Curtains can finish a room, but they are also dust and dirt magnets. Sometimes knowing how to care for these delicate investments can be a mystery. How often should you clean drapes and curtains? How do you protect silks and sheers? Should you use a washing machine, wash your curtains by hand, or steam them clean? Cleaning your curtains one of these three ways usually depends on the material of your window coverings.
How Often to Clean 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).
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.
Equipment / Tools
- 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 other 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 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. It is okay to machine-wash curtains with grommets as long as you select the delicate wash cycle.
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 it 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.
Tips to Keeping Your Curtains Clean Longer
- 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.