How to Wash and Care for a Quilt…The Right Way!


So, you’ve had this beautiful, meaningful quilt for a while now, and the moment you have been dreading has arrived. You’ve spent weeks trying to ignore the weird spot in the corner and the drool marks from your dog and you know the time has come… to wash your quilt.

This blog is a judgement free zone, so don't feel badly if it's been a year...or two since the inception of your quilt and you've yet to clean it. Today is the day you learn how to wash your quilt without feelings of anxiety and dread. And, no matter how careful you are with your quilts, they’re going to need some TLC sooner or later. So don’t worry! You can definitely safely clean and care for your quilt… you just want to do it the right way.

But first, just so we’re all on the same page, let’s review the wrong way:​


How to Wash and Care for a Quilt the WRONG Way​

  1. Picking at every questionable spot or loose thread compulsively with your fingernail. (Even though I’m pretty sure Jerry Seinfeld calls this “dry cleaning,” it’s not actually dry cleaning.)​
  2. Folding your quilt so the spots and grease marks don’t show and never actually using it (this is SOOO tragic.)
  3. Living in a constant state of denial that your quilt has to be cleaned. (Okay, I do this sometimes. I’m working on it.)
  4. Never using your quilt in the first place for fear of future stains and dirt.

How Often do I Need to Wash my Quilt?

Before we get into washing instructions, let me just say that the best way to care for your quilt is to NOT wash it all the time. Your quilts are kind of like your hair – wash it as infrequently as you can get away with and you'll have the most success. I, for example, have trained my hair to only expect attention twice a week. Granted, it wishes I was more interested in hair hygiene, but a girl's gotta live her life, amIright??

If you’re one of those people with peaceful lives devoid of children or pets or clumsy coffee drinkers, you can probably get away with washing each quilt you own about once a year (though it’s a good idea to let it get some air a little more often than that.)

But when it’s time, it’s time! Just keep calm, and follow these steps:​


How to Wash and Care for a Quilt the RIGHT Way

  1. Inspecting - Before washing your quilt, it’s smart to give it a little once-over to make sure there are no loose threads or stretched seams that need to be fixed before you begin the laundering process. Make any minor repairs you need to while your quilt is still nice and dry.
  2. Washing - You have two choices here: hand washing, or machine washing.
    • Machine Washing Instructions: Set your washing machine to a gentle cycle and choose cold water. I also recommend washing with a gentle detergent, such as this Fragrance-Free Fine Fabric Wash

      If you are nervous about fabric dye bleeding, throw in a couple Shout Color Catchers or some Retayne. The Color Catchers literally catch dye that has bleed into the wash water. Retayne is a chemical that helps lock dye into the fabric. Read the packaging instructions before using it.
    • Hand Washing Instructions: I highly recommend washing all vintage quilts, hand-quilted quilts, and hand-appliquéd quilts by hand. No one is going to treat your quilt as well as you are, especially not some robot machine (yeah, I know washing machines aren’t robots…yet. But they’re close.) The first step to hand washing is to make sure the tub or sink you will be using is clean. Next, fill-er-up with some cold water and dye-free, perfume-free detergent. Place your quilt in the water, and make sure every inch of it is submerged. Agitate the quilt gently for about 10 minutes, then drain the soapy water, and refill with fresh water. This time, add ½ cup of distilled white vinegar to the water. This clears the quilt of any residue from the detergent, and also softens it and keeps the colors bright! Repeat the rinsing process until the water is suds-free.
  3. Drying - You've got two options again. You can also do a combination of both.
    • Machine Drying Instructions: Two very important words to remember here - LOW HEAT. Your quilt is delicate, so you will want to use low to no heat when drying it. To be safe, don't dry it all the way. Tumble dry it on low until it is damp, and then let it air dry.
    • Air Drying Instructions: I highly recommend air drying all vintage quilts, hand-quilted/hand-appliquéd quilts and any quilts in which you want to limit fabric shrinkage, which causes puckering and crinkling. Air drying quilts can be tricky because they’re so dang heavy when they’re wet! To prevent those threads from poppin’ support the weight of the quilt well, usually by drying it flat. For safe drying, some like to use a flat rack, but if you don’t have a giant quilt-drying rack, you can make a bed of thick towels to lay it on. To get some of the extra initial moisture out, cover your wet quilt with another set of towels, and roll it up in that towel sandwich for a good first squeeze. Then, place the quilt on another towel bed. (You have to own a lot of towels for this little procedure.)

      Some people like to finish the drying process by laying their quits on a patch of grass on a sunny day, since that’s adorable for everyone else in the neighborhood.
  4. Storing - The best place to store a quilt is on a bed. This is for real! Even if you’re not using the bed… or the quilt… storing quilts flat in a dry part of the house with a stable temperature is the way to go. You can cover it with another sheet or bedspread for protection, and then check on it from time to time, like a good parent.

    If you don’t happen to have a guest bed for your quilt, cotton or muslin bags are the best choice for storage (never use plastic or cardboard!) Make sure it’s clean before you put it away, and take it out to get some air from time to time (maybe even let it sunbathe on the lawn for a while, if the weather’s good!)

If you care for your quilt the right way (and now, you know it’s not even that hard!) it can stay in mint condition for a long time! Any more tips or tricks I should know? Comment below!

125 thoughts on “How to Wash and Care for a Quilt…The Right Way!

  1. Holly B says:

    A storage tip: If you store your quilts folded, switch up the way it’s folded every once in a while so deep creases in the batting aren’t permanently formed.

    Thanks Suzy! My big quilt needs a wash, I’ve been in denial about it. I did pre-shrink the batting before I made it so I don’t expect it to shrink much. So, I guess… it’s time.

  2. Christine says:

    I was told, many years ago, by the local quilt shop owner and teacher, that if you dry a quilt too slow, it increases the chance of the dye bleeding. She said to fill the washer with cold water, put in a gentle detergent, but not Woolite, as at that time (not sure now), it contained bleach, and immerse the quilt all at once. Wash on gentle and immediately throw into the dryer. So far, so good. I’ve only had one quilt bleed (any idea how to remove the bleeding?) I love the way the dryer puckers the quilt and brings out the quilting. Thanks for your advice! I tell my kids to just bring their quilts to me to wash. Ha!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      I’ve never heard this about bleeding. I have, however, had success preventing bleeding from some pesky woven shot cotton by throwing multiple Shout Color Catcher sheets into the washing machine with the quilt. It was crazy how much dye they caught when I pulled them out!

      Sadly, I have also been the victim of quilt bleeding. It was a horrible accident in the mail involving an exploding bottle of cleaner sitting on a quilt sent to me by my longarm quilter. I hate to say it, but I never got 100% of the bleeding dye out. I did, however, get about 90% of it out – which I think is the best I could have hoped for. It was A LOT of navy dye on a cream background.

      To get bleeding out: 1. Immediately fill up your bathtub with cold water. 2. Dump Synthrapol into the running water and stir into the tub. (I had some lying around from my old fabric dyeing days.) This stuff is the opposite of Retayne – it releases excess dye rather than locking it into the fabric. 3. Submerge your quilt into the water and agitate for a few minutes. Depending on how bad the bleeding is, let it soak for a long time. I actually let my quilt soak overnight. 4. If the bleeding is still not coming out, you can also try to use a stain remover directly on the problem areas. At that point, however, you are getting into a bit riskier territory. I used Shout stain remover and I think it helped remove some of the dye a little bit.

      I know how stressful bleeding can be. This is a picture of me and my bleeding quilt after 24 hours of intensive care and lost of wailing. It ain’t pretty.
      Suzy and her bleeding quilt.

      • Sarah says:

        If you haven’t yet figured put dye bleeding, there is a product from Carbona that works amazing, amazing, AMAZING wonders. I have no idea how it does what it does, but it does lol I believe it’s called Carbona run remover. Doesn’t do a darn thing to the colors that are supposed to be there, but gets the ones that aren’t. I had a sneaky red shirt turn an entire load of clothes pink. Poured that stuff into a bath of warm water, threw all the clothes into it and let them soak for about 2 hours and they came out like new!
        Or, try Grandmas Stain Remover (walmart) between those 2, you can get out anything.

        • Romney says:

          Oh my gosh! I just backed three quilts in a blue Primitive Gatherings / Moda wide back fabric … I wash my quilts in cold with 5 color catchers and have never had a problem. When the first quilt came out of the wash, I didn’t realize what happened and put it in the dryer. I loaded the next one into the washer. Well … the blue bled and both quilts looked like I had dipped them in navy blue dye. Both quilts are ruined. I haven’t washed the third. But, it was meant to be a gift, and I don’t feel I can give it to my friend with directions to never wash it. I have spent a week soaking my quilts in the tub and using all of the products. Palmolive. Dawn. Vinegar. Oxyclean. Retayne. Synthrapol. And … the reason I am posting this … I used Carbona on one of the quilts. What was once a patriotic quilt with a navy back … now has a light purple back and very faded top. The color fled the quilt instantly. I immediately pulled it out of the tub, drained the water and started rinsing my quilt. But … well … now my dogs love it. It is very soft after all of the washing and they don’t seem to mind how ugly it is now that it is depleted of most of its color. So … I’m stuck with three ruined quilts. One still looks like it is dipped in navy blue dye. One has had all of the color drained from it – not just the bleed. And, one I’m afraid to use or wash. I did email Moda b/c their product performed poorly. So far, no response. Going forward, I think I will never choose a dark fabric to back my quilts. If I use wide back fabric, I will prewash it. But, mostly, I think I won’t use wide fabrics. I’m starting to believe wide back fabrics are inferior quality. I appreciate Suzy’s picture. I have spent several days crying. And, ordering new fabric to remake the quilt for my friend!

          • Lisa A Pratte says:

            Bummer. One of the first quilts I made was a patriotic quilt I was donating. The front was red, white and blue and the back was red. I washed it in cold with Ivory Gentle wash and I threw in 5 or 6 color catchers. The quilt came out of the wash perfect.

  3. Emily says:

    Mildly disappointed there weren’t more pictures of Scrap based off of the email alert about this post 😉 I guess that’s what instagram is for! Thanks for the tips 🙂

  4. Sally says:

    I pick a dry sunny day, machine wash on cold with a shout color sheet, put in low dryer for 10-15 min
    and then lay on a sheet on my deck in the sun to finish drying, turning once.
    I prewash all my fabrics with shout color sheets but not the batting. I find I loose about an inch
    in each direction with the machine drying. I make bed size quilts to sell and wash each quilt as
    I finish it. I can be pretty sure the client isn’t going to be as careful as I am but—-I just hope
    they use them and dont’ “save” them.

    • Edward J Mulreany says:

      I purchased a handstitched quilt from a small quilt shop in Pa.. This quilt was made by a small group of Amish women. They told me to be sure and use salt the first wash to stop shrinking . I can’t remember how much salt she told my wife and I. Kathy my wife says a cup and I thought it was much less.
      Have you heard of this and if so can you help me with the amount needed?

      • Suzy Quilts says:

        This is new to me! My first thought is that salt plus agitation would be corrosive on fabric, but I suppose if you just do it once it shouldn’t hurt. If you try it, report back and let us know what you think!

      • Eve Morris says:

        Apparently salt helped fix the dyes used in the past, but dyes have changed a lot, and it’s not meant to help with modern dyes.

  5. Allison says:

    Thanks for the info!!! Also… when is the pattern for the quilt you’re laying out on in the last picture coming to your site?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      The Campfire quilt! Ahhhh yes. That will be available this fall. It was originally published in Modern Patchwork Magazine Fall 2016, so I have to wait a while before personally publishing it.

  6. Yolande Bergeron says:

    I have my quilt for 20 years and I have wash it in the washing machine( regulard Liquid soap or pods) and next to the clothesline and for the past 5 years to the dryer.
    If the cats do not trow up on it, I wash it once a year. The color has been fading a bit(it is red).
    Have a nice day

  7. Vivian says:

    I have a question. Does anyone have an idea about washing a fairly large quilt that was pin basted and partially quilted, and is now covered in cat hair? The cat left a grimy spot where she was lying and although I have tried to remove most of the hair with adhesive strips, a lot of hair seems stuck to the fabric. I’m not comfortable quilting it on top of the hair for fear I may never get all the hair off. Does anyone have an idea of what I should do? Would it be better to wash it as is, safety pins and all?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      That’s tricky. If you wash it unquilted, chances are the raw edges will fray rather badly and you’ll lose the 1/4″ seam. I would suggest lint rolling it as best as you can and then quilting it. Once it’s finished and bound, wash it. If cat hair still remains, and it is noticeable, you may have to individually pick the hair out.

      • Roni says:

        I store my quilts (and any other long-ish-term linen storage) in king size cotton pillow cases. Before and/or after using them, I refresh them either outside for a bit or on air in the dryer (if they don’t require washing) then fold them just enough to fit in the pillow case in one direction and roll the rest until it fits enough to fold the open end of the pillow case over (without cramming it in).
        As for washing/drying, I just robot wash with mild soap in cold water then in the dryer on low until alllmost dry then lay it out on the bed until completely dry.
        Cheers! And thanks for all of your advice. I’m happy to know I’m not ruining my quilts!

      • Marie says:

        Thanks for this advice. I have several quilt tops that our grandmother pieced together. I was considering handwashing them before getting them quilted and was concerned about fraying.

      • Nancy Duffey says:

        Cat hair can sometimes be picked up with a somewhat wet or damp wash cloth. I have 3 cats and they love to lay in the quilt while on the frame. One is a 5 month baby black hair cat and his hair is oh so fine. And the other two are tortoise shell coats .. 1 long hair , 1 short hair. Sometimes a lint roller can’t get it all up so I’ve tried an less expensive grainy washcloth that has a roughness To it. Try not to push down into the quilt for all that does is push the cat hair further in. I just use a whisk wipe motion side to side..short quick motions ..use a new spot of the cloth often. Hopefully this helps. Works for me and my sassy felines.

        • Victoria Ruthven says:

          I have used a rubber glove with much success to get cat fur off materials. Put glove on your hand and gently rub the spots with fur….it lifts off quite easily.

    • InSim Zingre says:

      Try putting it in the dryer using air setting( no heat) 15 minute intervals. Check your lint trap…clean…do again.
      You’ll be amazed at what gets caught in the lint trap. I purchased a lap quilt from an estate sale…I do believe it was the ” cats ” quilt. Washed it 3 times…and machine dried…used air setting also. Cat hairs are gone. Love the quilt!

    • Sharon says:

      I had that Problem with a couple of samples for my shop. I rollered the heck out of them, then put a sheet over the top, and vacuumed by releasing most of the suction. Then I rollered it again and laid it over the deck railing and lightly sprayed with fabreeze (odorless). I used a piece of 100 % white cotton sheet and dipped in white vinegar, wrung out and lightly dabbed the dirty spots. It was wool crazy quilts and the owner had cats. They came out fine and were shipped back nice and clean and smelling good.

  8. Norma says:

    Suzy, I have ‘bathtub’ washed vintage quilts and it is VERY heavy when wet thus hard to get the water
    out enough to handle. I followed the guide from a museum. Place a sheet under the quilt in the tub.
    Find a helper to take one end of the sheet to twist it to wring. Then lift it with the sheet as to avoid
    distortion. This will help also to move it to dry-leave the sheet under it.

  9. Lea says:

    Thank you for the tips. I used to have a big outside dining room table in our screened porch (way back when) and after I washed my quilts I would put the quilt on the table to dry. Then I’d use chairs and even a dryer rack and extend the quilt out to the chairs and dryer rack to help dry the quilt a bit faster. If the quilt didn’t dry by the end of the day (and they usually did) I’d put it in the dryer for a short time. That always worked well.

    Not that anyone would but just in case – It isn’t good to dry clean a cotton quilt because the chemicals can damage the quilt. Plus I never liked that smell anyway.

    Your quilts are so beautiful!! I just recently discovered your blog and I’m glad I did.

    Thanks again.

    • Ellen J. Mini says:

      I just read your thread, and I am so glad I did. I was about to bring my cotton quilt in for dry cleaning. Several years ago, I read that is the best way to clean a quilt. So I have been doing it for a few years now. This particular quilt is not handmade, or I don’t think so. It is not the best quality fabric either, but it is pretty on my bed and I like it. I am afraid it will shrink in the wash. Any suggestions for that?

      • Suzy Quilts says:

        If your quilt was made with fabrics that were not previously washed and shrunk, inevitably it will shrink a little. If you wash it gently with cold water and then let it air dry on a bed of towels it will shrink the least amount.

  10. Emily says:

    Thank you for the detergent recommendation! I have been using SOAK, but that gets expensive, I have two kids and quilts are being used ALL the time for things, so I tend to wash all of them once a quarter. Have you used SOAK on the gentle cycle? So you like it? If so, How does it compare to your recommendation?

  11. Sharon says:

    Thanks for all the tips! I store my quilts rolled in a basket. Every month I “rotate” them around the house after giving them a little fluff in the dryer (no heat). I get to enjoy all the quilts in different rooms!

  12. Nancy says:

    I read about this method the Amish use a while ago, but have yet to give it a try. It’s from the site “Is there any way to “freshen” my quilt without washing?
    Quilts naturally gather dust while in use. There is a very efficient, old-fashioned method to freshen your quilt that does not require washing , but does require snow. Snap your quilt over new-fallen clean snow, much as would shake a new carpet. It is desirable to allow the quilt to smack the snow gently. Repeat several times, then replace the quilt directly on your bed.

  13. NaomiG says:

    I seriously had no idea people stressed this! I mean, I definitely stress the first wash–cold water, 35 color catchers, hover over the machine and eyeball the color of the water. But, after that, they get washed cold water style and dried at a reasonably hot but not too hot setting. I love how they’re aging, and I don’t wash them unless they need it, but I also don’t ever skimp on using them, either. And mine get used hard. Except one time someone who was not me put one of my precious quilts in the laundry with a super bleedy red scarf. I was so upset. We couldn’t find synthropol locally so we soaked it like crazy in a bunch of stain remover and everything until i was able to get synthropol. That quilt will never be the same, but it is wayyyyy better now. I’ve reconciled myself to that being the slightly pink story of that quilt. I hope my grandkids love it someday just like the rest of my quilts. 🙂

  14. Lisa says:

    Any ideas on removing water stains? Water event nearly destroyed ‘Grandma’s’ beautiful all hand done quilt… has not been cleaned before the flood or since….help?!

  15. Deborah says:

    Okay, I have a quilt that is entirely made of prairie points. It weighs about 30 pounds dry. I need to clean it, but I’m afraid it’s too heavy for my front loading machine to handle and it’s definitely too heavy for me to handle. I need suggestions. My daughters cat peed on it. Should I try to just clean the spot? I know dry cleaning is not an option…am desperate

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      My first thought is to take it to a laundromat and use one of the huge industrial washing machines. I would then throw it in the one of the dryers there and put the setting on low or air fluff. Once the quilt is dry enough to transport, take it home and lay it flat on some towels and let it finish drying. That’s my two cents, anyway.

    • Dan says:

      I can vouch for this method. I had a king sized quilt and hand washing or home washing machine was not going to work. Much too large, much too heavy. My local laundromat (or Washiterias as they were called in the south) had the super large front load washing machines. These do not have that center agitator like home machines that pull and stretch.. ..they are drum style that rotate. Best decision ever. They have the super large dryers too..dry to just slightly damp then take home. I live in a dry climate so hanging over the stair banister worked great in no time. Quilt top was charm squares from my Grandmother’s UFO. A sea of squares! I found some matching border 50s print and finished the edges, quilted and bound. Im so happy to have this finished memory of my Grandmother. Thanks for your article!

      • robin says:

        Thanks for this. I also have a king size quilt that would never fit in my front loader washing machine or dryer. I have been wondering if taking it to a laundromat would work. I worried because not all machines in those places are well regulated and they are used all day all, week after week. Now, after this article and the comments, I will finally get my quilt washed.

      • Kathy Daley says:

        Great comments and suggestions. I have a totally batik quilt that has had a bit of a bleed from a tea spill. I want to set the dye now, (hindsight is 20/20). I know dry cleaning is not recommended for quilts but is see that a few have done this. Ould one dry cleaning set the colours so I can home wash it in the future?
        Are Dye Catchers the same as Shout Co,our Catchers?

  16. Jude says:

    What are your thoughts on prewashing & drying the fabric before starting your project. At the time I was told this, I just did it as I didn’t know anything at all. It never occurred to me that the batting was not being prewashed & dried. As for the quilting, sadly that’s what I thought piecing was 🙁 , because all our quilts were hand tied. I quilt with my church group & the quilts can go anywhere from the Appalachian Mts., to Romania, so I never actually saw one after it was washed. Now, thanks mostly to you, (still pretty intimated by your quilting yoga), I want to try doing a mini quilt for me and hand quilting so I want to do it right. Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Heeeey Jude! (sorry, couldn’t help myself ;)) If you are worried about fabric dye bleeding, I would recommend pre-washing. Even dark, vibrant fabrics manufactured by huge companies can still bleed sometimes. In that case, pre-wash with a Shout color catcher just to be safe. Fabric that has not been pre-washed shrinks once washed after the quilting process. This causes a crinkle affect and changes the look of the quilt much more than if you had pre-washed the fabric. Batting is usually sold pre-washed, so unless the packaging specifically says “must pre-wash before use,” you don’t need to worry about that. Did that answer your question?

  17. Ali says:

    Love the info…but, am I the only one that wants to rush the washing to break the quilts in? I make my quilts to use and I ache for that soft lived in and well loved texture – not the stiff, starchy feel… Any suggestions on how to safely break in a quilt…?

  18. marla a shidler says:

    I’m new to quilting and have never owned a handmade quilt, so pardon my ignorance…. what happens to a quilt that gets washed frequently? Does the batting start coming apart and get dis-placed or? I’m just finishing my first quilt and already have plans for the next 3! (for 3 grand-kids). Obviously kids quilts need to be washed more often – something I should worry about? I love, love, love your blog by the way Suzy and when I’m ready to start those 3 quilts will be buying a couple of your patterns! Thanks for all of your awesomeness!! 🙂

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      These are great questions and it’s really good you’re thinking about this before putting a lot of time into a quilt. There’s no getting around the fact that if you use and wash a quilt a lot, it will change in appearance and eventually the fabric will show signs of wear. However, unless you are tying your quilts to the back of a pickup and driving around dirt roads, they will still last you many many years. When I give someone a quilt I always say – please use this. I know that sounds obvious, but most people assume that because it’s handmade it needs to get folded into a closet and kept as a keepsake. No no no! Unless this is a quilt intended to be hung in a museum, quilts are made to be cuddled and snuggled and washed and loved.

      But I deviate. haha! Back to your question. If you want to make a quilt intended for durability, I suggest keeping hand quilting to a minimum and using high quality batting. Twenty years from now when those 3 quilts are looking a little worn, you’ll be ready to make 3 new quilts for those grandkids. xo

  19. Kathy says:

    Suzy, I own a hand sewn quilt that I’ve had dry cleaned in the past. Can I now wash it gently per your instructions above or should I continue to dry clean it? It’s 19 years old. Thanks for your reply.

    • Sandy Corbitt says:

      I just inherited 3 of my mother’s quilts. She stored them for years and getting the oder out I think is going to be a problem. Do have a suggestion? I’ve been reading your washing instructions and plan to buy some SOAK. Also, I will let the quilts sunbathe to finish drying.

      • Carol Mack says:

        I have read that putting a box of baking soda in a closed plastic container with the quilt for a few days will help remove the odor. If you will wash the quilt anyway, then you may not need to do this. If you sunbathe vintage quilts, I have also read that it is good to cover the quilt with a sheet, so the sun doesn’t bleach out some of the color. Laying them in the open air may also reduce the odor.

  20. Monica Grote says:

    For water and rust stains, I used fresh lemon juice and salt on a vintage quilt with a large dark rust and water stain. ( Fortunately I have a lemon tree in my yard in Arizona.) I laid it in the sun on my upstairs deck for several days and just kept adding lemon juice and salt to the stain. It did not affect the blue drunkards path blocks at all. Once the stain was gone, I repaired a few blocks and applied a new binding. I was able to enter it in my local quilt show the following season as a restored vintage quilt from around 1915.

    • Russ says:


      I have a bigger problem than all of your washing issues. I have 60 quilts that need cleaned☹️😣🤨🧐. They are my mothers life’s work. They are all 100% hand stitched. Maybe I should kill myself now instead of after I ruin them???

      • Suzy Quilts says:

        Oh dear, don’t kill yourself! 😉 Do they all need to be cleaned right away? Is this something you could do over the next few years? If you’re interested in selling these quilts, you could also sell them “as-is” and let the next owner take on the burden of cleaning them.

      • k cyrus says:

        I have a hand sewn quilt and tried washing it in my machine (mistake, it was a top loader and caused one of the seams to pop open) Now i’m nervous to use machines at all. I have a california king size quilt and it needs a wash, but it’s getting very cold outside. How do I air dry during the winter??? i don’t have the space inside to lay the blanket out without getting dog hair all over it, or folding it in some way 🙁

        • Suzy Quilts says:

          Could you put towels on top of your bed and then lay the quilt on that? You’ll have to start in the morning so it has the whole day and if you have fans blowing on it that would be even better.

  21. Nadia says:

    You have so much great information on care and cleaning. Thank you. One question that I didn’t see anyone ask is about High Efficiency washing machines. There are the old style top loading which fill with water and the quilts are gently agitated. There are the new high efficiency ones which are front loading and there are top loading high efficiency machines. I have a top load high efficiency washer and it uses very little water. These new HE machines use agitation to clean with very little water. It would seem to me that the small quantity of water and agitation can do more damage re color bleeding and fabric deterioration.

    Do you have any comments on this?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      I think your instincts are right with this one. You may want to test out your high efficiency machine with a quilt you aren’t incredibly attached to, OR, just skip using your machine all together and hand wash your quilts in a large sink or tub.

  22. Caitlin says:

    Thank you Suzy for all the information and Happy Birthday!!! Do you have a recommendation about washing or not washing wall hanging quilts? I am not sure if I should wash the quilt I made before gifting it. I feel so torn!!! Are there any disadvantages or advantages to either one? Is it all in my mind? Thank you!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Thank you! It’s all about how you want the wall hanging to look. Some quilters always wash their quilts after quilting because they like that crinkly effect. If you want your quilt to hang perfectly square, washing can warp it a bit so you’ll want to lay it out while it’s still damp and lightly stretch it in the corners. This process is called “blocking.” If you look up “quilt blocking” you’ll find some tutorials. It’s not something I do, cause I don’t care enough. haha! 😉

  23. Julie says:

    Personally, I would never, ever use vinegar when washing a vintage quilt. I would instead use Quilt Soap, which is also known as Orvus. Quilt Soap can be purchased through a quilt shop in small quantities. Orvus can actually be purchased at livestock supply stores [think Tractor Supply Company or feed stores–the stuff is, unbelievably, cattle soap] in much larger quantities, but for a more reasonable price per ounce. Orvus is so special b/c it rinses 100% clean. No residue or chemicals are left behind, which is crucial for the longevity of fabrics. This is why museums use it to wash nearly everything under the sun [when things need washing–which they try to avoid]. They will even use it on wood furniture, to give you an idea of its varied usage.

    Another tip: when washing a quilt in a tub, first line the tub with a sheet that’s been pre-washed with Quilt Soap/Orvus. Then when removing the quilt from the tub, grab ahold of the sheet instead of the quilt. This will support the quilt so that stitches don’t pop and fabric doesn’t get strained or tear.

    Finally, I would caution anybody considering washing a vintage quilt to resist the urge. I only recommend washing said quilts when they have absolute tons of dirt or grease on them. I made the mistake of washing my great grandmother’s quilt when I was a kid, and the reds bled. Old fabrics from the 1940s or older were made and dyed vastly differently from our fabrics today and react to our city water, newer soaps, and general handling very differently. A good alternative to washing can be vacuuming the quilt with window screening over the end of the vacuum nozzle. Good luck!

  24. jean fletcher says:

    I remember reading that Orvus Paste, used to wash HORSES is good for cleaning quilts. Just disolve (not too much) in the water first before adding the quilt. (I do not recall quantity) For drying I also read to spread out a clean sheet larger than the quilt on the grass THEN spread out the quilt, so it won’t get any grass stains from freshly cut grass, collect the clippings or other debris such as small limbs, pine cones, etc… and COVER with another clean white sheet which you weight with some rocks so it doesn’t fly away in the wind. This keeps the fabrics from fading and weakening due to the sun and keeps other junk off the quilt as it dries. Do not leave out overnight!

    • Julie says:

      Hi Jean,

      Orvus is a cattle soap that is also sold as quilt soap. Museums use it to wash nearly everything b/c it rinses entirely out. I use a tablespoon for a regular to large top loading washer. I adjust for a bathtub accordingly.

  25. Andrea says:

    Aloha from Hawaii! I’ve only made three quilts and this one is the one that’s been on my bed for several years. The first one is pretty much falling apart, likely because I used thin batik fabric and washed it in the machine prior to doing any research.

    Once a month or so we do what’s called a tumble where I throw it in the dryer on air with some fabric sheets, and could pretty much make another cat with all the hair that comes off of it! My husband likes to sleep on top of it so I feel the time has come to actually wash it. I’m terrified!

    It’s a California king turning twenty made up of all Hawaiian prints…..advice?

    I have a Lanai with a table (deck) I could drape it over to dry if needed….thanks in advance.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      A California king? Wow that’s huge. If I were you I’d either go to a laundromat and wash it on cold, alone, in one of those huge machines. Use lots of Shout Color Catchers or quite a bit of Retayne. Tumble dry it on low until it’s damp and not so heavy. Once you’re able to take it back home, air dry it the rest of the way. Another option is to take it to a dry cleaner and have a professional wash it. (A professional you trust) I only say that because of the size. A quilt that big gets extremely heavy once it’s wet.

  26. Gail B. says:

    I recently inherited several handmade quilts that have been in storage. Some have some minor dirty areas around the edges, and some have some small rust/brown colored spots on them that I am fairly sure are not food, blood, etc. Do some materials naturally develop spots like this over time? I would like to know if I can have them dry cleaned. Thank you.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      hmmm…without seeing the quilts it’s hard to say. Is it possible that some condensation has gotten on the quilts and those are mold spots? You could get them dry cleaned, or gently submerge them in your bathtub and wash them that way.

  27. Barbara A Blood says:

    After reading all of the above comments, I have decided to try and use my old top loading machine to wash my mom’s hand stitched quilt. I live off the grid, so my water pressure is not good and it would take hours just to fill my bathtub that many times. So, I’m planning to use the washer as a vessel to hold the water and agitate the quilt by hand and use the spin cycle to get most of the water out. For drying I am planning to spread sheets out on the lawn and let it dry outside. I know I could never lift a heavy wet quilt out of my deep clawfoot bathtub and wring it out.
    That would be physically impossible for me. Do you think my plan is feasible?

      • ML says:

        looking for help for a king size quilt that bedbugs have left little black spots (better known poop spots) I can remove the spots with equal amounts of ammonia and peroxide let it stand on spot no longer than 15 mintues and then the problem is I live in and apt and the washers are to small for the quilt. Live in Houston,Texas

        • Suzy Quilts says:

          Could you take the quilt to a laundromat and use one of their extra large washing machines? I’ve done that before. So sorry about the bedbugs. A year after getting married my husband and I were cursed with an infestation of those little buggers and it was a TRIAL getting rid of them! Good luck!!

  28. Ann Griffith says:

    Could you put all your great quilt care wisdom into a slick printable doc? That would a handy thing to include with a gifted or donated quilt.

  29. Casey says:

    The types of quilts pictured (quilted throws/comforters) are simple to wash, throw in the washing machine and tumble dry, nothing hard about that. They’re stitched throughout, usually with a pattern that holds all the stuffing in place.. Now, tell me how to wash a “machine washable” wool quilt, without the stuffing ending up in random lumpy balls everywhere and no stuffing in other places?.. The instructions say to “pull into shape when wet” and “dry flat”, so does “pull into shape” mean I have to spend hours rearranging the stuffing until I get it somewhat in place, but never flat, even or as good as new? They’re impossible to wash without it ending up as a lumpy piece of sh*t, I think you need to mention these standard quilts with loose filling, rather than just the ‘quilted throws’ that this article is really about.

  30. Megan says:

    Do you have any recommendations for washing an unquilted quilt top? During some overzealous ironing, I managed to scorch the starch in my current project. I’m not too worried about long-term damage – I’m expecting the starch to wash out just fine – but I’m embarrassed to send something so brown and spotty to be longarmed! I’d love to get it cleaned up before shipping it out – handwashing in the bathtub, maybe?

  31. Edna Warkentine says:

    My second home in the Sierras is threatened by the Creek Fire. I am not sure we will ever see our quilts and wall hangings, etc besides all other personal possessions that belong to
    our neighbors and fellow quilters. My prayers and thoughts go out to them. I know how they must hurt. Since I don’t live there now but I know them, I feel for them. I still have a lot of my work in the house.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Technically, if something is older than 20 years, it’s considered vintage. My guess is that most things you find at an estate sale fall in that category. If you’re wondering how to date a quilt, you’ll need to do a bit more research. There are a few things to look for – fabric patterns, colors and how it’s aged. Fabric yellows over time. If the quilt was fully hand sewn together, there’s a good chance your quilt could be 70 years old or older. I have an article about hte invention of the sewing machine than gives more information on this –

  32. Chris Pederson says:

    Thanks for sharing that you can get away with washing your quilt about once a year if you don’t have kids or pets. My wife and I are alone in our apartment and we love quilts. We have recently started collecting them and I wanted to know how often I need to wash them

  33. Christle says:

    Thank you so much, Suzy! I’m washing my quilts for the first time right now–eek! Orvus soap, gentle cycle, cold water, and 4 color catcher sheets. I’m a newbie quilter so I appreciate the sharing of wisdom gained over time. Fingers crossed for a favorable outcome!

  34. Bonnie Herring-Cooper says:

    Thanks to everyone contributing to such a rich discussion. I read your posts because I have a new mattress and want to remove any dust mites from the vintage quilt I’ve been using occasionally. As I read the cautions about washing and drying a precious quilt, I realized that I don’t need to wash it; I can freeze the mites with a night outdoors in my northern climate.

  35. Meg says:

    Thank you so much for this! I have finally finished my first quilt today. It’s entirely hand pieced, hand quilted, and hand bound. Unfortunately it does not have prewashed fabric and the colors are saturated and deep and rainbow (dark, dark blue through deep red and brown, with bright transition between them through all the others) plus white between them. I’ve got the Retayne and color catchers and plan to machine wash cold/delicate, tumble dry low because it’s literally freezing here (and I want to make sure I do it once before gifting), and stare anxiously the whole time.

    Your instructions are such a help to me as a new quilter. Thank you!

  36. Pam says:

    My mom was a beautiful quilter and seamstress. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your instructions and the many comments from others. I have never washed the Christmas quilt she gave me, nor stored it properly. It’s still beautiful & I’m going to treat it royally from now forward-such a treasure. THANK YOU, Suzy.

  37. Sharon E-E says:

    Hi! I bought a pretty quilt top that smells of mildew and has some mildew stains. . I don’t believe it is 100% cotton. I intend to hang the top on the wall and after hemming the edges. What is the best way to clean it?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Because of the raw edges if you try to submerge it in water to clean it, it will fray. The safest way to get rid of the oder, if you are not going to enclose all of the raw edges, would be to spray it with Febreeze, which kills odor causing bacteria. Test a corner first to make sure there is no weird reaction.

  38. Christie Waldman says:

    Hi. As a new quilter whose hand-quilted quilts have never been washed (and who did not pre-wash or test fabrics and gave a quilt to a busy working mom of a toddler): I hear that Synthropol is being discontinued. Some say the Dawn Simply Clean (more dilute than the Ultra) will serve a similar purpose of keeping color that bleeds into the water from settling back into the fabric until you rinse it out (plus color catchers). It seems that Orvus Paste, for washing quilts, sold at livestock stores, is sodium laureth sulfate! I think that is a main ingredient in Synthropol. My quilts’ first wash will be by hand with Dawn and fingers crossed. For setting dyes (my next quilt), Retayne says it requires 20 min. with 160 degrees water (we turned up the hot water heater and treated a bunch of small pieces at once in the kitchen sink, but next time I would start some water boiling ahead of time because it cools down. I was glad to learn of Carbona Run Remover and Grandma’s Stain Remover. I also saw this stain removal formula–haven’t tried it–1 tbsp Dawn, 2 tbsp hydrogen peroxide, 1 tsp baking soda. Thanks for the good discussion!

  39. Christine says:

    Thank you for the tips on washing quilts. In my recent cleaning escapade, I found 2 gorgeous quilts that I assume came from my grandma. I was hesitant to use them, but I don’t have any other option but to put them back under the bed. I don’t have a way to dry them if I hand wash. My washer has an extremely delicate cycle, I know it’s risky, but going to have to do it.

  40. Judith Sahlin says:

    I have a jacket that I made back in 1990 and it has never been washed. It is a sort-of crazy quilt with colors red and black and white sections. I am sure I prewashed the cotton fabrics, but I don’t believe we had Retayne back then. How would you recommend I wash this jacket to best preserve it?

  41. Anna says:

    From a granny who sews clothes, quilts, and knits: We used to add salt to set colors, especially reds. This is no longer needed with today’s fabrics! Though I still wash new reds only with old reds out of habit.

    • Catalina Urias says:

      Hi! Oh how fun! We recommend the same process for wool batting. 🙂 Gentle cold cycle and air drying! You can also machine dry with air fluff setting until the quilt is damp and air dry the rest of the way.

  42. Dorothy Cooper says:

    After washing my quilt for the first time, I’m unhappy with some spaces which are within the quilt space requirement for the batting I used. Can/Should I add some stitching in these spaces, and rewash it?

    • Catalina Urias says:

      I’ve done it before! Make sure you secure your stitches at the start and end by either tacking or backstitching. Cheering you on! 🙂

  43. Gail Stephenson says:

    We had a roof leak at our vacation home. Unfortunately 2 quilts are seriously molded. Is the washing machine the way to go? Do I need the vinegar rinse as well or is there a better option? Also, a quilt from an estate home has blood (I think a rat delivered a litter on it.) Would hydrogen peroxide be the answer? All are vintage quilts.

  44. Joy says:

    Hi Suzy Thank you for your excellent advice. I followed your handwashing instructions for my sunflower quilt which was given and made for me by my sister 15 years ago. I’ve been apprehensive about washing it. It has come up beautifully with no bleeding of the dyes. I did put in a cup of salt with the fragrance-free washing powder. I washed it in the bath and rinsed it twice before adding a cup of white vinegar and rinsing again. It had a large watermark on the back – don’t know where it came from. The quilt has been hanging up on a wall but there is no sign of a water leak anywhere. The watermark has all but gone and is now hard to find. Yay! I used a sheet to let it drip-dry on the line then brought it inside onto a rack by the fire turning it around regularly. It’s winter here and has taken a couple of days to dry completely. Thank you very much, Joy (New Zealand)

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