How Do You Wash Your Quilts? and Open Line Friday

Washing Quilts

Today is Open Line Friday where everyone has a chance to ask and answer readers’ questions.  Recently I was asked how I wash my quilts.  I think this is a great question for everyone. Do you pre-wash your fabrics?  What products do you use?  Do you machine or hand wash your quilts?  How do you dry them?

I separate my quilts into three “loads” for the purposes of washing:

  • Heirloom Quilts--My very special quilts.  Any quilt that is hand appliquéd, pieced or quilted.
  • Vintage Quilts-Quilts made before 1950.  We have two vintage quilts that require special care because of their sentimental value and fabric of unknown origin.
  • Well-loved Quilts-By well-loved, I am referring to quilts that my family uses regularly.  It is more important to me that these quilts be used and “loved”  than be preserved and guarded from dirt and stains.

Washing Quilts

For today, I will limit my discussion to handling “Well-Loved Quilts”.

First of all, I pre-wash all of my fabric.  All hand-dyed fabric is washed multiple times in HOT water and Synthrapol.  I wash red fabric many, many times until all the dye water runs clear.  Synthrapol removes dye molecules that have not chemically bonded by keeping them in suspension.  The excess dye (aka fugitive dye) cannot adhere to the fabric and just rinses away.

Washing Quilts

Washing Quilts


I pre-wash all Commercial Fabrics, too.  All new fabric goes directly from the store to the laundry room for a soak in HOT water and 1 teaspoon of Retayne per yard of fabric for about 30 minutes. I then wash it by  machine with regular laundry detergent.  The Retayne helps “fix” the dye to prevent it from bleeding into other fabric.  Finally, I toss it in the dryer for a few minutes, give it a shake and hang it to dry. Fabric that is not completely dried in the dryer is easier to iron later.   If I have time, I will iron the fabric while it is still slightly damp.

Pre Wash Chart

Once complete, I wash my quilts on a gentle cycle in a washing machine with the laundry detergent I use for clothes–Tide.

I purchased this Mary Ellen’s Best Wash this week at my local quilt dealer.  I bought it because I like the scent.  I’m not sure if it’s any better than any other laundry detergent, but I will let you know after I give it a try.


Washing Quilts


I pre-wash all of my fabric in Synthrapol or Retayne and then I launder all of my quilts with regular laundry detergent.

I toss quilts in the dryer for 5 minutes and then I drape them across several laundry baskets or my banister to finish drying.  (Some quilters recommend directing box fans toward quilts so they dry faster.)

Washing Quilts


How do You wash Your quilts?

Later this month, I will compare spray starch, spray sizing, and Mary Ellen’s Best Press.

Next Friday, I’ll be asking and answering:  What’s your favorite quilt block?


17 thoughts on “How Do You Wash Your Quilts? and Open Line Friday

  1. For quilts I am making for gifts to be loved or for sale, I toss in the washer and dryer. Yep.

    I don’t prewash my fabrics and I use cotton batting. This also gives the quilts a super nice crinkle.

      • i make a lot of baby quilts, so the recipients are usually quite relieved to know they can toss it in the washer & dryer.

    • I love the “crinkle” too. The crinkle is why I love to sleep under quilts–that and the weight. I use wool batting a lot and that goes right in the washer and dryer too! Great “crinkle”!

      • Same for me, and if there is red fabric I will wash with synthropol otherwise it just gets thrown in and washed. I love the crinkle, it really enhances the quilting

  2. i don’t prewash fabrics, but I also don’t use a lot of red. 🙂 When the quilt is finished, I wash it on warm/cold regular cycle with my normal All detergent and a Shout Color Catcher sheet. If there is a color in the quilt that I think might bleed (like Red), I will wash it with about 8 of the sheets, then rewash with about 4, and repeat until the color catcher sheets are perfectly white. Then I dry in my dryer on the regular settings. I also tell people I am gifting quilts to that they can be washed and dried. I want to make sure that the recipients of my quilts actually USE them!

  3. Gee Lori your treatment of fabrics is quite extensive. I do not prewash and just cut, sew, sandwich, quilt, bind, wash and dry. AND then love what has magically come out of the dryer as a much loved crinkly quilt. AND all the mistakes I might have made in the fancy quilting I am learning from you just don’t matter so much!!

  4. I have 2 friends that are interested in quilting. I am helping them with some projects. I would like to buy each of them a great book with easy directions and gray pictures for new quilters. I would love your suggestions. Thank yoy

    • Hi Ashley, Thanks for the idea. I have never used vinegar, but it is known to set dye. (even on Easter eggs) Do you notice any scent on the fabric? Do you use vinegar when you launder your clothes, too?

      • I haven’t noticed the smell, my mother in law told me to do that instead of prewashing because neither of us has a serger to keep the edges from fraying. Yes! I have done it with clothes too! I’m so funny with the first wash of new clothes. The vinegar just added to the silliness.

    • Barbara, I do too. I am a little surprised by how many people do not. I do it more to set they dye than for shrinkage.

  5. Do any of you art quilt? I have been dabbling and wanted to glue yarn to a quilt hanging but was having a terrible time finding something that worked. Got any tips or great glue you use on fabric that is not going to get washed?

    • I have used Roxanne’s Glue. A very small drop holds like super glue–it’s amazing, but I have only used it for basting appliqué. I would check the label for recommended uses. I will highlight your question next Friday–to see if we can get a few more ideas.

  6. I use wool batting for my hand quilted quilts, so to wash I follow the washing instructions on the batting package. Usually that means cold water, very gentle cycle, mild detergent or soap, and drying flat outside between two sheets. I’ve used Orvus paste for years, but recently saw posts saying grated Ivory Soap I’d better. Any thoughts?

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