Tips for Good Quilt Care

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Picture this: you have just spent hours of your time and hard earned money to make a quilt, and as you finally pull it from the wash, you discover it is covered in stains. Let me tell you, it is not fun. It seems just about every quilter has some sort of quilt disaster story to tell. Thankfully, it has been a few years since my last quilt catastrophe (knock on wood!), but when I first started quilting, I had more than my share.


One of my worst quilt-care-gone-wrong moments was when I made my Sherbet Pips Quilt. It was my first bed quilt, and I was making it for our new apartment. When it came to the quilting, I decided to quilt simple diagonal lines in a crosshatch design. The quilt had large sections and eyeballing the lines just would not do. So, I made the decision to draw all over my quilt with water-erasable marker to mark the lines for quilting. I am sure you can see where this story is going.


The quilting came together quickly, and then it was time to bind it and throw it in the wash to finish it up. I was so excited I did not even glance at the quilt as I tossed it from the washer to the dryer. Big mistake. As I pulled it out of the dryer an hour later, my heart sank. Not only had my lines not "erased" they had turned brown in some places, and bleached the fabric prints in others. I was crushed. My Mom and I tried half a dozen stain removers to no avail. We found some success in plain old vinegar, but not much. It was a devastating way to learn a hard lesson. As it turns out, erasable markings should be removed prior to washing with cold water, and they may react badly with stain fighting detergents.

Unfortunately, I could not completely save my quilt from its fate, and I am sure I have not seen the last of my quilt disasters. On the plus side, it forced me to be more careful with my quilts and develop a system for maintaining them. Thankfully, as time goes by my feelings of disappointment and even the stains themselves have faded some.


First things first, as soon as I finish binding a quilt, it heads straight for the wash. I use a gentle cycle, with cold water, and a gentle detergent that is perfume and dye free (my personal favorite is Arm & Hammer for sensitive skin). I chose not to pre-wash my fabrics for quilting, so I add about half a cup of salt to the load to help prevent bleeding (this has not failed me yet!). Before heading to the dryer, I inspect the quilt for any stains or bleeds; because once it has dried it is harder to treat. My quilt gets a tumble in the dryer on medium heat, and is then laid out on the bed to dry completely.

Tips for Good Quilt Care

These are some of the things that have helped me take care of my quilts. There are lots of other methods for good quilt care, and I don't think there is any one right or wrong way to care for a quilt. However you chose to do it, I encourage you to take the time to find a consistent method to help minimize quilt disasters and make your quilts last!

Exercise Caution when Marking
My Favorite Half-Square Triangle Tools | InColorOrder.com
When making any marks on the right side of your fabric/quilt, be aware of how to safely remove it. As I mentioned above, the blue water-soluble markers need to be removed with cold water. The quilt should then be washed with a detergent that is free of stain-fighters. My favorite alternative marking tool is the Clover Hera Marker (the white tool in the above photo). It creates a crease in the fabric with a little pressure, and it disappears over time and/or after being washed and dried. You could also use masking or painter's tape to mark out lines for quilting.

Treat Stains and Tears Early

Just like with clothes, treat any stains or tears in your quilt as soon as you can. The longer they sit, the more likely they'll set or you'll forget about them!

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

It's not much of a stretch to imagine poking yourself with a pin and getting blood on your quilt. It can be hard to get out with stain fighters, but a little bit of your own spit does the trick in minutes. Gross but true! I have tested this and can say it does work.

Prevent Color Bleeding

An easy way to prevent fabrics from bleeding is to pre-wash your fabrics before using them. If it's a hand-dyed fabric I'd recommend washing with Synthrapol before using. For commercially dyed fabrics that you're nervous about bleeding (reds tend to be particularly prone to bleeding), consider treating with Retayne. Personally, I don't like to pre-wash my quilting cotton. Instead, I throw 1/2 cup of regular table salt into the washer with my quilt when I wash it to prevent color bleeds. My Mom mentioned that my Grandmother used to do this, so I gave it a try! I don't know why this works, but I haven't had a problem since I started using salt. I have used Shout Color Catchers in the past, but didn't find it was successful 100% of the time. Plus, salt is super cheap! Perhaps I'm living on the edge with this salt method, but so far it hasn't let me down.

Sun Protection

Quilts and people alike are prone to sun damage. Keep quilts and fabrics out of direct sunlight. You'd be surprised how little time it takes for fabrics to fade in the sun.

Proper Quilt Storage and Unfolding Quilts Periodically

If you have more quilts than you use on a regular basis, consider taking time every 6 months or so to unfold those quilts. If you can, let them lay flat for a few hours. When you refold them, fold them differently. This will help avoid permanent creases in your quilt. Amy Friend has some great tips for quilt storage and folding tips on her blog.

Gift with Care Instructions

When giving a quilt as a gift, consider including a note with your recommended care instructions. That way the recipient will be able to care for it easily.

Add a Label

I'll admit, I'm not great at this. There are a lot of different ways to label quilts, from embroidery and hand stitched labels, to stamped or hand written labels. I like to keep it simple with a custom stamp and a hand written date. I ordered my custom stamp from here. I use an ink pad made for fabric, and a gel pen for fabric. However you choose to do it, it's a nice finishing touch on any quilt.

Use Your Quilts

To me, the best way to care for a quilt is to use it. Quilts in use are less likely to get musty, or show wear or breakage due to being folded. Plus, they're probably happier!

Happy Quilting! 

Disclaimer: I have made these recommendations based on my experiences with my quilts. I cannot make any guarantees that the methods I use will work in all circumstances. Please exercise caution and use your best judgement when caring for and washing your quilts.

36 comments :

  1. Thank you for the great tips. I enjoyed your article. I'm not a prewasher and cross my fingers every time I take a quilt out of the washing machine.

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  2. Thank you for this post. You can't be too careful. On my first quilt I had heard of sun damage to quilts and was very careful to display it only out of direct sunlight. Sunlight never reached my quilt. Unfortunately, that was not enough! I took the quilt down to freshen and clean it and saw that the fabrics had faded. The quilt had lost its luster. The amount of indirect sunlight should also be considered.

    A small quilt shop nearby stored extra bolts of fabric high along the walls. Every bolt was faded and damaged along the exposed areas of the bolts. The damage was from the lighting. It was a tough lesson to learn for this small shop owner!

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    1. What a bummer. It really is amazing how quickly it can cause damage. Thanks for your insight!

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  3. Love the stamp idea! I'm so bad about not labeling my quilts. Have you found that the ink fades at all?

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    1. So far it hasn't! For me, even if it did it would be better than what I normally do, which is no label at all! :)

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  4. Thank you for your wonderful tips~ The salt trick will be put to use shortly!

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  5. Good tips - thanks for sharing!

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  6. Thanks for the great info, especially the salt trick.

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  7. thanks for the scoop Jeni! Thanks for linking to those fabric pens, too. Didn't know about those!

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  8. I'll try salt next time, thanks for the tip! I recently washed a red and white quilt on cold, with four color catchers. There was some bleeding, so I washed it again with more color catchers, and it was better. I've learned to NEVER throw a new quilt in the dryer before inspection.

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    1. Glad to hear you were able to manage it! Agreed, I'm always checking mine between the wash and dry too, you never know!

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  9. I've washed mine with multiple color catchers and white vinegar (and prayer). I've only been burned once so far and another wash with more vinegar fixed the problem. Also, I love your Hello Kitty collection!! Where did you get the black kitty on the back of your door?

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    1. It's made by Blik, and it's actually a chalkboard! They also make a dry erase Hello Kitty sticker too!

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  10. I wonder if the salt might damage the washing machine by promoting rust. That possibility makes me think I'll stick with color catchers. But thanks for the very good article.

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  11. to prevent color bleeding, try soaking your quilt [or anything else for that matter] in a mix of 1/3vinegar, 2/3 water and than wash on a cold cycle. the colors don't run, and don't fade!

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  12. I saw somewhere that there was a quilter who kept her quilts all spread out in a stack on her guest bedroom bed, when not in use, of course. She periodically changes the stack so the top quilt is different. I thought this might be a good idea. No folds at all.

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    1. I think it was Julie of Jaybird Quilts! If only we had a spare bedroom :)

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  13. Wonderful tips! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this and Happy Holidays!

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  14. Great information. Thanks for sharing. I am new to quilting and really appreciate any information.

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  15. Thank you Jeni. All very wise and practical tips.
    Happy Christmas to you and your wonderful family.

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  16. My mother taught me if I am going to prewash fabrics that are to bleed to do in EITHER salt water OR vinegar water. Each seems to work equally well. Also, if you are going to prewash any of the fabric in a quilt, then you need to prewash all the fabric in that quilt so that the quilt will shrink more evenly after quilting. These are tips I've picked up. Thank you for your wonderful tips. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I'm enjoying the newsletter.

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    1. I've used vinegar before too! It's definitely important to go all or nothing with prewashing!

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  17. Blue dawn is my favorite go to for any stains on a quilt. Gentle but effective. Those marking pens and I are no longer friends after a quilt didn't get them washed out completely either.

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    1. I love blue dawn! It's such a good stain fighter. I like to mix it with baking soda to make a paste for grease stains!

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  18. Good tip about the salt.
    I didn't see anything about the washing machine agitator being bad for quilts which is what I was told many years ago. So when my quilts need a good wash I've always taken them to the laundromat and use a large front loader then bring them home to dry. In between washings I hang them on the clothes line for a good airing.

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    1. I didn't even think of that! With apartment living, we haven't had access to a washer with an agitator in years!

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  19. I learned the hard way not to use a pod-Style detergent. I washed a Double Wedding Ring quilt I had made using a tide pod, and right where it opened up it left blue stains and bleached a few sections with its "brightening" solution. Very disappointing. Thanks for this post - these tips are really helpful!

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  20. Another great way to wash a quilt is to get some horse soap (tack shops/online). About 1/4 cup directly into the washer. The quilt smells so fresh and I've never had a quilt color bleed.

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  21. Glad you mentioned the marker! I have a blue marker one I just bound ready to wash! Going to do a cold removal first!

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  22. Interesting about the salt. I've always used color catchers and been okay to date but I'll try the salt. Love your quilt ladder.

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  23. Hello everyone, I just finished making a quilt for a close friend's husband. He is starting chemo-again!
    I made a queen-sized, red and white quilt in a record 2 weeks to make sure he got it in time to start treatments. I used 3 color catchers per load, vinegar, blue Dawn and Tide liquid detergent. Each time I washed with a different treatment. I also did NOT dry in between washes. I ended up washing the quilt about 10 times in 3 days. The red dye just kept coming out and showing up in the color catchers. It was a long process and I still gave my friend a handful of color catchers, warning to wash the quilt separately and use the catchers until they don't show red anymore. I think red is a terrible color to cause bleeding and you have to be persistent and patient and eventually it will stop bleeding. Yeesh! After ALL that washing I was grateful that the white didn't turn pink at all. Whew!
    I have a picture over on Flickr, if anyone wants to see the end result. Search 'Corry Byrne' and look for 'Big Red'. It is the red and white Irish Chain with the Red Eagle applique in the center. Enjoy. (:

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  24. I am curious what font you used for your stamp?

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Thanks for keeping this blog a positive place, I appreciate the time you're taking to leave a comment! I'll answer any questions here in the comments section!

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