Clans & tartans

Kilt Care and Maintenance

With care, your new kilt can last a very long time!

 

Wool kilts are a luxurious pleasure to wear and to see worn properly - however they don’t come cheap and most men will only purchase one or two during their lives, handing down their outgrown kilts to younger relatives. When cared for properly, a traditional wool kilt can last almost a lifetime, and here is the place to find out how to carry out these all-important care tasks!

There are four main threats to the life span of your kilt; damp, tears and rips, chemicals, and insects. We shall look at each of these threats in turn and explain how to best protect your kilt against these hazards.

 

First up, we shall consider how damp can affect your kilt. While a traditional Scottish wool kilt is perfect for the damp Scottish weather, providing wonderful insulation against chills, allowing your garment to remain wet or damp for an extended period is not advisable – as the natural wool fibres are susceptible to mildew and rot in the same way as cotton and other natural fabrics. It is strongly advised that you should allow your kilt to air thoroughly after each wearing. Although it is not necessary (or as you will see later, even advisable!) to wash your kilt after each and every normal day’s wear, it is good practice to lay your kilt out flat (on a floor, table, or bed is fine) and leave it for a good couple of hours to ensure it is completely dry and aired before going back into storage.

 

As for tearing or ripping your kilt, of course this type of damage is usually as the result of some kind of accident, so all that can really be advised is to be careful! Unfortunately, this kind of damage can happen in the blink of an eye, and is extremely difficult to fix in any way. If a small tear or stress hole should occur, the kilt should be looked at by a knowledgeable seamstress to see if sewing the tear from the underside of the tartan is possible. The most common source of rips and tears is the incorrect use of kilt pins. A kilt pin should pierce the top layer of the kilt apron only, it is simply intended to add a bit of weight to stop the top apron from blowing open in a breeze, and should not be used to hold the top and bottom aprons together, as this is a prime way of causing large holes when the two layers pull against each other, such as when sitting down or walking. Additionally, kilt pins should be removed as seldom as possible, and it is best to be careful to use the pre-established holes when putting it back in, as gently as possible. Ideally the same kilt pin should be used on a kilt at all times. The pin should be left in place when the kilt is in storage, and only removed during cleaning processes.

 

Chemical damage is also a major issue for kilts; although it is true of course that a kilt should be kept fresh to avoid problem number one of rot, modern ideas of good hygiene can be much more damaging than helpful in ensuring the long life of your kilt. The chemicals used in dry cleaning are very harsh indeed, and most dry cleaners are not accustomed to working with Highland wear, so this course of action should be avoided unless absolutely necessary, and if dry cleaning is needed, ask around! Find a dry cleaner that does their work in-house (so you know your instructions will be heeded), and is used to dealing with kilts. If possible, provide a swatch of kilt fabric for them to clean first, to check their chemicals and processes will not cause shrinking or fading of the cloth. Finally, many people report that the way in which dry cleaners are most likely to cause a problem is in setting the pleats correctly, therefore you may wish to request that the dry cleaner does not press the cleaned kilt, and instead leaves this for you to do to your own preference.

But if you shouldn’t entrust your kilt to a dry cleaner, how do you keep your kilt clean? Well, for normal cleaning methods using cool to lukewarm water with a very mild detergent is all that is required. Use of a mild soapy mixture and soft, clean cloth to spot clean the lining and any minor stains, followed by dabbing with clean water to remove the suds, is sufficient to ensure the cleanliness of the average kilt for a number of years! When a more thorough cleaning is needed though (such as after visiting a very dirty or dusty environment) a commonly used method is to fill a bath-tub with your usual mild detergent mixture, and lay the kilt face-down into the water, allowing the detergent to soak in thoroughly over a period of a few minutes. You can “swish” the kilt slowly through the water, to make sure the detergent works its way into the folds and pleats, but do not scrub or wring out the kilt at any point as this may damage the fabric. It might take a few tubs of soap solution before no more dirt floats free, but once that stage is reached, a shower attachment can be used to rinse the detergent from the kilt – again only cool or lukewarm water should be used. Some people prefer to hang the kilt up for this stage, as the detergent will rinse out faster, but only do this if you have a proper kilt hanger to secure the kilt safely, normal clothes hangers do not support a kilt waistband properly and the extra water weight make stress tears along the pleats and fell a real danger. The kilt can then be left hanging or draped over the bath edge to drip, then once the excess water has run free, laid flat on dry towels, turning it every few hours to ensure it dries out evenly and as quickly as possible – an 8 yard, 16oz wool kilt can take up to three days or more to fully dry depending on the climate! As always the kilt should be completely dry before going back into storage to prevent any problems from damp occurring, luckily though this more protracted process is usually only needed once in a blue moon!

 

Finally we will look at the detrimental effect that insects can have on your wool kilt. Mostly this refers, of course, to the larvae of clothing moths. Deterrents are widely available though, and with a bit of careful storage your kilt will stay safe from harm easily. Mothballs are less commonly used nowadays due to concerns over come of the chemicals used to make these releasing fumes which can be unhealthy to inhale, so aromatic cedar is now popular as an alternative which is very effective in keeping your wardrobe clear of these pests. As mentioned before, special kilt hangers are available which support the whole waistband of your kilt to save stress tears from occurring, so if you have one of these the addition of some strips or shavings of cedar wood should suffice. However, even on a kilt hanger a kilt will pull slightly out of shape over time – and since you will have this garment for hopefully a very long time eventually it will become noticeable! Therefore, a dedicated kilt hanger with a small bag of cedar strips or shavings can be useful for short term storage, such as on holiday or during a season when you know you will need to get out your kilt more often than usual, but for long term storage you will ideally be able to leave your kilt inside-out, rolled up (to protect the shape of the pleats) and laid in a box, either made entirely of cedar, or with strips or shavings once again. Even with the best precautions in place you should periodically check your kilt for signs of infestation (when spot-cleaning is the perfect time!), especially in the pleats as the larvae like dark places. Should you find any signs of a pest problem, don’t panic! Freezing (should you have space in the freezer!) is one good way to get kill off eggs and larvae, or you can go the other way and carefully steam clean the kilt, high temperatures are just as effective as low ones in destroying the pests. Once you are confident that the kilt is bug-free once more, keep it away from its usual storage area until you have taken the necessary steps to make sure a re-infestation doesn’t occur, such as treating the room with a commercial insecticide.

And that’s it! Four steps to ensure your Heritage of Scotland kilt lasts you a lifetime! It might look complicated but believe us; it’s really not at all. Just remember the following essential points and you’ll be set for decades of proudly Scottish kilt wearing:

  • Always ensure the kilt is completely dry before putting it away

  • Avoid chemical dry cleaning and learn to clean your kilt carefully and infrequently at home

  • Be cautious when using kilt pins to minimise the chance of tearing

  • Consider finding a chest, drawer or box where your kilt can be stored lying down

  • Use cedar or other aromatics to deter pests

  • Refer back to this article whenever you need more information!