How to Clean and Care for Handmade Quilts

Homemade quilt folded next to materials and tools for washing

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Overview
  • Working Time: 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Quilts are a beautiful addition to any home, either as covers on beds or art on the walls. New and old artisan-made quilts—both hand-quilted and machine-quilted—require proper care to keep them in good shape for years to come. If you've purchased a quilt from a commercial retailer, follow the washing instructions provided on the care tag.

How Often to Clean Handmade Quilts

For any quilt, less washing is best to prevent fading. For a new quilt that you use on your bed every day, washing once per season 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.

Hand-washing is the preferred method for cleaning quilts. Even with a new quilt, machine-washing can cause the stitching to ravel. If you decide to machine-wash, use cold water, a gentle detergent, and the shortest delicate cycle.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Laundry sink or bathtub
  • Drying rack (optional)

Materials

  • Liquid laundry detergent
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • 2 white bed sheets
  • 6 to 8 bath towels

Instructions

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

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Wash Handmade Quilts
Detergent Gentle liquid
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle Type Hand-wash (preferred) or machine-wash delicate
Drying Cycle Type Air-dry  (preferred)  or permanent press
Special Treatments Wash alone 
Iron Settings  Do not iron
  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 at all, and take it to a professional dry cleaner instead. Washing 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 you wash your quilt, pre-treat any stains with a commercial stain remover or a solution of water and oxygen bleach. 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 moving on to 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 very 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.

    Water basin filled with water and gentle liquid detergent

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  4. Hand-Wash

    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

    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 From 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 water to drain, and 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. Dry

    Move the quilt to another bed of dry towels, spread out flat, and allow to dry. Placing a fan in the room will help to speed the drying process. Wet quilts must be handled 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, which is medium heat, and remove the quilt while still slightly damp. Place it flat, or drape it over an indoor drying rack to finish drying.

    Never suspend a wet quilt from a clothesline. This causes too much stress on the seams and can cause tearing and displace batting. The wet quilt will be heavy and should be dried flat.

    Handmade quilt drying flat on towels

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Storing Handmade Quilts

If you plan to store your freshly laundered quilt, be sure it's completely dry. Allow an extra 24–48 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. If you want to keep it protected, cover the quilt with a clean sheet or bedspread.

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

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, usually 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, the quilt can be repaired by a professional seamstress. A quilt restoration service can also help salvage a damaged vintage quilt.

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

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Treating Stains on Homemade Quilts

As an alternative to a stain remover, gently treat stains on homemade quilts using baby shampoo. 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 up the soap with a clean, damp cloth, and then air-dry or continue cleaning.

Tips for Washing Handmade Quilts

  • Consider using a quilt wash or quilt soap for delicate items. These products are free of dyes and other non-natural ingredients, and they are biodegradable, which keeps your fabrics safer in the wash.
  • If your quilt has many color variations, toss in a color catcher sheet to absorb any wayward dyes. You can use a color catcher while hand- or machine-washing.
  • A wet quilt is very heavy, so you may need assistance when removing it from the basin or tub.
  • Drying a handmade quilt in a machine isn't advised because it may shrink the fabric and cause your quilt to pucker and crinkle.