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How to Wash a Quilt Safely

Learn how to wash a quilt safely so that your quilts survive for future generations to enjoy. These simple steps will preserve your quilting legacy!

"How to Wash a Quilt" Instructions

We assume you've tested for bleeding fabric ahead of time. Remember that if you prewash fabrics before it they are used in a quilt, this does not insure the fabric is colorfast. Only testing can do that.

These instructions are based on quilts pieced with 100% cotton fabrics. If you use a quilt batting other than cotton, wool or polyester, do check the batting for any special washing instructions.

  • Fill your washing machine full of cool to tepid water. Most fabric bolts in your local quilt store recommend washing the quilt fabric in cool water. Commercial fabric seems to generally bleed less in cooler water. Fabrics hand dyed with Procion MX Dyes also bleed less or not at all in cold water.

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  • Add the liquid detergent to the washing machine water.
    • If you use Orvus, add 1 TABLESPOON Orvus to the wash water. (This detergent is highly concentrated so using more than a tablespoon is a waste; it won't get your quilt any cleaner.)
    • For quilts made of hand dyed fabrics use Synthrapol using the amount indicated on the bottle.
    • For other detergents, make sure they are pH neutral and free of bleaches, optical brighteners, fragrances and softeners. Use the recommended amount.
  • Turn on the machine to distribute the detergent throughout the water. Turn off the machine.
  • Now add your quilt to the machine. Distribute it as evenly as possible in the tub.
  • Wash on gentle/delicate for just a few short minutes. For fragile quilts, agitate by hand for a bit instead of letting the machine do it for you.
  • Turn off the machine. Let the quilt soak for 15-20 minutes.
  • Use the spin cycle to remove the water. If your quilt was particularly dirty, run it through a second wash cycle.
  • Rinse twice to remove all the detergent.
  • Lay flat to air dry on a clean sheet away from foot traffic. If you lay it outside to dry, cover with another clean sheet to prevent bird problems and shield your quilt from direct sunlight. Air drying is gentler than throwing the quilt in the dryer. The quilt rubs abrades itself as it tumbles in the heat. It's hard on both fabric and quilting stitches.If you are pressed for time, put your quilt into the dryer, but for just a few minutes to remove some of the dampness and then lay it flat to finish drying.Use portable fans to shorten the drying time.

If you have an antique quilt, consult with a professional before washing it yourself. The quilt fabrics are weakened by time, you don't know if the fabrics are colorfast, or whether any chemicals have been applied. Consult the experts.

Washing and Drying Tips

A wet quilt is a heavy quilt...

...just lifting a wet quilt puts lots of strain on quilting stitches. Even more so if the quilting is sparse. The less quilting, the more strain on each individual stitch.Support the quilt as much as possible anytime the quilt is wet to prevent your stitches from breaking or popping.

If you are washing your quilt in the bathtub...

...lay a sheet in the bottom of the tub, underneath the quilt. Wash as usual. Now after all the water has been drained and "smushed" out, use the sheet like handles to lift the wet quilt and eliminate the strain on the stitches. You may find it handy to transport your wet quilt in a laundry basket.

Don't hang a wet quilt to dry...

...this puts too much strain on the quilting.

If you wash your quilt at the laundromat... an empty load first before washing your quilt. A quilter recently told me of how she washed her king-size quilt at a laundromat. There must have been bleach left in the dispenser...the backing ended up spotted...thank goodness the top survived. But it was a close one.

Do take the time to learn how to wash a quilt safely to ensure it survives as a lasting legacy for your future generations.

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