Monday, April 27, 2015

Can You Put A Corset in a Washing Machine?

So, one of the most common questions about corsets is how to clean them.  Usually the answer is Dry Cleaning, because that's a safe option for most everything.

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.

 Here's all the boning for the corset.  You can see the heavy-duty extra wide busk has developed a slight bend.  My busks always do that because of how curvy my front is.

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.

You may have noticed some of the spiral steel bones have permanent bends in them.  Here they are.  This is actually the first time I've seen spiral steel take this kind of permanent shaping, but I did wear this corset a LOT for more than a year.  Only some of the steels are bent, the ones over the largest curves, like the side seam and bust.  You can see the shaping of my hip and ribs in the one bone.

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.


  1. I have a corset with ruffled cap sleeves and a peplum overlay on the bottom. I wash it once a year and Febreeze it the rest of the year. To wash it, I remove all the lacings and turn it inside out. I wash it on gentle cycle, let it go through the rinse cycle and then remove it before it gets to the spin cycle. I hang it up to air dry overnight. Comes out looking and smelling great! The only problem I've ever had was when the boning started poking out of the bottom of the corset. It was because I kept tugging on that part of the corset and the boning eventually poked right through the material. It was easily fixed with needle and thread. My corset is now 7 years old.

  2. That's very interesting, now I wonder how corsets were laundered back in the day.

    As far as the bones developing that permanent bend, would it be possible to make your daily-wear corsets so that you could alternate which is the outside and which is the skin side every day? Sort of like flipping and rotating a mattress to avoid sags. Or would constantly changing the direction of the curve just cause them to break down entirely?