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How To Wash An Antique Quilt or Quilt Coat

Updated: Feb 12, 2023

Do you have an antique quilt or coat that's been made from a vintage quilt that's been begging for a refresh and you've found yourself wondering how to clean it? Read this guide to gently washing and removing odors from your quilt.

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Washing an antique quilt should be a delicate process, as these quilts are often fragile and may have intricate details that can become damaged with improper handling. Here are some general steps you can follow to safely and gently wash an antique quilt:


Inspect the quilt


Before washing the quilt, carefully inspect it for any damages, loose threads, or signs of wear and tear. If there are any damages, it may be best to repair the quilt before washing it.

If repairs are needed, you can stitch seams closed, or use the mesh method to repair areas with shredded or deteriorating fabric. If you're working with a particularly fragile quilt that you don't feel quite comfortable working with the fabrics, you may want to consider hiring a seamstress or finding a professional textile restorer. Details like hand applique can be tricky to repair for a novice sewer, so leaving it to the professionals may be the best option for more sentimental or valuable pieces.


Determine the type of fabric


Antique quilts are often made from delicate fabrics such as cotton, silk, or wool, and the type of fabric will determine how you should wash the quilt. If the quilt is made of delicate fabrics, like silk, you may want to consider having it professionally cleaned. Other fabrics, like wool and cotton, will fare much better and should be more straightforward.


Choose a gentle detergent


Choose a gentle detergent that is free of any harsh chemicals, such as baby shampoo or a product specifically designed for hand-washing delicate fabrics. My personal favorite is OxiClean for how it really helps to remove compounded odors from YEARS of blood, sweat, and tears. You'll want to use these products according to their labels, to avoid any discoloration from dyes that are less colorfast than those used on modern fabrics.


Fill a large plastic tote bin or bathtub with lukewarm water


Fill a large plastic tote bin or bathtub with lukewarm water and add the soap or detergent, following the instructions on the label. The water should be lukewarm, not hot, as hot water can shrink or damage delicate fabrics.


Submerge the quilt


Gently submerge the quilt in the water, being careful not to agitate it or rub it against the sides of the basin or bathtub. Soak the quilt for 10 to 20 minutes, or as directed by the detergent instructions. If it is a more durable and less fragile quilt, you can "swish" it to submerge and loosen dirt and dust buildup. Handwashing is the best practice for vintage and antique quilts (particularly those pieced or quilted by hand) and you absolutely should NOT use a top load washer with an agitator.


"...and you absolutely should NOT use a top load washer with an agitator."

Rinse the quilt

Drain the water from the tub (or remove the quilt from the plastic bin and dump the water) and rinse the quilt by refilling the tub or bin with clean, lukewarm water. Repeat the rinse process until all traces of detergent are removed from the quilt.


Remove excess water


Gently squeeze out the excess water from the quilt, being careful not to wring it or twist it, as this can cause damage to fragile fibers. I like to accordion fold the quilt onto itself and then press from one end to the other (typically toward the drain) and then refold the quilt on the opposite axis and repeat the pressing.


Dry the quilt


Lay the quilt flat on a clean, dry surface and allow it to air dry completely. A really great option is to lay a clean tarp on your driveway or lawn in the morning before the sun gets too hot. You may need to flip it over to help the underside dry more evenly.

Do not hang the quilt to dry, as this can cause it to stretch or become misshapen and avoid exposing the quilt to direct sunlight or intense heat sources while it dries.


Storage


Now that you have a freshly cleaned quilt, you'll want to make sure to either use it gently or store it properly. Storing in a cool, dry, space that is away from direct sunlight is ideal. While it is okay to temporarily store textiles in plastic bins or bags, it is not ideal for long-term storage. For more precious items, wrap and store them in archival tissue paper with some airflow.




Note: If you have any concerns or are unsure about washing an antique quilt, it may be best to consult a professional conservator or textile specialist.

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