How to Clean a Quilt

Quilts are notoriously difficult to clean — not only do they incorporate many different fabrics in one piece, but they're often handmade family heirlooms or vintage works of art. We have three quilts: the log cabin my godmother made me when I left for college, a hand-embroidered one my grandmother made us as a wedding gift, and a toddler-sized one my son received when he was born. Each one requires different care, but I can clean them all at home by mixing and matching steps from these 6 quilt cleaning tips.

Handmade quilts, particularly heirloom and vintage ones, should never be dry cleaned. Since quilts are so unique, you’ll have to consider the fabric and age of your quilt before cleaning it.

1. Quilts that have been packed away or are just dusty are best cleaned with some fresh air. If you have outdoor space, air out your quilt on a sunny day. If you don’t, try laying it out in a well-ventilated room in your home.

2. If airing the quilt out won’t cut it, try vacuuming it on the lowest setting using the brush attachment. To be extra safe, pull some pantyhose or fine mesh over the vacuum attachment and then vacuum. If your quilt has fraying stitches, very delicate fabric, or beads, you may want to skip this step.

3. If you feel like you must use water, first do a patch test for color fastness. Dampen a white cloth with cold water and rub it gently on each different fabric in the quilt. If any color transfers, it’s best not to wet wash your quilt at all. You may want to call a local quilt store or fabric conservation expert so that they can address your particular problem and fabrics.

4. If your quilt made it past the patch test and is brand new or sturdy, wash it on the delicate setting of your washing machine using a gentle soap like Orvus Quilt Soap or Charlie’s Soap. If it’s vintage or delicate, try just to spot clean areas that need it or hand wash it in your bathtub or sink.

5. Lay your quilt flat to dry rather than putting it in the dryer, which can damage the fabric and seams. You may want to spread towels on the floor and lay it on top of them. If your quilt is new or sturdy, you can put it in the dryer on low once it’s mostly dry, but it’s best to be patient and let it dry on its own.

6. If you need to store the quilt, keep it on a closet shelf or a place where it can air a bit, rather than in plastic bags.

Image: Cate's California Cottage House Call

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Kathleen is a freelance editor who lives in Chicago. She loves eclectic rooms, traveling with her family, and feeding anyone who steps foot in her house. She theoretically hates clutter, but can’t stop buying books and craft supplies.