Friday, December 9, 2011

Feedsack: Cleaning 101

Cleaning a feedsack can be a daunting task. How can an 80 year old textile stand up to today's modern chemicals and machines? The answer- surprisingly well.

Before you spend hours cutting, sewing, and quilting feedsacks, you will want to clean them. Why spend hours of work on something that is going to fall apart in the first wash, right? If you are dealing with feedsacks with advertising designs, you will probably have to try very hard to remove the design. The oldest feedsacks were printed with ink that wasn't water soluble. That meant as hard as you tried, your feedsack slip was going to keep the words "Pride of Dixie" right across your girls.

Even though the designs are safe from bleach and harsh chemicals, the fibers still need to be treated with care.  I used the following method to clean all of my feedsacks- print & white.  They were all stained in some way or another.  After this washing method, I only had about 2 stains in the whole lot of 20+ sacks .  One sack was still heavily stained (blood?) so I plan on only using it as a cutter for quilting pieces.  I could use peroxide if it is blood, but that will be really hard on the cotton so I will just cut around it instead of risking damaged fibers in my quilt.

I first filled my garden size tub about 4-5" deep with warm water.  I don't recommend doing this if you have curious toddlers in the house since you will need to leave a good amount of standing water in your tub for a long period of time.  Mix in some oxygen cleaner.  I used 5 scoops of Clorox Oxi Magic.  It was a newer product than oxiclean and was priced much cheaper.  Oxiclean would probably work just as well, that's just not what I had.  I spent 50 cents each on my feedsacks, so I figured why start being a big spender with the giant tub of oxi clean?  Once your powder is well mixed with your warm water, dunk your feedsacks and let them sit overnight.  Put the worst ones on the bottom so they remain submerged.  After this step my water was BROWN with nastiness.  I did about 15-20 feedsacks per soaking- Once for white, once for prints.  It was amazing.  Amazing and disgusting.

Transfer your wet feedsacks to your washing machine.  I do not have an agitator.  If you have access to an HE machine, I suggest you use it.  I set my HE machine on "whitest whites" for both sets of feedsacks.  That is a 100 minute cycle of hot water.  If you have an agitator in your machine,  I suggest using a delicate cycle.  I chose hot water because I used BIZ with my detergent.  BIZ needs heat to activate.
Let's talk about BIZ for a second.  BIZ is an enzyme cleaner that eats anything organic.  Blood, poop, urine, dirt, baby name it.  BIZ is used by museums to prepare bones for exhibit.  It eats all the tissues left on the bones.  It's amazing and will always be found in my laundry room.  With 3 boys I am a self appointed stain removal expert.  I'm tellin' ya...this stuff is irreplaceable.  My only complaint is that once I used it in a "BIZ BOIL" on the stove to remove ink stains and the BIZ infused steam irritated my mucous membrances so badly I could barely speak for several days.  Treat it with caution like you would treat any cleaning product.

Back to the feedsacks....I washed the feedsacks without an agitator in hot water with 1/4cup or so of BIZ and my regular detergent.  What came out were fresh smelling, beautiful feedsacks that I can feel confident will stand up to washings once placed in a precious quilt.   I also feel safe selling these to people should I go that route.  I'm a little crippled with fear at cutting into them, especially the intact ones.  I am considering selling them but I really really want to create with them.  I could buy my husband a really awesome Christmas present with the money from these, so I'm completely torn.  I am gonna marinate on that decision for a while.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on exactly what I should do with them. 

PS: If you would like to try the BIZ, they have a $2 printable coupon on their website.


  1. did not know they had BIZ that was HE! hhmmm good to know! I think you need to keep those little gems you have and use them for something very special! You are a quliter and it isn't like you did not get an AMAZING deal on them! especially if they are in usch great condition! I would kill to find such an amazing deal!!

  2. Oh, now I want to try some BIZ - I love good cleaners!

    Also, re: the oxy cleaners. I've read that washing soda is the main ingredient in many of them and you can buy a box of it (Arm and Hammer makes it) for a couple bucks. I use it and it does a simular job in my experience cleaning fabrics.


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