How to Clean Drapes or Curtains

Woman using a vacuum cleaner wand to clean long blue drapes.

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Drapes and curtains get dusty and dirty from time to time. Not only is this unsightly, but can be a health issue for people with allergies. Professional dry-cleaning is the safest route, but in most homes, the window treatments amount to a lot of fabric that would be very expensive to dry-clean. Are there options for cleaning drapes without the expense of dry-cleaning?

The answer is yes—in some situations. Although dry-cleaning may be the only option for some premium fabrics, some can be washed in a clothes washer, and others can be brushed and vacuumed to remove most dust and grime.

Fabric Type Makes a Difference

The type of fabric and how the drapes are constructed may dictate how you clean them.

  • Curtains and drapes with stitched-in pleats or swags: Always dry-clean these. Even if the fabric itself is washable, the linings and seams may shrink or come apart under machine- or hand-washing.
  • Wool and cashmere: Always dry-clean these fabrics.
  • Cotton: Drapes made with cotton can usually be hand- or machine-washed, provided they are unlined.
  • Synthetic fabrics: Dry-cleaning solvents may degrade synthetic fabrics, so these should be hand- or machine-washed or cleaned by a professional service.
  • Silk curtains: These can usually be hand-washed. Use mild dishwashing soap and gentle hand action. Other delicate fabrics can be treated the same way. To dry, they should be hung up.
  • Sheer curtains: These need cleaning even more often because they will become discolored if you wait too long between cleanings. These are fragile fabrics that should be soaked clean in cold water with a mild detergent. If using a machine, use the gentlest cycle possible, and only if the fabric is suitable. To dry, put sheer curtains in a dryer on no heat and add one or two soft terry-cloth towels.

Weekly Vacuuming

For weekly care, you can use the upholstery attachment on your vacuum cleaner to vacuum drapes. The tops of your drapes and the folds will accumulate dust, so be sure to dust the entire surface area, top to bottom. 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. Vacuuming your drapes every week will help reduce allergies as well.

Testing for Home Washing

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 your dry cleaner instead.

Your drapes may come with care instructions that indicate if you can wash them yourself or if they require professional dry cleaning. Even if the drapery fabric itself is safe for washing, the inner lining may not be.

Tips for Cleaning at Home

  • Be sure to remove all pins, hangers, and other hardware from your drapes before washing.
  • Don't forget to dust valances, curtain rods, finials, and any other part of the drapery that will collect dust.
  • Give your drapes a gentle shaking as you draw them closed each night.

Choosing a Dry Cleaner or Professional Cleaning Service

Not all commercial dry cleaners are experienced with cleaning fine draperies. Always ask questions first to determine if they are qualified. 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. Check online consumer reviews for a reputable firm.