You have a button stash, filled with lovely buttons from Sawyer Brook. Have you ever wondered how to care for them? Our customers often ask this question, so we thought we’d answer it here. We’ve borrowed this information from a recent newsletter from one of our button suppliers, as well as some button books from our library.
Most buttons can be machine washed, but they should never be soaked for long periods, and harsh detergents and bleach should be avoided. Dryers can be especially hard on buttons, because of the tumbling action and high heat. This can lead to scratching, discoloration and breakage. Drying on low heat will prolong the life of your buttons.
Dry cleaning solvents are especially hard on buttons. They can loosen glue, which is sometimes used to attach a shank to a button, or pieces in a mosaic button. The tumbling action can cause scratches, chips and breakage.
Button clams are your best tool for protecting buttons from damage in washing and dry cleaning. A plastic “clam shell” that fits over the button, this nifty gadget will protect the button from chipping and scratching during the laundering process. Some dry cleaners use these clams. Others will wrap your buttons in aluminum foil, which does protect from scratching and offers some padding. If you are washing a garment with fragile buttons, it would make sense to use either the clams or foil to give them some protection.
Curious about care of specific button materials? Read on.
Ceramic buttons are, by nature, fragile. Protect them from damage in the washing machine and dryer by using clams. Alternatively, the garment can be buttoned up, turned inside out and pinned closed to protect the buttons from cracking, chipping or breaking. Be sure to point them out to your dry cleaner. They will withstand the dry cleaning solvent, but should be protected from clanging against the tumbler.
Coconut shell buttons should never be soaked, as they are a porous material. They may be gently, quickly washed, or dry cleaned. Some have finishes that may be damaged by solvents, so check with your dry cleaner.
Corozo nut, also known as tagua nut and vegetable ivory, is a natural, renewable product of the rain forest. Tagua nut is a wonderful material for buttons. Very smooth, it has a lovely grain and takes dye well. It is by far our favorite button material here at Sawyer Brook. Corozo buttons can be washed and dry cleaned without problems, but avoid high heat in the dryer, which could crack them.
Crystal, rhinestone and pearl buttons should be laundered gently. They can be dry cleaned with care, but be sure to point them out to your dry cleaner. Check for loose stones before cleaning or laundering.
Glass buttons can be fragile, but with proper care, they can look great for decades. Be sure to protect them from chipping, scratching and breaking by using button clams. If your glass buttons are gilded or silvered, extra care needs to be taken to protect the surface from scratches.
Horn, bone and antler are safe for both washing and dry cleaning. If they have glued-on shanks, they should not be dry cleaned, as the solvent can destroy the glue. When washing, do not soak bone.
Leather buttons should be dry cleaned. Do not soak them in water.
Metal buttons may seem indestructible, but are not necessarily so. Modern manufacturing methods often use alloys as the base, and gold, brass, silver and bronze as finishes. Avoid harsh detergents and bleach to protect the finish. If pewter buttons tarnish, try buffing with a soft cloth and cream of tartar. For other metals, try a metal polish, but test it on the back of the button first, to make sure it doesn’t damage the metal finish. Remember, a naturally occurring patina can enhance the look of a metal button.
Passamenterie, corded buttons and frogs require dry cleaning. Because of their delicate construction, some dry cleaners will not guarantee safe cleaning. You might want to remove these buttons from a garment before cleaning it.
Plastic and resin buttons manufactured today tend to be durable and high quality. Follow the general care instructions above. Older plastic buttons should be kept from hot water or dryers, as the plastic can melt. Older plastic can be brittle, and subject to breakage with tumbling action.
Shell buttons can be extremely fragile, and should be handled with great care. Thinner styles should be wrapped in foil to prevent breakage in the washer or dryer, and at the dry cleaner. After time, detergent residue can build up on the surface of a shell button. To restore its natural luster, polish with a soft cloth and baby oil.
Stone or inlaid precious stone buttons should be padded when washed or dry cleaned, to prevent them hitting one another and cracking or breaking.
Wood buttons should never be soaked, as the wood could swell and the finish be ruined. Harsh detergents, bleach and a hot dryer should be avoided. A quick wash should be okay, but dry cleaning may be the best option. Take care with laminated and inlaid buttons, as harsh solvents could loosen the glue holding the pieces in place.
This list is by no means exhaustive nor authoritative, but we hope you can use it as an aid when making decisions on how to care for buttons on your garments. Our best advice is, if you’re concerned about whether or not buttons will survive the laundering or dry cleaning process, the best solution may be to remove the buttons from the garment first. We know this can be a lot of work, but it may also be your best insurance toward keeping your buttons looking like new!