Tip Tuesday: Washing Quilts & Fabrics – how do we do it?

You’ve spent hours, days, weeks, months or even years making a quilt. It could be a keepsake quilt, Quilt of Valor™, or a gift quilt. This quilt could be made from expensive quilting fabric, flannel quilting fabric or cheap fabric. Patterns of all types and quilts of all sizes —whatever the quilt, you want to keep it looking new, clean and well cared for. But, how do you do that?

McCalls Fabric Washing Tutorial

First, however, even before cutting your fabrics, you’ll want to decide if you’re going to prewash your fabrics. Now is the time to consider that flannel quilting fabric and how it will respond to a wash. This is a hot quilting topic surrounded by much controversy! McCall’s Quilting has some great insight into the great prewash debate. They offer their expertise on the matter in their video Fabric: To Wash or Not to Wash. That is, after all, the question!

If you’d like to try a product that stops commercially dyed cotton fabrics from bleeding, we recommend Shout Color Catchers (high efficiency safe) or Retayne (not high efficiency safe) in your wash.


Once you’ve figured out if that flannel quilting fabric will be receiving a prewash or not, the actual quiltmaking commences. Okay – you’ve made the quilt. It’s finally done! Now, for the aftercare. Where to start? What to do?

There are three main categories that a quilt will fall into when it comes to washing:

  1. Hand washing quilts
  2. Machine washing quilts
  3. Dry cleaning quilts

Let’s discuss…

Hand Washing Quilts
Hand washing a large quilt can be trying. Unfortunately, it’s not about the bulk, but rather the type of fabric used. Our flannel quilting fabric, for example, will probably not be grouped into this category. This category will generally cater to delicate fabrics. Use your best judgement on what fabrics are considered “delicate,” but seeing as how you can make a quilt out of any fabric you choose, think silks, organzas, and the like.

Machine Washing Quilts
Use the washing machine for quilts that are in good condition and have a fairly robust construction. This is how we would wash our flannel quilting fabric if we did a nice job of making our quilt. Most likely, this is how you’ll wash the majority of your quilts.

Dry Cleaning Quilts
This is the lesser used method of the three. Unless your fabrics specifically note that dry cleaning is necessary, you probably won’t be bringing any of your quilts to the dry cleaners.

For more details on these three methods of washing quilts, visit Keepsake Quilting’s Frequently Asked Questions page.

***Here’s a tip!***
It’s not necessary to wash your quilt often if it’s more of a display quilt and less of a utility quilt. Once a year should suffice. For those quilts that don’t need to be washed regularly: VACUUM! Yes, you heard me – vacuum your quilts to get the dust off of them and perk them up. Just make sure you’re being gentle if your quilt isn’t made with a stronger fabric like, let’s say… oh, I don’t know… our old friend, flannel quilting fabric.

If you’d like to include a quilt care label that includes instructions on quilt aftercare, like display, storage and cleaning, Quiltmaker offers an instruction sheet that you can include as a separate note with the quilt or attached to the quilt using inkjet fabric sheets. Great idea!

Quilt Care Label - Quiltmaker


Do you have any quilt washing questions or suggestions of your own? Jot them down in the comments section and I’ll get back to you with an answer or a thank you!


Happy Quilting!

Carrie Sisk, Fons & Porter Online Editor

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Carrie Sisk

About Carrie Sisk

Carrie's first sewing machine was a gift from her dad—a better gift was never given. A crafter, trained pianist and experienced paintballer, when the opportunity arises, she's hiking in Yosemite or Rocky Mountain National Park.

6 thoughts on “Tip Tuesday: Washing Quilts & Fabrics – how do we do it?

  1. I like to wash my fabric first. But I end up with a massive thread issue of these horrible strings that come out of the fabric and wrap about the fabric. What can be done to stop the fabric from losing so much thread. This happens with top quality quilt fabric and also cheap fabric. Thank you.

    1. Hi Wilma – great question! Here is what McCall’s Quilting has to say in the text below the video on their website (link to the video posted in the blog post above):

      “Prevent Thread Tangles when Washing and Drying Quilt Fabric

      Washing and drying can cause frayed edges and thread nests. Try these tips for preventing fraying:
      * If you’re washing cut strips or pieces, put them in a lingerie bag before washing.
      * Snip a triangular cut from each corner of the fabric piece.
      * Serge or zigzag stitch the cut edges of your fabrics before washing. (This can be very time-consuming.)”

      Hope this helps!

  2. I have a double wedding ring quilt that one tiny batik piece bled everywhere it is in the blocks! Unfortunately the background is white…..I even used retayne on it before I gifted it to my dear DIL who washed it (she says cold water). Any ideas on how to get out the blue streaks?

  3. I made my daughter a wedding ring quilt about 15 years ago with white background, colored rings. I think people slept with it under their chins and one end shows yellowing. I am thinking of soaking it in Oxi-clean. Several years ago I tried washing it carefully in a bath tup but it didn’t solve the problem. Any suggestions?

    1. Hello – it’s best to start with the least abrasive cleanser available to you – you don’t want to damage the quilt you worked so hard to make! Try a product that is made specifically for quilts, such as Orvus Quilt Soap or Restoration. Discoloration often occurs from the fabrics absorbing the oils in our skin. You might want to skip the OxiClean if the other products don’t take out the yellowing and know that your quilt has been well-loved. 🙂 ~Carrie