How to Wash a Quilt

There are almost as many opinions on how to wash quilts as there are quilters, as every person seems to have their own opinion on the subject!

Some people claim that vacuuming a quilt is the only way while other people swear you should never use anything other than careful dry cleaning. At the other extreme there are people who say to just throw the quilt in the washing machine along with the socks!

In this article we shall explore the different effects of washing a quilt and hopefully help you reach your own conclusion on the topic.

When you wash a quilt, first consider the fabric!

There are several factors you should consider before washing your quilt for the first time. By far the most important of this is to consider the type of fabric that the quilt is made of.

Traditionally most quilts are made of 100% cotton or of cotton mixes that are very close to 100% cotton. Check first to see what type of material the fabric, thread and batting in your quilt is made of.

Cotton is preferred in quilt making because it is a natural fibre that is soft and subtle yet also quite hardy. It is also available in a large variety of patterns and colors which makes it ideal for quilt making. Cotton is also the most popular material of choice used to make clothing.

When you consider how much dirt gets on the clothes that we wear on a daily basis and how we don’t think twice about throwing them in a washing machine or dryer, it seems crazy that we are overly concerned about washing a quilt that is made of the same materials!

Having said that, there are a few simple things that you can do to help preserve a quilt during washing, as clothes change with the fashions, but quilts are usually kept forever.

Wash your quilt before you make it!

This advice sounds silly but is extremely important! As you would probably already be aware, when you wash a new piece of clothing for the first time that has deep or bright colors, you would normally wash it by itself without anything else in the machine.

Washing new clothing by itself is prudent as quite often the colors in new fabric tend to run – I’m sure most people have made the mistake of putting a red piece of clothing in with the white wash at some stage and ended up with a pile of pink clothing!

Similarly, it is very important to wash the fabric you want to use to make your quilt before you start to use it! Washing the fabric before you use it is a good idea because it tends to stretch the material into its natural “worn” shape. Washing also gives the chance for any excess dye pigments to be released early, rather than after it is made when it can end up ruining the white parts of your quilt!

What detergent should I use to wash my quilt?

Most washing machine and detergent manufacturers these days assume that customers have minimal knowledge of proper way to wash clothes. Hence they tend to design their products such that they will inflict minimal damage to fabrics, even with regular use.

While most detergents are quite harmless to cotton (provided the directions are followed!), some of the additives that are found in certain makes of detergent can be harmful to the fabric if used regularly.

You should always use an unscented, liquid based, color-free detergent to wash your quilt, and refrain from using any detergent that contains a fabric softener. Fabric softeners and the scents and dyes in regular detergents can damage the fibres in the fabric and so should be avoided.

Whatever you do, never use bleach on your quilt! This will certainly ruin the color and will also damage the fibres in the fabric.

The best way to wash a quilt

If it is a quilt bought from a shop then you should first check to see if there are washing instructions on the packet or on a label attached to the quilt and follow those directions closely. For hand-made quilts then there will be no tag and hence the following instructions will work in most cases.

For regular quilts with 100% cotton based fabrics, the following process is a reliable way to get a safe clean wash:

  1. Fill the washing machine with warm water (never hot!) and while you wait read the instructions on the detergent bottle to work out how much detergent you need to use.
  2. Add the detergent to the washing machine while the water is filling up, but before you put the quilt in the machine!
  3. Stir the water to ensure that the detergent is fully dissolved and there are no parts of pure detergent that could get stuck on the fabric.
  4. Put the quilt in the machine and select a regular warm/cold water wash cycle.
  5. Once the wash cycle is complete, put the machine on again for a regular cold/cold water wash cycle, but this time don’t add any detergent. This makes double sure that there are no traces of detergent left that may otherwise damage the strands of the fabric.

Once you have finished washing your quilt you will need to dry it. For most well-made quilts with good quality fabric it is usually safe to just throw the quilt in the tumble drier on a regular hot cycle like you would with your clothes.

If the quilt is made with particularly delicate material then you may be more comfortable drying it naturally in the air. Make sure you are careful to avoid direct sunlight however as this can fade the colors in the fabric of the quilt. Never wring out a quilt as this places unnecessary strain on the fabric and may cause permanent creasing.

Hand washing a quilt

Hand washing is also an option for particularly sensitive quilts or for fabrics that are not cotton based. It is best to use a large bath-tub to do this, making sure that the detergent is fully dissolved first and then stirring the quilt gently with your hands. Be aware that hand washing a quilt can be a lot of hard work, so unless you really feel strongly about it you might be better off just using the machine!

Remember again, if you are making your own quilts, try to choose cotton fabrics or fabrics made of pure cotton or with a high cotton percentage. Choosing the right fabric to begin with will help preserve the longevity of the quilt. You will also be happier about using it on a daily basis. When you are comfortable with washing your quilt you will have the peace of mind that you can keep it clean and in good condition for years to come!

Please note: these guidelines are not intended for antique quilts or quilts that are not in good condition!