Deciding how to clean a quilt

I am no authority on this subject but I have been trying out a few methods to clean some quilts I inherited.  I have discovered that the age and condition of the quilt dictate the cleaning method I chose.  This is the just my own personal mental checklist when I decide on how to clean a quilt.  When cleaning an heirloom piece remember that quilts can be destroyed during cleaning so take this very seriously.  Some quilt stores sell detergent specifically made for quilts.  I haven’t tried these but would probably use my Charlie’s soap or my own homemade soap because it is super gentle and scent free.

Excellent condition:  This is the quilt that you recently made with new fabrics.

  • Wash on cold, hang dry or tumble dry.  If it is quilted it should be pretty sturdy.  Hand tied may be more fragile.

Good condition, new:  This quilt is not an heirloom piece but the fabric is starting to tear in places.

  • Hand wash in the tub if you really cherish the quilt.  After wringing out the quilt lay in on the grass on a sheet to let most of the water evaporate, before hanging on the line.
  •  If you use the quilt for picnics and other messy activities then machine wash on cold, it probably needs a good cleaning.

Good condition, antique, not too dirty:  Here’s where most of my quilts fall, they are old to very old and have some disintegrating fibers.

  • First, if there are only a few tears from weak fibers, then try to mend them.  If successful then hand wash in the tub.
  • If you aren’t able to mend all the tears then I suggest hanging out on the line to ventilate.  Sometimes this is all the quilt needs.  There may be stains but they might add character, smells don’t add character.
  • Spritz quilt with a squirt bottle to really help release those smells.  Don’t use too much water though because it will be too much weight on the quilt and may misshapen the quilt.
  • It may take a few days on the line to get all the smells out, just don’t let it get sun bleached.

Good conition, antique, very stained and smelly:

  • In this case I would consider professional quilt cleaning.  I say this because the quilt is in good condition and it would be a shame to destroy a good quilt because you used the wrong type of cleaner or cleaning method.

Poor condition, antique, stained:

  • Again this is the case for some of my quilts.  They are very beautiful but need serious restoration to be used in my house.  For quilts such as these you must decide if the risk of hand washing is worth it.  With some of my quilts it is because I can’t display them anyways.  Others I am holding on to until I can find a professional to clean them properly.
  • (By the way I haven’t tub washed any of mine yet, because I am pregnant and that’s too much bending over for this big belly)

If you have any tips on hints please share them.

Here’s a good way to hang the quilt to distribute the weight and to increase air flow.

A view from underneath, this made a great fort for my son.

There are the character stains I mentioned.  And look at that scalloped edge binding and closely worked hand quilting…no detail was spared for this quilt.

You can easily see that this quilt is beginning to disintegrate and washing, even by hand could have damaged the quilt.

I absolutely love this pattern.  This quilt was air dried, spritzed a few times and put on a guest bed.  No more smells but still a few stains.  Who cares, I think it is beautiful.  I only wish I knew the story of this quilt.  i am sure my grandmother told me but I can’t remember.  It wasn’t made by her so it probably from my great grandmother’s generation.  I am guessing pre-WWII.  The fabrics look like flour sacks and depression era prints so that puts it around the 1930’s.  Can you imagine the women who worked on this quilt almost 100 years ago?  Quilts like these are so cherished and important to me.

Thanks, Courtney


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