Caring for your Quilt

This is a Guest Post by Emilie Kahn

Emilie Kahn
Emilie Kahn

Cleaning Your Quilt

In the process of being used for snuggling on the couch, picnics in the park, covering a bed, or as a play mat for a baby – quilts get dirty. Making a beloved handmade quilt shine like when it was first completed takes a little work and time, but the effort is well worth it.

Before cleaning your quilt give it a visual once over. Are there any places that are getting thin, or a hole is already starting and may need a patch? Are there stains that can be easily spot treated? Treat these trouble spots before cleaning as the cleaning process may worsen any trouble spots.


If a quilt has been stored for a little while it should be taken out and aired. This is as simple as hanging the quilt outside on a dry, sunny day. If you don’t have a large enough outside space to do this, hang it up in a well-ventilated room.


Lay your quilt out on a clean, flat, surface like a table. Place a cut nylon over the brush end of the hose extension on your vacuum and gently sweep the nozzle over the fabric. This is a great way to get dust out of the quilt without the stress if washing it. Again, if your quilt has any trouble spots, fraying seams or delicate fabrics, mend them first or avoid them all together.


Before washing your quilt test the fabrics to be sure they are color-fast. Simply take a white cloth, wet it, and rub it on a test patch. If the cloth comes away clean then the fabric is color-fast and can be washed. It is also not recommended to wash a quilt that has hand painted or inked elements.

Machine washing is only recommended for newer quilts and best done in a machine that does not have an agitator (i.e. a front load washer). An agitator can put unnecessary stress on the seams and fabric of the quilt. Use a gentle detergent free of dyes, perfumes, softeners and other chemicals. To gently brighten colors you may add up to a ½ cup of white vinegar. Use cold water and wash on a short, delicate cycle.

To hand wash use a clean deep sink or bath tub. Make sure the tub is free of chemical based cleaners or scrubs so they won’t get in to your quilt. Fill the tub with cold water. If your home has hard water use distilled water. Add a small amount of gentle detergent and ½ cup of vinegar making sure everything is mixed together well. Add the quilt to the water, and gently move the quilt around being sure that every part is wet. Allow the quilt to soak for anywhere from ten minutes up to two hours. Drain the water from the tub then refill it with clear water to rinse out the cleaning agents. Repeat the rinsing process until the quilt is soap free. Let the wet quilt sit in the empty tub for a few minutes to let excess water drain from it. If your quilt is strong you may lightly press it with your hands to help remove additional water.


A wet quilt is a heavy quilt. Use a clean white sheet to create a sling to carry the quilt. Never hang a wet quilt, the extra weight from the water will pull on the seams and may cause the batting to shift. Place the quilt on a flat surface covered with layers of towels to absorb the water. Running a fan in the room will help the quilt dry a little faster. If the weather is warm and dry lay a sheet on a patch of grass, lay the quilt on the sheet and then another sheet on top of the quilt.

If you are going to store the quilt after washing it, allow it to dry for at least 48 hours prior to packaging to avoid mold and mildew.


As a general rule the less often you wash a handmade quilt, the better. Bed quilts that are used on a daily basis can be washed as much as once a year and spot treated in the intervening time. Airing quilts regularly can help keep them fresh and enjoyable.

Despite your best intentions, and thinking it may be easier, don’t dry clean your quilt. The chemicals used in the dry cleaning process can cause a more rapid deterioration of the components of your quilt.

Antique or heirloom quilts should always be cleaned by professional conservators to help maintain their integrity.

Happy Quilting!

Emilie Kahn

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