However, you may have one or more special quilts – heirlooms that are meant to be admired and seldom, if ever, used. It doesn’t matter if the quilts are old or new. Clean them the same way to preserve their color and integrity for as long as possible.
In most cases, that means never, or seldom, washing them. Don’t dry clean them either, as the chemicals can damage fabric. Instead, put them out to air, lightly vacuum accumulated dust and spot clean as needed.
If you have a very dirty or badly stained vintage quilt, consider using Retro Clean (get it here). We used it for a badly age-stained vintage quilt that was otherwise in good condition and were delighted by how well it worked. The whites are white again, the colors are brighter and the quilt smells fresh and clean (quilt shown above). Follow the directions carefully for quantities and soaking times. Our quilt was badly stained so it soaked for nearly 24 hours. Once rinsed, we did a short soak in Quilter’s Rule Quilt Soap, followed by a good final rinse.
Hopefully, your quilts will never need that type of deep cleaning. Instead, do periodic cleanings to keep them in good shape. Kelly Hanson from National Quilters Circle has written excellent guidelines for cleaning heirloom quilts.
Image from She Quilts It. Read Joanne Roth’s excellent article about washing and blocking a quilt here.
Bonnie Hunter from Quiltville has also addressed the subject in an excellent article. Hers goes into more detail in key places so read both articles.
One point we’d like to emphasize is that if you do need to wash an heirloom quilt, keep in mind that the added weight of the water makes it easy to snap threads and distort the fabric. Therefore, do not pull, wring or even lift a wet heirloom quilt.
We washed our vintage quilt in the bathtub with a clean sheet underneath, then used the sheet to lift and carry the quilt. The quilt was folded accordion style so spreading it out flat was gentle on the wet quilt. We spread the quilt out, still on the same sheet, on the lawn in the shade (it was a breezy sunny day which helped drying time). A second sheet was placed over the quilt to keep it clean while drying.
Image Source: The image at the top of the page is from Craftsy.