How Do You Clean An Old Quilt?


We know how important it is to take as good care of today’s quilts as well as yesterday’s art and history. 

Quilt care is not limited to caring for antique or vintage quilts. Of course, it is important to care properly for older quilts that may be fragile or delicate. But quilt care is also important for new quilts, that they will be treated correctly now to ensure their longevity as well.


How Do You Clean An Old Quilt?

There are generally two ways to clean a quilt- but vacuuming is the safest and most widely recommended.

Vacuuming – Lay your quilt on a large clean surface. If the quilt is very delicate, lay a fiberglass screen over it. Then gently pass a low-suction handheld vacuum with a small brush attachment over the quilt.

Washing – a quilt can be done but only with great caution. DON’T WASH YOUR QUILT if it contains any of the following: inked signatures, a dye that appears unstable, fabrics that are seriously deteriorated, the use of glazed or silk fabrics, the use of woolen yarns with questionable dyes, or if it has never been washed. Remember that textile fibers are much more fragile when wet.

If however, you have determined that it is desirable to attempt washing your quilt, the first test wash a small section to make sure that the dyes are stable and won’t run. Once you have decided that it is safe to wash your quilt, keep in mind the following suggestions:

  1. Use a very mild detergent like Orvus in a solution of 1/2 ounce of detergent to 1 gallon of distilled, filtered or softened water.
  2. Use a container large enough to accommodate the entire quilt at one time (some people recommend using the bathtub).
  3. Do not agitate the quilt in the water.
  4. Rinse by pressing down on the quilt with the palm of your hand oSerious Quilt Care is not responsible for any damage to textiles or quilts. We are offering professional advice and suggestions, but every quilt is different and the owner must evaluate the fabrics, condition, etc…as well as test any products on a small area. If you are unsure, find a professional (NOT a dry cleaner) to evaluate your quilt and offer personalized advice. It’s always better not to take any action at all, than to possibly cause damage to a quilt or textile.r with a cellulose sponge.
  5. Remove excess water by pressing gently with clean white toweling or mattress padding.
  6. Lift quilt with a towel sling or with both arms so that the weight is evenly distributed. DO NOT lift by one edge or corner.
  7. Lay flat to dry on a clean non-porous surface.
  • NOTE: Historic textiles should NEVER BE PRESSED with a hot iron.
  • Dry cleaning is NOT RECOMMENDED because the dry cleaning method involves rough agitation of the quilt inside the dry cleaning machine and the dry cleaning solvents may harm some fabrics.

>>> Read Next >>>

Case Study

Is there any other way to clean an old quilt besides the wet or vacuum cleaning methods?  Is there a dry shampoo I could use, or a powder?  The quilt is from the 40\’s or 50\’s and the material and thread are  deteriorating.  It sure could use some type of cleaning. It is pretty dingy and fragile. 

This sort of question reveals that there is no magic answer! Don’t we all wish we could have a magic wand to return a quilt to it’s original state?

When caring for a quilt, you have to determine your long term goals for this quilt.  If you want to use it and enjoy it versus if you want to preserve it or its value will determine the best way to care for your quilt. The answer to this question and its overall condition will guide you in proceeding.

Ask yourself what you want out of this quilt. It may be that the quilt can be cleaned and used. It may be that its fragile state or historical/sentimental value is too great to risk cleaning it. Or perhaps it would be worth it to you to find a properly certified quilt restorer to bring it back to its original condition.  There is no one answer that is right for anyone.

Another technique to try would be to lay the quilt on a white cotton sheet on the lawn and cover it with another white sheet on a sunny day. This helps with odor and general mustiness.If you want to continue to enjoy your quilt as a family heirloom, the best advice would be to leave it in it’s current condition. Enjoy it for the condition that it is in. Proper storage techniques would help preserve it for future generations. Just leaving it lying flat on a guest bed out of direct sunlight is the best option. If it must be folded or put away, re-fold it in different places every few months and keep it in a 100% cotton pillowcase.

If your quilt is in fairly good condition, gently washing it with our suggested products in a bathtub is the best option. If the quilt is fragile at all, vacuuming it and properly storing it is the best thing to do. Enjoy your older quilt for what it is now. Focus on it’s good qualities and memories, rather than lamenting its sorry state.And keep that quilt in mind, as you handle today’s newer quilts! Teach your children the value of a quilt and how to ensure that the quilt you’ve made them today lasts in great condition!


We are not responsible for any damage to textiles or quilts. We are offering professional advice and suggestions, but every quilt is different and the owner must evaluate the fabrics, condition, etc…as well as test any products on a small area. If you are unsure, find a professional (NOT a dry cleaner) to evaluate your quilt and offer personalized advice. It’s always better not to take any action at all, than to possibly cause damage to a quilt or textile.

===> More Inspiration For Quilters, Click To Get Inspired! ===>

Recent Posts