How to Wash and Care for Your Quilts
A lot of work goes into making a quilt. After choosing a pattern, you carefully select coordinating fabrics, spend hours cutting and piecing the individual blocks, and then more time quilting the layers together and binding the edges. It’s understandable that you’d be hesitant to wash your quilts or do anything that could potentially ruin all your hard work!
It’s true that a few unwanted things can happen when you wash a quilt—the colors can fade or bleed, the quilt can shrink unevenly, and the thread and fabric can weaken over time. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to minimize these problems…
Today, I’m sharing the dos and don’ts of quilt care so you can learn how to wash a quilt without damaging it. I hope I can help ease some of your quilt washing anxieties and show you how to keep your quilts looking new for as long as possible.
When to Wash a Quilt
In general, you only need to wash your quilts one to two times per year, unless they get heavy use. Some spot treatment or additional washes may be necessary if you spill something on a quilt, find a stain, or notice a funny odor. Use your best judgment but try not to wash your quilts more often than necessary.
Of course, all quilts need to be washed eventually, no matter how careful you are with them. Even quilts that are for display-only can pick up dust and odors that need to be removed. So, don’t make the mistake of never washing your quilts, either! Dust and dirt can permanently stain them, and quilts can even start growing mold or mildew if they are exposed to moisture and left untreated. 😬
If you feel like your quilt is just dusty on the surface, it may be better to shake it out and vacuum it instead of a thorough washing. To do this, put a nylon hose over the tip of a vacuum hose and run it along the surface of your quilt to pick up any loose dust. You can also use a lint roller. This simple surface treatment can help extend the time needed between washes.
Fabric deodorizers are also helpful in keeping a quilt clean and fresh. Several companies sell deodorizer sprays, but you can also use distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle. Simply spray a light mist on your quilt and let it air-dry.
What to Do Before Washing a Quilt
When you’ve decided a quilt does indeed need to be washed, don’t just throw it in the washer! Always inspect it first for loose threads and stains. Any damaged areas should be fixed before washing to prevent fraying and further damage. Stains should also be pretreated.
To spot clean a quilt, use a gentle cleanser and a soft brush. Rub the stain with the brush and then blot with a damp cloth until you are satisfied with the results.
You also need to check your quilts for colorfastness before washing. You don’t want any of the colors to bleed onto each other. Red dyes are particularly problematic… To check for colorfastness, rub a damp white cloth across the surface of each fabric and see if any color rubs off. If there is a lot of dye transfer, dry cleaning may be your best option for cleaning your quilt.
If you’re making a quilt with vivid, highly saturated colors, it’s best to prewash your fabrics to avoid the dye bleeding issue when washing. However, we won’t get into the prewashing debate here…
Machine Washing vs. Hand Washing
Hand washing is the safest way to wash a quilt because it gives you the most control. You should always hand wash vintage quilts and those with hand appliqués to prevent damage. However, most quilts will hold up just fine in a washing machine.
To hand wash a quilt, fill a tub or deep sink with cold water and add your detergent. Then add ½ cup of distilled white vinegar to help the colors stay bright. (FYI: Vinegar also has the added benefit of making your quilts feel softer). Submerge your quilt in the water and then gently swish it around with your hands. Allow it to soak for 10-15 minutes and then drain the water and rinse the quilt. Rinsing may need to be repeated two or three times to remove all the detergent residue.
To machine wash a quilt, set the machine to cold water on the gentle cycle and use a fragrance-free detergent. Throw in a color-catcher sheet, too, to prevent fabric dye from bleeding onto other colors. This is especially important if you have white pieces in your quilt. Always wash quilts alone so you don’t have to worry about zippers or buttons snagging the threads.
How to Dry a Quilt After Washing
When it comes to drying a quilt, you have two options—let a dryer do the work or let it air dry. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Air drying can be a little tricky because quilts are so heavy when they are wet. Ideally, you should use a large, flat, drying rack. However, you can roll up some towels and lay them in rows to create a drying rack of your own. The more air flow you can get to the quilt, the better.
To get some of the moisture out of your quilt at the beginning, lay out some towels and roll up your quilt in them. You can also sandwich your quilt between some towels to squeeze out some of the moisture. Take care not to ring out your quilt, though. It can weaken the seams and make your quilt wrinkly.
If you want to use a dryer, use LOW heat. Heat is what causes most of the shrinking to happen in a quilt. The high heat from dryers can also melt polyester batting, so be careful.
Quilts also take up a lot of space in a dryer, so they may not dry evenly. You can use some wool dryer balls to try and keep your quilt from bunching up and only drying in some areas.
Quilt Storage Tips
Quilts are beautiful works of art that should be displayed and enjoyed. However, if you’re not going to use a quilt for a while, put it in a storage bag to prevent it from getting dusty and dirty.
Madam Sew sells nice quilt storage bags that have a zipper and a see-through panel on the front so you can easily see what’s inside. They can hold up to two queen size quilts and come in several colors!
Proper washing and storage ensures longevity and beauty. I hope this post has given you the confidence to wash your quilts. It does need to happen, even though it is a bit scary.
Have you had any quilt washing mishaps? Let us know what happened in the comments below. It’s always good to learn from each other.