My home-made quilt needs cleaning.
November 24, 2012 5:01 PM   Subscribe

I've got a handmade all-cotton knot-style quilt that was made by my mother. Since she has passed away, this is of course a very precious item to me, and I don't want to do anything to damage it. It is, however, in desperate need of a wash. Is this something I can just throw in the machine? Is there anything I should be wary or warned of? This is something I'd love to ask my mom's advice on, but, ha ha! Added difficulty level: I live in New York and send my laundry out.
posted by whitneyarner to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hand wash it in your sink. And then spread it out to air-dry without hanging it, which can deform it.
posted by overhauser at 5:11 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I absolutely wouldn't put it in the wash. Especially not if I sent my laundry out. A seamstress once told me that whenever she moved and needed a new dry cleaner, she used to call museums and ask their textile specialists where they sent their priceless items to be cleaned. Let's face it, your quilt is no less rare or precious than Queen Elizabeth's ballgown; it should not be anywhere near a washer.

Hand washing would also work, but hand washing a quilt can be heavy, difficult work and you would need space for it to drip dry, with a heavy emphasis on the "drip."
posted by corey flood at 5:15 PM on November 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Has it been washed before? Is it made of fabrics of different colours, or just one?

I would hand wash it in cold water, with a small amount of regular detergent. I wouldn't use one of the special "soak" style (no-scrub) hand wash detergents (that I happily use on bras) unless it is white/undyed - they seem to leach colour from dyed cottons.

But for size, I would do the washing in a bathtub. If it's especially heavy, I would walk/agitate the water and quilt with clean feet.
posted by jb at 5:16 PM on November 24, 2012

Best answer: A very clean bathtub with warmish water and lots of woolite. Wash by hand, gently agitating a few times, concentrate on stains and take 5 times as long as you think you need to to rinse it out. Detergent left on fabric can make it brittle so rinse 5 times and then rinse three more, each time in fresh water. This will be a big job but a necessary investment in a treasured piece. Hang to dry in a warm area, low humidity.
posted by pearlybob at 5:19 PM on November 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, hand-washing did not even occur to me! It's plaid flannel on the top and white cotton on the bottom -- and if I recall, the bottom sheet was one already pretty old and well washed for extra softness. I will definitely try washing it in the tub. The drying part is going to be a little difficult to figure, but I'll work it!

Any consensus on regular detergent vs. hand wash detergent? It's not deeply stained or soiled, it's just been sitting on my couch and occasionally covering guests for years.

(And you got a little dust in my eye, there, corey flood. It is absolutely that precious.)
posted by whitneyarner at 5:24 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Use Woolite. It's made for delicate things.
posted by xingcat at 5:32 PM on November 24, 2012

Best answer: Quilters and quilt museums use Orvus.
posted by Houstonian at 5:32 PM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The drying part is going to be a little difficult to figure, but I'll work it!

When I'm drying a large item like a blanket or quilt, I layer it with towels and roll it to coax lots of moisture out before laying it flat. Use the largest (CLEAN! and make sure they're not brand new or you risk some bleeding of dye) towels you have available. Layer the towels and wet quilt and gently --- gently! --- roll them up together, with towel wrapped all around the outside (and for maximum water extraction, all on the inside, too).

Do not wring or roll tightly; just lightly roll them up together and let the towels soak as much moisture as possible out of the quilt. You can wash and dry the wringing-wet towels as usual while the quilt lays flat to dry slowly --- but much faster than it would have if it were still wringing-wet, and with much less risk of sagging (from all that water weight) or mildew (from the long damp period).

If your quilt is quite fragile, this could hasten tiny tears, but if your quilt is that fragile, plain hand-washing could cause those, too.
posted by Elsa at 6:15 PM on November 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: In case you're curious, Orvus is originally sold for washing animals. It's pretty much just sodium lauryl sulfate, and that is why it is so good for quilts and other precious fabric items -- because it doesn't have all the other stuff, like optical brighteners, fabric softeners, bleach. It's concentrated, so you use a very small amount (about a tablespoon, but directions are on the container). Most detergents will tell you about softeners, bleach, and fragrances (all which can either make the quilt change color or make them attract dirt more quickly), but there is a problem with disclosure of optical brighteners which also can change the colors. For example, scroll toward toward the bottom of this article to see optical brighteners is supposedly safe/optical brightener-free detergents.

Be careful when lifting it out of the tub. The wet fibers make it more fragile, so give it lots of support (meaning, don't pull it out by a corner). If you decide to not use the tub because the wet quilt will be too heavy or wet to deal with, I believe the issue with machine washing is the agitation, not the spin -- So, you let the machine fill up, then with your hand you swish the quilt in the water a bit, and then leave the lid up so it soaks in the soapy water for 10 minutes or so. Then move the dial on the machine so that it gets rid of the water, does the rinse (just soak, don't machine-agitate), and then let the spin cycle run to get rid of a lot of water.
posted by Houstonian at 6:18 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: To dry it, wring out the excess water with towels, then spread it over your table to dry. Put some cups and bowls under it to raise it up off the table for air circulation. If you have a tiny table, use the backs of chairs to enlarge the area.
posted by raisingsand at 6:43 PM on November 24, 2012

Nthing Orvus.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 8:37 PM on November 24, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone! I bought some Orvus and will do as suggested! I'll get this lovely warm cuddly precious thing worth wrapping up with again.
posted by whitneyarner at 10:05 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another way to dry it is to sacrifice your bed for a day or two. Get a plastic dropcloth from a hardware store, cover the bed with it and spread out quilt on top. Aim a fan at it.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:00 AM on November 25, 2012

If you wash it in the tub, put a sheet under it. Let the water drain out as much as possible, and lift it using the sheet. The weight of wet fabric can easily tear the fabric. Wet things can be dried in quite cold weather, but humid weather may permit mildew; dry it someplace very dry, furnace room, outdoors on dry days, etc.
posted by theora55 at 6:28 AM on November 25, 2012

Response by poster: Following up months later: I finally washed the quilt, with Orvus, in the tub, wrung it out, and let it dry spread out over my coffee table propped up some boxes and chairs. It's clean and soft now! Thank you, all!
posted by whitneyarner at 10:46 PM on May 23, 2013

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