Bespoke men’s suits, such as those handcrafted by Saville Row tailors, live a more pampered life than the suits worn by the masses. They are rarely touched by the solvents used by dry cleaners to clean most men’s suits. Rather, they are gently cleaned and pressed by hand in a process called ‘sponge and press.’ This method of hand-cleaning and pressing suits dates back to Victorian times and is used to maintain expensive tailored garments made to last a lifetime (or at least a decade or more). Well, if the rich can pamper their suits, so can I! In this post, I will show how I reverse-engineered the ‘sponge and press’ process to care for my collection of thrifted suits at home. It’s easy and nearly cost free!
What Is Sponge and Press?
Traditionally, it is the use of a lightly moistened natural sponge to lightly clean a suit by hand. Light stains or spots are treated by hand as well. This is followed by a hand-pressing with a steam iron. In modern applications of this process, a clothes steamer is used instead of a sponge. This process is well known to anyone that has purchased bespoke suits. Most bespoke tailors offer ‘sponge and press’ services to maintain the suits of their clients.
This traditional cleaning process dates back to Victorian times. In fact, this is how suits were cleaned before dry cleaning was invented in the early 1800’s. It is a gentle cleaning process that preserves the natural sheen of wool fabrics. It will keep suits looking and smelling their best for years while minimizing the need for dry cleaning (dry cleaning is only recommended when the suit is heavily soiled). The beauty of this process is that it is done by hand and does not require any specialized skills or tools.
I decided to develop my own DIY at-home ‘sponge and press’ process for personal suit care. I already do all of my own alterations. By adding ‘sponge and press’ to my wardrobe care routine I can fully care for my suits and sport coats at home, saving tons of money in the process! Here’s the ‘sponge and press’ process I have developed based on tips gathered online.
My DIY ‘Sponge and Press’ Process
First of all, I replaced the traditional sponge with an old clean white cotton undershirt. An old cotton undershirt that has been washed many times is soft and does not shed lint. I moisten the cotton with a solution of (white) cleaning vinegar and water in a 50/50 mix. Why cleaning vinegar? It is a gentle cleanser and deodorizer that is recommended for wool fabrics. I prefer using the cleaning vinegar sold by Dollar Tree (a half-gallon is $1.00) because it has a light and pleasant citrus fragrance that quickly dissipates.
After a thorough brushing of my suit, I lay it on a clean surface. Next, I moisten a cotton rag only until damp (not dripping) with a spray bottle of my cleaning solution. I lightly brush the entire suit, inside and out with the lightly moistened cotton rag.
This method removes odors, surface dust, and freshens the fabric. Don’t wet the suit fabric. If the suit is left damp, you are using too much solution. As you see any light soil buildup on your cotton rag, moisten and use a fresh area. This will leave the suit fabric looking and smelling brand new. It will not remove deep stains that have had time to set and discolor fabric. You may need a professional dry cleaner for that.
Next, I use a clothing steamer as a follow up to my fabric cleaning. I give the suit a light steaming. A clothes steamer will rejuvenate the fabric while killing any odor-causing bacteria. It’s also a great way to instantly kill any moth larva or dust mites that may be hiding in the suit.
A Final Steam Press
Finally, I use a good steam iron and pressing cloth to do the final pressing of my suit. I always use a pressing cloth to prevent damaging the fabric as I press (see this post to learn how to press a suit). I also use both a tailor’s ham and sleeve board, two essential tools for a good suit pressing.
This is a skill that requires some practice to do well. You should practice pressing a disposable suit (buy a cheap thrift shop suit to practice on) before attempting this on one you value.
After this DIY ‘sponge and press’, my suits look and smell as good as new! The suit I’m wearing at the top of this post is maintained using this process. The sponge and press process is gentle on wool fabric and can be used as often as needed. I will send a suit to the dry cleaners only if it is heavily soiled. Otherwise, the ‘sponge and press’ is all that is needed to maintain my suit.
If this process is good enough for expensive bespoke suits, it’s certainly good enough for mine! -SplurgeFrugal!