How to Wash a Handmade Quilt to Prevent Damage

Methods to keep handmade heirlooms clean without ruining them

Homemade quilt folded next to materials and tools for washing

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $0

Protect your fine handmade heirlooms and machine-made quilts by learning the proper way to wash them. If you've purchased a quilt from a commercial retailer, follow the washing instructions on the manufacturer's care tag. Always test it for colorfastness before washing it. If any of the panels in your quilt bleed, it can ruin your entire blanket. Dry clean any quilts that are not colorfast.

The best advice with quilts is to wash them only when necessary to prevent fading—usually not more than twice a year. Hand-washing with cold water and mild detergent is the preferred cleaning method since it is the gentlest; as a last resort, you can use a washing machine's delicate cycle using cold water.

Air-drying is the safest way to preserve your quilt. If you must use a clothes dryer, use the permanent press cycle (medium-heat cycle) and remove the quilt while still slightly damp. Lay it flat or on a drying rack to fully dry it. Never hang it since the weight of the water and gravity might pull the stitching or batting, causing damage or misshaping the quilt. Read on for the steps on how to wash a quilt and the best ways to store and repair it.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Laundry sink or bathtub
  • Drying rack (optional)


  • Mild liquid laundry detergent
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • 2 White bed sheets
  • 6 to 8 Bath towels


Folded bed sheets and towels with detergent and vinegar and laid down drying rack

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Wash Handmade Quilts
Detergent Mild liquid
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle Type Hand-wash (machine-wash delicate, if necessary)
Drying Cycle Type Air-dry (permanent press, if necessary)
Special Treatments Wash alone 
Iron Settings  Use the lowest heat necessary

How to Wash Handmade Quilts

  1. Check for Colorfastness

    Before washing any handmade quilt, check the fabric and any decorative stitching for colorfastness to prevent dyes from running. Testing is simple—wet a piece of white cloth with cold water and gently rub it over each different color or fabric in your quilt. If there is any color transfer to the white cloth, don’t wash your quilt; take it to a professional dry cleaner instead. Cleaning at home will likely result in discoloration and fading.

    Wet towel rubbing against homemade quilt to check for color transfer

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Treat Stains

    Before washing your quilt, pre-treat any stains with a commercial stain remover or a water and oxygen bleach solution. Follow the package's recommended directions (don't use oxygen bleach on silk or wool quilts), allowing plenty of time for the stain remover to work before washing the quilt.

    Stain on homemade quilt brushed with stain remover

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Prepare the Wash Basin

    Fill a deep laundry sink or bathtub with cold water. Be certain that the sink or tub is clean and has no residue from cleaning agents, which could cause damage to the quilt. If you have hard water or iron bacteria in your water source, you should use distilled water for washing your quilt. You don't want to risk having minerals stain your fabric.

    Add a liquid detergent that's gentle and free of dyes and perfumes. Avoid powdered detergent as it can leave residue on the fabric.


    Hand washing is the safest method of cleaning a quilt. If you must machine wash, use cold water, a gentle detergent, and the shortest delicate cycle. Follow the same drying steps as you would for hand-washing.

    Water basin filled with water and gentle liquid detergent

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  4. Hand-Wash the Quilt

    Place the quilt in the water, making sure it's entirely submerged. Gently move your quilt around in the water to help loosen any dirt. Allow the quilt to soak in the water for about 10 minutes.

    Handmade quilt hand washed in water basin with soapy water

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  5. Rinse With Fresh Water

    Drain the wash water, and fill the tub again with fresh water. Add 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar to the water to help remove detergent residue, brighten colors, and soften the fabric. Repeat the rinsing process until the water and quilt are free of soap.

    Handmade quilt rinsed with water and distilled white vinegar in water basin

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  6. Remove the Quilt From the Basin

    Create a sling with a white sheet by placing the corners together to make a loop. Wrap the loop around the quilt, remove it from the water, and let it drip above the tub. Gently squeeze the quilt to release more water (do not twist or wring). Allow the excess moisture to drain, then place the quilt on a bed of heavy towels on the floor. Cover with more towels, and roll up to absorb water.

    White bed sheet made into a swing holding a folded handmade quilt

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  7. Air-Dry the Quilt

    Move the quilt to another bed of dry towels, spread it out flat, and let it dry. Placing a fan in the room will help to speed up the drying process. You must handle them gently because pulling can break seams and cause damage. If you have enough space, place a sheet on the ground outside, and spread out the quilt on top. Cover the quilt with another clean sheet, and allow it to dry.

    While it's not advised, if you decide to use a clothes dryer, select the permanent press cycle and remove the quilt while still slightly damp. Lay it flat or drape it over an indoor drying rack to finish drying.

    Never suspend a wet quilt from a clothesline. Hanging can causes too much stress on the seams and may cause tearing and clumping of the batting. A wet quilt will be heavy and should be dried flat.


    Drying a handmade quilt in a machine isn't advised because it may shrink the fabric and cause your quilt to pucker and wrinkle.

    Handmade quilt drying flat on towels

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Treating Stains on a Quilt

Treat stains on homemade quilts using baby shampoo as a gentle alternative to a stain remover. Mix equal parts shampoo and water—just a couple drops of each—and gently rub the mixture onto the stain with a soft clean cloth or very soft toothbrush. Rinse it by blotting the soap with a clean, damp cloth, then air-dry or continue cleaning.

Care and Repairs

Before washing the quilt, check for rips and tears, and fix them before cleaning to avoid more damage. If there's a small rip in your quilt, hand-sewing with the same color thread can fix the problem. If you aren't confident in your sewing abilities or the tear is significant, a professional quilter or tailor can repair the quilt. You can also hire a quilt restoration service to help salvage a damaged vintage quilt.

Handmade quilt being repaired by hand sewing blue and orange colored thread

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald


Iron your quilt only when absolutely necessary, and use the lowest heat that enables you to get your creases out. When choosing a heat level, consider the fabric used, any appliques or embroidery, and the batting inside the quilt. If the quilt is made of cotton, it can handle more heat; however, if the batting is synthetic, it may compress or melt.

A dry iron is preferred over a steam iron since steam can dampen and damage the batting. Place a sheet of cotton over the quilt when intending to iron over applique or embroidery made of sensitive synthetic materials. The cotton sheet will prevent the fabric from sticking to the base of the iron.

Storing a Quilt

If you plan to store your freshly laundered quilt, be sure it's completely dry. Allow an extra 24 to 48 hours of drying time before packing it away. One of the best ways to store a quilt is to spread it out on an extra bed. Keeping the quilt flat will eliminate creases and wear on folds. Cover the quilt with a clean sheet or bedspread if you want to keep it protected.

If storing it flat isn't an option, place the quilt in a cotton or muslin bag or inside an acid-free box. Don't keep the quilt in the attic or basement, where moisture and temperature levels may fluctuate. Before you fold the quilt, pad the inside with acid-free tissue paper to help prevent sharp creases. You can also roll your quilt around an acid-free tube and slip it in a cotton bag to help keep it wrinkle-free.

If you're storing your quilt in a wooden chest or dresser, wrap it in acid-free tissue to avoid direct contact with the wood. Oils and acids in the wood can cause spotting and damage. Once a year, bring your quilt out of storage to air it out and check for damage. Refolding differently will also prevent permanent creases and damage. Don't use mothballs when storing quilts; only use natural moth repellants, such as lavender or cedar balls.

Handmade quilt rolled into a cotton or muslin bag next to plastic storage container

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How Often to Wash a Quilt

Hand-washing is the preferred method for cleaning quilts and their longevity. Even with a new quilt, machine-washing can cause the stitching to unravel. For any quilt, less washing is best to prevent fading. For a new quilt, you use on your bed every day, washing twice a year should suffice unless you have pets or accidental stains. Antique or heirloom quilts require special care and should be cleaned less often. To freshen your quilts between washings, air them outside away from direct sunlight.

Tips for Washing Quilts

  • Get a professional to assist with vintage or antique quilts that are faded, frayed, or require significant reconstruction. Dry cleaning is always safer than hand washing.
  • Consider using a quilt wash or quilt soap for delicate items. These products are free of dyes and other non-natural ingredients and are biodegradable, which keeps your fabrics safer in the wash.
  • If your quilt has many color variations, use a color catcher sheet in the basin to absorb any wayward dyes. You can use a color catcher if hand-washing or machine-washing.
  • A wet quilt is very heavy, so you may need assistance removing it from the basin or tub.
  • Can you put a quilt in the dryer?

    If you must put a quilt in the dryer, put it on a permanent press setting (medium heat), and take it out when it's still damp. Lay it flat or drape it on a drying rack to fully dry. You can also use the dryer to freshen it up by using the no-heat gentle cycle or air-dry setting.

  • How do you wash a heavy quilt?

    If washing a big, heavy quilt in the washer, use the "large load" setting, select "delicate" or "gentle," use a mild detergent (half of the regular amount), and use cold water.

  • How do you wash a handmade quilt for the first time?

    If you've made a quilt that you're giving as a gift or you've received a handmade quilt, it'll need a wash. If it doesn't have an instructions label, first test it for colorfastness before washing. Rub a white cloth dampened with cold water over the various colors of the quilt to see if there's any color transfer. If there is, dry clean the quilt and do not wash it.

    If there's no color transfer, hand-wash in cold water. But to avoid any unexpected color bleeding, use a color catcher in the basin as you hand-wash it.