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Photo by Lexa One

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Washing Your Costumes

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We’re back from Anime North! Instead of a con report I bring you a short long post-con costume cleaning guide!

After submitting your costume to an intense 2~3 days of con-going, it’s primordial that you waste no time after the con to clean and store it properly so it’s in great shape for your next con.

Cosplay on a clothesline!

Warning: drying cosplay on your clotheslines may make your neighbours question your sense of style

Washing by type of item

All fabric items

Before throwing the seemingly innocent all-fabric item in the washing machine, you must ask yourself a few questions. After taking the answer to these questions into consideration you may choose to hand wash or spot wash the item.

  • Did I pre-wash/dry my fabrics before making the costume?
  • Are there white or lightly coloured fabrics sewn with dark coloured fabrics?
  • Is there any part of the item that is fragile or hand-sewn?
  • Am I using dyed fabric or dry-clean only fabric?
  • Am I sure there is nothing glued/painted/pinned on the item?

Here is a brief explanation of why these questions are important in choosing the method of cleaning.

Unwashed fabrics will bleed upon first being immersed in water, especially with detergent. This will not matter if you are washing something that is made entirely (buttons, lining, trim, etc.) of the same fabric or colour but it may stain anything that you wash with it that is of a different colour. Take my Katherine top for example (see picture below and above), being a lazy person who is just getting used to the luxury of owning a washing machine and not having to trek to the laundromat, I did not pre-wash the black fabric I used to make the top. Unfortunately, the top has ribbon detailing and fabric covered buttons in a contrasting colour. When I washed the top there was a risk of staining the buttons and ribbon with the black dye bleeding from the black fabric. (As a side note, grosgrain ribbon is usually somewhat resilient to dyes but not silk or satin ribbon.) In order to reduce the risk of staining I mixed vinegar with a gentle hand wash detergent in cold water and hand washed the top in sections, in order to isolate the buttons so they would be in water that had soaked in with as little of the black as possible.

Dark and light fabrics sewn together can be problematic even if you pre-washed your fabrics. Some dark fabric take a few washes before the dye stops bleeding completely and some light fabric, especially natural fibres, tend to soak up any dye especially well. Be careful and use the method described above with these items.

For all-white items, it’s a good idea to starch the fabric before the convention and use starch again when cleaning it after the convention. You can easily make your own laundry starch.

For anything that is fragile or hand sewn washing it by hand or on delicate cycle are the safest methods. Either way, it’s best to turn the item inside out before washing to reduce stress on the fragile parts.

Left: Katherine costume. Right: Elizabeth costume
Left: Katherine costume. Right: Elizabeth costume

Fabric with Painted or Glued Embellishments

Any detailing painted on the fabric with fabric paint or paint that has been mixed with a fabric medium can be sealed with an iron. Once sealed, it’s safe to wash in any manner, ideally, inside out to protect the painted parts and on delicate cycle (better safe than sorry!).

If the item has detailing that has been glued on, it’s safer to hand wash it using cool or cold water.

With items that are pinned together in any fashion, it’s safest to remove the pins before washing in order to minimize stress on the pinned section of fabric and risks of deforming or ripping it.

Dyed or Dry-Clean only Fabrics

If the fabric is dyed or dry-clean only (leather, faux leather, some upholstery fabrics, etc) immersing the item completely in water should be avoided. For fabrics with a ‘plastic’ finish, such as faux-leather, the surface can be cleaned by gently running a damp cloth on the surface. If the item has strong seams, nothing glued or painted or pinned, ideally no trims or embellishments, it can be brought to a dry-cleaners’.


A Side Note on Dry-cleaning your Costumes
Speaking from personal experience, I think it’s best to avoid dry-cleaning your costumes unless you think it absolutely necessary. As the costume does not come with a label, it can be very hard for the dry cleaner to guess the construction or fabric and they may make a erroneous guess that will end up with your costume being damaged during the cleaning. NEVER bring them anything that has been painted or glued. If the costume has fragile, hand-sewn or small detachable parts (ideally don’t send it to the dry cleaner’s but if you must) tell the staff which parts, how they were constructed and ascertain that they will take extra care in cleaning the costume.


Penelo pants with faux leather, paint, sculpey, glue...

Dealing with Stains

Makeup stains are a current occurrence on collars. If the item is cleaned within a few days it will most likely be removed easily with gentle rubbing in detergent. Makeup stains can become permanent after some time so it’s important to clean them immediately. Actually, this applies to most stains. Bring a stain remover to the con (Tide to Go, OxiClean Stick, etc.) to treat the stain immediately and wash the item as soon as you get home.

Glue stains are less likely to occur at the convention but in case they do, it’s best to try to remove them as soon as possible with acetone and a small needle. Simply pour acetone over the glue, which will reactivate it, and then scrape off the gooey glue with the needle.

Stains on all-white all-fabric items (no metals, even in buttons/zipper/eyelets/hooks and eyes!) can be removed by soaking the item in water with detergent and a bit of bleach.

For any other stain, there are many good resources online for specific stain removal. Before you try any of the methods you should test it on a scrap of the same fabric to make sure it won’t adversely affect the fabric. The same goes for the stain remover you plan to bring to the convention (or acetone).

Cleaning Props, Footwear and Accessories

Dirt can be easily removed with a brush or damp cloth on props or accessories.

Boots and shoes can be cleaned with the same method and an old toothbrush. If footwear is scuffed and it’s not removed after using a cloth or brush, it can be painted over with acrylic paint, leather paint or shoe wax, depending on what the shoe/boot is made of.

For fabric boot covers they can be hand washed using the methods detailed in the fabric section above.

Cleaning Wigs

Wigs can be washed with commercial or homemade wig shampoo, however it will most likely make the wig lose its styling. If the wig has a gravity defying, glued, sewn and styrofoamed style, it’s best not to wash it! The inside of the wig can be cleaned with a damp cloth and gentle soap. The synthetic hair can be refreshed with a spray or two of Febreeze. Wig caps can be washed with the same method used for nylons and air dried.

If the wig got tangled during the con, now is the time to untangle that giant dread your wig may have become. To do this, the best product to use is silicone lubricant, found in the auto section of hardware stores, a wide tooth comb and a lot of time and patience. A small warning however, silicone lube eats through latex and has toxic fumes.

Drying

Items that are all fabric and (sealed) painted fabric can be tumble dried in the drying machine. If the fabric was never machine dried before being made into a costume it should NEVER be dried after!! The only way to machine dry fabric that was not machine dried before being sewn is using the “no heat” setting. Most fabric will shrink when heat dried and different fabrics shrink in different proportions.

Other items can be gently wrung and air dried. Turning the items inside out to dry and store them will protect them from sunlight and dust. However, it’s not advisable for items which have both dark and light colours as it might dry with dark fabric touching on light parts and stain.

It’s important to think about how to hang the garment to dry. If it’s on a clotheslines with clothespins it can cause permanent stretch marks on the fabric where it’s pinned, especially with jerseys and knits. For these items, it’s best to dry them on a hanger or flat on a towel.

A(nother) Note On Storage

Once the costume is cleaned and dried, it’s time to store it until next time! Costumes should be stored away from light and dust. An opaque garment bag is great for this purpose. Some come with pockets in which you can store smaller items such as gloves or other cosplay accessories.

With anything that is made of either real velvet or faux leather, it must be stored unfolded with paper sheets between layers or it will crease permanently and stick to itself.

Painted props should be wrapped in tissue-paper so that the paint is not in contact with anything. Over time the heat can make the paint transfer onto other items. (Believe me when I say it’s nigh on impossible to remove the paint from, say, faux leather, after being stored wrapped around a painted plastic gun for a couple of years. =___=;; )

Props or accessories that have a gravity defying shape should be stored with support and, ideally, detached from fabric. For example, helmets should be stuffed with paper or foam so they retain their round shape. Craft foam has a tendency to deform over the years. It’s best to store it in as cool a place as possible with support too keep it in shape.

Wigs should be stored on a foam head for intricately styled wigs or with stuffing for simpler wigs (such as my Elizabeth wig). The hair should be covered in a wig net (you can use hairnets found in pharmacies but you may need to use more than one on longer wigs). Wigs should never be folded in the middle (between the eyes). The wig should be resting on it’s back or front, depending on the style, away from heat, light or dust, in an opaque plastic bag. For very long straight wigs, they can be loosely braided for storage.

I think that covers everything! If you have any questions or if I forgot to mention anything, please let me know in the comments! :)