How to Care for your Kimono, Obi, Kimono Jacket, or other Wafuku (Traditional Japanese Clothing):
The vast majority of our kimono, obi, and kimono jackets pre-date the standardized symbols for home laundering and dry cleaning you see on modern garments. Hey, vintage is cool, and following directions takes all the fun out of life, right? We do our best to help our customers figure out the best way to care for their Japanese clothing (whether they bought it from us or not), but we cannot be responsible for the ultimate outcome. With that in mind, here is some information about caring for your kimono, obi, kimono jacket, or other Japanese clothing.
So what’s this thing made of, anyway?
One of the best ways to determine how to care for a vintage garment is to determine the type of fabric used to create it.
- This can be as simple as going to your own closet, finding a piece of clothing with fabric content listed on the tag, and noting how each garment feels. If they feel very similar, you have a good clue what it’s made of. For example, if it feels similar to a t-shirt (or we told you it was a yukata), it’s most likely cotton. If it feels like a fine wool scarf, it’s probably wool or wool blend. If it feels like your vintage silk wedding gown, it’s probably silk.
- You can sometimes eliminate possibilities by looking at the garment. If it looks silky, it’s probably not wool or cotton.
- You can also give a fairly good guess based on how fancy the piece looks. If the pattern is asymmetrical, or not repeated all over the garment, or if it has painting or embroidery on it, it’s typically a higher-end garment. The fancier a garment is, the more likely you want to take it to a professional for cleaning.
- Look at the weave of the garment. If the fibers look wavy or twisted, it’s a crepe. Crepe and water don’t mix. Always dry clean these. Don’t even try baby wipes.
- If all else fails, you can find an unobtrusive place (typically the seam allowance) and try to extract a small snippet or pull off some fibers to apply the burn test. Threads Magazine has a great guide for how to do this. A lot of burning guides say to take a 1″ swatch, but for most fabrics, common sense plus a few fibers will do.
Okay, so how do I clean it?
- If your garment is modern enough to have washing instructions on it, follow this guide to washing instruction symbols.
- If you think your kimono, obi, or kimono jacket is crepe; if it has stains on or near embroidered or painted sections; or you’re just not confident of what you’re doing, skip everything else in this section and go directly to a dry cleaner. Discretion is the better part of valor.
- Spot cleaning is typically your best bet whenever possible. Don’t rub hard, and try to go in circles. You can try spot cleaning with:
- Water and a little white or clear soap.
- Palmolive dish soap
- Fabric detergent pens or delicate detergents
- For advanced stain-busters only: very diluted isopropyl alcohol with an extremely delicate touch. Do not try this on wool, rayon, acetate, or silk, and do not try this if you are not at least a third dan black belt in stain removal.
- If your kimono is a yukata (all cotton summer kimono) (we tell you when you’re buying a yukata, but if you’re not sure, make sure it feels sort of like a t-shirt), it can be washed in cold water, on delicate setting, with light detergent. Then repeat after me: NEVER PUT JAPANESE CLOTHING IN THE DRYER. Hang it to dry.
- If your piece is a men’s kimono (the armpit area of the kimono is stitched closed), assume it should be dry cleaned. Men’s yukata, on the other hand, are all cotton can be washed just like women’s yukata.
- Remember that for embroidered garments, the garment may be color-fast, but the embroidery thread may not be. Spot clean embroidered pieces whenever possible.
- If you suspect your piece is silk or has silk content, or is made of acetate, get it to a dry cleaner.
- If you suspect your piece is rayon, wool, or any other fabric, and you don’t want to try spot cleaning, try putting an unobtrusive part of the kimono in water with some light detergent and see what happens. From there, you can decide if you want to hand wash the entire garment.
- If you’re hand washing, use the lightest soap possible and don’t leave it to soak.
- If your piece is an obi, spot clean whenever possible. Some obi have layers of stiffener built into them, which may shrink if submerged. A single layer obi may be washable, but we’d recommend hand washing over machine. Some things just need the human touch. NEVER PUT OBI IN THE DRYER!!
Great. Now how do I dry it?
- Never, never, never, never, NEVER put anything you buy from a kimono-ya (ours or anyone else’s) in the dryer. For any reason. Ever. EVER. We’re not naming names, but one of us managed to shrink an awesome yukata this way (and still feels rather silly about it), so please learn from our highly unfortunate mistake.
- We recommend that obi be laid out flat to dry. If your obi got wrinkled in the washing process, lay down some towels and heavy books on top of them to help encourage the obi to straighten.
- Since kimono and kimono jackets generally consist of straight seams, hanging them on a Western-style hanger to dry is less than ideal, unless you like sleeve wrinkles (hey, we don’t judge). Instead, use an inexpensive shower curtain tension rod and thread it through the arm holes so the seams hang straight.
What about wrinkles?
We recommend steaming over ironing, unless the garment is a crepe. It eliminates wrinkles without damaging paint, metallic thread, shibori (puckering of the fabric as a result of tie-dying it), or other textures. It’s kinder on delicate fabrics. Some fabrics will be damaged by irons, either because it’s easy to turn up the heat too high, or because the garment is acetate and hot temperatures ruin the dye.
However, sometimes an iron is a must. Use the lowest setting whenever possible, try steam on an unobtrusive place before you use it on the whole garment. Iron the inner layer and try not to place the iron against the outer layer. When in doubt, use a pressing cloth (you can find them at fabric stores or sometimes big box stores).
How do I store my kimono, obi, kimono jacket, etc.?
For long-term storage, we recommend folding your wafuku and storing everything in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Sunlight is great for killing vampires (the old-fashioned kind) and bleaching out the color of your garment.
How do I display my kimono?
If you plan on displaying your purchase (e.g. as wall art), we recommend treating it as any other fine artwork, and keep it out of direct sunlight in a climate-controlled environment.
If you have any further questions, feel free to let us know at: TangerineMt@gmail.com!