How to Wash and Care for Vintage Quilts
  • WORKING TIME: 1 - 2 hrs
  • TOTAL TIME: 1 - 2 days
  • SKILL LEVEL: Intermediate

Antique quilts are treasured additions to any home. But these heirloom pieces require special care to preserve them for generations to come. Don't dry-clean, machine-wash, or put a handmade quilt in the dryer. Dry-cleaning chemicals can permanently harm old fabrics, and the agitation action of a washing machine and the heat of a dryer can cause fibers to shred. Hand washing is the ideal method for cleaning old quilts when necessary—learn the best way to do it.

*Modern Quilts tend to be okay in a delicate Wash Cycle and a No Heat Spin.

How Often to Wash a Vintage Quilt

Due to its delicate nature, washing your vintage quilt could damage or destroy its old fabrics. To be safe, only clean your quilt when truly necessary. Honestly this is a tip I follow for any quilt.  When washing, set aside at least two days for the hand-washing and drying process. Once it's cleaned, allow for additional drying time before storing your quilt. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Large tub or basin
  • Vacuum (optional)
  • Quilt drying rack (optional) or clothes line
  • Fan (optional)


  • Oxy Clean Powder works well for brightening, I like Soak that we sell at Sew Jersey or detergent made just for quilts
  • Distilled white vinegar 
  • Plastic tarp (optional)


How to Wash Vintage Quilts
Detergent See Recommendations
Water Temperature Warm
Cycle Type Hand-wash only
Drying Cycle Type Air-dry only
Special Treatments Wash alone 
Iron Settings Do not iron
How Often to Wash Only if necessary


Care and Repairs

Before you clean an old quilt, repair any rips or tears in the fabric, which will also preserve the life of the quilt. Spread out the quilt, and examine carefully for any worn patches, rips, or stains. If you sew well, repair the quilt yourself by using small stitches and thread that matches the design and colors of your quilt. There are various sources of vintage or period-specific fabrics to patch your quilt, or reproduction vintage fabrics can be used to replace damaged areas.

1. Washing 

Fill Tub up with warm water and your detergent of choice, you'll want to keep refilling and emptying tub until water is clear. Swishing quilt around in tub to lift any dirt and stains. Add 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar to the water to both brighten colors and soften the quilt.

2. Freshen the Vintage Quilt

Begin by airing out your quilt outside on a sunny day to restore freshness. Sunlight is a natural way to kill any germs and restore brightness. Check on quilt to avoid sun bleaching. You can dry a quilt outside by placing a sheet on the ground and then spreading the quilt on top. Do not hang quilt if overly wet, this could cause seams to rip. 


Storing a Vintage Quilt

One of the best ways to store any quilt is to place it flat on an extra bed and cover it with a clean sheet or bedspread. Keeping the quilt flat will eliminate creases and wear on folds. If storing the quilt flat isn't an option, there are other ways to protect your treasure. Don't store your vintage quilt in an attic or basement, where moisture and temperature levels fluctuate. Also, don't store an antique quilt in a cedar chest. If the quilt touches raw wood, the acid in the wood can eat away at the quilt. Here's what you can do instead:

  • Archival box: Store the quilt inside a box made for archival storage. This type of box is usually made of safe acid-free paper.
  • Fabric bag: Roll the quilt around an acid-free tube, and slip it into a cotton or muslin bag.
  • Plastic bin: If you're concerned about the box getting crushed, choose a plastic bin as a last resort—because the quilt needs to be able to breathe. The plastic container must be made of cast polypropylene to be safe for your keepsakes. Look for the number five within the recycling triangle (usually located under the bottom of the bin) or the letters “PP” to ensure you have the correct type of box.
  • Acid-free tissue paper: Before you fold a quilt and store it, use acid-free tissue paper as padding to prevent sharp creases.