Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How to wash your belly dance costume

Many dancers get shivers just thinking about the idea of dunking a 200-800 dollar costume in water - in fact, many dancers are taught to never wash their costumes. If you perform a song occasionally you probably won't need to. However contrary to the other reaction, many professional dancers cringe at the thought of not washing their costumes. "Sweat butter" as Savannah fondly puts it, particularly after 2 hour shows or 15 minute to half hour marathon sets - coming backstage literally dripping, mascara running (the one day I didn't wear waterproof . . ) is reason enough. Add lotion, glitter, hair spray, bronzer, dirt, smoke and whatever other things you might come in contact with on a semi daily basis as a professional dancer, and before long, the insides of your costumes will look like this. Pretty dingy.
So, we've established that you should probably wash your costumes every few months or so, depending on how frequently you perform.  Around here, that's several times a week. Now before we get to the "how to" part, let me state you should not over wash - you will eventually loose luster. When I washed these guys I did have a litle metallic glitter float to the top, however they were brighter and shinier when I was done. The cleaner lining is well worth it.

So to start out you will need mild soap - many dancers use Woolite or lingerie detergent, however I suspect that any detergent is too strong for the beads and sequins. I use mild hand soap that is designed to break down body oils. You will also need towels, a place to dry the costumes flat, a fan, and a tooth brush or other gentle scrubbing brush.

Step 1 - Spot test
Always, always, always check to see how your costume first reacts to water, and then to soapy water. Let it dry so you can see any discoloration or warping. Some people have reported sequins curling up or loosing their luster, though I've never had a problem. The quality of the material has a lot do with it.

Step 2 - Prep.
Gather your materials and costume, and first remove any padding as it will not dry properly. Check for loose hooks, stones or sequins so you don't loose them. Fill your tub with water and a little bit of soap. Just a few drops ought to do.

Step 3 - Dunk, swish and scrub!
 Go ahead and swish the costume around a bit to circulate the soap around the beads. Rub extra soap onto dirty lining and scrub gently with a tooth brush. Don't worry about scrubbing too much, you won't hurt the lining. Eventually it will wear out anyway even if you don't wash it and you'll need to replace it. Be careful not to get too much soap on the sequins, and never ever scrub on the decorated side! Try not to let the costume soak for too long.

Step 4 - Rub

Gently rub the sequins and swish the fringe around a little bit. If there is an obvious stain on the decorated side you can gently rub it with a soft wash cloth.

Check out the difference in the pictures on the right!
Go ahead and have at the lining. I scrubbed it pretty vigorously.

Step 5 - Rinse
Dump out the soapy water and replace it with clean cold water and swish the costumes very thoroughly. You do not want any soap residue as it will slowly break down the fabric and beads, and dirt will stick to it like a magnet. I rinsed twice.
Step 6 - Dry
 First let the costumes drip a good bit, give them a little shake to get as much water off as possible, then wrap in a dry fluffy towel and gently squeeze, being careful not to crunch the sequins.
Lay the costumes flat to dry, preferably with as much circulation as possible. I laid mine out on a wire rack and put a fan underneath, blowing straight up under the costumes. I don't recommend drying them outside. The sun has amazing fading effects, and there is always the risk of bird poo, rain,  etc. Make
sure the costume is completely dry before putting it away, and put it in something it can breathe in! Stay away from plastic or sealing containers.

A few more things to know:
Never wash a costume with faux pearls - the coating will come right off as soon as it hits the water! Certain cheap plastic sequins aren't much better - always spot check.
Don't try to wash a cheap costume. I bought cheap Indian costumes (they were terrible, you get what you pay for) and I had extra fabric so I
tested some of it - not only did the dye bleed right out but the fabric itself pretty well disintegrated.
I don't recommend machine washing costumes. I know some people pop their costumes in a pillow case and put it on gentle but I don't think it's good to have them in the water that long.
Don't panic if you see sparkles floating around - you will loose some metallic bits, but keep in mind any time you perform you're likely losing shiny bits too.
The results of cleaning these costumes were fantastic! I have six (or seven? . . ) of these so I washed two today and compared to the unwashed ones and they were definitely brighter and more sparkly, and the lining looked brand new!
And at that, I will leave you to go inspect the linings of your costume!

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