Button Care 101

Selecting just the right button to adorn a beautiful garment is a very important finishing touch.  Equally as important, is how to preserve and care for these wearable works of art in which you've invested your creative energy.  If the washing machine or the dry cleaner makes you cringe, here are some helpful tips!

In general buttons can be gently washed, however, even the most durable metal and plastic buttons don't hold up well to bleaches, excessive use of harsh detergents (use mild with cool water) or hours of soaking in water.  High heat and the tumbling action of the dryer weakens the structure of buttons leading to early discoloration, scratching and breakage.

Cushioning buttons can be easy during dry cleaning.  An old dry-cleaning trick is to protect buttons in a cushioning ball of heavy-duty foil (Hint: You can make your own reusable button protectors with extra wide velcro.  Cut both sides to a shape larger than the button.  Hook side will be the bottom. Slit the bottom so that the button or thread shank can be positioned in the middle with the hooks facing up.  The eye side of the velcro will be placed facing down over the button to form a neat protector sandwich.)

Dry cleaning, while good for fragile fabrics, can be very hard on buttons.  Cleaning solvents are harsh and may weaken glue used for shanks or inlaid pieces.  If a piece does come loose, reattach it using good jewelry glue.  Tumbling in the cleaning process can cause scratches, chipping, stripping of finishes and breakage.  Consult dry cleaner about their procedures and protect buttons as described above.

If you still have questions about particular button materials, keep reading! 

Glass buttons need to be protected from chipping, scratching and breakage, but look in Grandma's button box to see how long-lasting beautiful glass buttons can be!  Fused glass is especially durable because the color effects are embedded in the glass through the fusing process.  More care should be given to the gilded and silvered glass buttons to avoid surface scratches.

Wood buttons: Avoid soaking in water - use no harsh detergents or bleaches.  Laminated and inlaid wood buttons can withstand reasonable laundering conditions, but use precautions at the dry cleaner because the solvents might work under the pieces and loosen the glue.

Corozo nut (also known as Tagua nut and vegetable ivory) is a natural renewable product of the rain forest.  The brown nut of the tagua tree is a hard ivory colored meat that can be easily carved and surface-dyed.  The dyes are usually fast, but you can test by washing a button attached to a swatch of fabric.  Corozo buttons can be washed and dry cleaned, but avoid the high heat of dryers.

Horn, bone, antler are okay to wash or dry clean unless they have a glued shank.  Polishing and lamination increase hardness of the button surface, but can show scratches more readily.  Antler buttons are made from the natural annual shedding of deer, moose and elk.

Stone buttons or inlaid semi-precious stones are polished for a hard, smooth surface.  Heavier stone buttons should be cushioned during agitation in a washing machine or tumbling at the dry cleaner.  They could crack or break if they clang together.

Shell has natural, beautiful laminations which can be obscured by detergent residue.  Polishing with a soft cloth and baby oil can rejuvenate the appearance.  Though tough and durable in a natural state, when cut into thin, delicate forms they are more vulnerable to chipping and breakage so protect and cushion during dry cleaning.  Pretest dyed Abalone on fabric swatch for color fastness when washing normally.

Metal buttons have the aura of indestructability, but many metal buttons today are made from alloys and finished in gold, brass, silver and bronze.  To hold finishes, avoid harsh detergents and bleaches.  Sometimes normal use will give the button an interesting patina or charming "antique" look.   If pewter buttons tarnish,  try using a soft buffing cloth and cream of tartar.  Test the back of the button before polishing or cleaning with a metal polish so you don't inadvertently rub off a metal finish.

Plastic/synthetic buttons today are durable, lightweight and high quality.  Resin buttons are a natural product modified with additions of polymers to enhance quality.  Use the general care recommendations above.

Crystals, rhinestones and pearls need to be pointed out to your dry cleaner or launder gently.  Always check for loose stones.