How to Clean a Quilt

Gini asked: I purchased a beautiful quilt from an estate sale that has suede in it. At the time, I didn’t consider the cleaning factor and now I notice the tags have been removed. The suede pieces are about 8-10 inches in diameter with four on this cotton quilt. I hesitate to wash it or dry clean. I would really appreciate some input please.

Quilts are made with a variety of fabrics and colors, which can make the cleaning seem as daunting as the patchwork is beautiful, especially if there isn’t a tag with care instructions. Once you have determined how to care for the quilt however, cleaning will be much easier in the future.

Cleaning a Patchwork Quilt

A quilt is washed according to the needs of the most delicate fabric on the quilt. Determine the types of fabrics used on the quilt and launder the quilt according to the needs of the most delicate fabric, such as silk or wool.¹ If there is suede fabric on the quilt, it is most likely synthetic suede and can be treated as a durable polyester. Double-check with the quilt maker, the manufacturer or a fabric specialist if you are unsure of the types of fabrics. If you are still hesitant to clean the quilt, consider using the vacuum solution mentioned in the Cleaning an Old Quilt section.

Cleaning a New Quilt

Once you have determined that the materials used for the quilt patchwork are washable, the most important concern is ensuring that all parts of the quilt are color-fast.

You Will Need:

  • A white cloth or cotton swab
  • Water
  • Quilt soap, such as Quilter’s Rule Quilt Soap, which is available at most fabric stores

Steps to Clean the New Quilt:

  1. Lightly dampen a white cloth or cotton swab with cold water.¹
  2. Rub the cloth or cotton swab along the most inconspicuous area of each colored fabric and thread to check for any color bleeding. If any colors appear on the cloth, stop testing; the quilt will need to be dry cleaned. If no colors appear on the cloth, continue with the steps below.
  3. Lightly dampen a white cloth or cotton swab with lukewarm water. Re-test each colored fabric and thread on the quilt to ensure no colors will bleed in warmer water.¹
  4. Select a gentle detergent or quilt soap.
  5. Wash the quilt on the gentle machine cycle or hand wash the quilt according to the instructions in the For Old Quilts section.
  6. Check the quilt for any color bleeds after washing. Even after color testing, you may find that some colors have bled. Use Synthrapol or Carbona Color Run Remover to treat the color runs on quilts. Follow the directions on the bottle of the selected cleaner.²
  7. If the quilt has not bled, dry the quilt on the lowest heat setting or with air only.

Cleaning an Old Quilt

If the quilt is old or tattered, do not machine wash or dry clean it. Instead, place a nylon screen or piece of plastic mesh over the quilt and use a vacuum hose to remove any dirt or debris from the surface.³ For old quilts that need a deeper cleaning, hand wash the quilt in a bathtub with the steps below.

You Will Need:

  • A bathtub
  • A gentle detergent or quilt soap

Steps to Clean the Old Quilt:

  1. Partially fill the bathtub with lukewarm water.¹
  2. Add a gentle detergent or quilt soap to the bathtub as it fills and use your hand to agitate the water so the detergent is distributed evenly.
  3. Place the quilt in the bathtub. Press any air bubbles out with your hands and pump the quilt to distribute the soap through the material.³
  4. Allow the quilt to soak for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Check on the quilt several times; if it is filled with down, it will likely start to float. Simply push the quilt back down into the water if needed.¹
  6. Empty and refill the bathtub with cold water several times to rinse the quilt. Press on the quilt during each refill to remove the soap residue.3
  7. Squeeze (not wring) the excess water from the quilt.³
  8. Roll the quilt in several towels to remove additional water if needed.¹
  9. Line dry the quilt outside or hang it over the shower rod to dry. Point a fan towards the quilt to hasten the drying time.³
  10. Another drying option is to lay the quilt flat on a bed sheet outside in the sun.³

Additional Tips and Advice

  • For antique or heirloom quilts, consult a fabric conservator for proper cleaning techniques.³
  • Add a ½ cup of vinegar to the wash water the first time that you wash a new quilt to prevent color fading.⁴
  • Wash a quilt as infrequently as possible to preserve the material. If a quilt is not in need of a deep cleaning, simply tumble the quilt in the dryer on low or no heat every couple weeks to remove any dust mites.⁵
  • Place a tennis ball or clean tennis shoe in the dryer with the quilt to fluff the heavy stuffing.²
  • Consider taking the quilt to a Laundromat, which will have an industrial size washer that can accommodate a large blanket and keep the quilt in good shape, as the agitation bar in top load washing machines can easily damage the stitching or details on the quilt.
  • Refold a quilt regularly to prevent light damage along the exposed edges.⁶


  1. The Cleaning Encyclopedia by Don Aslett
  2. Talking Dirty With The Queen of Clean by Linda Cobb
  3. Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson
  4. Practical Household Uses of Vinegar by Margaret Briggs
  5. 1,801 Home Remedies by Reader’s Digest
  6. Girls Just Wanna Have Clean by Vicki Christian


  1. Jeanne says:

    Great to see a resource for special laundry needs…I need help with whitening a beautiful gown and robe with antique lace on the bodice…the gown is nylon. There used to be a nylon bleach in ’60’s. Is there any product now for whitening nylon items?

  2. Melanie says:

    For the lace, this is the article that you need: How to Clean Antique Lace. The method in the lace article should be sufficient for the entire gown, but if you would like other ideas on how to to whiten the nylon gown, this is the article that you need: How to Whiten Yellowed Nylon.

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