How to Wash and Care for Curtains Three Different Ways
Curtains can finish a room, but they are also dust and dirt magnets. Sometimes knowing how to wash curtains can be a mystery, especially if they are delicate. Fortunately, you can usually clean drapes and curtains by machine, hand, or steam clean them two to four times a year to keep the dust, dander, and stains under control.
Cleaning your curtains in one of these three ways usually depends on the material and structure of your window coverings. For example, wash silks by hand, sheers in the wash or by hand, and keep tabs on specialty fabrics like velvet or lined drapes that will require spot-cleaning or dry cleaning (which by the way, may cause some shrinkage). Cotton and linen curtains can shrink a bit when washed at home, too. It always helps to read the sewn-in label for specific instructions on how to wash your curtains.
Some curtains may have a label that reads dry clean only. Doing anything other than dry cleaning is at your own risk. Some fabrics may bleed and fade if they aren't properly dry cleaned, and others may shrink or pill.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
How to a
- Washing machine
- Clothes dryer or clothesline
- Iron (optional)
- Sink or basin
- Steamer with drape/fabric tool
- White cloth or paper towel
- Mesh laundry bags or pillowcases (optional)
- Sock or another tie (optional)
- Laundry detergent
- Color catcher sheet (optional)
- Thin white towel or cloth (optional for ironing)
- Liquid dishwashing detergent
- Thick white towels for hand-washing
|How to Wash Curtains|
|Detergent||Mild laundry detergent for machine-washing, mild liquid soap for hand-washing|
|Drying Cycle Type||Low setting; line dry delicate fabrics|
|Special Treatments||If drying in machine, remove when 95% dry to avoid wrinkles|
|Ironing Settings||If necessary, iron on low setting with pressing cloth|
|How Often to Wash||Wash every three to six months; dust weekly|
How to Machine-Wash Curtains
Machine-wash unlined curtains and sheers made from cotton, nylon, and polyester. Lace curtains can be washed in a machine if protected in a mesh bag. Synthetic and lined blackout curtains are likely fine to wash in the machine but check the label first.
Spot Test Your Curtains
Check the care label on your curtains first. If you're in doubt about the colorfastness of your curtains, try spot-testing a small corner with a mix of water and a small amount of liquid laundry detergent or liquid dish soap. Dab a white cloth or paper towel on the spot and see if any color is transferred. If there is color on the cloth or paper towel, you can still choose to machine-wash, but select cold water and the delicate cycle on your washer.
Remove all hardware, such as curtain hooks, rings, pins, and clips from your curtains before putting your curtains in the washing machine.
Place Delicates in a Bag
Place delicate lace and sheer curtains in a mesh bag before they are washed in the machine. The bag will prevent fraying and other damage to the curtains.
In a pinch, place delicate curtains inside an old pillowcase that's the same color as the curtains and tie it tightly shut with a sacrificial knee sock that you don't mind stretching or discoloring.
Select Cold Water
Most washable curtains need to be washed in cold water with a small amount of laundry detergent.
Dry the Curtains
Line dry or use a low setting on a clothes dryer for washable curtains.
If you are using a dryer, remove the curtains from the machine when they are about 95% dry. Over-drying will set in wrinkles, but removing the curtains while still slightly damp makes any necessary ironing a cinch.
Iron Curtains if Necessary
A quick ironing may be needed. Protect your curtains while ironing by using a thin white towel or T-shirt, for example, in between the curtain fabric and the iron. Replace the curtain hardware and rehang your curtains.
How to Hand-Wash Curtains
Hand-wash unlined sheers and curtains made of cotton, nylon, polyester, laces, and silks (do not wash silk in a machine).
Fill Sink or Basin With Water
Fill the sink or basin with lukewarm or cool water so you can easily submerge your curtains.
Add a few drops of liquid dish detergent or laundry detergent. Swish the detergent around in the water to create suds.
Submerge the curtains into the sudsy water. With a gentle hand, swish the fabric around in the water to loosen up dirt.
Rinse the Curtains
Let the soapy water go down the drain or pour it out of the bucket. Replace with clean lukewarm to cool water. Swish the curtains in the water to loosen the suds. Keep rinsing the curtains in clear water until all the suds are gone.
Squeeze Excess Water
Lay each curtain panel out flat on a dry, thick, clean white towel (or one the same color as the curtains). Gently and loosely roll up the towel to remove the excess water from the curtain panel.
Hang to Dry
Once the panels are just damp and not sopping wet, hang them up to dry (do not put the curtains back on the window yet). Hang them over a drying rack or from a bathtub curtain rod. Do not hang them near a heat source or they may shrink or otherwise damage the fabric.
Iron if Necessary
If the curtains are wrinkled, iron them on a low setting when the panels are slightly damp. Always use a pressing cloth, such as a thin towel or other fabric, to buffer the curtains from the iron's direct heat.
How to Steam Clean Your Curtains
Your curtains may be too large to fit into your washer or dryer, and they are too bulky to hand-wash. In that case, steam cleaning is an option. Only machine-washable curtains can be steam cleaned, however. Some steam cleaners have attachments to steam upholstery or curtains.
Do not steam clean velvet curtains and drapes or any water-resistant outdoor curtains. These fabrics need to be spot cleaned or cleaned by a professional.
Check the Curtain's Label
Leaving your curtains on the rod, check the label to see if there is a warning about using steam on the fabric. If there is no warning, proceed to steam clean your curtains.
Prepare the Steamer
Fill the steamer's tank with water according to your model's instructions. Do not overfill the tank. Plug in the steamer and wait for several minutes for the water to heat up.
Attach Nozzle and Test Fabric
When the water is ready, attach the correct nozzle per instructions. Use the nozzle on a discreet part of your curtains to test for discoloration.
Hold the nozzle about 6 inches away from the fabric. Start at the top and steam a small section at a time as you go down the fabric. If the fabric is becoming too saturated with steam, hold the nozzle further away from the curtain.
Attach a Drape or Fabric Tool
Put the correct tool onto the hose. Gently brush the fabric from top to bottom of the curtain, holding the hose upright as you suck the dirt out of the curtains. A light touch is required when brushing the fabric with a steamer tool—you do not need to press the curtain into the window as you brush it.
Repeat on the Back of the Curtain
After finishing the front of the curtain panel, then brush the back of the panel with the drape or fabric tool.
Dry the Curtains
After steaming both sides of the curtain panel, let it hang to air dry. If you still see dirt on the curtains, you can repeat the process.
Treating Stains on Curtains
Treating stains on curtains can be done just like you would do on a garment. Spot treat a stain by removing as much of the stain as possible with a dull knife, spoon, or edge of a credit card. Then begin blotting it with a clean white cloth dipped in a 50/50 solution of distilled white vinegar and water. Blot again with a mix of sudsy water made with a couple of drops of gentle liquid dish soap. Rinse by blotting and let air-dry. If unlined curtains are stained all over, soak them for an hour in a bucket or sink in a mix of water, white vinegar, and a couple of drops of gentle liquid dish soap. Remove and hand-wash or put in the machine on the delicate cycle.
Care and Repairs
Curtains can become worn at the bottom or torn and frayed elsewhere. Pets can accidentally leave claw marks on curtains, too. Instead of tossing your curtains, try repairing them first.
Repairing Small Holes
Claws and moths can create tiny pinholes in your curtains. Fusible tape or fabric glue can repair this issue. Fusible tape is put on the backside of a curtain panel and fabric glue is usually applied to both sides of the fabric. Read instructions for each product for best results.
Repairing frayed hems on curtains can be tricky and rehemming is usually the best way to remove frays. If you can't rehem the panels, try to snip as many frayed threads from the hem before and after cleaning the curtains, however, you run the risk of creating more holes. You can try treating the hems with a fray-sealing adhesive product that dries clear. If you have curtains with a frayed fabric liner, it may be best to talk to a professional cleaner to see if they can replace the lining fabric.
Use an upholstery needle (for thicker curtains) and color-matching thread to sew up a small tear. Match the pattern of the curtain as you sew the tear together. If sewing is not possible, use fusible interfacing to fix the tear. Cut a piece of interfacing a little larger than the tear. Take the curtain and lay it on your ironing surface so the wrong side of the panel is facing you. Manipulate the tear so it looks as closed as possible and then place the interfacing over the rip. Fuse the interfacing to the fabric with your iron (read the interfacing instructions for the best setting).
Do not trim the threads of a snag or it can create a hole or tear. You can try to stretch the fabric to reduce a small snag. Stretching the fabric may open the weave enough for you to manipulate and move the snagged thread through to the other side of the fabric. Or, you can choose an exact color thread to delicately sew or "weave" the snag into the face of the fabric so it won't pull further.
It's best to iron curtains while they are still slightly damp. If you are drying them in the dryer, take them out when they are 95% dry. Use a low iron setting and a press cloth to protect the fabric. Hang curtains immediately after ironing to avoid any wrinkles setting in. You may be able to avoid ironing if you take the curtains out of the dryer early and immediately hang them. A hand steamer can eliminate wrinkles that may develop.
Store curtains by hanging them to avoid creases and wrinkles. Choose a very sturdy, heavy-duty wire coat hanger to support one panel. Use one hanger per curtain panel. Cover the fabric with acid-free tissue paper that is appropriate for the fabric. For example, use buffered (treated) acid-free paper to store cotton, linen, and sheer curtains. Use unbuffered (untreated) acid-free paper to store silk, velvet, and wool curtains. If you fold curtains, do so loosely to avoid deep creases, cover with acid-free paper, and place them in an airtight container. Hang or store curtains in a cool, dark closet.
How Often to Wash Curtains
Consider washing your curtains every three to six months to keep window treatments clean. You can go longer between washings by maintaining a weekly dust removal routine. Frequently cleaning out the dust, dirt, pet hair, and cobwebs in your curtains helps your home smell fresh and clean, you'll eliminate allergen problems, and you'll be able to spot stains in areas that need more in-depth attention. Here's what to do on a weekly basis:
- Vacuum heavier fabrics with your upholstery brush attachment. (Tape a piece of mesh or pantyhose over the brush when working on lightweight curtains so the vacuum does not suck up the fabric into the nozzle.)
- Shake out sheers and lighter-weight window coverings.
- Use a long-handled dusting tool to gently brush and dust the tops of the curtains along the rod where dust accumulates.
- Roll a lint brush or sticky side of duct tape on your curtains to remove pet hair (which can stain your curtains over time if not removed).
Tips for Washing Curtains
- Freshen up dingy or yellowed solid white curtains by soaking them in a sink with oxygen bleach before washing by machine.
- Lay curtains flat on a bed or clean floor to get better traction when vacuuming them.
- Clean your windows, grilles, window blinds, and windowsills regularly; Dirt on glass and the surrounding areas can quickly transfer onto curtains.
- Routinely use an extendable duster to eliminate accumulated cobwebs and dust that fall onto your curtains from ceilings (especially ceilings with a popcorn finish) and cornices.
Can I wash curtains that have metal rings or grommets?
Read the care label, however, it is usually okay to machine-wash curtains with grommets as long as you select the delicate wash cycle.
Can lined curtains be washed?
Custom or other types of curtains lined with fabric can be washed in a gentle cycle in a washer with cold water, but you run the risk of distorting or shrinking the lining. Hang to air-dry and do not put them in the dryer. Heavily lined fabric curtains, such as velvet drapery, can be cleaned using a vacuum cleaner while they are still hanging in place on the windows. Always check the label for specific cleaning instructions.
How do I wash curtains with a rubber or foam backing?
Curtains with a rubberized or foam backing are typically thermal or insulating curtains that may need to be cleaned differently than fabric-lined curtains. It's best to hang these curtains outdoors for cleaning. Hang them taut so the backing cannot fold back on itself or touch anything else. Sponge-clean with a gentle liquid dish soap and thoroughly dry the backing to avoid any mold growth. You can sponge-clean the front of the drapes, as well. However, it is always best to read the label for cleaning instructions for your specific curtain.
Velvet Stains. Drycleaning & Laundry Institute.