How to Wash and Care for Your Quilts
Caring For Quilts On Display
Rotate quilts on display often to give them a rest. This will diminish their exposure to dust, light, and other potential sources of fabric damage (read more about how to prevent fabric damage here). A quilt that doesn’t have an obvious top or bottom can be turned periodically to prevent distortion or damage to the fabrics along one end. You may wish to add a hanging sleeve to more than one edge to make rotating the quilt easier.
TIP: Evaluate antique quilts individually before attempting to clean them. Improper cleaning can damage a quilt. If a quilt has sentimental or monetary value, consult an expert before cleaning it. Contact a quilt museum, university textile department, or antique quilt or textile expert for references.
TIP: An unused bed makes an ideal storage spot for quilts. Spread your quilts on the bed, separating them with layers of cotton fabric, cotton sheets, or batting to prevent any dye transfer.
Clean and freshen a quilt using one of these methods.
Take quilts outdoors once a year on an overcast, dry, and windy day to refresh them. Place towels or a mattress pad on the dry ground and lay your quilts on them. Cover the quilts with bedsheets to prevent debris from falling on them. Avoid placing quilts on a clothesline to prevent stress on the seams.
Using a Dryer
Quilts can be freshened in a dryer on a gentle-cycle/air-dry setting without heat.
Vacuuming both the front and back of a quilt can help preserve it by removing dust and dirt. Place a nylon hose or net over the end of a vacuum hose and gently draw the hose over the quilt’s surface without rubbing it. Always clean a quilt with at least a quick vacuuming to remove dust and dirt before storing it.
Many everyday quilts are made for heavy use and therefore require laundering. Take care to use a dye magnet, such as a Color Catcher sheet, in a washing machine on a gentle cycle to absorb any excess fabric dye. Avoid washing an antique or heirloom quilt unless it’s absolutely necessary. Washing, even when done on a gentle cycle, causes fabrics to fade and is abrasive to fibers. As a last resort, cotton quilts can be washed in cold water with a gentle soap by hand or in the machine on a gentle cycle. Do not wring or twist a quilt; instead, gently squeeze out the water. Wet quilts are heavy and need to be supported when you are moving them to a flat area to dry. (See editor-approved soaps for washing your projects here.)
Washing by Hand
1. Use a clean tub that is free from other soaps or cleaning materials.
2. Place a large towel or cotton blanket in the tub to support the quilt.
3. Thoroughly dissolve soap in the water prior to adding the quilt to the tub. Be sure you have enough water in the tub to cover the quilt.
4. Place the quilt in the tub. Gently agitate (do not wring or twist) the quilt to release the dirt and soil.
5. Rinse the quilt by draining and refilling the tub. Repeat as needed to remove soap, as residue can build up on a quilt’s surface.
6. Press excess water out of the quilt, starting at the end farthest from the drain and working your way across the quilt. Use towels to blot up excess water.
7. Remove the quilt from the tub, using the large towel or cotton blanket beneath it.
8. Spread the quilt flat on a clean sheet that has been placed out of direct sunlight. Let it air-dry, using a fan to speed the process.
Washing by Machine
1. Fill the washing machine with water and dissolve the soap.
2. Place the quilt in the machine. Let it soak for up to 15 minutes, checking it frequently to make sure the fabric dyes are stable and not running onto neighboring fabrics. If desired, agitate the quilt on a gentle cycle for up to five minutes. Note: A front-loading washing machine will not allow you to soak the quilt in the washer drum. Agitating on a gentle cycle is necessary in this type of washing machine.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 with fresh soap and water if a quilt is especially soiled.
4. Use a gentle spin cycle to rinse the quilt and remove the excess water. Continue to rinse and spin until the rinse water is free of soap.
5. Remove the quilt from the machine and spread it flat on a clean sheet that has been placed out of direct sunlight. Let it air-dry, using a fan to speed the process.
It is wise to check references before selecting a dry cleaner to handle your quilts, as dry cleaning can cause cotton dyes to bleed or change color. Take special precautions if you wish to dry-clean a wool or silk quilt. Dry cleaning should be a last resort, used only if vacuuming or spot cleaning doesn’t remove the soil.