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Cleaning your precious kimono is never a light undertaking. What is it made of? What kind of stain is it? How long has the stain been there? Is there someone in town that knows how to clean kimono? Can I afford to have it cleaned professionally? Do I want to take it completely apart to clean it or spot clean it?
This and many other questions such as “Why?? Why do I own so many kimono and how is it I never noticed that stain before??” may cross your mind.
A conversation with a friend brought forward some great info – One of her aunts used to clean and restore silk clothing and she had some advice for a mixture that her aunt used.
Lemon juice, water and sunshine.
Unfortunately her aunt never told her the exact measurements of the mixture she used.
Knowing what the ingredients are to a recipe doesn’t mean you’re going to get a cake at the end.
WARNING/Disclaimer – This is my own experimentation with spot cleaning kimono and juban. Please make note that so far I have only worked on white or ivory areas of a kimono. I have not tried to remove stains from a dark kimono!
Self cleaning is not without it’s ups, downs and unexpecteds, and you have to be keeping a close eye on your clothes to catch anything you didn’t expect to happen – see my notes below.
If you choose to try my mixture you do it at your own peril.
So on to the experimentation!
I began first with a Polyester Juban that I had picked apart. I wasn’t worried if there was any damage to it or spots left after the treatment because I figured I’d cover the ones on the collar with a han’eri anyway.and the hem ones would disappear when I shortened it.
That is what I tried first.
Online I found a recipe for a 1-1-1 mixture of lemon juice, water and baking soda.
NOTE: I have heard more than once that fresh squeezed lemon juice is the best. I have not experimented with any bottled lemon juice.
The baking soda will bubble when it hits the lemon juice and then eventually settles to the bottom, so make sure to stir each time you go to apply.
I applied the juice mixture to the hem of my juban with a Qtip. Trying to keep the moisture as concentrated on the exact spots as possible, which as it turns out is almost impossible, but you can get close. Then I set it out in the sun to dry, my friend’s aunt emphasized that setting it in direct sunlight was very important. This first time I only let it dry in the sun for about 15 minutes because I noticed a horrible “Wet stain” appearing on the material.
So next I took it in to the tub and I used a natural castile soap, a soft horse hair brush (I had recently seen a kimono cleaner on Instagram using a soft horse hair brush to scrub kimono), and cool water (Don’t use hot water, it’s likely to set the stain and/or damage the fabric fibers). I scrubbed gently a few minutes on both sides of the juban. Attacking the stain from both sides seems to work best, although this will not always be possible, such as an awase kimono. Now rinse.
The “wet stain” disappeared and to my delight the stains were much lighter than before.
I repeated the process and ended up with stains so very pale that the camera couldn’t pick it up and a friend had to really search on the fabric to find the ones at the hem.
But I am a perfectionist and pale stains still weren’t good enough.
So the next day I tried a slightly different approach. I used a bit more lemon juice this time.
3 TBSPs Lemon juice
2 TBSPs water
2 tsps baking soda
I let the garment sit in the sun for much longer, about an hour, before rinsing it with castile soap.
Very high tech. My poor juban is laying on a plastic trash bag while the part that needs to be in the sunshine is draped across a bucket with a plastic cutting board on it to give it a flat surface. (Where there’s a will there is a way!)
And VOILA the stains completely disappeared!
Now it was truly time to be ambitious! Silk.
I pulled out a vintage silk autumn kimono I had just received from Japan. It was mainly ivory with a black and gold kyo-yuzen design. There were only a few stains on it. Two on the collar and one at the right seam – below where the ohashori would hide it.
I pulled out the 3TBSP Lemon Juice, 2 TBSP water and 2 tsp Baking soda mixture and used it.
For the spots on the collar I washed it first with the castile soap and set it out to dry.
That didn’t seem to make any difference at all in the stains, so after 40 minutes of letting it dry outside I went and applied the Lemon juice mixture with a Qtip as I had before and let it sit for another 45 min in the sunlight.
Then I brought it in and washed it, gently scrubbing with the horse hair brush. The stains were definitely lighter!! So I let it sit in the sunshine until it was dry and applied the lemon juice again to the collars and to the stain on the seam and let it sit in the sunshine for another hour, and again washed/rinsed. The stains on the collar are lighter again, but I’m still going for another round.
The real success story was the stain near the okuni line. One application of lemon juice, one hour of sunshine, and one rinse and it was gone!
Have patience with your kimono. It took me at least 3 applications and 3-5 hours of letting it rest in the sun to get the results that I did. I am sure there are stains that could take longer, just as there are stains that take less time.
NOTE: Be very cautious if you have an awase kimono with a dark lining. I noticed in one area of my silk kimono, when I got it too wet, that the color of the lining was beginning to stain the kimono. Fortunately I caught it quickly, washed with castile soap and scrubbed gently with the brush and air dried it with a fan, which seemed to keep the lining from touching the kimono fabric.
NOTE: I would not try this technique on dark kimonos. Lemon has a bleaching quality and I can tell you that there is one small spot on the black clouds up by the collar stain that I caught beginning to bleach to grey/blue where some lemon juice had gotten on it. I quickly placed a piece of fabric over it to get it out of the sun. In fact if there are large areas of dark in your pattern I would shield that from the sun as much as possible while you work on the stains in the light areas of your kimono.
This past weekend was my first time attending an Obon festival and Bon Odori. Obon is a festival with roots reaching back over 500 years in Japan. It’s celebration is centered on honoring one’s ancestors and takes place in July or August depending on whether the region marks the solar or lunar calendar.
The event was huge in San Diego and took place the weekend of August 6th. Not only did it take over SanKeiEn, the Japanese Friendship Garden there, but also the Organ Pavilion. There were dance presentations and music performances, games, delicious food, vendors of all kinds selling everything from yukata to pottery and antiques, and different societies representing Japanese culture, from the Buddhist Temple to the Shiba Inu club of San Diego.
My kitsuke class, whose members also make up the San Diego Kimono Club, was participating by hosting the yukata fashion show. Over 20 women participated each wearing a very different yukata and hanhaba obi with a variety of meanings to them. A family heirloom over 80 years old. A yukata made with traditional Okinawan patterns and techniques. A kimono re-purposed into a modern summer dress. Our youngest member, 10 years old, with her heko obi tied into a bright and beautiful bow.
I was originally only going to come to take video and photos of the event because my yukata had somehow managed to find it’s way in to the dryer and had shrunk to the point I couldn’t wear it (yikes!). About 3 days before Obon I remembered that I not only knew how to sew, but I also knew how to sew a yukata. Taking my love of astronomy and NASA as an inspiration I made myself a yukata out of a cotton material with constellations and planets all over it.
After seeing it and finding out that I had made it myself my instructor and the MC encouraged me to join the fashion show as a last minute addition – which caused a bit of a problem as I had worn tennis shoes and did not have a set of geta handy!!
This was solved by my removing my shoes and walking on the stage in my socks. (Which threw the MC off a bit as she had wanted to talk about how modern and fun a yukata could be when paired with something like tennis shoes!)
The fashion show we create is always meant to show people how much fun wearing kimono is and ends with a dance to “Boogie Wonderland”. I love that we are showing that while beautiful and traditional wearing kimono is also comfortable and enjoyable!
My kimono instructor had her own booth and was selling kimono and dressing people so they could even more enjoy the spirit of the festival. There were so many people in yukata it was wonderful to see!!
To learn more about the tradition of Obon and Bon Odori here are a few links:
If you live in the San Diego area and would like to experience renting a kimono to wear for an event or photo shoot please visit my instructor’s page at Kimono Rental Yuko: