounds for germs. Remember, the beauty of a garment is not just in its look but also in its cleanliness and the confidence it brings when worn.


The Psychological Impact

There's a certain psychology to wearing pre-loved clothes; the knowledge of its cleanliness can affect your confidence as much as the fit. I remember styling a client for a photoshoot with a stunning vintage jacket. Despite its visual appeal, they couldn't shake the feeling of its past life until it was thoroughly cleaned. This experience taught me that the joy of wearing thrift is fully realised when you feel the garment is truly yours. Always refresh your pieces to suit your personal standards. A clean, well-kept garment can make you stand taller and feel prouder—it's not just fashion, it's a statement of self-care.



When and How You Should Wash Your Thrift Finds


When to Wash

In the world of thrift, the mantra 'to wash or not to wash' isn't a question—it's a must. I always advise a strategic approach. High-contact items like socks, underwear, or swimwear? Wash them, no exceptions. Sturdy fabrics like denim or cotton can endure a good, hearty machine wash. For an unforgettable silk blouse that came with a story in every thread, a delicate hand wash preserved its narrative and its luxe. A tip for the thrifty: invest in a good steamer. It not only removes wrinkles but also helps to kill off any unwelcome bacteria, ensuring your thrifted treasures are ready for their second act on your stage.


Washing Tips and Tricks

The secret to integrating thrifted clothes into your wardrobe is mastering the art of laundering. Delicate laces and vintage prints might fade in a harsh wash, so opt for gentler cycles or hand washing. I once rescued a delicate 1950s cocktail dress with a mix of cold water and mild detergent, and it's been a staple in editorial shoots ever since. For tougher materials, like a rugged pair of jeans, a vinegar soak can work wonders to eliminate odours without fading the denim. Remember, the goal is to make these pieces last, so treat each item with the care it deserves—your wardrobe will thank you for it.



Thrift Shopping Smartly

Inspecting Before Buying

Thrift shopping is akin to a treasure hunt, where keen eyes and attention to detail are your best tools. Always inspect potential purchases for signs of wear or damage. I learned this the hard way after falling in love with a chic blazer, only to discover a tear along the seam at home. Look for stains, odours, missing buttons, and broken zippers—they can all be deal-breakers. 


Asking the Right Questions

In my styling ventures, direct queries have often unearthed the richest thrift store stories and deals. Don't hesitate to ask the staff about an item's past washes or any notable history. I once inquired about a peculiar brooch and discovered it was designer costume jewellery—score! Inquire if the store has a return policy for items that may have hidden issues. Also, asking about upcoming sales can lead to strategic shopping. A well-timed question might reveal when new donations are put out, ensuring you get first dibs. Knowledge is stylish, so arm yourself with inquiries to enhance your thrift experience.



The Bigger Picture: Sustainability and You

The Role of Secondhand Clothing in Sustainable Fashion

Thrifting isn't just shopping; it's a step towards sustainable fashion. As a stylist conscious about fashion's footprint, I've styled clients head-to-toe in secondhand clothing, showcasing how such pieces can be both chic and ethical. Each secondhand clothing item is one less piece produced and one less garment in a landfill.

I encourage clients to mix vintage with modern for a unique, eco-friendly wardrobe. Remember, your style choices have power. By thrifting, you're not just making a statement with your outfit, but also about the world you want to live in. Let's make sustainability the ultimate fashion statement.


Your Part in the Cycle

Thrifting is a cycle, and we all play a part. As a stylist, I encourage clients to think of their wardrobe as a rotating collection. When you tire of a piece, consider donating it, ensuring it's in good condition. I once had a client donate a designer dress she never wore; it became a cherished find for someone else. Always clean and repair items before passing them on. It's about respect for the next owner and the environment. By maintaining this cycle of care and consideration, we create a sustainable, fashionable ecosystem where every piece has a story and a chance for a new life.


In our journey through the layers of secondhand clothing and thrift store fashion, we've uncovered truths and dispelled myths. Thrifting is more than just shopping; it's a mindful approach to style and sustainability.

Whether you're rummaging for vintage treasures or everyday essentials, remember the importance of inspecting, washing, and caring for these pieces. Embrace the adventure with knowledge and respect for each garment's past and future. Let your thrifted finds not only add character to your wardrobe but also contribute positively to our planet. Here's to finding style that tells a story—your story.

Find out more about cleaning clothing in a sustainably in out blogs:

Eco-Friendly Alert: Banish Deodorant Stains Naturally!

Pen Stain Panic? Try These Proven Eco-Friendly Stain Removal Tricks!


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