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Washing Quilts

By Addy Harkavy, Pinetree Quiltworks.

The washing of quilts has aroused quite a bit of controversy, and I thought I'd share my thoughts and experiences. My washing practices are by no means recommendations for others, but I hope my methods will provide food for thought. These remarks are not intended as guidelines for washing quilts that are not in good condition or antiques.

Quilts Begin with Fabric and Batting

Washing quilts, for me, starts long before a quilt is even finished. I prewash fabric because it is a prudent thing to do. All fabric that enters my home receives a hot wash, followed by a trip to the dryer, also set on hot. If fabric stands up to this treatment, then I know I'll have no unpleasant surprises when the finished quilt is finally washed! For those who prefer the crisp feel of unwashed fabric, spray fabric sizing and spray starch to some extent restore crispness. Another issue for me is that my stash is extensive, and it is on shelves in my sewing area. Though I prefer 100% cotton batts, I refuse to prewash batts and simply do not use any batt that requires such treatment.

About Detergent

It is my understanding that detergent manufacturers such as Lever Brothers, Procter & Gamble, and others have an unstated philosophy when they develop detergents: "consumers are creative in finding ways to turn the average wash load into disaster." Thus, it should come as no surprise that today's detergents have been formulated to be effective and safe. So far as washing quilts or, for that matter, any multi-layered item, liquid detergents probably disperse more thoroughly with less work and may rinse out more easily, depending upon water hardness and washer characteristics. Unscented, color-free detergents should be safe for most washable fabrics. I confess to using Cheer Free, Arm & Hammer, and store brands of color- and fragrance-free liquid detergents.

About Quilt Soap

Quilt soaps are highly concentrated detergent, and a little bottle typically costs a lot. In other words, they are the active ingredient in unscented, color-free liquid detergents and should do a good job cleaning quilts. Most feed stores carry concentrated paste detergent for washing horses, and this stuff contains the same ingredient as some quilt soaps and is far less expensive. When using these products, remember to dilute the required amount of horse or quilt soap in a cup of water prior to adding it to the water in your washer.

Actually Washing a Quilt

I am a hand quilter and also own a couple of antiques. If an antique is closely quilted and in good condition, I do not hesitate to wash and dry it in the machine. So far as contemporary quilts are concerned, I wash and dry them with reckless abandon! All the quilts I make can be dumped in the washer and unceremoniously dried in the dryer. My general method involves pouring detergent into the machine as it's filling with hot water, dropping the quilt in, and letting the wash cycle run for about ten minutes. Since I usually forget to turn the cycle to delicate, most quilts agitate and spin on "regular." When the wash/rinse cycle is over, I push the cold wash/cold rinse button and run the washer again to make certain that all detergent's out of the quilt.

After this, the quilt goes into the dryer where it tumbles on hot until dry. I admit to quilting at recommended intervals or closer for the batting inside the quilt, and I do inspect quilts carefully prior to washing to be certain that no repairs are needed.

Quilts with cotton batts can be ironed if desired. I lightly iron quilts that are to be given as gifts, but I don't do this with those I keep.

Metallic Fabric

Metallic fabric has been washed and dried like any other fabric, and I've never "lost" the metallic glitz. Metallic fabrics are supposed to be as washable as any others, but since water differs from place to place I would not categorically state that hot wash/hot dry is safe for all fabrics with metallic designs. I use metallic fabrics in quilts only if the fabric can stand on its own if something dreadful happens to the metallic printing.

The Bottom Line

Let common sense be your guide to washing quilts, and your results are likely to be good!

Addy Harkavy 2003. Reprinted with permission by Addy Harkavy.

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