Don’t use wire hangers, wash your jeans with vinegar and NEVER put salt on those Chateau Lafite stains: How to keep your clothes in royal condition by a former Buckingham Palace Lady’s Maid

  • Lady’s Maid Alicia Healey, shared tips for maintaining clothes to a royal standard
  • She advises brushing knitwear gently after wear to avoid pilling or bobbling
  • She suggests keeping trainers white by using a toothbrush to clean 
  • Alicia also revealed the secret to causing almost any stain to vanish  
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Lady’s Maid Alicia Healey knows a thing or two about looking after clothes. From Buckingham Palace, where she spent four years learning her trade, to Balmoral, where she dressed guests so they could reel with the Royals, to Windsor Castle, where she ironed for the wives of visiting heads of state, she has cleaned, mended and maintained some of the most exquisite wardrobes in the land.

She’s managed rows of handbags with five-figure price tags; shelves of shoes from floor to ceiling, and endless rails of elegant couture dresses waiting for their next exclusive outing.

‘Wardrobes of this scale are like museums,’ Alicia says. ‘Their valuable contents should be cared for, worn, seen and loved.’

A real-life Anna Bates, head housemaid from Downton Abbey, Alicia, 37, has now written a book divulging the best-kept below-stairs fashion secrets direct from the royal household, including stubborn stain removal tips, how to beat a moth attack and what to do when it looks like you haven’t a thing to wear.

Lady’s Maid Alicia Healey, shared expert advice for maintaining clothes and shoes to a standard suitable for royalty (file image)

Her expertise is hard-won: ‘During my time as a royal lady’s maid, I once used a very old iron that was accidentally on the highest setting and watched a guest’s skirt disappear before my eyes,’ she says. But, if you follow her tips, most clothing crises are fully salvageable . . .



Fear not if your precious woollen knits accidentally creep into a hot wash or tumble-drier. The results can be quite startling, but there is a way to reverse the shrinkage if dealt with straightaway.

  • Fill a plastic bowl or sink with lukewarm water and add a capful of delicates liquid detergent (such as Woolite).
  • Gently agitate the jumper in the solution to enter the weave and relax the fibres.
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  • Leave to soak for 15-20 minutes and then rinse.
  • Remove from the water and gently squeeze to eliminate excess water (do not wring).
  • Place on a flat towel and roll up to remove excess moisture.
  • While still damp, place on another towel and gently stretch the jumper to re-shape. Natural fibres such as wool are very pliable when wet so they should slowly regain their original shape.
  • Leave to dry naturally; check and re-stretch at regular intervals before the garment is completely dry.

Alicia recommends soaking clothes in delicates liquid detergent and gently agitating the material to reverse shrinkage (file image) 


Both natural and synthetic knitwear are prone to pilling or bobbling, but it’s more common with garments made of looser and softer fibres, such as cashmere and mohair or mixed-fibre blends.

To minimise the problem, wash vulnerable knitwear inside-out, by hand or on a delicates cycle. Avoid using fabric softeners, which make fibres susceptible to becoming loose and forming a bobble.

Also consider what type of jacket or coat you wear over delicate knits such as cashmere: if you wear an unlined coat, or a rough denim jacket, then this is going to be abrasive against a soft knit.

Brush your knitwear gently after wear using a natural bristle brush for clothes. This will smoothe the beginnings of any loose ends while removing dust and lint. A knitwear depilling comb is the best tool for removing bobbles, or try a mechanical jumper razor — but take care not to damage the good fibres, too.

Alicia suggests washing trainers by hand using a toothbrush to remove built-up grime (file image)


White canvas trainers are an excellent wardrobe footwear staple, but with daily wear comes the accumulation of daily grime.

For small marks try using a Mr Clean Magic Eraser ( These white spongy blocks are generally used for erasing stains around the home — on doors, light switches and skirting boards — but they also work well on trainers. Just add a little water and rub on the shoe to erase the stain. For more built-up grime, wash by hand with a toothbrush or — occasionally and on a short cycle — in a machine, making sure you place shoes in a mesh laundry bag or a cotton pillowcase.

Always add a couple of old towels when washing trainers in the machine, to protect the drum. If they are very bad, leave to soak in a bowl of warm water with a bleaching agent (eg. Vanish) for a couple of hours first.


Jeans are likely to be one of the most-worn garments in your wardrobe and so the most frequently washed, which will lead to colour fading. Some people like the effect of faded blue denim, but with black jeans, colour intensity is often preferred. Try these top tips:

  • Apply a fabric protector such as Scotchgard to new jeans. This will lock in colour and delay fading while also repelling stains.
  • Only wash when dirty, to preserve the original dye for as long as possible. Steam the denim to freshen it or spray with fabric refresher.

Alicia advises adding white vinegar to the rinse cycle when washing jeans to retain colour and remove excess soap residue (file image)

  • Wash in cool water. Heat will contribute to colour fading.
  • Use white vinegar in the rinse cycle. It will help to retain colour and eliminate any excess soap residue.
  • Allow to dry naturally, but not in direct sunlight as this will bleach colour.
  • Take care with stain removal. Rubbing out the stain is likely to rub out the dye too.


There is one creature that tests my otherwise impeccable and unflappable professional demeanour and that is the clothes moth.

It indiscriminately wreaks havoc within the finest wardrobes, ravaging the most expensive and luxurious of clothing. The damage is not caused by the adult moth, but by the larvae, which burrow across protein fibres within the textile, eating as they go. They look like creamy white caterpillars — but look out for the tiny white eggs, too, about the size of a pin-head.

How to treat an infestation:

  • Remove all clothing from wardrobes, even if it isn’t visibly damaged. Wash or dry clean to kill any moth eggs or larvae. Brushing clothing or ironing with a hot iron will also destroy eggs.
  • Thoroughly vacuum and clean the wardrobe and room, paying particular attention to the cracks and crevices of the wardrobe. Dispose of the vacuum bag immediately as this is a dream home for moths.
  • For clothing that is damaged, isolate the garment by placing it in a cellophane bag in the freezer for two to three days. On removal from the freezer, leave the garment in the bag until it is brought back to room temperature.

Alicia claims thoroughly cleaning out your wardrobe throughout the year can help to prevent moth infestations (file image)

  • If holes are not too big, try darning them. If the damage is very bad, consider taking it to a professional to repair. A process called ‘invisible mending’ uses threads from the seam allowance of garments and re-weaves them over the hole.
  • To prevent future attacks, clean out your wardrobe thoroughly a couple of times a year, ideally when you are rotating clothes with the seasons.
  • Use lavender sachets or wooden cedar balls or blocks to repel them. Don’t forget to line your drawers with lavender or cedar-scented lining paper.


  • Use the right hangers. Never use wire ones of the sort you get from the dry cleaners. They offer no support to the shoulder of the garment and will cause damage to this area of fabric over time. Non-slip, slim, velour-covered plastic hangers or slim rubber hangers are my favourites. You’ll be amazed at how much space you can free up in your wardrobe just by changing your hangers.
  • Leave worn clothes hanging overnight to air — even if they aren’t visibly dirty, they will have traces of perspiration and odours which could attract bugs.
  • Keep organised. One of the duties of a lady’s maid is to keep an inventory of all the clothing and accessories that belong to her employer. This is important because some ladies keep a great quantity of clothing spread over several homes. Unless a central record is kept it can be difficult to trace specific outfits quickly. You may not feel keeping a log is necessary for your wardrobe, but basic organisation is important to prevent those ‘I haven’t got a thing to wear’ moments hours before a party. Start by taking photos of each expensive or designer item, noting down as many details as possible about each: designer, fabric, price, date bought.
  • Keep a computerised inventory with a file for each garment type. You could also import your photographic catalogue into an easy-to-view online wardrobe and use an app that enables you to style outfits virtually (try Homyfads Wardrobe Manager for Windows).

How do you get rid of stains?

Even if you have the dining etiquette of a duchess, your clothes will at some point fall victim to a splash of sauce or a dribble of gravy. But most stains do disappear. The clue is to work out what kind of stain you’ve got . . .

Alicia suggests blotting pigment-based stains such as wine and coffee with kitchen paper before pre-soaking and washing (file image)

Pigment-based stains

Coloured products and food e.g. wine, coffee, tea, fruit juice, perfume, grass, ink

Treatment: Blot stain with kitchen paper, flush with cold water and blot again. Pre-soak using a biological pre-wash powder or apply a gel. Leave for five to ten minutes then wash.

Remember: For tannin-based stains, never use salt or soap. Both will set it permanently.

Protein-based stains

Most food stains eg. egg. Sweat, blood.

Treatment: Lift excess solids with a blunt knife. Blot with paper towel. Soak in cold water and add a biological pre-soaking agent. Machine wash at 40c with biological detergent.

Remember: Never use hot water; the protein can set into the fibres of the textiles.

Grease-based stains

Butter, oil, mayonnaise, sun tan lotion

Treatment: Scrape off solid parts. Soak up excess moisture with kitchen paper. Sprinkle with baking powder or baby powder to absorb the oil. Shake off and apply liquid detergent, then leave for a few minutes. Machine wash.

Remember: Lipstick contains grease and pigment. Treat the grease element first, then follow with a treatment for pigment-based stains if needed.

Wardrobe Wisdom From A Royal Lady’s Maid by Alicia Healey is published on October 25 by National Trust Books at £9.99. © Alicia Healey 2018. Visit

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