How To Clean Quilts

By Angela Mitchell

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It is inevitable. Quilts need to be washed. Whether a new creation, a vintage find, or an heirloom on display, quilts become unclean in one way or another. This can be from daily use, long term storage, or simply from dust. The subject of quilt cleaning tends to be a hot topic with many different points of view. This should come as no surprise at all! They are pieces of art, and they need to be tended to carefully.

binding edge of quilt

Via Carrie Strine

A Newly Made Quilt

You've spent all of this time making a beautiful new quilt. It is a lot of work, isn't it? Now it is time to wash it. With today's fabrics, many quilters feel comfortable washing a finished quilt in their home machine with cold water on a gentle cycle. Always use a mild detergent that contains no bleach, color brighteners, or perfumes. To keeps colors bright, throw in a half cup of vinegar. When removing the wet quilt from the washer, be extra careful! The added weight from the water can break stitches.

Air drying is the one way to dry quilts. They can be draped on a drying rack, laid across a sheet or towels on the floor, or even spread across the lawn in a clean spot in the shade. You can also toss your quilt in the dryer on low if you'd like, pulling it out before it is completely dry. If this is the first time the quilt has been washed, toss a couple of Shout Color Catchers into the washing machine with your detergent. If any of the colors run, these little sheets will catch them. You can always prewash your fabric before you ever start using them if you are worried about the color running!

binding edge of quilt

Via LRstitched

A Vintage Find Or Heirloom Quilt

These types of quilts need extra care. Oftentimes when you bring home a vintage quilt, it will need to be to be cleaned before using. In advance of washing, make sure the quilt is fully intact and repair any damages. Check for colorfastness by rubbing a piece of white fabric that is dampened with cool water over the different colors and fabrics of the quilt. If the color transfers, it might be best to have it cleaned by quilt professionals.

Now that your quilt has been repaired if necessary and you know that the colors won't run, you can wash your quilt! There are three options for cleaning these types of quilts:

  1. Hand washing.: Gently submerge the quilt into a bathtub full of water, a mild detergent, and a half cup of vinegar. Swish it around carefully, and allow it to soak for a couple hours. Once the soapy water has been drained, lightly push the quilt against the tub to get as much water out of it as possible. Refill the tub with cool water to rinse, and repeat. Do this a few more times until the soap is completely rinsed out.
  2. Extra gentle machine wash: Rather than allowing the quilt to run through a full machine cycle, only let it agitate for a few minutes on gentle cycle before turning off the machine. After soaking for a couple hours, set the washer to the spin cycle to squeeze out the water. Repeat these steps without soap to rinse.
  3. Vacuum. Slide the end of a cut off nylon over the sweeper hose to suction any dirt out of the quilt. This is a great way to freshen up an heirloom quilt that is a bit dusty.

A simple rule? The less you wash a quilt, the longer it will last. Take a little time to learn how to care for your quilts, and they'll be around for decades!

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