Clothing Repair

Knowing how to make a simple clothing repair can extend the life of your favorite garment and save you money. This Fix-It Guide on clothing repair tells how clothing works, what can go wrong, how to identify a clothing problem, what you need to repair clothing, and also gives instructions for how to remove spots and stains from washable garments, including baby clothes, and how to replace a button. It also directs you to instructions for zipper repair, seam repair, tear repair, and other specific clothing repair tasks.

How Does Clothing Work?

Clothing refers to articles of dress or wearing apparel made from cloth and other pliable materials, from baby clothes to work jackets. Clothing includes shirts, blouses, dresses, socks, sweaters, jackets, under garments, and other apparel that serve both practical and aesthetic functions that can need stain removal, zipper repair, button placement and other fixes. Natural (cotton, silk) and man-made (polyester) materials are woven into fabric, then cut and sewn together into articles of clothing. Many of those articles of clothing can be rejuvenated with a simple clothing repair. Stain removal can return a garment to wearable condition.

What Can Go Wrong with Clothing?

Clothing isn’t made to last forever. However, the most common clothing problem that needs fixing is stains, a discoloration caused by food and drink, powders, oils, or dyes. Baby clothes and work clothes often require stain removal; check the care label before treating. Buttons occasionally need to be replaced.  Seams (joints between cloth components) fail and tears (within the fabric of cloth components) happen. Zipper repair can be needed. Fortunately, many of these clothing problems can be solved easily and the repaired garment can be returned to service at minimal cost.

Fix-It Tip

Here are some practical tips on dealing with stains:

  • Treat stains immediately. Stains such as food spots on baby clothes are harder to remove the longer they sit. Soak any washable garment with a stain in cold water before laundering or applying a stain remover. Some stains, such as blood, coffee, and wine, can set in warm water, making them more difficult to remove.
  • Sponge a clothing stain, don’t rub it. Rubbing spreads the stain and may damage the fabric.
  • Read and follow clothing-label care directions before applying stain treatments. If it says no bleach, don’t even use color-safe bleach on it.
  • Test your stain solution on an inconspicuous area of the fabric.
  • Check that a stain is completely gone before drying the garment because heat can make stains permanent.

How Can I Identify a Clothing Problem?

Laundry day is a good time to check all clothing before it goes into the washer. Better yet, check clothing as it goes into the laundry basket so stain removal can be performed before stains lock in. Look for discolorations, missing buttons, and tears. Sort problem clothing by the solution: stain removal, sewing, zipper repair, etc. Begin stain removal immediately; always check the care label before treating. If possible, set aside any clothing that needs sewing for a time when you can do a few pieces at the same time. It’s much more efficient to do all your sewing once a week or once every couple of weeks depending on your schedule and how important the items are. Baby clothes must be repaired quickly or they will be outgrown. A favorite shirt may need a new button tonight (see below). If a zipper won’t zip properly, see zipper repair in the Jacket Fix-It Guide. If there is a tear or a separated seam, see information on sewing in the Tools Fix-It Guide.

Fix-It Tip

 Launder all clothing according to the care label directions. Protect delicates by washing them in a zippered nylon mesh bag.

What Do I Need for Clothing Repair?

Stain fighting products include:

  • Oxygen cleaner
  • Enzyme-containing laundry detergent
  • Bleach or color-safe bleach

Sewing repairs will require these:

  • Assorted needles
  • Assorted thread
  • Assorted buttons

Don’t know how to sew? See information on sewing in the Tools Fix-It Guide.

As with so many repairs, the job is easier if you’re organized. Keep your stain removal aids near the washer and your sewing materials somewhere handy, such as in a basket near your favorite TV chair.

What Are the Steps to Clothing Repair?

Stain and spot removal from washable garments:

  1. Following the product’s directions, apply an oxygen cleaner directly to the spot or stain and let the garment sit for several minutes (or up to a few days with certain products).
  2. Launder in the hottest water safe for the fabric, using detergent and color-safe bleach (unless the care label says not to). For bleach amounts, follow instructions on the container. Wash delicates by hand or use the delicate cycle of your machine.
  3. Repeat if necessary, letting the garment soak for a longer time to remove any stains.
Once the button is sewn on, remember to tie the thread in a knot so it won’t come off again soon.

Once the button is sewn on, remember to tie the thread in a knot so it won’t come off again soon.

Replace a button:

  1. Match the replacement button to those on the garment. Or replace all the buttons to give the garment a new look.
  2. Button the other buttons and align the garment to locate button placement.
  3. Insert a threaded needle through the garment from the back side and take one or two small stitches to mark button placement. You will usually be able to see where the old button was attached.
  4. Sew the button on, using the stitching pattern as seen on other buttons on the garment. Sew loosely enough to leave space to button the garment when finished.
  5. From the wrong side of the garment, insert the needle under the button stitches and pull the thread partially through, forming a loop. Insert the needle through the loop, and pull the thread snugly to form a knot. Trim the thread close to the knot with scissors.