Laundering Quilts

Quilters and quilt-owners – I welcome your feedback and input on this post. This is not my area of expertise, I only know what has worked for me over the years. Your thoughts and comments will be greatly appreciated!


What is the best way to care for quilts (cleaning and preserving)? 

I received this question from a reader:

I have a dear friend who has been generous enough to give me several of her beautiful quilts as gifts over time.  I actively use them in my home — on beds or couches as I Iove showing them off.   I also have a 6 y.o. boy who I love almost as much as the quilts and who is, typically, all boy, and sometimes sickness or accidents do happen.  I want to take special care of these cherished gifts (both the quilts and the boy) but do occasionally need to wash the quilts (the boy I can handle).  Can you advise as to how best to care for quilts so as to best preserve them as well as ensure they stay clean?

No worries, the reader was most likely joking about loving her son nearly as much as the quilts, ha! (I do know this to be true as the reader is also a dear friend of mine, and is a very wonderful Mom. Also it is possible the quilts she is referring to are ones I have made her and her son over the years!)


Care & Cleaning of Quilts

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I would greatly welcome any additional thoughts on this subject.

First, here is a website, Stitch This!, with lovely general instructions on washing quilts: How to wash a quilt: dust, dirt, spills, worse.

Now, I am going to break my thoughts on care and cleaning of quilts it into three sections: 1) Utility Quilts; 2) Decorative Wall Quilts; and 3) Antique Quilts.

1)  UTILITY QUILTS

I consider “utility quilts” the quilts made to cover beds or laps (bed or lap size quilts). These quilts are meant to be used and since they are meant to be washed.

The quilts I have made for laps or for beds, have pre-washed fabric, meaning I washed the fabric used to make the quilt before it became a quilt and it should be pre-shrunk. Some times I also lauder a completed quilt before I give it as a gift.

Newly quilted completely quilts are lovely but I love the look of a freshly laundered new quilt and the softness it adds to the quilt.

I have many utility quilts around the house and I wash them as follows: alone in the washing machine, regular wash/normal cycle, cold water, using whatever detergent I have on hand (I use one of those eco brands).  Then I dry the quilt on medium high heat regular dying cycle.

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A quilt fresh out of my dryer (why yes my laundry area is decorated with images of schnauzers…)

The quilts in the photo above is about 9 years old and I have washed it at least 10 times over the years. I usually drape it over the sofa so it does not get that dirty. Most of my utility quilts I launder at least 1 – 4 times per year.

If I get a stain on a quilt, I pre-treat it by rubbing some detergent into it and letting it sit. So far in the approximately 18 years I have been quilting, I have not had a stain in a quilt I could not remove.

I think a utility quilt could hold up to once a month laundering. I think the more you launder it, just like clothing, the more over time it will wear out, just the fact of cotton fabric.  But utility quilts are meant to be used and loved!  (See my post Love Wears it Out…)

Now we do treat with special care some of our utility quilts especially with having dogs. I made a T-shirt quilt for Terry the Quilting Husband with 49 of his t-shirts for a special birthday event a couple years ago. It is a very warm and cozy quilt with flannel shirt fabric backing. When I put it on the bed, I do cover it with a light blanket as one of our dogs like to do the “spin around and scratch the surface” until he settles into a spot, and I did not want him scratching at the t-shirts.

If you search on the web you will see advice to use special laundry detergent and gentle wash when washing quilts. This would work also, but I have always washed the utility quilts I have made the same as I wash most my clothes.

2) DECORATIVE WALL QUILTS/WALL HANGINGS

Unless the person who made it tells you otherwise, I would only professional dry clean wall hangings or decorative/art quilts. Especially if they are made with materials other than cotton. For example, I would never launder the recycled silk art quilts I have made.

Even if the wall hanging is cotton and it might be safe to lauder, keep in mind that once you launder it, you may change the texture and the look of the piece. The maker may not have pre-washed the fabric if they were using it for a decorative wall hanging type of quilt.

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Appliquéd Sheltie wallhanging I made as a gift for a friend – this should never be laundered!

Instead of dry cleaning wall hangings, I have just shaken out the dust on a wall hanging in my backyard and let it sit in the fresh air and sun for a short period of time (do not leave quilts out in the sun for long period the colors can fade) to freshen it up.

3) ANTIQUE QUILTS

If I needed to wash an antique or heirloom quilt, the first thing I would do is find someone with expertise on what to do. Luckily I have my friend Betty Anne who is an expert in the cleaning and preservation of antique quilts.

If you do not have a friend who is an expert/resource on cleaning antique quilts, then researching on the internet is your second best option.

The Michigan State University Museum has a nice article on Cleaning Antique QuiltsInterestingly in this online article they recommend only vacuuming antique quilts. If you do insist on washing the quilt, they provide some general instructions on safely washing an old quilt.

Antique quilts make me anxious so I have no photos to share (as I do not know own one). To be honest I prefer either quilts I can launder at will or art quilts/wall hanging that just stay on the wall.


Thoughts?

Perhaps your eyes were rolling right out of your head as you read this post. Or maybe your head was nodding in agreement with my sage advice as you read this post.

Either way, now is time for you to help my reader out (and me if I am giving bad advice) and share your thoughts in the Comment section below on the best way to clean and care for quilts!  Thank you!

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16 thoughts on “Laundering Quilts

  1. Alice Samuel's Quilt co. says:

    😀 Thanks for this. My head was nodding in agreement. Interesting note on pre washing fabrics for utility quilts. I hardly do but if it’s bigger than a baby quilt, I generally send it off for professional dry cleaning after it’s done before sending it off and I’ll definitely inform the recipient to dry clean only too. For the baby quilts and smaller I just gently hand wash with a mild detergent. I haven’t made many art quilts no antique quilt in my possession either.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. myquiltprojects says:

    Hiya! I have many utilitarian quilts. The quilts on the adult beds get washed less than the ones on the children’s beds. Sometimes there are quilts are washed twice a week (children are such laundry generators). The binding on these quilts is starting to break down and they are less than 5 years old. The older fabrics I used in these quilts tend to hold up better than the thinner quilt fabrics of today. One of my larger memory quilts I made 14 years ago, accidentally had CLR put into the wash and turned the green fabrics orange and the pink fabrics more white. The antique fabric used in this has oxidized and let go. This has been washed many many times. Chlorine has faded the colors. The CLR really did a number on it (manly laundry error which was a whoppin’.) I think as long as it is not hand stitched it will hold up well with washings and non-abuse. Chlorinated water can affect the fabrics over time as well as sun light. To air out a quilt (the old fashioned way of cleaning it) was to hang it outdoors to let the fibers breath. Most of the antique quilts have been faded by too much sunshine. If you choose not to wash your quilts and store them away to keep them pristine, this can also damage them. If the fabrics were never prewashed, the sizing/chemicals of the fabric can actually degrade the fabric over time. Also, while most of us quilters use starch when we are making the quilts, starch can be good and bad. Some starches have formaldehyde in them, so it is always good to wash the baby quilts before gifting. Some starches do not have formaldehyde (which is a preservative). These can actually attract certain bugs and in a humid condition, these bugs will eat the starch (because they like starch sugars/carbohydrates and water). If you have an unwashed quilt it is probably a good idea to wash it on the delicate cycle to get the chemicals in cold. When you store a quilt, I do not recommend putting it into a cedar chest. The resins in the wood react with the fibers and will turn them tan, and cause a degradation in the overall look of the quilt on the spot that was in contact with the wood (wood oxidizes and so does fabric). Lots of quilt laundry here, and I hope this helps many!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Melanie McNeil says:

    My understanding is quilts should not be drycleaned. The chemicals used are too harsh and will damage the fabric. For utility quilts, it’s a good idea to ask the quilter if she/he has any specific tips for the quilt in question. If they don’t know or aren’t available, washing in a large washer, with no bleach or softeners added, is a good idea. For art quilts, I’d probably put them in the dryer (without washing) and run them through a few minutes on air dry or low temp, to beat the dust out of them. And for antique quilts … that depends. We have a quilt of Jim’s, made in the 1950s, which needed washing. We did, and then spread it out flat to dry, inside, not out in the sun. It worked well. But I wouldn’t do that for every antique. Scary…

    Liked by 1 person

    • tierneycreates says:

      Thanks Melanie! Lots of great tips in there. I also thought of the store bought home dry cleaning kit – Dryell – I wonder if that is safe. Luckily no art quilt has gotten soiled yet and I store them very carefully. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • tierneycreates says:

      Well let me know how it goes, my friend Betty Anne has had good luck with using the special quilt soaks on some antique quilts. Personally I am terrified of them but maybe someday I will buy or adopt an antique quilt 🙂

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