Washing Your Quilts

If the quilt is made of cotton and there are no obvious holes, it may be possible to wash it. First, you must test the colors for fastness. This is done by placing a damp piece of white blotting paper on each colored piece and patting it gently. If any color comes out, do not wash the quilt, although it may be dry cleaned if really necessary. Also, if the fabrics are glazed, like the pre-1980s chintzes, they need to be dry cleaned or you will lose the glazing.

After the 1980s some cottons were glazed with a plastic coating, and these should be washed and not dry cleaned. If you are buying a quilt from the maker, make sure that you get the cleaning instructions as well as asking if the fabrics have been pre-shrunk in case you want to wash the quilt in the future.


If you are going to wash a quilt, you must also consider what material was used for the padding. If the padding is cotton wadding and it is not quilted very much, or if it is wool, the quilt should be hand washed. If there is a lot of quilting – that is, covering most of the quilt and not leaving any spaces larger than 15 sq cm (6 sq in) unquilted – and the fabric is whole as well as not running, there is no reason why the quilt cannot go into the washing machine. It should be washed on a wool setting with a mild detergent.

If the quilt does not fit in your domestic machine with a lot of space around it, take it to a laundrette. Quilts like this may be tumble dried on a cool setting, but they must not be tumble dried if the padding is wool or a synthetic fiber. It is much safer just to lay the damp quilt out flat on a large cotton sheet with towels or newspaper underneath, in a shady place outdoors or a warm, dry place inside to let it dry naturally.

If the quilt is made of silk, satin, chintz, wool or a mixture of any of these, it should not be washed or – unless absolutely necessary – even dry cleaned. If there are holes in the quilt, embroidery stitches, or beads – or if you have any doubts at all – take the quilt to an expert in cleaning delicate materials, like wedding dresses, or ask a museum for advice. Sometimes the best thing to do when in doubt is nothing.


Hand washing. If the quilt is to be hand washed it can be done in a bath tub or in an inflatable child’s swimming pool outdoors in the shade on a warm, dry day. First, fold the quilt loosely accordion-style. The water should be only just warm, and the detergent must be mild. Fill the tub or pool with enough water to cover the quilt, add the detergent and make sure it is completely dissolved in the water. Then gently place the quilt in the water and press it down using the flat of your hands, so that all the quilt gets wet. It may take as long as 10-15 minutes for all the air to be released from between the layers of the quilt. Once the quilt is wet, leave it to soak for at least one hour. You may move it around a little in the water, but you must never try to lift out while it is holding all the water.

Drain out the washing water and add fresh water to rinse. Continue to do this three or four times, making sure that the last rinse is clear. Drain the water for the final time and leave the quilt to drain for 10 minutes. When no more water runs out of the quilt, it may be removed from the bath. Because it will still be heavy and very wet, it is a good idea not to lift it by yourself, but with another pair of hands. Also, because of the weight and possible stress on the fabrics, it is advisable to slip a plastic sheet under the quilt before starting to lift it. This can be done by rolling the quilt to one side of the bath and putting half of the plastic up against it, with the other half flat in front of you. Then roll the quilt back towards you, pulling the second half of the plastic out, and returning the quilt to the way it was originally. This will help to support the wet quilt and prevent the rest of the house from getting wet when the quilt is moved to where it is going to be dried.

To move the quilt without causing any prolonged or unnecessary strain on the fabrics and stitching, place a large tray or piece of board across one end of the bath, and then, when you lift up the wet quilt, put it directly onto the board with the plastic sheet, fold the plastic over the quilt and lift the board.


Drying. If possible, dry the quilt outdoors in a shady, grassy spot. Prepare a drying place using several layers of thick towels, or a large cotton sheet that is a bit larger than the quilt. Before moving the wet quilt to the drying spot, place several other thick towels under and on top of it and press out some of the excess water. Then, ideally with help of another person, unfold the quilt gently and lay it out flat on the drying area, right side up, and allow it to dry thoroughly. Do not expose it to direct sunlight or heat.

If you do not have space outside or if the weather is unsuitable, the drying can be done indoors. It is good idea to put plastic sheeting down before the newspaper, towels and sheet to prevent the carpet or flooring from getting wet. When the quilt is hand dry, lift it from the sheet to get some air underneath to make sure it dries completely. It is all right to lift it at this stage because it will no longer be heavy with water.

Read also about Cleaning Your Quilts.

Tags: home cleaning tips, washing quilts

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