How to Clean and Care for Handmade Quilts

hand quilted quilt
Diane Labombarbe / Getty Images

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

For any quilt, less washing is best. For a new quilt that you use on your bed every day, washing once per year should be sufficient. 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.

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

Project Metrics

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

Working time: 2 hours

Total time: 2 days

Skill level: Intermediate

What You'll Need

Supplies

  • Liquid detergent
  • Distilled White vinegar
  • 2 white bed sheets
  • 6–8 bath towels

Tools

  • Laundry sink or bathtub
  • Quilt drying rack (Optional)

Instructions

  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.

  2. Prepare 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 that could cause damage to the quilt. Add a liquid detergent that's gentle and free of dyes and perfumes. Avoid powdered detergent as it can leave residue on the fabric.

    Tip

    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.

  3. 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 rest in the water for about 10 minutes.

  4. Rinse

    Drain the wash water and fill the tub again with fresh water. Add 1/2 cup of 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 soap free.

  5. 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 and 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, then place the quilt on a bed of heavy towels on the floor. Cover with more towels and roll up to absorb water.

  6. 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 process. Wet quilts must be handled gently. Pulling can break seams and cause damage. The quilt will be heavy and should be dried flat. If you have enough space, place a sheet on the grass outside and spread out the quilt. Cover the quilt with another clean sheet and allow to dry.

While 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. Lay flat or hang over an indoor clothes drying rack to finish drying.

Tip

Never suspend a wet quilt from a clothesline. This causes too much stress on seams and can cause tearing and displace batting.

How to Store a Handmade Quilt

If you plan to store your freshly laundered quilt, be sure it's completely dry. Allow an extra 24 to 48 hours for drying before packing 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 flat is not an option, place the quilt in a cotton or muslin bag or place inside an acid-free box. Do not 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 are storing your quilt in a wooden chest or dresser, wrap it in the acid-free tissue to avoid contact with the wood. Oils and acids in the wood can cause spotting and damage. Once a year, bring your quilt out of storage for air and to check it for damage. Refolding differently will also prevent permanent creases and damage.

Repairs

If there's a small rip in your quilt, usually hand-sewing with complimentary thread can fix the problem. If you aren't confident in your sewing abilities or the tearing is significant, the quilt may need to be fixed by a professional seamstress. A quilt restoration service can also help repair your damaged quilt.

Treating Stains on a Handmade Quilt

Before you wash your quilt, pretreat any spots with oxygen-based bleach to help remove stains. Follow the package's recommended application (and make sure your quilt's fabric is compatible with the product), and gently apply the solution to the soiled areas. After you let the treated spots rest for an hour or two, you can proceed with the washing process.