Have you ever given a quilt as a gift, then months later received a call from the recipient asking “How do I clean this thing?” We have! Perhaps you are new to the quilting world and are unsure of the proper steps to care for your finished projects.
Quilt care is not a science, but caution must be taken, or you can easily ruin an expensive item that had hours of love and labor poured into it. Below are some tips that will help you properly care for your quilts so they will last many, many years. Keep a print-out of these tips with your quilts, or type up a nice, decorated sheet and include it with each quilt you give as a gift!
Quilts less than 30 years old
All quilts less than 30 years old should be washed individually in a front-loading washer, or washer without a center agitator. You can also use a very clean bathtub with no bleach or other chemical residues. If cleaning in a washer, use the gentle/delicates cycle with cool water and a mild soap – we carry Quilt Care liquid wash by Fairfield. Soap is preferable to detergent, although Barb has been known to use a very small amount of Tide powder detergent, mainly because it is formulated to preserve color in cottons. She uses about 1/2 of the detergent she would use for a normal load of clothing. In the case of quilts, more is definitely NOT better. Depending on the colors in the quilt and the size of the quilt, Barb will also use anywhere from 1 to 3 Shout Color Catcher Sheets to keep colors from bleeding and having excess dye deposit in areas where it doesn’t belong. These sheets can be found near the laundry detergent in your local super store. The sheets are simply placed in the washer at the beginning of the cycle, then removed and thrown away once the cycle is over.
If cleaning your quilt in your bathtub, fill it with luke-warm water, add soap/detergent (see previous paragraph), and mix it all together. Gently put your quilt in the bathtub, spread out as much as possible (in other words, don’t place it in the bathtub in a wadded up ball), and agitate with your hands. Drain the bathtub and gently squeeze the water out of the quilt. Do NOT wring out the quilt to remove water – squeeze, don’t twist.
To dry your quilt, place a sheet on the grass in the shade, lay the wet quilt on it and let it air-dry. You can also spread the quilt over 2 or 3 clotheslines and let it air-dry. Make sure the weight of the quilt is spread out. In the non-perfect world, the quilt can be placed in the dryer on the lowest heat setting. Remove the quilt every so often and rearrange it in the dryer, then restart the drying process. After the dryer has removed the majority of the liquid from the quilt, air-dry the quilt.
Antique quilts or quilts more than 30 years old
Hand-wash ONLY. Fill a clean bathtub with cool water and mild soap (Barb does not recommend using a detergent, such as Tide, for older quilts). Mix the water and soap, then place the quilt in the tub spread out as much as possible (again, no wadded balls). Gently agitate the quilt – the less agitation, the better. Drain the water from the tub, then remove the quilt. Air-dry the quilt on a sheet on the grass in the shade. If you find your quilt is need of a good cleaning in the middle of winter, you can spread a sheet on a clean, carpeted surface and spread the quilt on top of that to air-dry. Be careful not to let any pets near the quilt. Do NOT place antique quilts in a dryer.
Other tips/problems that may arise
Barb does not recommend dry-cleaning quilts because they typically use harsher chemicals to clean them.
When making a quilt, be sure to follow manufacturer’s instructions regarding quilting distance so the batting doesn’t bunch. If a quilt is tied or minimally quilted, be more cautious when washing. Modern batting is generally very stable, but using caution is a good rule of thumb. It is possible for batting to bunch, and when that happens, it is generally required that the quilt be re-made. This is why erring on the side of caution is a good rule to live by.
If you receive a quilt as a gift and are unsure of what went into the construction, err on the side of caution and treat it gently. If you are unsure of whether or not the fabrics were pre-washed, assume that they were not and use Shout Color Catcher sheets to soak up and wandering dyes.
We hope these tips are helpful to you and answer any questions that you may have had regarding caring for your quilts. If you have further questions, never be afraid to ask. It is better to ask when you are unsure than to accidentally ruin a timeless piece of art. Do you have other tips for quilt care that we haven’t talked about? Post them in the comments!