The Proper Way to Clean and Care for a Quilt

White bed with quilt on top.

Lemon Leaf Home Interiors

It’s important to wash your linens regularly, but in the case of delicate quilts, different rules apply. Quilts can easily be damaged by most of our modern cleaning methods, and should ideally be hand washed using detergents that are free of any dyes, bleach, or scents. Though they can be cleaned in a washing machine, it can be risky, particularly if the quilt is vintage or handmade. 

Testing the Fabric Before Washing

Because quilts are made of multiple fabrics and colors, it’s extremely important to do a test for colorfastness before washing, especially if any sections have vivid, highly saturated colors that might bleed. To do this, dip a clean piece of cotton in hot water, then gently rub it on a small, unseen area of the quilt. If the color fades or bleeds onto the cotton, avoid machine washing, and consider using a professional color catcher while washing.

What You Need: 

  • Needle and thread
  • Gentle, dye-, and perfume-free detergent
  • Distilled while vinegar
  • Non-iodized salt
  • Color catcher
  • Hamper or laundry basket
  • Heavy towels
  • Drying rack

How to Handwash a Quilt

Step 1: Inspect the Quilt for Damage

Carefully examine the quilt to ensure there are no small tears, loose threads, or stretched seams. If there is anything to be mended, use a needle and thread to patch it up before you wash your quilt. 

Step 2: Prepare the Tub

Because of its size and weight, the best place to wash your quilt is the bathtub. First, give your tub a quick cleaning to make sure there are no chemical residues that can potentially damage the quilt, then fill it halfway with cold water, and add detergent and color catcher (if using) according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Hand washing a quilt in a bathtub is bound to cause spills, so wear casual clothes, and expect to get wet. It's also a good idea to clear off your bathroom floor, and keep a mop and heavy towels on hand in case they’re needed. 

Step 3: Submerge the Quilt

Put one end of the quilt into the tub and gradually feed in the rest, which will ensure the quilt will not become tangled, and will be evenly saturated with water and detergent. Add more water and detergent as needed to make sure the quilt is fully submerged. 

Step 4: Gently Agitate 

Carefully swirl your quilt around in the water for about 30 seconds, doing your best not to splash water out of the tub. Allow the quilt to soak in the water for about 15 minutes, giving it a few more gentle swishes halfway through. 

Step 5: Give It a Rinse

Leaving the quilt in the tub, drain the soapy water. Refill the tub with cold fresh water and gently agitate the quilt for about one minute to help release any dirt and detergent. Drain the tub, refill with cold water, and repeat until the water is clean and soap-free. 

Step 6: Add Vinegar

Once the rinsing water is clear, add ½ cup of distilled white vinegar to remove any residue left behind by the detergent, again gently agitating the quilt for about one minute. Adding vinegar will keep the quilt’s fabrics soft and pliable once it dries. 

Step 7: Remove Excess Water

Drain the tub fully, then begin pressing each area of the quilt with your hands to push out any excess water until your hands can press no more. (This will take some time, so be patient.)

Quilts are heavy when they are wet, and a second set of hands will help make the drying process much easier. 

Step 8: Partially Dry the Quilt

Remove the quilt from the tub, putting it straight into a clean hamper or laundry basket with a heavy towel on the bottom to soak up any drips. 

Cozy bedroom with sage green quilt.

Arbor & Co.

How to Machine Wash a Quilt

Step 1: Make Sure the Quilt Will Fit

Quilts are big, bulky items, and if they cannot fit and move freely in your washing machine, you shouldn’t try to force them. If that’s the case, either hand wash your quilt as outlined above, or have it professionally dry cleaned.

Step 2: Inspect the Quilt for Damage

Carefully examine the quilt to ensure there are no small tears, loose threads, or stretched seams. If there is anything to be mended, use a needle and thread to patch it up before you wash your quilt. 

Step 3: Wash the Quilt

Set the machine to a gentle cycle, using cold water only. Add gentle detergent following the instructions on the bottle. Even if you use gentle detergent, it’s still possible for your quilt's colors to fade when machine washed. To help keep them bright, you can add half a cup of non-iodized salt into the wash cycle, or a cup of vinegar into the rinse cycle.

How to Dry Your Quilt

Step 1: Consider the Dryer

Quilts should be air dried, but to help speed things up, and to remove any excess water your hands may have missed, you can give it a head start in the dryer. Use low heat and your dryer’s delicate setting, stopping once the quilt is damp.

Step 2: Continue Drying Outdoors

To prevent the quilt’s threads from being strained or snapped while drying, avoid the clothesline and dry your quilt flat. The best way to do this is with an extra-large drying rack, but if you don’t own one, make a thick bed of towels on a flat area in direct sunlight and evenly spread the quilt out on top, just as you would across a bed. Check on the quilt regularly, adjusting it as needed until it is fully dry throughout. 

Bed with white bedding and pink quilt.

Modern House Vibes

How Often Should You Wash Your Quilt? 

Unlike sheets and blankets, it’s best to wash quilts as infrequently as you can manage. Quilts are too delicate for regular washing, which can damage the fabric, and cause the quilt to degrade. If you use your quilt every day, you may only need to wash it about twice a year. However, if you have pets that like sleeping on your quilt, you may want to wash it more frequently, but still, try to keep deep washing to a minimum. 

Tips to Keep Your Quilt Clean

To freshen up your quilt between deep cleanings, air it out regularly, preferably outdoors. When you are not using your quilt, wrap it in a cotton bag and store in a dark, dry place, like a closet. (Avoid basement closets, which can get musty.)

While in storage, take your quilt out about once a month and fold it in a different direction, which will prevent it from becoming misshapen, or from developing creases.