Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Orvus for Cleaning Vintage Linens, Needlework, Quilts, and Stuff


The other day when I growled about my Big Mistake with the bleeding dye from the silk thread I was using on a hand embroidered pall, I mentioned Orvus, and since then, I’ve gotten lots of questions about it.

I’m not an expert on cleaners and so forth – I’m just going to tell you what I know about Orvus, which isn’t necessarily from the “expert” point of view – but maybe there are others out there who can vouch for it, too.

Orvus Cleaner

The photo above is my little tub of Orvus, but it isn’t how you’d normally find it if you were looking for it in its original environment. Orvus generally comes in a 7.5 pound container, with a red label on it that looks like this:

Orvus Cleaner

Normally, Orvus is found in farm supply stores, horse-supply stores (tack and grooming supplies), and even some pet stores. Not only is it used as a great shampoo for show horses, but it also works well on dogs and other washable pets. Yep – it’s versatile stuff! It washes anything from your horse right on down to your valuable vintage textiles, linens, needlework, and quilts.

Orvus Cleaner

Orvus is sodium lauryl sulfate. It is completely biodegradable and does not contain phosphates. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a “surfactant” – it removes stains and residues that are oily, so it’s found as an ingredient in lots of surface cleaners. For a while, there was talk that SLS might be a carcinogen (cancer accelerating or exacerbating agent), but in fact, it apparently isn’t. SLS is also used in pharmaceuticals of sorts. What it boils down to in simple terms (and the aspect that concerns us most) is that it is a “wetting agent.” It allows water to better penetrate materials.

It doesn’t take much Orvus to do the job, either. For quilt washing instructions, for example, a tablespoon of Orvus to a bathtub of water is recommended.

If you squiz around online looking up Orvus, you’ll find that there are many tried-and-true fans of the product out there. Quilters swear by it for washing quilts, and needleworkers swear by it for washing needlework. It doesn’t disturb colorfast dyes, but I wouldn’t use it on anything that isn’t colorfast. Always Test First!

Orvus Cleaner

What I especially like to use it for is vintage linens, like this little hand towel I picked up at an antique store in Pennsylvania this summer. I liked it because of the drawn thread work along the edge.

Orvus Cleaner

It was stained all over – all the crease lines had yellow storage stains in varying degrees of yellowness.

Orvus Cleaner

There were also several spots the size of a finger tip here and there n the piece.

Right now, the towel’s soaking in a large bowl of water with about a teaspoon of Orvus in it. It’s been soaking for a while, and I’ll fish it out later today to check its progress. Orvus isn’t necessarily “instant” – you don’t dip your stuff in and pull it out all sparkly white – but over time, it works. For really tough or old stains, it may take some extra soaking time to get them to disappear.

If you’re looking for Orvus to buy, your most economical purchase would be the large containers of it from farm supply stores. But if you don’t want that much around, you can find it online sold as a variety of things – mostly you’ll see it labeled as “quilt soap” of some sort. Ebay has a whole range of people selling it.

So that’s Orvus. It’s a gentle cleaner, but very effective. I’ve never known it not to work, especially if given enough time. If you’ve used it, feel free to leave a comment and let us know what you think about it!


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(49) Comments

  1. I’ve used Orvus paste for years. It always left my horses’ nice and clean. Now a days I mostly use it to scour fleeces and to wash knitted items. Have you tried Synthrapol? I use it when I’m dying and it seems to do a good job of helping remove excess dye. I also use a soak(s) of water, salt and plain white vinegar to set colors that I think may run before using them. Washing and setting yarns is common in the spinning/dying world, do embroiderers not do this before sewing with their threads? I used to embroider when I was a child, and have just begun to be interested again. I found your website and I just love your work 🙂

  2. I am so glad I found your blog – I have some older needlework I did as a child that has gotten stained (my mother made it into pillows and its really beaten up). I’m going to try this. Thanks again! 🙂

  3. I have used Orvus to wash fleeces from sheep as I’m also a spinner as well as a stitcher. I like it because it cleans so well with no odor or residue left behind. I always follow up with a vinegar rinse and am not sure if that would hurt fine embroidery or not. Have to try it. I never thought to use it on my embroidery before but will now.

  4. Because I enjoy scrounging around for vintage stuff, I have used Orvus for many years. (A group of us would buy a bucket to share.) You are right about the soaking time — I have been known to soak things for days and days. Sometimes it just takes that long!

  5. I have always “set” my threads, especially the dark ones, and reds…using white vinegar with a little water, and rinsing well (don’t want the finished product to smell of pickles!). I have never heard of using Orvus for needlework…we have horses, and it is an excellent cleaner for them. I love learning new things on your site, Mary!

  6. Oops – while I set my thread colors, I have never set my silks. Haven’t used them a lot, and have not rinsing/cleaned the finished product. I’m just really careful when stitching.

  7. Powdered TIDE detergent is also Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SDS). There is no reason to go to a special shop to buy another box.

    When I was in grad school, they used TIDE instead of purified SDS for columns that the first year students used in labs.

  8. I have used orvus to wash my needlework for the last 10 years. It works extremely well in removing dirt and stains from my work but it is always best not to get you work dirty in the first place. When I first started cross stitching in 2000 I was told to always wash my work. With more years of experience if I feel the piece is clean I do not wash it before have it stretched and framed. Not only do I wash my hands before I stitch but also got thin cotton gloves that I wear when I stitch. I also store my pieces in artists folders or a DMC stitching bag when I am not stitching so they don’t get dust on them or my cat’s loving attention.

  9. Hello Mary,
    I have used Orvus paste for many years. There was always a jar in our conservation lab to clean textiles.
    My vet orders a container for me when needed. I live in a ranching community–it is the prefered cleaner to prep up the animals for show at the county fair.
    I use Orvus to clean my raw fleece, my yarn after spinning, my dogs, silk and delicate textiles. A member of our spinning group uses Orvus to wash black cotton socks because the black color does not fade.

    A word of caution: I left a small skein of wool, dyed with cochineal, soaked for about 20 minutes. Normally, I never soak my yarn after dying..I rinse, rinse and rinse some more till the water is clear. After the water is clear, I wash with Orvus, rinse, rinse again..the last rinse , depending of what color I am looking for, will add amonia or vinegar or leave the yarn as is. Why did I soak? it was one of those unexplainable moment!! Upon my return, my heart sank!! the color had faded, my yarn was pink and purple. Luck was on my side. The skein twisted on itself ( I had not set the twist yet) so that the area of the yarn ” protected” from the soapy water had not faded. Long story. Serendipity, my yarn now is variegated and nice looking.
    let me add, that the cochineal extract I used was not at fault. All my dye extract come from Renaissance Dyes and I trust the quality of their product.
    Best of luck to all. Keep in stitching.

  10. Dear Marymentor:

    Thanks so much for the heads-up on Orvus. I’m always interested in safe effective cleaning agents. Especially for vintage (MY generation) pieces that I’ve never been able to quite part with, which may have old stains. Heck I’ll try anything once ! But I’m definitely grateful for the info about Orvus. Thanks too, to “Enjay”‘s comment about pre-soaking with water, salt, vinegar. I always always learn everytime I click on your website…….Thanks again Mar. ..Judy in Pittsburgh.

  11. Do you soak your needlework in cold water when you soak it with the Orvis? Does it matter?

    I have problems with removing the wrinkles from my needlework fabric once I am finished stitching the piece. I do iron it faced down on a terry towel; however some wrinkles from the hoop or holding the fabric up against the hoop will not come out. I usually use Kona fabric for my stitching. Any advice?
    Thank you.

  12. I use Dawn dishwashing liquid – the plain basic blue one – for just about everything. It works as well as Orvus I think and costs lots less and is easier to find. The primary ingredient is sodium lauryl sulfate same as Orvus.

    I wash all my wool sweaters in it too. I don’t trust the drycleaning chemicals. Sweaters I soak in the bathtub for 15 minutes in Dawn and warm water. Amount depends on the size of the tub. Then I soak them another 15 minutes in clear water. Spin in the gentle spin cycle of my washer. After that they dry in about an hour – here in New Mexico anway. Driest place on earth.

    I do needlework just about the same way but no spin cycle. For linen I iron it dry face down on a white turkish towel. The stitches just pop out and look great. Try it!

  13. Another great tip Mary – thank you. I’m planning to go searching for some because I have some old linens in the cedar chest that are stained that I hate to part with but don’t use. I’ll give Orvus a try.

  14. Orvus paste has long been the go to soap for washing fleeces. And sweaters, spun yarn before setting, hand knitted socks,you name it. And you are correct. The most inexspensive way I have found to purchase it is through a feed store. It can also be found online, in smaller amounts, but you do pay for the packaging.

    Someone mentioned Dawn dishwashing soap. I never wash my handwashables in Woolite, but instead use a mild dishwashing soap without a degreaser. Usually Palmolive Original. But it won’t get out the yellow age spots, even with soakng in vinegar first. Thanks for the tip that Orvus will help in that area!

  15. For those living near needlework shops, many carry 100% orvus packaged as “FabriCare for Needlework.” It is distributed by Yarn Tree in Ames, Iowa.

    The 8 oz. container I have has lasted me for several years, even though, after stitching, I wash every embroidered piece (except those on linen or using silk threads) in it. Yes, the directions clearly state that we should use cold water. A little bit goes a long way, and though the smaller size is more expensive per ounce than the veterinary usage size, it is easily stored.

    In terms of trusting it to fragile items, I washed my father’s 106 year-old baby dress (similar to a Christening gown) in it to help remove some of the stains which were almost as old as the dress. Four generations of us have worn that dress, at least for photos, so far, so soaking it in Orvus was the best possible treatment to help us clean and preserve it for posterity.

    The container says “Orvus is a registered trademark of Procter & Gamble.” That may be why it is also found in some of their dishwashing and laundry products.

  16. Love this stuff it is amazing what it can do. My local stitching group sold this before, and I have had great success with this product.

  17. I’ve used Orvus for years when washing guilts and lap robes, wall hangings, etc. It was recommended to me years ago by the wise women in my Quilter’s Guild. I bought mine at a pet feed store (sells hay, chicken feed, lawn tractors, and such). Got a HUGE bottle for 26.00 and it is still going strong. It is semisolid at room temperature, so don’t worry about that. It is used to wash horses and other livestock – show dogs – and is totally biodegradable and safe for human use!

  18. One more comment about Orvus paste. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is the primary ingredients in so many washing/cleaning products, including touthpaste.

    Most cleaning soap products contain perfume, colorant, bleach, ammonium, etc. I am almost sure that Dawn contains ammonia thus the reason it is such a good decreaser.

    Orvus is simply Sodium Lauryl Sulfate..nothing else.

    Every one has a preference..what ever works or will do the job.

    Mary, thank you..you blog is very interesting!
    Best to all

  19. A 7.5 lbs container which I purchased for about $22 at a hay and grain store was purchased on November 2006. There is about 1″ left.

    What is purchased in quilt shops is usually a lot more money for a much smaller amount.

    Since I use Orvus for stains and for regular laundry, as well as for fine fabrics, it pays for me to buy the large size. Don’t use too much … a little dab’ll do ya’.

  20. Hello Mary and blog readers, just want to repeat Sarah above in that Orvus packaged under Fabri-Care is available through Yarn Tree. For those who don’t live near an LNS shop you can buy it through their online store. http://yarntree.com/cross-stitch/index.php?main_page=advanced_search_result&search_in_description=1&zenid=61d207dc74d2c88159943c064a9054f2&keyword=fabricare Of course please give your business to your LNS is at all possible! Yarn Tree folks are some of the nicest folks and they have other finishing items for stitchers such as the glass paperweights.

  21. I use Orvus as the detergent portion of my degumming bath for taking the sericin off of silk. 1/4 cup Orvus, 1/4 cup washing soda, enough water to make up 1 gallon.

    One important thing, to the poster who mentioned using TIDE instead – TIDE has a *lot* of sodium carbonate in it, 15 – 40%, according to their MSDS sheet – which makes it alkaline. According to the MSDS, the ingredients in Powdered Tide are: Sodium carbonate, alkyl sulfate, linear alkyl sulfate, and percarbonate. The alkaline is great for lifting greasy stains, sometimes not so great for delicate silk or other fine fabrics. Orvus is nearly pH neutral. With silk, I still use an acid rinse afterward.

  22. ahhh sodium laurel sulfate. Yes heard of that stuff.

    Mary… I noticed in my local Spotlight (similar to a JoAnns store I think) that Madeira are doing wool thread on a spool that is similar to the discontinued DMC medici range, if possibly a little finer… but expensive at about $7 per spool. The range isn’t great, but it looks like it has potential for simple wool embroidery.

  23. Thanks for this discussion! I will definitely have to find Orvus – I have vintage needlework and quilts that I inherited and some have spots. One really just needs to be washed, but I was scared I would destroy it. I will have to try Orvus. Thanks!

  24. Hi Mary,I seem to be a day late and …. but referring to your email about Hedgehog’s sale – please do you know the difference between the 2 slate frames they have listed on their website ( with the horizontal/roller bars or the vertical slates )? Looking at them they look identical, but there is quite a difference in price.
    Incidentally I wish I had known about Orvus before I ruined a needlework piece with Biz to remove some stains. Would Orvus work on wool with cold water?
    Love your emails,

    1. Hi, Anne – One price is for the horizontal roller bars and the other is for the vertical slats. First, you decide what size slate frame you want – then you order the right width for the horizontal bars (they come as a pair) and you also order the right height for the vertical bars. The pictures are the same. But one price is for a pair of horizontal “roller” bars and the other is for a pair of vertical “slats” with the holes in them. Hope that helps! ~ MC

  25. I worked with a restoration specialist at Viscaya in Miami and she had us use Orvis on those antique linens. Wash them on a bright sunny day and place them wet, outside on freshly mowed grass. Works every time on those brown weather spots.

  26. After washing your linens or quilts in Orvis on a bright sunny day, lay them wet onto newly mowed grass. Works every time on those brown weather spots.

  27. Orvus has been my “best friend” for over 20 years! In addition to working embroideries, my children were raised in smocked clothing and I have a vintage textile collection. I have soaked really old vintage baby clothes in Orvus for as long as 2 weeks (changing the orvus and water, of course); everything always came out beautifully and I had peace of mind – used it for my children’s clothing, too. And, I’ve used it when I ran out of laundry detergent (just 2 TBS, though – it foamed a lot).

  28. First, I have to say thank you. I love your site and have been lurking for a while now. I am trying to work up my courage to start a project. I did learn how to do the blanket stitch thanks to your videos. My question to you is (since I have been watching your pall problems) can you soak the threads before you do the work itself to see if it runs. Or do you have to wait and see when it is done. I would hate to invest the time and then have it bleed. I will be running out to buy myself some Orvus. Thanks again

    1. Hi, Stephanie –

      It’s always a good idea to try threads that you are unsure of, before stitching with them. If you’re using DMC & Anchor cotton floss, they’re pretty much colorfast. I’ve never had a problem with either of them. If you’re using over-dyed threads, always test them, or any other thread that you’re unsure of. The best way to test them is either to wrap the thread in a piece of white scrap fabric and submerge the whole skein in water for a while, then take it out, squeeze it up a bit, still wrapped in the fabric, and leave it to dry. Check the fabric for color once the skein is no longer wet. If there’s color, then you’ll either need to treat the floss to fix the color, or stitch carefully and cleanly so that you don’t have to wash the project once it’s finished (and don’t use a steam iron on it).

      Hope that helps!


  29. oh my goodness! I’m so thrilled to have found your blog!! I just purchased two beautiful, old pressed glass jars with “orvus” on the lids. The lovely lady I purchased them from said that they used to wash down her 4-H cows with the soap. My grandfather was a cattle rancher, so they were immediately that much more special to me. I’m going to use them in my laundry room to store my detergents — but now I may have to go purchase a container of the “real deal” since it sounds like quite a versatile product. It must be pretty darned great if they are still making it. An oldie and a goodie, huh?

    Love your website – as I do love to sew when I have a chance. (Lots of gems here!)

  30. Hi,
    Your story is a very helpful one,
    I’m sure many of us have had thing’s like this happen to us .
    Embroidery is kind of new to me .
    My mother let me sit with her as a child to do embroidery .I’m just starting to get back to it now at 64 years of age.
    Thank You for your story,
    I know it will help others not make the same mistake.

  31. I have a pillow case, flax grown in Romania, turned into thread and then woven into cloth. Probably before 1930. It is embroidered with bright colors.
    Given to me by my mother, she somehow brought from Europe after WWII.
    I have found one small stain, the linens have yellowed.
    I do not necessarily want to get back to white. But I am afraid to wash or spot treat if it whitens the spot area.
    I was considering going to a wedding gown specialist who uses organic methods. any thoughts? I plan to mount and frame to preserve with museum glass.

  32. HI-Thanks for this great tip! I’m wondering if you have had any luck with removing rust stains from linens and such. Betty

  33. I have used Orvus soap on my quiltsfor many years, just as my mother taught me. I do have one question about it. I have an older washer at the moment, but was wondering, does anyone knows if Orvus is safe to use in the new high efficiency washers? I may need a new washer eventually and would still love to be able to use my Orvus.

  34. RE: Orvus soap
    I’ve used this soap since discovering it while quilting in the middle of sheep country…Montana. Works a wonder on quilts but also on all knitting. Because I was making quite a few of my child’s clothing from fun quilting cottons, I washed them all in Orvus, always came out soft and chemical free. Use 1 Tbl. per washerload, and even if it’s started to set with loss of moisture over time, scoop out a Tbl, mix with a little water to reform paste, and you’re back in business. I teach quilting an knitting, and always recommend that items be laundered in Orvus. I purchase it in a farm store, 1 lb. for about $25. It lasts a long time!

  35. I’ll swear by Orvus. Back in the time, my quilting instructor (a MAN), put all his students onto this soap and told us to NEVER, EVER, EVER, put a quilt in a washing machine! It is a wonderful product and should be highly rated! Thanks.

  36. I have just used it to clean gravestones. Wet the stone, apply a small amount of Orvus, use a gentle scrub brush. Rinse well.

    I’ll also try it on ski clothing. It makes the hands so soft!

  37. I wash lots of fine cashmere sweaters and wool items. Does anyone know who it works on these or if there is a better product for woolens? Thanks.

  38. Hi Mary,
    Would you recommend using Orvus on a quilt where some of the red fabric used(which was previous soaked & washed before sewing quilt),has bled into the neighbouring fabric & through the back of quilt in some areas?

    I would appreciate any suggestions.
    Many Thanks – Anna


  40. I have used Orvus for years doing housekeeping chores. When it comes to washing windows you can not ask for a better cleaner. The windows are sparkling clean when finished and if you happen to miss a spot that isn’t dryed off, [only washed w/Orvus] it will air dry and look just like the wiped off area of the glass.

    1. I live in Sedona Arizona area and have a big problem with mineral deposits left on glass wear and etching. I’ve decreased the amount of cascade down to a tablespoon to accommodate the soft water situation. We have potassium water softener. After the dIshwasher cycle is done I often have to wipe down the spots with water/vinegar solution. It helps spots but no help on etching. I use 30 drops fragrant oil such as lavender to a gallon of white vinegar to disguise the vinegar smell). I don’t really know the proper vinegar to water dilution. Can anyone help?
      Has anyone used Orvis in an automatic dishwasher? If yes, what amount and does it totally replace automatic dishwasher detergent?

    2. Hi, Lee – I’m not sure how well Orvus works on removing hard water spots and accumulation. There’s nothing at all acidic about it, so I imagine it wouldn’t really do what you want it to do. It’s the vinegar that removes the hard water residue, because of its acidity. You might try soaking the glasses in a bucket of vinegar and water for a while, rather than just wiping them down. After they’ve soaked for a while, you can wash them and rinse and dry them right away to remove the vinegar residue / smell. We have hard water here in Kansas, and I don’t have a dishwasher, so I hand wash all my glassware and dry it immediately. If I leave glasses on the drying rack overnight, I end up with hard water spots or residue on the base of the glasses where the water pools while drying, which require the extra step of cleaning with vinegar to get them off. So I always dry them immediately, and that seems to solve the problem. But I’d definitely soak the glasses in a vinegar solution for a while and then wash, rinse, and dry with a soft cloth. That may do it.

  41. Just found this site and going to try to clean my heirloom christening robe. I was also interested to hear that Orvus WA paste was good as a horse shampoo. Can someone tell me how to apply it to the horse?! Do you put some in a bucket of water or what?!

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