How To Wash And Remove Stains From Vinyl and Rubber Clothes

vinyl-coat.jpg
Photo: Frank Whitney/Getty Images

Vinyl and rubber products were once relegated to just rain protection gear in our closets. But designers have embraced vinyl, neoprene and other synthetic fabrics for all types of fashion. They are often chosen as an alternative to leather or to make a high-fashion statement. 

Because of their unique properties, just a toss in the washer won't work and traditional laundry techniques and products may ruin the finish.

Learn more about how to care for vinyl and rubber clothes and textiles in your home.

How To Identify Vinyl and Rubber Clothes

The first thing to do before attempting to clean vinyl and rubber clothes is to read the garment material identification and care tag. That tag will give you information on the components used in making the garment and the products that can harm the finish and correct washing and drying temperatures. High water and dryer temperatures are particularly damaging and can cause melting of the textiles that can never be reversed.

The shiny, plastic-coated fabrics we commonly call vinyl are typically made with a woven backing of polyester fibers that are then coated with polyvinyl chloride or a blend of PVC and polyurethane.  So the label may indicate PVC or PU and polyester. The stiffer the fabric, the larger the percentage of PVC; silky, stretchy vinyl is largely polyurethane.

The fabric may also be referred to as pleather or leatherlook or faux patent leather.

Coating fabric with natural rubber was a way to provide a waterproof finish to raingear from Macintoshes to boots. As chemists found new ways to extrude rubber into thinner, finer threads, latex and neoprene entered the fashion scene.

Latex can be knitted into leotards and stockings to provide stretch or molded into a more solid sheet to form gloves and garments with glued seams.

Neoprene is another rubber textile that can be formed into a solid textile that has no raveling or extruded into fine threads for knitting. Neoprene is found in everything from high fashion to wetsuits to tights.

How To Clean Vinyl And Rubber Clothes

Vinyl and rubber clothing and accessories require some care to maintain. When putting on or wearing these clothes, try not to overstretch the fabric and avoid abrasive surfaces when sitting which could damage the texture and mar the finish.

If the clothing isn't stained and hasn't been worn close to the body, just a wipe down with a sponge dipped in plain water may be all that is needed. Odors from smoke or cooking can be eliminated by spraying the inside - never the outside finish - with a fabric refresher like Febreze. Hanging will relax wrinkles. Always allow the garments to dry completely before storing.

Vinyl and rubber garments should never be stored in a cramped closet together. Dark colors can actually stain lighter colored items. Leave plenty of air circulation or cover vinyl and rubber clothes with cotton garment bags - never plastic! 

If the garment is worn close to the body, vinyl and rubber clothes should be hand washed. The agitation of a washer may cause damage to the finish. (If you must use a washer, select the gentle cycle.)

Use lukewarm water and a tiny amount of a gentle liquid laundry detergent. Powdered detergent should be avoided because it may not dissolve completely and dull the finish. Gently squeeze the solution through the garment. Rinse with cold water and never twist or wring the item. Turn the garment inside out and hang or dry flat away from direct heat or sunlight. When the inside is dry, turn to the right side and allow that side to dry completely.

Vinyl and rubber fabrics are damaged by most petroleum or oil-based solvents and other chemicals. These chemicals remove the plasticizer in vinyl fabric, weaken rubber and cause stiffening. Avoid acetone (nail polish remover), hydrogen peroxide, acetic acid, boric acid (borax), liquid butane, gasoline, iodine, kerosene, lacquer, motor oil and turpentine. Fats like cooking oil and butter, chlorine bleach and urine will also damage and weaken vinyl and rubber.

How To Remove Stains From Vinyl And Rubber Clothes

To remove stains, dampen a white paper towel or white rag with isopropyl or rubbing alcohol. Work from the outside edges of the stain toward the middle. Change the paper towel or rag frequently to avoid spreading stain. Continue wiping gently until stain is removed. Finish by wiping the vinyl surface with a wet cloth to remove traces of alcohol residue.

For tough stains, wet a melamine-foam sponge (Mr. Clean Magic Eraser) with water and squeeze out as much water as possible. Rub the stained area gently until the stain disappears. ALWAYS TEST THE SPONGE ON AN INCONSPICUOUS AREA FIRST to be sure that it doesn't damage the surface.

If the finish is dull, vinyl clothing can be polished and some shine restored by using liquid silicone spray which is available in the automotive cleaning section of most stores. 

For yellowing or discoloration, spray the vinyl with plain water. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon powdered oxygen bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach or Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach are brand names) over the stain. Dampen a white cloth and rub the stain beginning at the outer rim and working toward to the center. As the stain is transferred to the cloth, move to a clean section of the cloth to avoid redistributing the stain. Immediately wipe the area with a clean cloth dipped in plain water to rinse.

    Ironing and Removing Wrinkles From Vinyl and Rubber Clothes

    Vinyl and rubber clothing should never be ironed due to the potential of melting. Once damage occurs, it can not be repaired. High temperatures should be avoided from any source, such as flames, clothes dryers or cigarettes because the fumes from burning vinyl and rubber are dangerous.

    For excessive wrinkles, toss the vinyl or rubber clothes in a clothes dryer with several wet bath towels. Set the controls to AIR ONLY and allow to tumble for five to ten minutes. Remove and hang to air dry.