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How NOT To Wash Vintage Quilts: Risky Mistakes To Avoid

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I got a beautiful patchwork vintage quilt for Christmas - this is how I washed it!

How to wash vintage quilts.
updated on:
January 26, 2023

I've always had an interest in vintage linens and quilts and this year I finally decided to do something about it! I was lucky enough to thrift some vintage embroidered pillow cases one day and shortly after that I was gifted the most beautiful vintage patchwork quilt from my parents for Christmas. It's something I will treasure forever.

My mom and I have been talking recently about how we want to start vintage linen collections where we have a bunch of beautiful quilts and bedding stored/displayed in a lovely hutch. It's a dream of mine to one day have my kids enjoy my collection and pass it on through the years.

Quilts have always been considered heirloom artwork, but once I started to dive into the world of quilting I was surprised what a rabbit hole I found myself going down.

All of the different designs, materials, colors, and stories are truly endless. Like all vintage things, my fear is that the appreciation for these little pieces of history will somehow fade into the obscurity of what is today's digital age of new new new. It's one of the reasons I started this blog, to cultivate the love and joy of appreciating things from the past.

I was amazed to see people's collections. There are quilts that people have preserved from the 1800s! At that point you have a historical artifact on your hands. Personally, I can understand the joy of carefully preserving and repairing antique quilts but it sure seems a bit stressful. Fabric over 100 years old can be delicate and especially if you're dealing with a piece that has been in your family for generations, you want to make sure you are doing everything you can to extend the life of the quilt.

Quilts truly aren't made like they used to be. The fabrics of the past tend to wear into soft, cozy delicacies. That's why it is so important to treat (and clean) them with care. There's only so many out there in existence. It is my hope that quilt making will continue to be an art passed down through families. I also plan on making a quilt of my own someday...emphasis on someday!

When I first received my vintage patchwork quilt, my mom and I debated on how to get it all cleaned up. It was in extraordinary condition for being vintage, but of course I wanted to make it smell familiar to me (haha). The last thing I wanted was to make any mistakes, so I did some research and this is what I found.

This post is all about how to wash vintage quilts.

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Top mistakes people make when washing vintage quilts

how to wash vintage quilts
how to wash vintage quilts

Note: Please be sure to do your own research before washing your vintage quilt. Not all quilts are made the same!

My quilt is in pretty amazing condition for being vintage. It doesn't have any major staining that would require prewash treatment. It does have a small little rip on the back, so I wanted to make sure the wash would be gentle enough to not agitate that rip any further.

Not testing first

how to wash vintage quilts

You hear it all the time, but it's super important to test your wash method on something you don't care about as much beforehand! Especially with something as valuable and unique as a vintage quilt.

Not Pretreating

how to wash vintage quilts

As I mentioned above, my quilt isn't antique and it doesn't have any stains on it. I am one of the lucky ones! Be very careful when it comes to stain treatment.

One of my absolute favorite stain removal tools is Dawn dish soap. I also swear by OxiClean, though I didn't use either on this particular quilt.


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Now, make sure to do your own research for your particular stain. Quilts can have rust stains from age so you want to make sure you treat those correctly. I don't want to recommend anything for quilts that I haven't used myself and since my quilt didn't have rust stains, I'll have to update this post the next time I find a quilt that needs a little more love.

I truly believe that it's easier than people think to remove stains from a vintage quilt - I have seen tons of people do it successfully. If you see a vintage quilt at the thrift store and it's not in the best shape - I always think it's worth a shot!

Not washing by hand in the tub

how to wash vintage quilts
how to wash vintage quilts

Although it may be tempting to throw your quilt into the washing machine, most machines have agitators that are too rough on delicate quilts. If there are any loose threads, the washer will make it a tangled mess. You might be okay if you have a front load washer that doesn't have an agitator, but even then you don't have control over the level of roughness your quilt endures.

Make sure you wash/rinse your tub before filling it. You don't want any dirt and debris from your tub getting on your quilt!

If you like this post you may enjoy this post: Making An Easy-As-Pie Quilted Makeup Bag: Tutorial + Beginner Sewing Tips

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Using hot water

how to wash vintage quilts

Cold water is best to use for quilts to prevent the bleeding of colors, especially if you have a quilt with a lot of contrast. However, I have seen people successfully use warm water...it just depends on your fabric's propensity to bleed.

I used a Tide laundry pod for this wash, but I have seen people use other things. Just speaking on my personal experience, this worked just fine. I have also seen people use an OxiClean soak and that seems to work really well for brightening and staining.

Completely submerge your quilt in the water. Lightly agitate the quilt with your hands to spread the detergent. Do not pull the quilt out of the water while soaking wet, it could stretch the quilt due to the added weight from the water.

Wringing instead of squishing

how to wash vintage quilts
how to wash vintage quilts

Old fabric and threads can be super delicate. You don't want to twist the fabric of your quilt - it could rip or stretch. After soaking the quilt for however long is needed (I left it overnight, but you could do less or more depending on your staining), rinse the quilt with cold water until all the soap is gone. Drain the dirty water.

Lightly squish the water out of the quilt.

Drying in the washing machine

how to wash vintage quilts
how to wash vintage quilts
how to wash vintage quilts

Gently drape your quilt over a washline, dining room chairs, or whatever you have on hand. Allow to air dry. I think this is safer than using a dryer.

Try to spread the quilt out as it dries. If darker colored wet patches are sitting on lighter colored wet patches for an extended period of time, there may be color transfer.

I put one of my chairs in my bathtub so that it could slow drip. Then, I cleaned off my patio railing and draped an old sheet over it once it was a little more dry. I didn't want to risk any dirt or dust getting on my freshly washed quilt!

Folding instead of rolling

One trick with vintage linens is in the way you store them. Most people think vintage quilts should be folded, but the truth is that creates creases and can put pressure on seam lines. Lightly roll your vintage linens to store them.


Overall, I believe quilts are meant to be loved. I personally use my vintage quilts, but I definitely try to treat them with care. I try to avoid washing them frequently and keep them away from my dog (haha).

Have you ever made any of these mistakes when washing a vintage quilt? I would love to get your advice for stain removal and preservation!

This post was all about quilt wash.

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