How to Clean Drapes or Curtains

vacuuming drapes

The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Dusty and dirty drapes and curtains are not only unsightly but can be a health issue for people with allergies. Professional dry-cleaning is the safest route for some drapes and curtains, such as wool, pleated pieces, or heavily structured swags. In many situations and depending on the fabric and label instructions, you can wash drapes or curtains by hand, machine, or simply brush and vacuum them to remove most dust and grime, as with velvet drapes. Be sure to remove all pins, hangers, and other hardware from your drapes or curtains before washing, or the fabric and washer may become damaged.

How Often to Clean Drapes or Curtains

Drapes and curtains can be removed and deep cleaned by hand, machine, or taken to a professional cleaner optimally once every three to six months, but realistically once a year for heavier or complex window treatments. For weekly care, you can use the upholstery attachment on your vacuum cleaner to vacuum drapes. Vacuuming your drapes every week will help reduce allergies as well. If you have a pet, use a lint brush or the sticky side of duct tape to lift stubborn pet hair off the fabric while vacuuming. If you leave layers of pet hair on drapery, the oils from your pet's coat can discolor the fabric over time.

Vacuum Drapes on the Bed

An easy way to vacuum drapery and curtains is to remove them from the windows and place them flat on your bed. Use the soft brush attachment when vacuuming. Or place a piece of nylon stocking at the end of the hand-held nozzle when vacuuming drapes so the fabric doesn't become sucked into the vacuum.

Test for Colorfastness Before Cleaning Drapes or Curtains

Even if your drapes and curtains seem to be candidates for machine- or hand-washing, always make sure to test the fabric to make sure it is colorfast. Pick a hidden corner and test the fabric in a small bowl of warm water and detergent to see if the color begins to bleed. If it does, or any other noticeable changes occur, take it to a professional cleaner instead.

test a corner of your drapes to see if they are machine-washable

The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Large sink or basin
  • Iron
  • Pressing cloth

Materials

  • Mild dish detergent for hand-washing
  • Mild laundry detergent for machine-washing

Instructions

How to Clean Cotton Drapes or Curtains

Drapes made with cotton can usually be hand- or machine-washed, provided they are unlined.

  1. Pre-Treat Stains

    Cotton drapery and curtains tend to show stains and spots more than other fabrics. Stains tend to show up on curtains from fingers that touch the fabric. Inspect the window treatments for stains before washing. Pre-treat stains and spot clean before washing your drapery or curtains.

  2. Wash on Gentle Only

    Choose cold water and the delicate cycle. Use mild laundry detergent for the washer. Give the drapes or curtains plenty of room in the washing machine so they are not crushed, especially as they tumble or agitate. You’ll also want to iron them while they are still slightly damp to keep wrinkles from setting into these natural fabrics.

  3. Dry on Low Heat

    Place the curtains in a machine dryer and choose low-heat. When the drapes or curtains are about 95 percent dry, remove them from the dryer. Removing them before they are completely dry will avoid wrinkles from setting in.

  4. Iron When Damp

    Carefully iron the slightly damp cotton window treatments if necessary. Always iron cotton fabric on the cotton setting. Iron on the wrong side of the fabric, and use a pressing cloth to prevent scorching. Rehang the curtains to dry completely and to eliminate any errant wrinkles.

How to Clean Synthetic Drapes or Curtains

Dry-cleaning solvents may degrade synthetic fabrics such as nylon and polyester, so these should be hand- or machine-washed or cleaned by a professional service. Blackout curtains made from synthetic material and lined, are designed to be easy-care and the label will usually say they can be washed by machine.

  1. Separate Colors

    Separate light and dark-colored curtains and wash separately.

  2. Wash in Cold Water

    Choose cold water, a delicate cycle, and mild laundry detergent. Do not use chlorine bleach on synthetic drapes and curtains.

  3. Tumble Dry

    Machine-dry drapes and curtains in the dryer on low to medium heat. Hang them as soon as they are dry to prevent wrinkles.

How to Clean Silk Drapes or Curtains

Many silk curtains and drapes are washable by hand. Use mild dishwashing soap and gentle hand action. Other delicate fabrics can be treated the same way. To dry, they should be hung up.

  1. Hand-Wash

    Fill a large sink or basin with lukewarm to cool water. Add a mild detergent and swish it around to create suds. Immerse the silk into the water. Gently squeeze suds through the silk.

  2. Rinse and Squeeze Excess Water

    Rinse silk in a lukewarm to cool water bath, swishing the fabric around to release the soap. Keep rinsing in baths until the water is no longer sudsy. Place fabric as flat as possible on a thick bath towel. Gently roll the towel to squeeze out excess water.

  3. Hang to Air-Dry

    Hang silk indoors to dry, but do not place the fabric near any source of heat while drying.

  4. Iron While Damp

    Silk draperies or curtains can be very carefully ironed if necessary. It's best to iron silk when the fabric is uniformly damp. Ironing dry silk may create water stains. Set the iron on a low setting or a silk setting. Iron the silk on the wrong side and use a pressing cloth over the fabric to protect it from scorching.

How to Clean Sheer Curtains

Sheers, including some laces, need cleaning even more often than other fabrics because they will become discolored and dingy if you wait too long between cleanings. 

  1. Soak in Cold Water and Wash

    These fragile fabrics should first be soaked in clean, cold water in the washing machine with a mild laundry detergent for about five minutes. Drain the water.

  2. Wash on the Delicate Cycle

    If using a machine, choose the gentlest cycle possible, and only if the fabric is suitable. Pour in a small amount of mild laundry detergent and wash.

  3. Dry and Reshape

    Place sheer curtains in a dryer on a no-heat, air-only setting. Add one or two soft, dry terry cloth towels to the dryer. The towels will gently prevent the sheer fabric from balling up while tumbling.

    Take the curtains out while slightly damp to avoid wrinkles. Hang them back on your window, and as you do that, gently pull the curtains to release any wrinkles and to bring them back to their correct shape without puckering.

Tips to Keep Your Drapes and Curtains Clean Longer

When you're doing household, don't forget to dust valances, curtain rods, finials, and any other part of the drapery that collects dust. If you don't have a brush attachment on your vacuum, you can use a long-handled broom with soft, synthetic fibers to help keep dust from building up. You can also give your drapes a gentle shaking as you close them each night to remove dust from the folds.

Not all commercial dry cleaners are experienced with cleaning fine draperies. If you are sending curtains and drapes out for cleaning, a safer (and more expensive) option is a firm specializing in drapery cleaning. These firms will come into your home, remove the draperies for cleaning, then rehang them after cleaning is complete.