Welcome to week #1 of our series on caring for your antique and vintage quilts. Today we are going to be talking about the tips and tricks for safely washing an antique quilt to preserve or use it.
There are two methods that are generally used: hand washing and machine washing. We will go over both today, but if the quilt you are working with is a priceless possession hand washing is going to be your best method.
How to Wash a Vintage Quilt–Two Methods
Prepping Your Quilt
- The first thing you are going to do is inspect your vintage quilt. If the quilt has any holes or pulled seams, you will want to repair or replace those before washing.
- If possible, place your quilt in the sun for a couple of hours. This can do two things–first, it will air out the quilt. Second, the sun can lighten some stains that may be found on the quilt.
- Next, you will need to do a color fast test on your quilt to make sure your fabrics do not bleed. To do this you will need a few cotton swabs. Next dampen darker fabrics (and especially reds!) and rub cotton swab over them. If the color bleeds onto the cotton swabs you may not want to wash the quilt at all as it will result in bleeding and possibly ruining the quilt.
- You are now ready to choose your method for washing your quilt!
Hand Washing Method
- Make sure your quilt is prepped as explained above and that the colors will not bleed.
- Fill your cleaned bathtub with room temperature water until it will cover the quilt. Add about 1/8 cup of liquid detergent to the water and gently agitate. (You can also add 3 T of vinegar to help with stain removal as well.)
- Add your quilt to the bathtub and gently agitate under the water and soap for about 10-15 minutes. If there are remaining stains you can let the quilt soak for about 30 minutes in the water. If soaking make sure to agitate the quilt about every 10 minutes or so to keep in fully submerged in the water and moving around.
- Let water out of the tub and fill with clean cold water to rinse. Continue agitating and adding fresh water until all the soap and vinegar are out of the quilt.
- Gently wring out as much water as you can from the quilt. Be careful not to warp the fabrics or quilt as you do this step.
- Next you will need to prep your space for drying. Place a number of towels on a kitchen counter or table that will not warp with water. Then place a clean white sheet over the towels. Next, gently place your quilt top on the sheet being careful to resize it to the original shape, but not pulling any corners or edges.
- Let dry on one side. Then flip the quilt over and let dry completely with a new set of towels and sheet on the opposite side.
- And you are done!
Machine Washing Method
- Use a front loading washing machine or go to a laundromat that has front loading washing machines. These types of washers are much gentler on quilts, because they do not have an agitator in the center.
- Load quilt and 1-2 clean white towels (and color catchers!) into the washing machine with your quilt. The towels will help to keep your quilt soft as it washes and rinses.
- Add soap to your washer and wash on gentle cycle.
- Lay flat to dry (as described in the hand washing steps) or dry in the dryer. The dryer method may cause some shrinkage of the fabrics, but many quilters love that “crinkled” look of a freshly dried quilt.
Other Tips and Tricks
*Do not dry clean vintage or antique quilts. The chemicals used in dry cleaning can sometimes react with antique quilts and cause the fibers of the fabric to disintegrate. If you have a very old quilt the hand washing method and air drying is the preferred method.
*There are several methods for setting fabric dyes in a quilt. This method is one of the most popular and easy. (REMEMBER to test a small area first!)
*Although the scenes of idyllic quilts blowing in the breeze are beautiful, drying quilts on clotheslines is not recommended as it tends to stretch them out and cause misshapen quilts.
*If you live in a place where your water source is prone to hard water, use distilled water for washing your quilt. The minerals and iron in hard water can stain the fabrics in the quilt over time.