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Back to Basics: How to Clean Sequins, Fur and Feathers

For when you want to look like a disco ball without smelling like an armpit.
Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty

Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty

"Basic" may have adapted a negative connotation in recent years, but there's no shame in seeking advice on theoretically simple sartorial conundrums. In our latest column, "Back to Basics," we're here to guide you through life's most common (and important) fashion and beauty concerns.

Nothing says “I’m going to a special event” like an outfit covered in fun textures. But an unfortunate byproduct of wearing things that make you feel fancy is that those things are often the trickiest to clean. For example, if you bring a floor-length sequin-encrusted dress to Burning Man, you may feel glamorous as hell while dancing with other Burners on the playa. But that will be followed by a decidedly un-glamorous feeling if you try to rid said dress of desert dust by putting it in the washing machine upon your return to civilization, because washing machines turn sequins into tarnished, glitter-residue-trailing disks of sadness.

To help you avoid a situation like the above, which is definitely not a thinly veiled anecdote from this writer’s life, here are a few tips for cleaning some of your trickiest fancy clothes. (Note: When in doubt over a particularly prized piece of clothing, a professional cleaning job is never a bad investment. Clean your own clothes at your own risk.)


If you’re just looking to remove armpit stink or playa dust-type dirtiness, fill a tub or sink full of lukewarm water and stir in mild laundry soap until it’s dissolved. Then add your sequined item of clothing and swirl it gently in the water before letting it soak for about five minutes. Remove from the tub and rinse in cold water until all the soap comes out. If you’re dealing with a stain on one part of the garment, you can spot-treat it with a gentle stain remover before putting it in the tub. Do so by dabbing (rather than rubbing) at the area with the stain to avoid breaking the threads that affix the sequins to fabric.

Once you’ve taken it out of the water, hold the garment above a sink or tub to let it drip for a few minutes — do not give in to the temptation to wring it out! — then lay it flat on a towel to dry. The towel may absorb quite a bit of liquid, so switching it out once it gets saturated can help speed up the drying process. Don’t hang the garment up until it’s completely dry, unless you want to risk it becoming misshapen from the extra water weight.

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Any serious fur cleaning should be left to a furrier (not to be confused with a dry cleaner), who will use materials like sawdust or walnut shells to remove odors, stains and accumulated dirt without damaging the sensitive material. Most furriers recommend getting your fur cleaned once a year to keep it in tip-top shape, which may be a wise move if the fur was an investment piece or heirloom that you’d like to wear for years to come.

To remove minor stains or odors in between furrier checkups, there are a few at-home tricks you can safely use. Nix odors by placing coffee grounds in an uncovered container in the bottom of a vinyl garment bag with the fur in it for a day or two, then air out the fur. Storing your fur in a breathable garment bag in the off-season can also keep it from getting musty. 

Remove dirt or dust by shaking the fur outside or by using a fur brush to comb out the offending particles without diminishing the fur’s natural oils. To address small stains, you can mix equal parts water and vinegar and gently dab at the stain using as little of the wet mixture as you can. Allow the spot to completely air dry before wearing. 


If you’re mostly looking to banish an unwanted odor from a feather-covered garment, try storing it in a garment bag or pillowcase with a few fresh dryer sheets for a day or two. If your feathers absolutely need washing, remember that feather dye is not colorfast, so you should only wash feathers of the same color together.

To do so, dissolve liquid dish soap in water and swirl the garment in the mixture. Handling the feathers as gently as you can, remove the garment from the water and rinse the soap out. While some feathers respond well to being air-dried, long skinny ones (like the ostrich feathers often used on party dresses) may look somewhat shriveled unless you use a blow-dryer set on low to dry them. Feathers of all kinds tend to get dried out and sad-looking over time even if you’ve never gotten them wet, so using a steamer to add moisture, and fluffing them with your hands is a good way to give them a quick refresh.

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