The barong tagalog is the traditional formal men’s attire in the Philippines. The attire’s delicate-looking features belie the fact that the garment holds up quite well in very strenuous circumstances –which most barong wearers are quite familiar with. What the barong is not, however, is the fact that not knowing how to clean it properly can lead to damaging it. In the Philippines, most dry cleaning services are quite adept at cleaning barongs –which ironically don’t involve the typical dry cleaning processes. But if you’re outside of the Philippines and need to have the barong washed, what should you do?
Does it Even Need a Wash?
This is the first real question a barong wearer should ask after having worn a barong. Now, in the Philippines, the answer is a very easy yes. The basic rule of thumb is this: if the barong has been exposed to sweat, then yes, it needs a wash. For anything else, it depends. This is because the Philippines has a tropical climate (worsened by the effects of climate change) that causes the typical barong wearer to sweat –and no, the camisa is rarely enough to prevent the barong from being affected. On the other hand, taking the barong to a location with very cold weather means that sweat is hardly a problem or occurrence at all. So it is possible to not need cleaning. Of course, remember that exposure to vapors and odors can affect the barong. Smoke from cooked food, cigarettes, and other sources can be absorbed by the fabric –so give the barong a quick smell check as well.
So what about other types of dirt and stains? Firstly, aside from sweat, the skin naturally secretes oils as well.
Areas not protected by the camisa (such as the collar area around the neck and the arms) need to be checked.
If only small parts of the barong need cleaning, then the only thing one needs to have is some spot cleaning.
How to Clean a Barong
If you only need to do spot cleaning: soak up the affected area by using a mild detergent and water, and then let it sit for a while (be sure to avoid the temptation of trying to rub stains out the moment you notice them as this is likely to force dirt deeper into the fabric). After about half an hour of soaking, try to clean the area manually by rubbing it very lightly. More often than not, most stains should come off pretty easily. If they don’t come off during the first wash, soak (or soak longer) and then clean it again.
Of course, there are times when an entire barong needs to be washed. The process is pretty much the same (soak in mild detergent), but leave it soaking overnight, rub it lightly the following day and let the water run off (if you decide to rinse it off under running water, make sure to set the pressure to very low). Soaking in warm water is recommended, but it is not strictly necessary. Be sure to just let the water run off and then hang the barong to dry –avoid wringing it as this can cause several wrinkling and worse, possibly damaging the fabric.
Understanding why You Should Skip the Dry Cleaners
In general, most dry cleaning services use specialized chemical mixes instead of water to clean clothes. That may be a bit of an oversimplification (they also use specialized machines to gently agitate the fabric and dirt), but the point is that the typical dry cleaning processes can potentially damage the fabrics used for barongs (pina/pineapple fabrics can be particularly susceptible from either the chemicals or the mechanical actions). Simply put, a cleaner unfamiliar with the barong is more likely to damage it. This is why maintaining the barong yourself is a good idea.
Steamers and Irons
A steamer is a great way to maintain the upkeep of a barong. You can do without it, but the benefits it provides are hard to be without. Primarily, helps you do two very important things. First off: sanitizing. Nothing kills bacteria faster than a blast of hot steam, which in turn, eliminates most odors. Second: it removes small wrinkles. Ironing a barong to make it smooth takes a little more effort than just steaming it, and when you only have to deal with a few minor creases, this is a faster and better option to use. More often than not, spot cleaning and then steaming a barong is enough to keep it fresh and ready even after some use.
A steamer does more than just sanitizing and smoothing your barong, it also keeps it moist. The Philippines is humid all year round, so most people are not aware that jusi fabric (and pina) can be affected by very dry weather conditions. If you’re planning to wear a barong in either Canada or in America, be sure to steam the barong lightly once every few weeks even when it is not in use in order to maintain the strength of the fabric –otherwise, it may turn brittle.
Despite the local term “gusot mayaman” (a rich person’s wrinkled wear), a barong that has been fully washed will need to be ironed smooth. To iron a barong, make sure to place the cloth on a smooth, flat, and soft surface (such as a very firm pillow, or a flat mattress), then place a thin piece of cloth over it (a shirt or a thick handkerchief will suffice) so the iron will not directly touch the delicate fabric. Place the iron on low heat and avoid the buttons when smoothing things out. Once smoothened out, be sure to store the barong using a clothes hanger in order to maintain the form factor of the shoulders and to keep it from wrinkling.