There is still quite a bit of anxiety around the topic of washing quilts. Some people avoid this process for as long as they can while others tend to over wash their quilts.
The general rule is that the cleaner a quilt is then the healthier a quilt is. Dirt trapped in the quilt fibers can be damaging and if left can actually cause more damage than the washing process to the quilt.
My simple answer is only when they need to be. If the quilt was a gift hopefully it has a label on it that tells you how this should be done. If not, then take care when washing it especially if it has been handmade.
One of the first things to consider when contemplating washing your quilt is whether or not the quilt is going to be an heirloom quilt or an everyday quilt (eg a quilt for a child that will be jumped on, dragged along the floor, have toys lovingly wrapped up in it and snuggled under when the child is sick....). The everyday quilt hopefully was made with machine washable batting so that when it does need a wash it is not a too arduous procedure.
If it a very special quilt or to become an heirloom quilt then you will want to take great care of it to maintain a clean quilt. Another consideration is the condition of the quilt. Damaged or antique quilts wouldn't be machine washed. Keep reading for a guide to keep your quilts clean.
When thinking about washing quilts you have made or been given there are several steps to go through.
The first is to vacuum your quilt. This removes the dust and dirt that could break fibers due to their sharp edges. It is best to have a barrier between your quilt and the suction. Some people use a stocking over the vacuum attachment. Others suggest using a 2 foot square, tape edged, fiberglass screen, placing it over the quilt and vacuuming over the screen. How ever you choose to do this the suction needs to be gentle. Vacuum both sides of your quilt.
If your quilt needs to be washed then this is done next and with great care. You should check your fabrics for colorfastness in water and to the cleaning agent you will use. This is best done before you have sewn the quilt. If not use some remainder scrap fabric and check them both or do a spot test on the quilt.
Choose a detergent that either you would bath in (a very delicate one) or has very few ingredients. So your regular washing powders/liquids should not be used.
You can use your washing machine if it has a very gentle cycle. I wash most of mine this way because my quilts are made to be used everyday. I use cool water. My machine describes it as cold with a little warm water added. Tests have shown the best temperature to wash cotton fabrics and quilts in is between 80 degreesF and 85 degreesF. You may need to repeat rinsing several times to remove all residual detergents.
Photo Courtesy Of Rowena of the Rants
Drying the quilt is a slow process and needs to be done carefully. The action and heat of the tumble dryer can be very damaging to your quilt. It causes the fabrics to rub against each other causing crocking (surface colour loss by friction) and streaking of the colours.
When drying a quilt the two rules are to never put a wet quilt in the dryer and never hang a wet quilt on the clothesline (this can weaken the fabrics and tear the stitches). The best method is to lay it flat with a sheet both under and on top of the quilt. This protects both sides from dirt, insects and sun damage. Try finding a place that allows the air to circulate eg a bush, as this speeds up the drying process. Turn the quilt over as soon as it is touch dry.
To finish the drying process you can fluff it in the dryer on an air setting - no heat. I roll mine and place them in my hot water cupboard.
Photo Courtesy Of designatednaphour
Washing quilts can be quite a time consuming job. So unless urgent it is best done in the warmer weather. Otherwise spot cleaning is a good way manage any spills to your quilts.
This is an option and should be discussed with the dry cleaning company.