Jump to content

Cleaning/Care of Uniforms, Neckerchiefs etc.

Recommended Posts

Hi Everyone,


Well, I need to start doing some major work in our Scouting museum regarding clothing and want to ask for experiences, suggestions and tips. We have many older uniforms. One goes back to the late 20's from what I can tell. But many from the 50's, 60's, 70's. This also includes a navy blue Sea Scout uniform that was just donated in the past week or so. It is pretty dirty and needs major cleaning. It came with a white sailors hat, but it's pretty discolored. So here goes the questions:


1. For uniforms, do we just dry clean? What is the best approach?


2. What about neckerchiefs? Can they be washed or dry cleaned as well? (I realize age will come into play to a point).


3. Regarding items that are discolored (i.e. the Sea Scout hat), can it be bleached or cleaned in some way to restore it?


We're getting to a point where major changes will be occurring (hopefully) with our museum. I would like to make sure that we're taking care of the clothing properly and having it in great shape for when we can display them. I've been the chairman for our museum for two years now. We've come a long way, but we're about to take some leaps and bounds forward hopefully.


Any tips, tricks and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


Yours In Scouting,



Link to post
Share on other sites


Having briefly, stressing BRIEFLY, worked in a museum with textile displays, and taken a Public History intro course in grad school, I can tell you that some modern cleaning processes can harm, for lack of a better word, artifacts. Also some historic cleaning processes can damage the artifacts. My suggestions are the following.


1) contact another museum that handles textiles for advice. They have probably dealt with this problem before and can advise.


2)contact a local university with a public history or museum studies concentration or major for advice. While the students may be learning, they have access to resources and their profs to get the info needed. I would also advise establishing a very good relationship with the university as it is also good for getting "free" labor in the form interns. One local museum did just that, and the interns designed and entire floor's worth of displays. Plan on going today and see it with the boys. I know that the local libraries and archives appreciated having me do free work.


3) Get a very good, museum studies quality book on preserving textiles. DO NOT USE A GENERAL PUBLIC BOOK OR HISTORIC BOOK ON CLEANING! Story I heard in grad school was the reason why a historic, leather parchment, historic document in a state's archives has a stain on it IS that the archivist responsible for restoring it used a solution to clean it ( sorry can't remember if it was a historic solution or modern day solution), and did not research the proper way of cleaning it. Long story short, that document has a very large stain on it from the attempted cleaning that can not be removed without destroying the document.



Link to post
Share on other sites

My experience of dealing with historical artifacts is to NOT CLEAN THEM. They are what they are, preserve them AS IS. Any amount of cleaning will harm the item. One does not polish coins, they do not clean textiles, they do not repair damage. If people in museums handle everything with white cotton gloves because human skin oil will harm the item, what cleaning agent will not do even more damage?


If the item is damaged to the point where one leg of a uniform trouser may be literally hanging by a thread, repair with a contrasting color with large basting stitches. This will let the viewer of the item know that it has been repaired by the museum. If one matches colors and tries to "hide" the repair, maybe that was assumed to be part of the historical importance of the piece when in fact it is not.


My necker I had as a kid has somehow over the years come in contact with paint. Do I use a harsh chemical to remove the paint or just accept the paint as part of it's historical journey. I wear it with the paint on it.


Consult the archives of a reputable museum before touching anything. Remember your local historical society and the little museum they maintain at the little local public library may not have the expertise you're looking for.



Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think you need to worry about the uniforms from the Fifties forward. They were designed to be washed in washing machines. I would certainly follow the advice above about the 1920's uniform and the Sea Scout blues, which I assume are wool.


I've cleaned a lot of old stuff with cold water detergent and a toothbrush.


BSA Museum might help. They've certainly had the experience with Scout stuff. Give them a call.

Link to post
Share on other sites

J does make a good point. Sometimes you want it as is. And you see it a lot in museums.


The museum I worked at, USS KIDD DD661, did maintained, i.e. polish the brass, paint the bulkheads, etc. in order to preserve her in her condition. Yes we did do some modifications to her, and it was noted, i.e. putting safety lines around the ship, the 1960s era depth charge rack, and the fiberglass captain's gig come to mind immediately come to mind, but it is noted as being restored and/ or not 1940s accurate. And the crew do "scrounge" for missing parts and items. Where ever they can find an artifact they go, to the point that they went to Turkey and got stuff of retired Turkish destroyers that were the Fletcher Class destroyers that the USA sold them.

Link to post
Share on other sites

needed to add, when we did the maintenance, some items did use special archival solutions, others good old Brasso. Paint was an interesting challenge initially as they had to get samples from the navy, and had a local paint shop play with the colors until they got the exact two colors needed. The shop calls the colors Kidd Blue and Kidd Gray.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...