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

How-To-Wash-Quilt

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.

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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:​

Clean_Care_Quilt

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.
Launder-Quilt

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:​

Wash-a-Quilt

Check out the above quilt pattern – Shop Maypole Quilt Pattern!

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.
    How-to-Clean-Quilt
  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!)
How-to-wash-Quilt

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!

Suzy Quilts

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29 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.

  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.

  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:

    Bonjour
    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).
    Salut
    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!

    • InSim Zingre says:

      Vivian,
      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!

  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.

  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 http://www.amishhandquilting.com “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. 🙂

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