Should You Pre-Wash Quilting Fabric?

woman drying fabric

To pre-wash or not to pre-wash: that is the ultimate quilting question. Some people swear by it, while others think it’s not worth the extra time. The good news: you can’t really go wrong either way! Here we present both sides of the argument, so you can decide what works best for your future project.

Team Pre-Wash

Those who won’t move forward on a quilting project until it’s pre-washed often do so for these reasons.

1. It Prevents Vibrant Dyes From Spreading onto Other Fabric

Some bright colors, like reds and purples, can run and bleed when washed, which is a devastating surprise when it happens to a finished quilt. Washing fabrics beforehand reduces this risk.

2. Fabric Shrinks When Washed and Dried

When stitched together, the fibers of the fabrics are pulled nice and straight. But laundering causes them to either shrink or relax back into their natural shape. If you haven’t pre-washed fabrics before they were cut and sewn, this can cause some distortion in a finished quilt.

3. It Removes Any Chemicals That Have Been Used on the Fabric

This is especially helpful for people who have sensitive skin, essentially giving the maker a clean slate that they know is safe for them to work on.

Tips for Pre-Washing

If you’ve decided to pre-wash your fabric , keep these tips in mind before tossing in the machine.

1. Sort Fabric by Colors, Separating Light and Dark

Always wash like colors together on a cold cycle with a gentle detergent, and follow the manufacturer’s directions for laundering. Once the wash finishes, shake out fabrics before tossing into the dryer. (And remove fabric promptly to prevent wrinkles.)

2. Trim the Edges Before Folding Your Fabric

The edges will fray during this process, so make sure to trim them off. You can also serge or zigzag stitch them to keep everything tidy.

3. Never Wash Precut Fabric

The small pieces are likely to get lost in your machine, so it’s best to avoid that situation altogether.

Team No Pre-Wash

Some quilters think pre-washing fabric is a waste of time — here’s why.

1. A Little Shrinking Isn’t Such a Big Deal

We’re not talking massive distortion here, rather the cozy, crinkly look you get after laundering a quilt made from fabrics that weren’t pre-washed. The exception here is flannel and minky fabric — they shrink a lot and should always be pre-washed.

2. Dyes Bleed Way Less Than They Used To

Many manufacturers realize that pre-washing isn’t exactly fun, so they work hard to ensure that dyes are set completely. If you’re really concerned about this though, do a test: soak a small piece of fabric in warm, soapy water. If the water is still clear after 30 minutes, you’re good to go. If the water has taken on color, pre-wash the fabric with a color fixative like Retayne, which helps the dye become more permanent.

3. Unwashed can be Easier to Piece

Starches and sizing agents provide that extra crispness that makes it behave so nicely during piecing.

4. It Won’t be Laundered Again

If you’re making something purely decorative, like a wall hanging, that won’t be used and laundered over time, there’s no reason to take that extra step. Skip straight to crafting!

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17 Responses to “Should You Pre-Wash Quilting Fabric?”

  1. Shirley
    Shirley

    I always prewash. Some fabrics such as Tilda recommend you do as they will have some shrinkage.

    Reply
  2. Ellie
    Ellie

    No pre-washing needed, even with flannel backing. I have only had one color “run” ( Indigo) and it happened before the wash. Most came out with the first washing. I always use color catchers with the first wash.

    Reply
  3. Joe Massa
    Joe Massa

    I almost never pre wash my fabric. I like that little pucker when I take a finished quilt out of the wash for the first time. 99% of my quilts are meant to be used and loved, they are taken on picnics and laid on the grass, food spills on them, they are dragged around by little kids. Babies spit up on them. They are going to get used, washed, dried, washed again, and no one is going to look at they little edges that are not perfectly straight. I’ve only had a problem with colors running once, and that was on a red minky back and some old rickrack that I found that was g-d knows how old. I don’t even pre wash Flannel or Minky and I’ve never had a catastrophe.
    The exception, hand dyed fabrics. I had a pack of hand dyed fat quarters that I had to wash 3 times before the color catcher was clean.
    I also always use synthrapol when I’m washing a quilt the first time.
    On a similar note, I also use spray niagra starch on the fabrics before I start piecing. I find the crisp fabric helps me to piece much more accurately than the softer fabrics. I used to use BestPress but that got to be expensive and hard to find so I use the niagra. I know it’s not great for long term use, but I only use it once and I always wash my quilts before I give them as gifts so were all good.

    Reply
    • Cindy
      Cindy

      Yea,totally agree with you I’ve been quilting seen I been 7 and I’m 69 , and I made many ,many quilts and never per wash ever and never had problems ,and yes they have been washed and Jesé’s time and time again my grands kids love to sleep and just have the warmth around them.

      Reply
  4. Margaret Ann Lee
    Margaret Ann Lee

    In my classes at NMSU, our professor, doctorate of fabric design, always prewash fabrics, but that was in 1994, but at 70 I still prewash and then spray with Niagara starch on wrong side. I do not wash small pieces nor laser cuts. Happy Quilting!

    Reply
  5. Merolyn
    Merolyn

    After all the Quilts I have made, only two big disasters when washed after being made. One a complete top made by someone else which I was going to sandwich, quilt and
    complete. The fabric pieces ended up every which way, bulging and pulling.
    The others have all been baby Quilts with some flannelette, usually for the backing. I always wash the fabric for these now as they irretrievably buckled.

    Reply
  6. Charlotte Arthur
    Charlotte Arthur

    Go team pre-wash. Love the smooth feel. If wash pre-cuts just out in lingerie bag. Easy

    Reply
  7. Linda
    Linda

    I have been bitten by colors running in finished quilts. My rule of thumb is to prewash yardage and don’t prewash fabric if any type of precuts will be used in the quilt. I also use a color catcher in the prewash. If it comes out colored, I wash again until the color catcher comes out clean. I also use Retayne (for printed fabric) or Synthrapol (for batiks) in the prewash. When I wash a finished quilt the first couple times, I throw in color catchers. If the color catchers come out white the first time, then all is good.

    Reply
      • Barbara
        Barbara

        Colour Catchers are small sheets. Which you place in the wash to soak up any loose dyei in the water. They can be bought from most large super markets. I always place at least x 2 in the machine when cold washing a quilt.

        Reply
  8. Patty Hurley
    Patty Hurley

    Some fabrics are woven tighter then others, pre-wash takes care. Of the shrinkage. My opinion, may not be yours. Share please.

    Reply
  9. Ailsa McQuade
    Ailsa McQuade

    I am nervously beginning on my first pieced quilt (Ive done one other thing an appliqued Christmas wall hanging years ago) I found this article helpful as I’m just getting my materials together. Wish me luck!

    Reply