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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
- 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.)
- Folding your quilt so the spots and grease marks don’t show and never actually using it (this is SOOO tragic.)
- Living in a constant state of denial that your quilt has to be cleaned. (Okay, I do this sometimes. I’m working on it.)
- 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:
Check out the above quilt pattern – Shop Maypole Quilt Pattern!
How to Wash and Care for a Quilt the RIGHT Way
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!)