When I have gifted quilts, I’ve usually fielded questions about their care. And I have wondered the same about my own quilts. What’s the best way to keep them clean and yet not damage them?
The question is perhaps complicated by the fact that I’ve given up pre-washing my fabric. With today’s quality cotton fabrics, I’m told that the chance of seriously running dyes is pretty low. Fingers crossed.
Given the questions I’ve received on this topic and my own uncertainties, I thought I’d share some notions I’ve been using in cleaning my quilts recently. I finally got over my fear of washing them, but with a note of caution: I’m not talking about antique, heirloom, or art quilts here; just your typical modern quilts that function as utilitarian art in our homes. Often they do get dirty, especially if kids are around, so cleaning them every once in a while is a good idea.
The first suggestion on cleaning comes from the company that makes the batting I prefer—Hobbs “Heirloom,” an 80 percent cotton, 20 percent poly batt that needles really well in the machine, and that they say does nicely for hand-quilting, too. That company recommends using a very gentle detergent such as Orvus, not containing phosphorus. You can check most detergent bottles these days to see if they specify “no phosphates” and that is the most important factor, I think. I’ve used eco-friendly brands, especially those that feature a delicates detergent, but I also noticed that more typical brands often note “no phosphates” nowadays.
I always take the precaution of using cold water and a dye catcher, such as Shout Color Catcher, sheets you can buy in little packs at Target and home goods stores. The dye catcher has helped with some batiks, which seemed a little more prone to shedding color in the wash than other fabrics. I’d especially recommend it on the first wash of a new quilt. A 15 – 20 minute wash cycle is adequate.
Since I have a front-loading washer, I don’t worry about too much agitation; this type of machine doesn’t agitate like a traditional top-loader does. But if you are using top-loaders, I’d suggest no or very little agitation—just let the quilt sit in the cool soapy water for a while. Then rinse and spin thoroughly.
It’s best to dry flat for all quilts, because dryers can damage both fabric and batting. In a pinch, I’ve put a baby quilt in the dryer on low, but that’s because I don’t really think it’ll last forever anyway. You can see the worn look that the dryer produces, so it’s really best to avoid it.
At the end of the process, Hobbs recommends taking the air-dried, slightly damp quilt and putting in the dryer on the “air” setting for a few minutes to fluff it up and soften both the fabric and batting. Softer is definitely better. So lay that air on it, and then curl up with a warm, clean, lovely quilt.