Tips for washing old quilts with care

Even with meticulous care, you shouldn't expect your hand-me-down or heirloom quilt to look like new. But with care, you can clean most old quilts. If you're in doubt about whether your old quilt will stand up to cleaning, however, first consult an expert, such as a textiles conservator at a large, city museum.

Tips for washing old quilts with care

1. Before you wash

  • After you've tested for bleeds and deterioration, it's time to wash. The more colourfast your quilt is, the warmer the water you can use, but don't go much warmer than tepid.
  • If the quilt has weak spots in the seams or fabric, put it in a mesh laundry bag or a cotton quilt bag and keep the washing machine on the lowest agitation level.

2. If you're wary of a machine wash

  • Fill your bathtub with enough water to cover the quilt with 7–10 cm (3–4 in) to spare. Don't put the quilt in yet.
  • Add 30 ml (2 tbls) of laundry detergent per 4 litres (4 quarts) of water.
  • To get rid of general soil and yellow rings, you can add 15–30 mls (1 or 2 tbls) of colour-safe oxygen bleach (non-chlorine).
  • Swirl the water to mix, then lay the quilt in the water, spreading it as much as possible.
  • Stay near the bathtub for about 10 minutes, swishing, smoothing and squeezing as you go to release the soil on the quilt. If you detect a colour bleed, drain the bathtub immediately and rinse the quilt thoroughly with cold water. But if all goes well, you can leave the quilt soaking in the bath for up to an hour.

3. For a good rinse

  • Drain the tub and push the quilt to the end away from the drain.
  • Bunch it up in the end until all the water has drained from the bath. Then squeeze the quilt to force out the excess water.
  • Pick up the wet quilt and cradle it as best you can, until you've refilled the bath with tepid water.
  • Rinse by agitating the quilt just as you did in the washing step.
  • If the rinse water becomes discoloured, repeat the drain-and-rinse process.
  • If you used bleach, rinse it twice.
  • Squeeze the quilt again.
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