Orvus Paste is sodium lauryl sulfate, a pH neutral cleanser made by Proctor & Gamble. Conservators often recommend it for gently cleansing vintage textiles. It is also used for “cleaning rugs and upholstery” and “washing livestock,” according to its packaging. Orvus is safe for use on woolens and cotton, but should NOT be used on silk.
Although Orvus is classified as a “detergent,” conservators recommend its use because it does not contain bleach, fragrances or softeners than can harm historic textiles over time. To avoid rinsing issues caused by hard water, use Orvus with distilled water only.
When you open a jar of Orvus, it is a “soft solid” paste. When warm, it melts into an amber colored liquid. It can be used in cold or warm water. According to its Material Safety Data Sheet, provided by Proctor & Gamble, Orvus is completely soluble in water.
Our modern “virtue of cleanliness” means we sometimes want a textile to be bright white after it is cleaned. It is not possible to achieve a bright white without harsh chemicals, which are not found in Orvus or recommended for historical textiles. An overall yellowing of a white cotton or linen graduation dress, for example, is part of its patina and in most cases should be left untouched.
Before attempting to clean a historic textile, always test the colorfastness of your textile in a hidden place on the fabric. If the color runs with distilled water, do not attempt to use Orvus or any other cleaning agent.
Orvus is harmful if it comes into contact with skin, so always wear gloves when using it. If it does irritate your skin, discontinue use and apply a cold compress. Orvus can also irritate the eyes, so safety goggles should be worn if eye contact is possible. If ingested, dilute with milk or water immediately.
Orvus is biodegradable and can be disposed of through the sewer system. It should be stored below 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It should not be used with strong acids which will negate its ph neutral use as a gentle cleaner.
Orvus is sold in small quantities through quilt shops or other craft suppliers. It is cheaper to purchase Orvus in a one-gallon container from a farm or archival supply store. It is widely available on the internet.