Do You Pre-Wash Your Quilt Fabric?

| Quilty | Episode 228

It’s the great debate, isn’t it? Some quilters pre-wash their quilt fabric and others don’t. Mary takes you through the the pros and cons of either choice. For more fantastic quilting tips and ideas pick up Quilty the magazine, visit or watch Quilty Season 1 on DVD!

Hint: click on the photos to view Quilty season 1 on DVD and Quilty magazine the March/April 2013 issue!

          Quilty March April 2013


  1. One thing they forgot to touch on – I prewash because I don’t want the blanket to shrink and end up causing distortion so bad that the blanket goes out of square. I have noticed that some fabric from different companies shrinks differently – so in your blanket one fabric may not shrink while others shrink up to 15%. I’ve seen others do this and I just cringe at them – I just hate seeing all that hard work essentially turned to one huge horrific distorted and wrinkled mess!

    Patrick, 2 years ago Reply

  2. I pre wash red, black and any quilt cotton that will be used for a clothing item. Whatever gets pre washed, gets startched and ironed before sewing. Mary Ellen’s Best Press is usually sufficient, and it smells nice too.

    Maryann, 2 years ago Reply

  3. I pre wash using a delicate cycle or hand wash. This removes the finish and check for bleeding. On these cycles the flaying is kept to a minimum. I don’t wash jelly rolls or scraps.

    Christina, 2 years ago Reply

  4. Hi Mary – I enjoyed your segment about to pre-wash or not to
    I’m a “pre-wash” girl. But I do have a tip that’s always worked
    for me. I don’t spend extra money on special dye magnets ;
    I pour one cup of vinegar into the water & add my regular detergent
    — then add my materials after the washer is at least half full.
    I have even washed light & dark materials together & so far have
    never had any bleeding. (The vinegar sets the colors & no fading)
    It really works!!! I can buy more material with the money I save.

    Laura, 2 years ago Reply

  5. I am a consistant pre-washer. My reasons are:
    1. Unequal shrinkage – Griege goods have different thread counts and quality that cause a difference in shrinkage
    2. Grain relaxation – Bolts are unfortunately not wrapped perfectly straight with the fabric grain. This, combined with the fabric finishes applied during manufacture, often leads to grain distortion. Washing relaxes the fibers and restores the actual woven straight grain. This reduces fraying at the edges of pieces and helps allow for straighter, more square quilts.
    3. Bleeding dye – I prefer saturated deep colors and high contrast. I often use true white adjacent to a dark fabric. The risk of bleeding is too great, since I intend my quilts to be used and washed often.

    Leigh Weintraub, 2 years ago Reply

  6. Hey. This was helpful. Thanks.

    I know it’s advisable to pre-wash everything, but I have to admit that I base my decision on the size of the cut. Some few things I still pre-wash by hand, especially if they are red dominate (I had some candy prints I hand washed to prevent bleeding and I was very glad I did!). But, for the most part, with the small cuts and pre-cuts, I don’t wash them since they are so small. I would recommend making sure the other fabrics used with this are not pre-washed either, though, as the shrinkage could be irregular when washing.

    Two points for pre-washing that you didn’t mention that I think about:

    1. Shrinkage. Quilts that are meant to be used and washed (especially for kids) need to be warm/hot water friendly. Shrinkage may technically be minimal, but as a clothing seamstress I have had issues with this and I try to make sure I pre-wash everything, except those small cuts; especially if I may be using cotton with a fabric/batting that doesn’t shrink. (Lining a baby quilt with fleece, for example.)

    2. Shop dirt. This is not a huge issue for the most part, but I have had it come up. Check fabric carefully, especially lighter colors. You don’t want an ugly smudge on something.

    BTW – you can pre-wash the fabric and still have it stiffer by using a spray starch or stiffener product. More work, yes, but still an option.

    Mary Stephens, 2 years ago Reply

  7. re: bleeding of fabric – put 1 cup of white vinegar into the cold wash water (with wash soap, if using for dirty clothes/quilts) and there will be no bleeding. Added benefit, no fabric softener needed either – good old white vinegar does the trick for it all!!!!!

    lynore, 2 years ago Reply

  8. Hi Mary,

    The quilt that is behind you when you are doing the segment to prewash or not-do you have a pattern for that quilt. I absolutely love it & the color choice.



    Jacqueline Hinni, 2 years ago Reply

  9. I do not prewash my fabric. But there has been times when I have gotten my fabric home and it had a stain or dirt or blood on it and didn’t have a choice but to soak and wash.

    Sue Morrison, 2 years ago Reply

  10. I learned the hard way with batiks, when I had a very dark brown fabric run. Happily, it only stained a bit, but it taught me to always prewash batiks. I prewash with Syntropol, to remove any remaining dye, then set it with Retayne. Though I doubted whether it would be worthwhile to use these products, they have been great.

    Pam, 2 years ago Reply

  11. I don’t pre-wash for a reason I’ve never heard anyone else say. When I finish quilting a quilt, it’s all nice & smooth – but I *want* it to be all puckery! To me that says “quilt” – at least the kind I grew up loving. I may change someday – I’m still brand new at this – but that’s my reason. :)

    Nancy, 2 years ago Reply

    • Your comment made me chuckle because I’m the opposite. I like to prewash to reduce the pucker but I have many friends that like the pucker.

      Sandra Olson, 2 years ago Reply

  12. I do prewash my fabrics, specially if they are reds or any dark color( greens,blues, browns) so in that way I don’t have any surprises when is already everything finish. Takes some time but….. You played it safe.

    Cristiana, 2 years ago Reply

  13. One reason I always pre-wash is based on experience – I made a queen sized double wedding ring quilt as a wedding gift. At the time I did all my sewing by hand – not just the quilting but the piecing too! Most of the fabrics were washed, but I bought a bunch of squares (early pre-cuts) at Laura Ashley, a company known for quality. Because they were small squares, I skipped the wash. I washed the quilt when I finished it – and the reds RAN all over the place. I had to wash and wash to get rid of it. And for the really bad spots I ended up using dishwasher detergent to bleach it out (the thickness gave a bit more control of the placement.) But never again! It was nearly ruined!

    Diane, 2 years ago Reply

  14. Always prewash every fabric before using! That is the rule I was taught when beginning to sew, some 50 plus years ago. I have found in sewing garments and quilts for over half a century that new fabrics are not all what they seem to be. I have found that all fabrics have something added to them to make them less wrinkly or more shiny, something to enhance the fabric in some way. Washing the fabric gets rid of this stuff. And after it’s out of the fabric you may find that the fabric you thought was so great is not straight of grain. If you do not wash this kind of fabric before use, when you do wash the item made from it, the item will pull out of kilter and look just awful – clothes no longer fit right and quilts don’t have the same look. Often even a polyester mix fabric will shrink and if you use the fabric in a quilt before washing, when you do wash the quilt it can shrink so much that it will tear adjoining fabrics if it doesn’t shrink itself. Don’t ask me how I know this; suffice to say I’ve seen it and for the last 30 years I have never used any fabric unless I’ve washed it with the exception of buckskin and a few specialty fabrics used for home decor. Some fabrics get washed more than once. A few fabrics get relegated to the rag bin after washing.

    This is how I treat all fabrics: wash with a Shout Color Catcher and a small amount of detergent in warm water. Dry using regular settings or settings specific to the fabric or hang on the line to dry. Some specialty fabrics I will lay flat to dry. Do not use fabric softener. When totally dry, iron, using steam unless the fabric contraindicates it. I use steam even on the most delicate fabrics by using a press cloth and sometimes holding the iron above the fabric and letting the steam do the work against a flat surface (ironing board). I then fold the fabric and let it rest for a few days. Then I press it again before cutting. I usually spray with starch or starch substitute before cutting. This is the most fail safe way of handling new fabric that I’ve found.
    I sew professionally; I make quilts, clothes, dolls and doll clothes, accessories and home decor items for sale.

    Marcia Carlson, 2 years ago Reply

  15. Better quality fabrics may not bleed as much, but they sure do bleed. I buy Windam, Moda, Maywood, Red Rooster–only the main quilting brands and yet my reds and some navy/dark blues will bleed so I prewash everything. I even had a red and white print bleed all over itself to the point I could only cut some scrap pieces out of it . (And I do prewash in cold water, too) I will never not prewash now. I’ve heard several people in fabric industry say “higher quality fabrics don’t bleed” This is nonsense. I now use color catchers to prewash and my reds and blues do tint those color catchers.

    Sandra Olson, 2 years ago Reply

  16. For clarify, when one stated “pre-wash” do you mean by hands or machine??

    Tammy, 2 years ago Reply

  17. I have been a quilter now for about 10 years. I quilt when I can fit in some time. I also attend 4 retreats a year and monthly guild meetings. I have a question for all of you, and would greatly appreciate your input.

    For those of you who DO pre-wash, do you pre-wash fabrics from kits?

    the reason I ask this is….

    1. sometimes kits are cut without a lot of extra fabric, and small pieces of fabric inside the quilt, might become, even smaller.

    2. I saw a good friend of mine spend a lot of time on a quilt kit, beautiful cream and burgandy Holiday fabrics. She did not prewash, barely had any leftover fabric after cutting the pattern perfectly (she’s been quilting 20 years)….. only to need to wash the quilt, and the burgandy bled into the cream.

    it was SO terrible to watch….and witness. It was one of those quilts with 30 pieces in a 12 inch block, king sized when finished.

    3. so, is the lesson that you do NOT prewash a kit, even with light and dark fabrics….and hope that a Shout color catcher will prevent any heartache?

    I realize that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer, but, any input would be greatly appreciated.

    also, just to let you know, when I find a kit I love….. I buy yardage. For 2 reasons, I do prewash…and by the time I get around to sewing the quilt, the fabrics are usually gone from the quilt store and finding extra fabric if I mess up is rare. I make pillowcases and decorative pillows out of the extras.

    thanks SO much for any input you have.

    a bed without a quilt is like a night sky without stars.


    Michelle in Iowa, 2 years ago Reply

  18. Shout Color Catcher

    I include a Shout Color Catcher along with a note in an envelope pinned to every quilt project I give away. The note instructs the receiver to put the color catcher sheet in with the quilt the first time it is ever washed to catch any possible dye that might bleed.

    I never pre-wash unless someone has given me fabric that is already pre-washed. If I am going to use it in a project I pre-wash the other fabric I’m using to avoid any shrinking in the unwashed fabric I’m adding to the project.

    Marilyn Schrader, 2 years ago Reply

  19. I always prewash. Don’t have a wash/dryer either, so I just handwash each fabric as I bring them home separately in a sink of hot water with a little detergent, then rinse until water is clear. Last couple of projects have been batiks, and even the good $$$ brand name batiks bleed at least a little, some a lot! Don’t want to take a chance before putting in so much work. Takes some time, but as most of my stash so far has been with 1/4 yd cuts, isn’t that much work. Larger pieces I wash in machine. Just a regular step before I add anything to my stash. Haven’t worked with a precut kit, but if I did would wash and iron those by hand. Just too leary of bleeding and shrinking.

    Melissa Roberts, 2 years ago Reply

  20. I always prewash my fabric. But my question is. When I use a jelly roll, which I do not prewash, Do I prewash the border and backing material. Some say “Yes” and others say “No”. So I was wondering if anyone else had any ideas on this. Thanks.

    Glenda, 2 years ago Reply

  21. I prefer to pre wash for 2 main reasons: avoid the bleeding of colours in the future and that might ruin my quilt and also because fabric shrink and might turn into a not so nice and straight quilt after washing.
    When people have a lot of yards of fabric I don’t think they should pre wash the whole thing but just the amount they need for each project.

    Iwantobakefree, 1 year ago Reply

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