When + How to Wash Quilting Fabric

Some quilters like to wash all of their fabric before cutting it, other quilters prefer to use unwashed fabric. While there are definitely pros and cons to prewashing fabric, there are times when all quilters should wash their fabric. It’s important to know when you really must wash and, when those times arise, how to wash quilting fabric to avoid ruining it.

Tips for washing quilting fabric

You should wash your quilting fabric if:

You plan to dye the fabric

Most fabric dyes work best on fabric that has been washed to remove any chemicals left in the manufacturing process. Check the dying instructions on your fabric dye to see if you should pre-wash your fabric.

The quilt will be given to a baby or child

Quilts given to a baby or child should be washed either before the fabric is cut, or after the quilt has been bound. This removes any chemicals or other residue from manufacturing that might irritate the sensitive skin of a baby or child

You have allergies

If you have skin allergies and find that you are sensitive to dyes in fabrics, you might want to wash the fabric before cutting to reduce or eliminate any reactions.

You are concerned about shrink or bleed

If you plan to wash the quilt after it is completed, you may want to wash the fabric beforehand. Washing the fabric before cutting it will reduce the amount of shrink and wrinkles in the finished quilt when washed. However, some people like the vintage look that comes from washing a quilt pieced from unwashed fabric.

When using fabrics with high contrast (especially red and white combinations), washing your fabrics before stitching will reduce the color from later bleeding onto the light fabrics during washing or storing the quilt.

You are using materials that require pre-washing fabrics

Some materials, such as some fusibles used in appliqué, require prewashing the quilting fabrics before using the fusibles. Read the package instructions on any materials you use in your quilts.


Psst, do you enjoy appliqué? Then check out one of my favorite Craftsy classes, 20 Fresh Appliqué Techniques.

You are making a garment

Every now and then, quilters make clothes instead of quilts. Prewashing fabrics before making a garment will take out the shrink, ensuring that the garment you make stays the size you stitched it. If you plan on sewing a garment, read this article on washing fabric for garment sewing.

Got the need for clean? Here’s how to successfully wash quilting fabric:

1. Before washing your quilting fabrics, you must prepare any raw edges. The raw edges will fray in the wash. If you don’t prepare the edges before washing, the frayed threads can wrap around the fabric and washing machine, creating a tangled mess.

Here you can see the fraying results from different ways of preparing fabric:

prepped washed fabric

The easiest way to prepare fabric for washing is to use pinking shears. Cut along the raw edge of the fabric using pinking shears. Do not cut off the selvedge. You can do this very easily with a pinking blade on your rotary cutter.

pinking shears to prep fabric for washing

Fringing the edges of the fabric creates less fraying in the wash than pinking shears, and is easy to do. Use shears to cut 3/4″ slits along the raw edge of the fabric, with each cut about 1/2″ apart. If you fold your fabric so that the two raw edges meet, you can cut both sides at once.

Fringe the edge of the fabric
2. Once your fabric has been prepared, you can wash it in the washing machine. Use a gentle detergent that has no dyes or perfumes. Soak Wash makes a fabric wash specifically designed for quilting fabrics. If your washer has a second rinse cycle, take advantage of it to rinse out any extra residue.

3. After washing, you can dry your fabric in the dryer on the cotton or “permanent press” setting. Once the fabric has dried, prepare your fabric for cutting by ironing the fabric with starch or Best Press.

Some quick tips before you start washing your fabric:

  • Buy 5-10% extra fabric if you plan to prewash. Your fabric will shrink in the wash, and nothing is worse than cutting into your fabric only to find that you don’t have enough!
  • Flannels shrink more than quilting cottons, and high quality quilt cottons shrink less than cheap cottons.
  • If you expect your fabric to bleed in the wash, add several color catchers to absorb the dye. These can be purchased in the laundry aisle of your grocery store.
  • Don’t wash pre-cuts before sewing — they will shrink, and no longer be square or the right size for most pre-cut patterns.
  • When making a quilt, all the fabrics should either be washed or unwashed. Don’t mix washed fabrics with unwashed fabrics.
  • Wash like colored fabrics together: reds with reds, blues with blues, whites with whites, etc. to keep colors bright and prevent any bleed.

 Alright pro prewashers, any tips? And for those of you against prewashing, did we convince to consider prewashing at least sometimes?


Amy Julian Swencak

When I wash the fabric I also add white vinegar and color catchers

Joann Kraemer

I found that if you add salt when washing, colors tend not to run….I use color catchers also on first wash just salt after that with detergent

Joy Burchett

I use my serger to serge the 2 raw edges together on a large piece of fabric. This makes your fabric a loop like a scarf…..then wash the piece even if it is a 1/2 yard or several yards.

Patricia Hersl

Great job and I’m with you, except for the fringing part but I think there will be no end to this debate. I wash. The factory sizing gives me a rash. Washing is easier than medication. I’ve been at this 25 yrs, but maybe I can help the process along. The larger the pieces of yardage, the less the fraying. I use a short wash cycle. The fabric isn’t dirty; you are just removing the sizing. I wash with a teaspoon of Orvus for about 15 yds.; dry on regular, generally hotter than permanent press. If it’s going to shrink, do it now. If you want to wash small cuts, place them in a mesh lingerie bag. Minimum fraying but the sizing does get out. I only separate darks from lights. If they are going into the same quilt, they will be washed together. If you have a load of reds and one bleeds, how can you tell which one it is? Most reds, if left sitting wet, will bleed. Color catchers do work, if you can find them. Woolite will take the color out of cotton. I have a friend who washes no fabric if it is from before 1930; she doesn’t trust it. Many older fabrics will shred in a wash. I could go on for pages. Sorry.

Wendy Turnor

I place my fabric in lingerie washing bags. I sort by color. I have various sized bags suitable for say fat 1/4rs right up to several meters. I have not had fraying of edges with this method. cheers


I never wash fabrics……except Batiks. Their high thread count and the wax used in production can make them very stiff and the wax may gunk up your needle
I was interested in the comment about washing jelly rolls etc. I have a lovely pattern for cuddly inside out chenille jelly roll quilt that depends on washing to get the effect. Would a pinked precut stop this?

Jean Anderson

If I only have a small amount to wash, such as a fat quarter or a few, I soak them in a dishwashing tub I keep just for that purpose, with warm water (not hot) and a small amount of detergent. Then I rinse well, squeeze most of the water out and press dry. The pressing takes care of any shrinking that might occur. If I’m making the quilt to be used, as opposed to being a keepsake only, I use regular detergent when I wash it. After all, whoever I give it to should be able to wash it with whatever they use normally. But I do enclose a note with each gift quilt about using cool water on a gentle cycle and about using a color catcher to keep their quilt colors bright.

Deb Wayne

I never wash my fabric before I make a quilt unless it is calico because it does shrink.When the quilt is completed I wash it on a delicate setting with cold water only. I have never had a bleeding of colours and I have made over 50 quilts. I find that keeping the fabric unwashed ensures more accurate cutting. I also love the way the quilt pops when it is finished and has had its first wash.


I’m about to make my first quilt and am now concerned about prewashing or not prewashing my fabric. If I don’t and I finish the quilt will it shrink on the first wash and be all out of shape.

Elaine Dunbar

I cut a small 45 degree corner on each piece or fabric and wash the fabric very gently, agitating it by hand. Dry on permanent press and press with Best Press.


This is misleading information. There are only a few reasons to prewash: if there will be dye involved, if the fabric has been dyed (batiks), if the fabric is very dark (red/navy/black), if the fabric is flannel.
Otherwise, you don’t wash the thread or the batting.
Babies and allergies can be addressed when the quilt it finished. Wash the whole quilt.
If you must wash precuts, put them in a pillow case or lingerie bag.


Yes, as mentioned in the article, you don’t always need to prewash fabrics. However, there are some instances where you should… or should at least consider it. The article does mention that you can wash a baby quilt after it has been bound… this is especially a great idea if you are spray basting the quilt, as it will help to remove chemicals from spray basting.
All commercially available fabrics, with the exception of solid white or natural muslin, have dyes and/or inks applied to them. And all commercially available fabrics have sizing or other chemicals added as well.
Some people are allergic to the chemicals used in the fabric manufacturing process. Those people always wash their fabrics before using them, because they get a reaction to cutting and handling the fabrics during the creation of the quilt. Though some people put blood, sweat, and tears into the creation of their quilt – an itchy rash should never be part of that list!
And if you are making a garment, you should ALWAYS pre-wash your fabrics… unless you plan on losing a little weight the first time it is washed! 😉

Carol P.

There is nothing misleading about prewashing your fabric before making a quilt. It is in my opinion a very good idea. However, if you choose not to, then don’t. I always do unless I’m dealing with small cuts of fabric like precuts. Fat quarters I hand wash only. If I don’t prewash, then I wash after the quilt is finished. Did this with Moda fat quarters and the finished look of the quilt was great. The fabric has an old style look to the design and the crinkling of the quilt after washing it made it look really nice in an old fashioned antique kind of way. I really love it;


Blankies that I make for charity (I sew blankies which are donated to our local children’t hospital Pediatric Intensive Care Unit), these blankies must be able to endure the hospitals rigorous hot water washings. Therefore, we prewash all our fabrics in hot water, gentle cycle. I use very little hypo-allergenic soap and add baking soda, use white vinegar in the rinse. In the dryer I use homemade dryer sheets of cotton fabric soaked in 50/50 water/white vinegar. For very yardage pieces I keep them folded with selvage ends out and pin the layers together at top and bottom, washed on gentle cycle they come out nicely.
I do not prewash my quilt fabrics but I do wash my quilts prior to delivery. I prefer the look the quilts have after washing but prefer the workability of the fabric prior to washing. I’ve not yet had a problem with fabrics bleeding, quality fabric is important in quilting.
Pre-washing fabrics is a preference or as some have indicated, a medical necessity.


I cut a small piece of my dark fabric and test by running under warm water. If it bleeds I then wash with a cup of vinegar to set the color.

Michelle Presley

I buy fabric at auctions and estate sales and sometimes they smell very musty. I wash the fabric in a short cycle, with vodka, about a cup, then a second wash with detergent and vodka, hang on the line to dry-NOT the dryer. Smells fresh and I haven’t had any fabric bleed.


Vodka kills bacteria. Costumers in theater and for film shoots have been using vodka in spray bottles forever to process the clothing for the actors to wear during the next go round. This is especially important in film when you have to have the clothing look identical in a subsequent take- think of tears, stains, etc. After spraying and letting air dry, the fabrics are “clean”- smells gone, bacteria gone.


I soak my fabric in lukewarm water in the sink, then squeeze the water out (not wringing or twisting), and soak in cold water. Then I put the fabric in the dryer. I thought the purpose of this was to wet the fabric to cause it to shrink in the dryer. The hand soaking eliminates the agitation that the fabric would be subjected to in the wash machine, so less fraying. Does the detergent remove more sizing or other finishes than soaking in plain water?

Karen Flanigan

Regardless if I prewash fabric or wash the completed quilt, I always use Orvus soap. It has no dyes, perfumes or additives and is a soap rather than a detergent. It rinses without leaving a residue. I use it for all my laundry in my front-loader washing machine. You use 1 Tablespoon per full load, and it is low suds. It can be purchased at quilt stores, but much more economically at tack and feed stores as it is marketed for animal wash/shampoo, esp. horses. Probably can purchase on line, too as it is made by Procter and Gamble.


I always wash fabric on a light quick wash cycle before use in a quilt. It frays but not that much.
Not as much as cutting into the fabric to fringe it.
I never use washing powder, always a liquid laundry detergent.
If a fabric can’t cope with washing in a normal way, why would I use it? I wash my quilts the same way, all of which are hand quilted and I have never had a problem.
I’ve been doing this for over 30 years.


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