How to Wash a Quilt Properly: Quick and Easy Guide

By

Maria DeSouza

| Published September 20, 2023

Washing handmade quilts can be nerve-wracking for beginners, who may be worried about causing the colors to fade or undoing stitches.

However, caring for your quilts requires frequent washing, regardless of whether it’s an antique or heirloom quilt or made from wool.

We’ve written this guide to give you practical tips and techniques for how to wash a quilt and how to maintain it in the long term. We’ll also cover different types, whether your quilt’s made from cotton or wool.

Recognizing Types of Quilts and Their Specific Needs

Before you can wash a quilt, you need to learn about your quilt’s type, since this affects the washing procedure.

Handmade Quilts

These quilts are a testament to the effort done by the quilter as it is a time-consuming process. However, one should watch the stitches and embroidery holding everything together.

These stitches and embroidery can be damaged from improper washing and maintenance, causing the quilt to unravel.

Cotton Quilts

Cotton quilts are the most common form of quilt available due to how versatile cotton is. Cotton fabrics are very heat-resistant, easy to wash, and affordable.

These quilts are typically made from quilting cotton, which is resistant to shrinkage caused by high heat.

Silk Quilts

Silk quilts are durable yet breathable but very delicate and can easily be damaged by hot water and washing machines. 

Silk or wool quilts are quite fragile and cannot withstand being bleached to treat stains.

Choosing the Right Detergent for Your Quilt

Choosing the right laundry detergent can affect how well your quilt is cleaned. After all, everyone wants their heirloom quilt to stay clean and comfortable

Get a detergent that won’t damage your quilt, but with enough cleaning power to eliminate dirt and blemishes.

Consider using quilt soap for more delicate fabrics, as these products are free from dyes and other artificial ingredients.

Powdered detergent is not recommended, as the product can leave residue after your quilt has been machine washed.

Detergent for Handmade Quilts

A gentle liquid detergent is best for handmade quilts. Get one that is fragrance and dye free.

Gentler detergents ensure your handmade quilt still gets cleaned but not stained. Being fragrance and dye free ensures no smudges or weird artificial smells remain.

Stronger detergents or chemicals like chlorine bleach can damage your quilt by causing its color to fade, potentially damaging it.

Detergent for Machine-Washable Quilts

You can still use a gentle detergent if your quilts can be cleaned in a washing machine. As mentioned earlier, stick to liquid detergents because powdered detergents can leave residue.

You can also use quilt soap instead of detergent.

Preparing Your Quilt for Washing

Inspect your quilt for stressed seams or loose threads. You must stitch the seams quickly with a sewing kit before washing.

Check for any color fading by gently rubbing it with a damp white cloth; If you spot any color transfers, take extra care when wash a quilt.

The last thing to check before you can wash a quilt is stains. You can treat stains with a gentle stain remover or use small amounts of baby shampoo.

NOTE: If your quilt is colorfast, it is dry cleaning safe. Otherwise, avoid the dry cleaner to avoid fabric bleeding.

‘How to Wash a Quilt’: A Step by Step Process

Here’s how to wash a quilt:

  1. Prepare the Laundry Sink: Fill a sink with cold water and unscented laundry detergent for delicate fabrics.
  2. Wash and Soak: Gently rub the quilt with soapy water before leaving it for 10 minutes.
  3. Refill and Add Vinegar: Drain the sink of soapy water, then refill it with cold water and half a cup of distilled white vinegar to remove residues and retain color. Remember to wash it from edge to edge.
  4. Drain the Sink and Rinse: Empty the sink, then run the quilt under fresh water as you squeeze and rinse it. Repeat the process until bubbles stop appearing.
  5. Squeeze the Quilt Gently: Close the tap and gently squeeze the quilt of any excess water to avoid blemishes. Do not wring out the quilt!
  6. Dry the Quilt: Place the heavy quilt between several dry, thick towels, then press them together, ensuring they’re completely flat on the ground of a clean room. Make sure that the room is adequately ventilated to speed up the drying process.

NOTE: You can use an empty bathtub or large water basin instead of a laundry sink.

Hand Washing Quilts

Hand washing within an empty basin is the gentlest method on how to wash a quilt. An annual or seasonal wash can help your handmade quilt retain its longevity for years.

Washing more vintage or antique quilts is similar to regular hand washing, but older quilts are usually more delicate, so they need more care. Be careful not to damage your old quilt.

If you’re dealing with an heirloom quilt, you may also call a professional for advice on how to wash a quilt.

Machine Washing Quilts

You will need a large load-bearing washing machine to wash a quilt. It’s also best to wash a quilt separately from other laundry for efficiency.

close up image of a washing machine compartment filled with a large load of quilts

Begin by putting your quilt into the machine; add half a cup of distilled white vinegar for added color retention. 

Set your washing machine to a delicate cycle with cold water, and turn off the spin settings if possible.

However, be careful as you machine wash, as all that movement can unravel the stitching of your quilt.

To prevent your quilt’s fabric from bleeding, we recommend using color catchers, chemicals meant to catch loosened dye as they mix with the wash water.

WARNING: Machine washing should be your last resort for any quilt wash. It’s best to hand wash a quilt if you can.

How To Wash A Quilt for the First Time

Learning how to wash a quilt for the first time can be nerve-wracking. An especially old quilt can be very delicate and difficult to fix. You need to remember the following things:

  1. Before you wash a quilt, inspect your quilt for loose threads, stains, or tears.
  2. Remember to never squeeze too hard when you wash a quilt, or use a gentler cycle to rinse the fabric instead of hand washing it.
  3. Avoid hanging your wet quilts on a towel rack because their weight can stress the seams.
  4. Dry the quilt by rolling it flat onto a thick layer of dry, clean towels.

Handwashing is better than using a washing machine, especially for antique, hand-quilted, or applied quilts. Don’t scrub too vigorously; gently agitate your quilt as you wash it.

If you’re stumped, contact a professional quilter or cleaner to help maintain your quilt.

The Importance of Drying Your Quilt Correctly

It’s important to know how to dry a quilt properly after you wash a quilt.

Improperly dried quilts can become smaller due to shrinkage, retain accumulated dirt and residue, and become full of wrinkles, losing their comfy feeling. 

We advise you not to leave your quilt on a clothesline under direct sunlight. Sunlight can cause color fading, and the quilt’s weight can stress the stitching. Here are some air-drying instructions for post-washing.

Hand Drying Your Quilt

After you hand wash a quilt, lay the wet quilt flat when drying. A fully soaked quilt is very heavy, making air drying risky.

Now for the next step, set the wet quilts on a layer of dry towels. These dry towels will absorb any excess water, redistributing the weight and making it easier to move the quilt.

Afterward, roll the wet quilt onto another set of heavy towels, ensuring the soaked quilt is sandwiched between two layers of towels. 

You should leave the quilt to dry on an extra garden bed to air dry and prevent wrinkles. Dry cleaning is the last resort, as the process can cause dyes to bleed out of the quilt or fade.

Machine Drying Your Quilt

Now for our machine drying instructions: set the dry cleaner at low or medium-heat or permanent-press cycle to avoid heat damage. Remove the quilt while it is still slightly damp.

We recommend that you do not tumble dry or use a washer-dryer, as this can cause fabric shrinkage. You can use a drying rack to air dry when it’s not as soaked.

Do not try to machine dry a handmade quilt, as the dryer can cause it to shrink and wrinkle further.

You can also dry iron your quilt, but remember to check if your freshly washed quilt is made from cotton wadding or batting to avoid extra strains. Polyester is more likely to melt under the heat.

Preserving the Longevity of Your Quilt: Tips and Tricks

Always consider calling a professional whenever there’s excess color loss or excess fraying on your antique quilts, as any damage at this stage may be unrepairable.

Here are some good techniques and tools to consider for protecting your quilts.

  • Color-protecting sheet: This sheet prevents dyes from leaking from your handmade quilt.
  • Stain treatment: Use either stain remover, oxygen bleach, or a mixture of baby shampoo and water to rub over the stains with cloth toothpaste, then air dry.
  • Tears and repairs: It’s best to carefully mend any rips before washing using a sewing kit or contacting a professional tailor or quilter.
  • Ironing: Iron your quilt at the lowest heat settings only when necessary, as some materials can’t handle the heat. Note that cotton is the most resistant quilting material.
  • Storage: Give your wet quilt a day to dry, then keep your freshly laundered quilts in a dry room and lie the quilt flat to prevent any creases under a clean sheet.
  • Cotton Bag: If you don’t have a drying rack or enough clean towels, roll the quilt into a cotton or muslin bag with acid-free tissue paper padding to prevent sharp creases or wrinkles.
  • Air Drying: After washing, let the quilt air dry outside away from the sun to eliminate any smells.

NOTE: When dry ironing, you can place a cotton sheet over the parts of your quilt made from synthetic materials to avoid damage.

FAQs on Washing Quilts

Although you are now more familiar with how to wash a quilt, you may still have some questions about them.

Here are some more questions and answers about cleaning quilts properly.

What Type of Detergent Is Best for Washing Quilts?

It’s best to use a gentle liquid detergent that is fragrance and dye free, as mild liquid detergent ensures that your quilt remains clean and colorful.

Avoid using heavier laundry detergent, because it can leave residue on your quilt with every wash. This detergent residue can build up and stick to your quilt with every wash.

Can I Machine Wash a Quilt?

Some quilts are machine-washable, but quilts made from more delicate fabrics may get damaged if they are machine-washed. Always double-check your quilt’s material to verify whether it can be machine-washed or not.

Remember to set your washing machine to a gentle cycle for your quilt.

How Do I Prevent My Quilt’s Colors From Fading?

The simplest way to prevent your quilt’s colors from fading is to not wash a quilt excessively. A quilt should normally be able to go months before needing another wash.

Excessive washing can lead to faster color fading and quilt bleed as the dye gets looser due to the wash water. Using a delicate cycle with cold water in a washing machine is best.

We also recommend using color catchers to reduce the probability of dye bleeding from the fabric.

How Often Should I Wash a Quilt?

You don’t need to clean your quilts as much as you clean towels or bed sheets. If you use it constantly, you can get by with only cleaning a quilt every season or year.

You should only clean your quilt at least once a year or season. Frequent cleanings can result in the color fading from your homemade quilt even quicker.

How Do I Wash a Homemade Quilt for the First Time?

When you wash a handmade quilt, you must first test its color fastness before washing.

Rub a white cloth damp with cold water over the different colored patches, and watch for any color transfers. If you see any color transfers, do not wash it.

You can then check for stretched seams or tears with too much stress with another damp white cloth.

Some quilts come with washing instructions that specify this.

Conclusion

However, this can only be achieved by following proper quilt cleaning procedures, especially for vintage quilts. Washing a quilt begins by understanding what keeps its fabrics and threads clean and safe.

If you use a detergent that’s too strong, the quilt’s colors will fade. Set a cycle too strong, and the fabric may get damaged by the fresh water and movements of your washing machine.

Handwashing is the best method for a new or vintage quilt. Be careful when washing, drying, and storing your quilts to make sure they stay comfortable and the colors stay vibrant.

Now that you know how to wash a quilt properly, you can ensure your fluffy quilt lasts for over a decade or more, and may eventually become an heirloom!

Simply follow our steps on how to wash a quilt to make sure that your quilt will last long and will never be worn out.

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