Quilting Blog

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

Adrienne Nelson

I always use Shout Color Catchers when washing new fabric!

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.

marym clanto

I serve my edges. Very stable.

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.


thanks for the detail, your comment was very helpful

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


What a good idea.


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?


Hi there, I have gotten good results handwashing in VERY hot soapy water in the kitchen sink for precuts. I even occasionally will add boiling water. The soap would of course be minimal, and a good quality recommended for quilts. After letting the fabrics soak (and also visually observing if anything looks like trouble as far as bleeding) a good rinse, and gently squeezing out excess water, then hanging up till almost dry and ironing afterwards works great. I wash my precuts when I get closer to using them. I have done this several times and have been very happy with the results. Handwashing and air drying, (or even a bit of machine drying by itself, not with a whole load of stuff to wad things up!) will not leave your jelly rolls and other precuts in a tangled wrinkled mess. You can even watch TV and iron fabrics with a small ironing board. Even better if you catch them before they are fully dry!

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.

Maureen Kearns

I totally agree. I buy quilt shop quality fabrics and have also made probably 50 quilts and the only quilt that faded out (didn’t actually bleed) was a quilt with burgundy from JoAnn’s when I first started to quilt. Never Joann’s again. I love the look of a used quilt so I also wash my quilts before giving them. I have several wall quilts and they do not get washed at all. Except one, made of civil war reproduction fabrics. I wanted it to look old.


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.


I made a 79″ by 86″ quilt using all unwashed fabric, and batting. When I washed it, it shrank to 74″ by 82″ and was still nicely square. The shrink gave it a nice slightly puffy look, and scrunchy feel. It was my first traditional quilt, with cotton backing and stitch in the ditch quilting. I like it, and will do it again.

Marya C.

Although many like the “puffy” look of a quilt that is finished and then washed, I dont. Just my taste. I am a pre-washer for many reasons, mostly because I’m allergic to sizing. To answer the question above, one possibility is to wash the finished quilt top before assembling the three quilt layers. This will give the quilt top the opportunity to shrink before it is quilted and prevent the puckering. If you do this, you should also pre-shrink the backing fabric as well. I would gently wash the completed top, press it (with some starch if that is your preference) and then assemble the quilt. I have done this before. I don’t like the results as much as I like pre-washing the fabric, but it’s better than having my quilt shrink, in my opinion.

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.

Barb Honey

Me too.

Macky Dunbar

Do you cut each corner? And is this for small pieces of fabric only? I’m a Very new beginner.


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;


I prewash everything. I do it to preshrink. I wouldn’t have it any other way.


I wash the fabric and the batting. Both can shrink – especiallly cotton batting. I don’t want to be surprised when I wash the quilt when it is finished. No one has mentioned yellow. It runs as much or more than red, blue and black.


I prewash and then I starch, starch starch. This is even better than the stiffness in the fabrics when you buy it. Makes bias easy to control. Makes pieces fit together perfectly – assuming you cut accurately!

Marie Ravening

I’ve had more problems in recent years with blues and greens running. I always prewash on a short normal cycle in cold water with a liquid laundry detergent.
I would never wash fabric or a quilt using a washing powder.


If the quilter/sewer is allergic to the sizing, prewash.


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? What does the vodka do?


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.

Carole Allwin

I enjoy all I see


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.

Ellen Kashevaroff

After washing quilting fabric: The smaller pieces I hang on clip hangers to air dry. On larger pieces I fold, square them and then also hang on clip hangers. When dry there is no need to iron them until needed while working on the project. I find this gives the fabric a fresh smell, a more natural feel and is easy to work with. Have fun…

Lynne Baker

Nowadays I prewash all my fabric. The heartache of finishing a quilt for a gift only to have red or purple or a rich brown bleed into lighter fabrics at a seam upon washing is immeasurable. I use Melaleuca because it is natural and insert color catchers. I use a gentle cycle and warm water and dry on my dryer rack in the shade, aligning selvedges first. If my catchers indicate a lot of color was lost, I wash again. I recently had need to wash my daughter’s wedding quilt made of batiks. Even though I had prewashed all the fabrics before I made the quilt, I inserted 7 color catchers in the folds of the quilt and washed on warm in a gentle cycle. All the catchers came out cinnamon-colored but the quilt was perfect. Prewashing also compensates for different shrinkage rates when fabric from different manufacturers are used in one quilt. I worked 10 years in quilt shops and have made over 75 quilts since retiring fr teaching. I recommend to parents of my 4-Hers to wash their fabrics, too.

Tammy Voss

Thank you for your story. I am new to quilting.

Linda Smith

Solid red bleeds. A Lot. Solid purple, and other dark colors bleed some. Printed fabrics of any color do not tend to bleed. When I am using dark colored solids, I soak them in very hot water with a squirt of Dawn Dish Liquid. Let the fabric soak for 24 hours, then rinse and use. It is about the color fastness, not the shrinkage. Vinegar does not work.

Cheryl Matthews

I used to pre wash all my fabrics before making a quilt. Not any more UNLESS it is Batik fabric or solid color dark fabric. i.e. Red, Dk Blue, Green, Black, Dk Gray, Dk Purple, etc. Now if I wash a solid to get rid of extra dyes, I will wash the rest of the fabric. Separate according to color. I also use color catchers. Then after fabric is dried I will use Best Press to press all the fabrics before cutting out.
When I don’t wash the fabrics before making a quilt. I will wash it after the quilt is finished. I love the antique crinkle look.
Happy Quilting

Debbie Donnon

Everything I read above sounds good, but no one spoke about the drying process. If you are sensitive to the sizing in the fabric you are probably sensitive to most fabric softeners. These will also leave a finish on your fabric that will hinder the use of most fusibles. Please also consider the needs of anyone else handling your quilt. If you are sending it out to a long-arm quilter to be finished, the less chemicals on the fabric the better. Most long-arm quilters are working with fabrics for a long period of time each day. Any chemicals (sizing, too much laundry detergent, fabric softeners) can send invisible clouds up during the quilting process. When you are breathing that in for 8 hours per day the results can be quite harmfull.


I always think pre-washing or not is very much left to the choice of the quilter. Some swear by it and others do not. Personal choice. I do not pre wash but if I have a dark red, indigo, batik, or purples that I think might bleed I soak it is a large bowl of hot water, with a color catcher, if it looks like it will bleed I add a dash of retanye to the water and let it soak. I always wash my quilts after they are quilted and dry them also – I love the shrinkage look it makes them look loved, used and antique! Even the quilts on the walls get washed – I have been quilting for 25+ years and have made literally hundreds of quilts and out of all of those I have only had bleed in a couple of them and not to the point that the quilt was ruined – but then I do not do show quilts or contests – I quilt for pure enjoyment and it is a great stress reducer – my quilts are not perfect – they are loved though

Margaret (margiestitcher)

I pre wash as was advised to when I started quilting s once I had washed one fabric unless it is used straight away I would forget which was washed and which not so have to wash all as soon as I buy, I am a fabric hoarder and but if I see something I like rather than for a set prurpose I use colour cachers and am surprised at how often colour is caught, do not have a dryer so it gets dried outside on the line and then iron it

Marilyn Cotsamire

I like to take small snips of my fabrics after they are selected for a quilt. Put each piece in a jar or small container with hot water(maybe a tad of dish soap). if the water is still clear and not colored it should be fine to use it.


Thanks for all the suggestions. I always pre-wash but it’s such a bother with the edges fraying. I usually just use my serger along the edges and no fraying. But, that’s a pain, too. The things we do for our quilts and sewing projects. Wouldn’t have it any other way though.


I use the safe Duggards recipe for liquid detergent on all my fabric and even clothes. It takes so many washings to get chemicals out of your laundry. Thats why I like this. No harsh ingredients.

Debi French

I always prewash except precut. And I only use unwashed fabrics with these. There was no mention of how to iron your fabric once it is washed. It is important to always move the iron in the direction of the lengthwise grain where there is almost no stretch. This will prevent distortion. If you’ve ever had wavy selvage you are probably ironing with the crosswise grain.

Linda Towers

I ALWAYS pre wash my fabric. Even the precuts get swished in cold water and then ironed. When doing a large load, I put just a drop or two of laundry detergent in the wash and dry with several used dryer sheets. These help with wrinkling, but do not leave as much residue.
Even projects which you do not plan to wash may need washing someday: we had a fire with minimal damage except for the smoke which went everywhere. A tiny quilted wall hanging which I had bought bled all over itself when washed. I keep it to remind me to always pre wash.
And as for modern, quality printed fabrics, a red print that I bought last week from the local quilt shop for $12 a yard and made by a major company bled like crazy! Pre wash and there will be no surprises!

Susan Vincenzes

I’m new to quilting but haven’t prewashed yet, but after all the comments I’m rethinking this. How do you wash and dry a large piece of batting? Would a simple zigzag stitch along the raw edges stop the fraying? Loved all the comments and suggestions. Happy quilting everybody!

Carole Mehner

I wash all my batting, except the Hobbs Fusible. During summer months, I wash two at a time in the bathtub with very warm water, baby detergent or Woolite. Unroll the batting but leave it folded. Push it down into the water & gently knead it. Rinse twice with cool water.
Lift one end of the still folded batting, gently squeeze out as much water as you can. Work your way down the length of batting, putting the drier end into a bucket or onto a large plastic sheet. Outside, I have a large flannel sheet draped over the picnic table. Pick up one end of batting & lay it on the sheet, squeezing out more water. Slowly unfold the batting over the sheet until you have 2 – 4 layers. Have no more than 10 inches hanging over the table edge. Cover with another sheet to keep leaves & bugs from landing. Squeeze along the edges to reduce the weight of water. On a sunny, breezy day,the batting is dry before dinner. If not dry enough, just roll it up & bring it back out tomorrow.
Seems like a lot of work, but I get some exercise & be outside in the sunshine. And I have a clean, soft batting to use with my washed fabrics.


I only quilting for a short time in last 5 years and made a lot quilts on this short time. My friends who are experience quilt tell now need to wash your fabric before quilting, now reading other people experience with colours and shrieking I decided to wash my fabric before I start a project. I think it’s just peace of mind for future problems and the thinking of the hard work you put into your quilts


Does anyone ever consider dry cleaning? I’m not super crazy about the antique wrinkled look, and for some more modern designs I prewash fabric but still would prefer no further shrinkage

Jan Gajewski

Thanks to all for your comments. If my finished quilt will be used and eventually washed by me or someone else, I prewash my fabric on a short cycle and dry in the dryer on low. This means I have to iron the fabric and probably starch it before sewing. I found that quality fabrics from a quilt store don’t shrink much; JoAnn fabrics shrink and get thin/limp after all the sizing is washed out. I have several small wall quilts that I just tossed in the dryer on air to get the dust out after they have been hanging for a long time. Also, Dryel or a similar product does a good job in the dryer without having to wash your quilt.


I’m by no means an expert quilter, and have both pre-washed and not. I don’t have allergies to sizing/chemicals and typically prefer the after-washed effect. However, when I have prewashed, to save my raw edges, I will either zig-zag the raw edge (half on/half off; similar to serging) or I’ll pop my rolled hemming foot on (typically 2-3mm) and finish those bad boys. Then, once the material has been washed, dried, and pressed, I trim the zig-zag or hem off and cut from there. Zig-zagging is by far the least time and energy consuming (will save your joints and still faster than pinking or fringing) and frays very little. Rolled hemming is easy once you get the hang of it (plenty of tutorials on Youtube) and wont fray at all, but you might loose up to half an inch or more depending on your hemming width (probably a similar loss to fringing). If you’re constantly pre-washing and dislike any amount of fray, rolled hemming raw edges is the best route and will also give you lots of practice in that technique.


I noticed no one responded to Holly’s question about dry cleaning quilts. I have 2 whole cloth bed quilts that my mother hand appliquéd. I believe that she did these in the 1980’s. We have been using them so they have already been machine washed and dried a few times. They are in great condition, but still have the blue pattern markings. I think the markings were stamped on, probably ink. I live in an apartment with access only to commercial machines and Laundromats. The rules here do not allow for outside drying or airing. I want to clean these quilts and give them to our next generation. Is dry cleaning and acceptable alternative? Would dry cleaning remove the pattern markings or is that a lost cause at this point? Please help.

Debi Crocker

There is loose dye in the dying process that should be rinsed out of the fabric before construction to prevent bleeding. After constructed there may still be extra dye that comes out. this is especially true of saturated colors. My pre washing solution is adding Blue Dawn dish detergent to the load and color catchers and a little detergent. to address the tangling I like to use my quilting pins to layer the fabric. Generally I just fold it in half and pin about 8-10 inches apart along all the edges. i throw it in the dryer still pinned and let it go on a warm temp, better shrink now than later. I remove while still slightly damp, very few wrinkles. Always remove from washer as soon as the load finished as there can be transferance when the fabric touches another fabric or even itself. Check the color catchers. If they are dark then do it again! because otherwise it is going to mess in your finished quilt! So fabrics never quit bleeding, these have not been treated properly in the manufacturing process.


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