With proper cleaning and care, handmade quilts can last a lifetime and beyond. If you've recently purchased a newly-made quilt or have possession of a family heirloom following, a few cleaning-and-care tips can extend the life of your quilt.
Whether you have possession of your grandmother's heirloom, handmade quilt,
or have recently purchased a newly crafted model, you'll want to treat these
treasures with care in order to preserve their quality and extend their life.
Basic Quilt Repair
Before you clean or display your handmade quilt, you'll need to repair any
rips or tears in the fabric.
To do that, begin by spreading the quilt out on your bed or on top of a sheet
on the floor. Then, examine it carefully for any worn patches, tears, or stains.
If you are handy with a needle and thread, you can repair the quilt yourself
by using small stitches and thread and fabric that match the design and colors
of your quilt.
If you want to preserve the authenticity of your heirloom or vintage quilt,
you can search for sources of vintage or period-specific fabrics to patch your
quilt. In addition, reproduction vintage fabrics can be used replace damaged
If you are uncomfortable repairing the quilt yourself, find a reputable quilt
repair service or someone who specializes in sewing and cleaning quilts. For a
fee, they can restore your quilt. They will also be able to tell you if your
quilt is damaged beyond repair.
How Often Should You Wash a Quilt?
Less washing is better for all handmade quilts. In general, a newly crafted
quilt that you use on your bed everyday should only be washed once a year. An
antique or heirloom piece should only be washed at most every five years. If
your newly crafted quilt is dirty, it should be cleaned more often. In between
washing you should air out your quilts, to freshen them.
Cleaning Your Antique Quilt
Antique quilts need special care. Many quilters advise against dry cleaning
or machine washing an heirloom piece. If your quilt is very old or worn it
simply may not withstand the motion of the machine or the dry cleaning
chemicals. Instead, consider airing your quilt outside on a sunny day. Or you
might lightly vacuum with a nylon stocking over the end of vacuum hose in order
to remove any dust on its surface. If your quilt has beading, embroidery, or
appliqué, you shouldn't vacuum.
You can also hand wash the quilt following these steps. Start by checking for
colorfastness. If you are determined to clean the quilt, but don't feel
comfortable doing so yourself, or if your quilt is stained, you can search for a
qualified quilt conservation or restoration service. Make sure this service has
experience working with antique fabrics. Find out exactly how they will clean
the quilt. Any cleaning done to antique fabrics could damage or destroy your
quilt. Depending on the monetary and personal value of the quilt, you may decide
to leave it in the state that it is in rather than risk destroying a priceless
piece of work.
Cleaning Your Newly Crafted Quilt
Your newly handmade quilt can be cleaned differently than older quilts. Many
newly created quilts can be gently hand- or machine-washed or even dry cleaned.
If you purchased your handmade quilt from a quilt store or department store, it
should come with care instructions. Read these instructions before cleaning. If
you purchased your quilt at a craft fair or yard sale it may not come with care
instructions. In that case, use your best judgment and consider the
colorfastness test and washing instructions below.
Check Fabric for Colorfastness
Before you wash any handmade quilt, you need to check the fabric for
colorfastness. That involves testing the quilt fabric to insure the fabric dyes
will not run when washed. If the fabric is not colorfast, it can fade and
discolor. To test for colorfastness, rub a white piece of cloth dampened with
cold water over each color in your quilt. If any piece bleeds onto the white
cloth, don't wash your quilt, at all. If none of the different-colored patches
run when tested with cold water, try again with lukewarm water. The same rule
applies. If any patch bleeds, you'll know to wash the quilt only in cold water.
In general, it is best to wash your handmade quilt either in cold or lukewarm
Hand Washing Your Quilt
If your handmade quilt is colorfast, you can wash it gently by hand in a mild
detergent. Be sure to pick a detergent that is free of dyes and fragrances. Use
cold or lukewarm water, whatever your colorfast test indicated. Fill a large
tub, your bathtub, or your washing machine with water with the right
temperature. Adding one-half of a cup of vinegar to the water can brighten the
colors. Gently move your quilt around in the water making sure the entire quilt
gets wet. Drain the water from the tub and fill it again with fresh water.
Gently swish your quilt around and continue draining and filling with fresh
water until the quilt and water are soap free. You'll know the quilt is
adequately rinsed when the water is clear (rather than cloudy) and free of soap
Machine Washing Your Quilt
Use caution if you decide to run your quilt through a washing machine cycle.
The agitation of the machine can cause older, more fragile quilts to fall apart.
Even new quilts with light stitching can unravel. Use a mild soap that is dye
and fragrance free. Fill the washing machine with cold or lukewarm water, as
determined by a colorfast test. Add vinegar if desired. Pick the shortest,
gentlest cycle your machine has.
After you've washed your quilt, whether by hand or machine, it needs to dry
properly. Handmade quilts should be dried laying flat. Pulling directly on a wet
quilt can break seams and cause damage. If you've hand washed the quilt, use
your washing machine to spin the quilt dry. If you've hand washed the quilt in a
separate tub, use a sheet as a sling to gently lift the wet quilt from the tub
of water. Allow excess water to drain. Place the quilt on towels, spread it out,
cover it with more towels, and gently press water out of the quilt. Using the
sheet sling, move the quilt to a new bed of towels, cover it with a clean dry
sheet, and allow it to dry. Or if possible, place it on a large drying rack in
an area with good ventilation. You can place a fan in the room with it, as well.
You can also dry your quilt outside on the ground, but first, put down some
towels or a sheet to keep the quilt from touching the grass. Cover the quilt
with a light sheet that will prevent sun damage, but allow the quilt to breathe.
After your quilt is clean, you need to consider storage options. If your
quilt is not used daily, it should be stored in a cotton or muslin bag or an
acid-free box made specifically for quilt storage. The best storage locations
are dry, dark areas of your home. Attics and basements are not a good idea
because heat and humidity can ruin your quilt. It is best to lay your quilt flat
for storage. If you must fold your quilt, use acid-free tissue paper as padding.
This can help prevent creases in the fabric. Tubes are available for quilt
storage as well. You simply wrap the tube in acid-free tissue paper, then wrap
your quilt around the tube, and store it in a cotton or muslin bag. If you are
storing your quilt in a wooden dresser or other furniture, use caution and
separate the quilt from the wood. Oils in wood can interact with the fabric,
leaving permanent spots. Occasionally you should bring your quilts out of
storage and air them out. This will be a good time to check for mildew and bug
invasions, and give you a chance to refold the quilt so that creases don't form
in the fabric. If you have an extra bed available in your home, you can also
place your quilts on the bed for storage. Simply lay them flat and cover with a
Handmade quilts are items to treasure. Some are used as everyday blankets on
beds and washed often. Others are only for show and are displayed as artwork on
racks or bed tops. Whatever function your handmade quilt serves, caring for and
cleaning it properly will allow you to enjoy it for years to come.