But if you're like me, you're way too lazy to take a corset to the cleaners, and you want options. First, I recommend always laying a corset flat, with the inside facing up when you take it off. This allows moisture and odor to evaporate instead of setting into the fabric. You can freshen a corset by spraying it with a mixture of 50/50 water/vodka to remove odors. (You could also use Febreze, but it tends to leave a residue some people dislike.) For stains you can spot clean a corset with water/soap/stain remover, depending on the outer fabric. (Silk may permanently stain with water.)
I tend to keep my corsets in shape with a combination of the above techniques and it works fairly well for my occasionally worn costume corsets. But for my daily wear corsets, those are not enough. I wear my corsets around the house, on the outside of my clothes, and I do a lot in them. I try to wear an apron when doing something messy, but I often forget. I cook, sew, and craft in my corsets, so there are often things spilled or sprayed on them.
My previous daily wear corset got particularly grungey. I had gotten flour on it while baking, as well as who knows what else. Spot cleaning wasn't going to work. So I figured What The Hell and threw it in the washing machine.
The reasons usually given for not machine washing corsets are that the water will cause the bones to rust, and that it may shrink the fabric. If you have a corset with fancy exterior, like silk or with any embellishment this is obviously not recommended and you're going to need to head to the dry cleaners.
But this corset was a one layer cotton coutil corset, so I wasn't really worried. When the wash cycle was finished I threw the corset in the dryer, too. Let's go for broke. If it had been a nice, hot day I would have set it out flat in the sun to dry, but it was cold and rainy.
So what happened? Well there was some shrinkage of the coutil. Coutil is generally not pre-washed because the fabric contains sizing to make it stiff. I didn't do any scientific measurement of the corset before/after but it fit a little more snugly. It felt a big like an un-seasoned corset again. As it had been worn daily for several months at that point, I didn't mind. It had started to feel a bit stretched out.
I wore the corset for another six months, and machine washed it a second time in those months. (I didn't notice any shrinkage the second time.)
And finally the corset reached the end of it's life. I had already patched a couple of worn spots and one of the flat steel bones at the back snapped in two. So I took the corset apart, and inspected the bones.
You can see the flat steel bones and the one that snapped off the end.
As for whether or not washing the corset made the bones rust, there is no sign of that on the busk or flat steel. The spiral steel is a mixture of types and thicknesses, based on what I had lying around.
To the naked eye, there are very small spots of discoloration on some places on the spiral bones. And only on a few of them. It's hard to capture by camera, but here is the bone with the most rust of any of them.
The rust is pretty minor, and didn't come off on my hand when rubbed. It doesn't come close to harming the structure of the bone, it's just a surface discoloration.
I don't think this kind of bending is a problem, as it's not a sharp kink that would poke, it's simply formed to my body over time. I won't be reusing these bones (or any from this corset except the busk for myself probably). But I think it's interesting.
So what is the final conclusion? Should you throw your corset in the washing machine? Well, I think that's a personal choice. I wouldn't do it all the time, but I think once in a while, with a sturdy, plain, everyday corset that is really soiled, it's acceptable.
So has anyone else tried this? I'm curious what people think.