Should I Start Prewashing My Fabric?

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Question


I have figured out that quilters seem to have strong opinions about prewashing or not. It just made me wonder, if you always feel the need to prewash, does that mean you never use precuts? If you do use them without problems, then doesn’t that negate the reason for prewash. I don’t prewash, but have never used a dark color I thought might bleed. I’m just trying to figure out if I need to start prewashing.

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Answer


Yes, you are correct in that the debate over whether to prewash or not is a hotly debated topic. That being said- I am in the category of people who do not always prewash fabric. However, in terms of those that do prewash, there are some that are dedicated enough to it that they do prewash precut fabric. This is very time consuming as pressing all of the small squares and strips is a process. Also, prewashing precut fabric means that they can potentially shrink- making them not the same size as they were when first purchased.

In terms of whether or not you should start prewashing- I would recommend, if you are using a fabric color that you are afraid might bleed, cut a small square from the fabric and place it in warm to hot water. If it bleeds, definitely prewash, if not you should be ok.

Hope this helps,
Ashley


Related:
Quilters Guide to Preshrinking
How to Prevent Fabric Bleed
Quilt Care Part 1: Cleaning Heirloom Quilts

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52 Responses to “Should I Start Prewashing My Fabric?”

  1. Betsy McNair

    If you do prewash and there is a dark fabric in the colors, it is alright to use a Color Catcher in the wash cycle?

    Reply
  2. Deborah Devine

    I prewash for sanitary reasons. I have worked in fabric stores and see what customers will do to fabric on the bolt. I have seen people wipe their nose on their hand and then wipe the hand on the fabric. I have seen people with open oozing sores handling the bolts. I have seen people put babies down on a bolt and use it as a diaper changing station. I have found food, food wrappers, half finished sodas, and dirty tissues hidden inside bolts of fabric. People cough and sneeze without turning their head or covering their mouth. We even had one old man who came in with his wife and spit chewing tobacco juice in the store. I would never sew with fabric from the bolt without prewashing it.

    Reply
  3. Karen Burgoyne

    I have always prewashed but not out of fear of shrinkage or bleeding. I was taught to wash new clothes before wearing as you never knew who may have tried the item on, or what was floating around in the warehouse. I want to work on fabric that is clean.

    Reply
  4. Susan

    Re washing fabric, if your going to print on fabric ie: use Bubble jet set to print on your fabric it must be washed and rinsed before. Soaking in Jetset to make sure the Size is washed out of fabric or your print wont stay in after you wash it later 🙂

    Reply
  5. Deb Hird

    I only prewash flannel, wearables or a red if it bleeds during testing. I wet a piece of the fabric and place between a white napkin or paper towel then set some weight on it- A cold iron works. I wash it if it bleeds. After many decades of quilting the only fabric that bled was a blue and cheap dime store cottons.

    Reply
  6. Mollie Heron

    Bleeding is not the only reason one prewashes. Shrinkage is the other major one so I always prewash yardage. If I use precuts I don’t wash and Hope they all shrink at the same rate!

    Reply
  7. Kristin J Maksymiw

    Pre-washing isn’t only about whether or not the fabric color will bleed. The potential for shrinkage is a big reason. If you cut and sew first and then afterwards some pieces shrink more than others after washing, there may be buckling or puckering from the smaller pieces pulling on the others

    Reply
  8. Marie Zimmerly

    In the beginning, I didn’t used to prewash because I didn’t mind the shrunken, crinkled appearance of the finished quilt after washing. But then I had one that I felt would have looked much better if it hadn’t shrunk and crinkled. And then there were the quilts that had a dark fabric I knew would bleed so I not only pre-washed that fabric but all the other non-bleeding fabric being used so they would all shrink equally before piecing and quilting. Then it dawned on me that the cotton batting I use will also shrink in the wash, rendering all that pre-washing fabric to prevent shrinkage pointless anyway. What a conundrum!
    So now, if I really, really want to go for a smoother surface on my quilt with minimal crinkling, I pre-shrink all fabrics and use either a wool, wool blend or polyester batting. But for all the other quilts, by far the majority of my quilts, I only pre-wash questionable bleeding fabrics and let the rest, fabrics and cotton batting alike, shrink as they will. All that mostly because I remembered – finally – that my love affair with quilts originally began with those old, soft, warm, snuggly quilts at Grandma’s house that had been washed again and again and again and were crinkly as all get-out.
    As for pre-cuts, I don’t want to deal with all the fraying or the possibility that they would shrink so much that it would affect being able to accurately piece them, so I only pre-wash the piece or strip that looks like a bleeder.
    After saying all that and coming full circle, I have to say that I do miss my pre-washing days because I’m just one of those weirdos who loved to press out fabric from the dryer. It was very satisfying and gave me the opportunity to see how the fabric would behave when washed. Haha! What a journey quilting can be!

    Reply
  9. Sheri Colby

    I am shopping for a new sewing machine. I am a beginner quilter and I sew on all types of fabric including canvas and heavy denim. I’m leaning toward the Janome s5. I’m not interested in all of the embroidery stitches. Do you have any suggestions ?

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      Hey Sheri,
      Here’s what the experts had to say about your question:

      There are many great brands and models of basic sewing machines available. That is a great brand. Another option would be the Singer Heavy duty. It is great for all types of fabric, even heavier fabrics, and it doesn’t do any of the fancier monogramming or embroidery stitches.

      Please let us know if you have any further questions
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      National Quilters Circle Video Membership

      Reply
  10. Karen Boyd

    I am a dedicated pre-washer. While I am not an expert quilter I have taught, for a quilt shop and machine shop, how to quilt. I have has some very bad experiences in my sewing life which means I prewash almost every fabric I use for any kind of sewing. Unless of course it is not consider washing machine safe. Then I strongly consider another fabric. However if I am using purchased precuts, rather than those I cut myself. I do not wash them. And if I need extra fabric for some reason I don’t wash that either. I guess I am posting to say that when you least expect it, some bad will happen and sometimes it will be bad enough to ruin your project. I will also say that if you plan to wash your quilting cottons, you need to buy extra for srinkage and for the fabric having been pit on the bolt off the grain.

    Reply
  11. BECKY

    I prewashed some of my fabric and it looks like the material is coming apart on the ends. I have to cut so much of the fraying material off before ironing. Is this normal?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Becky,

      Here’s what our experts had to say: Yes, depending on the fabric, this is normal. One way you can cut down on the amount the fabric frays in the wash is to baste close to the raw edge of the fabric. This will only allow the fabric to fray up to the basting stitches.

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      Sincerely,
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      Reply
  12. Nan

    Always prewash… think about putting all that work and hours of planning, precision cutting, stitching, it is beautiful and you are so happy. Then even if you never plan to wash the piece… you or someone will at some point … You wash it and out it comes, with bleeding areas, areas where some fabrics shrink some don’t and you have a hot mess, discolored, twisted (I am also assuming if you don’t pre wash you may not be laying pieces out on grain either) some flat areas, some puckered, shrunken. I don’t know about you, but I would sit and sob… especially if it was made for someone special and this happens…. Just something to think about.

    Reply
  13. Rose

    I am surprised that it is not pointed out that fabrics are made with known carcinogens. Chemicals that are used in processing fabric cause cancer, and we absorb these chemicals through our pores in the handling of fabric. This is a huge reason for ore washing fabric!

    Reply
  14. Bonnie Hicks

    I prewash fat quarters by turning the rough edges and taking a long zig zag. Once out of the dryer, just pull one thread to remove stitching, then press/starch.

    Reply
  15. Cindy

    I wash fabrics that are very stiff like batiks, but I always zigzag the cut edges so they don’t fray in the process. I also use a color catcher in the wash.

    Reply
  16. Judy Myres.

    I always prewashed my fabric but stopped several years ago when I kept hearing that you should not prewash fabric. Last year I developed contact dermatitis on the palms of my hands . Through a process of elimination I determined it always flared up after I had been handling fabric in my stash, piecing or quilting. I prewash all my fabric now.

    Reply
  17. Andrea Van Delden

    You can also buy sheets, they look sort of like dryer sheets, that will trap colour when you wash. I buy mine at a large drug store. They work like a charm!

    Reply
  18. Charlene Cairn

    I always prewash and preshrink. Most of what I make gets washed, and I don’t want it shrinking at different rates after I’ve made it. I also prewash precuts on the rare occasions I have them, as I’m not a precut fan, I like to have enough fabric to make my own choices about what size I want to use.

    Reply
  19. Polly Stahl

    I never prewash, I use Color Catchers when I wash my finished quilts and have never had a problem with bleeding, even reds.

    Reply
  20. Leonie Fraser

    Thank you for your wonderful website! I get asked this question a lot, and I usually give the same answer that was given above with three small additions:
    1. Try to only buy pre-cuts that are good quality materials. Check with the manufacturer’s websites and good quilting shop owners – they can tell you the difference in shrink and colour fastness of the different ranges.
    2. Wash mainly to remove chemicals – and iron while the fabric is wet straight out of the washing machine. believe me, it makes the process easier!
    3. If you are testing a swatch of fabric for colour fastness, don’t rely on whether it bleeds into the water. Have a piece of white fabric and take your swatch while it is still wet and lay it on the white fabric. If it bleeds don’t use it in your quilt – put it aside for something that is going to be made from just that fabric. Bleeding is a real problem, particularly with hand dyes and batiks, and I have seen quilts where the maker carefully washed all the fabrics first only to have the colour bleed from one fabric to the piece next to it after it was washed. Then they cried! I swatch test a lot!

    Reply
  21. Rosemary

    The good thing about buying yardage is you can wash it and dry it before using it and get it to shrink as much as it will then shrinkage and colors running aren’t an issue.

    Reply
  22. Gail

    Answer to my comment on transferring embroidery floss to the little bobbin for organization of sewing room

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      Reply
  23. Linda Johnson

    I didn’t always prewash. Then, a favorite quilt I fussy-cut and hand made designed borders and used a gingham checked backing. The greening the backing bled and ruined my civil war ladies tablecloth quilt. I wash everything.

    Reply
  24. marjo

    The primary reason to prewash should be to eliminate all the chemicals used to keep bugs, rodents, etc. from eating, chewing, urinating, on the fabrics during shipment in containers from other countries. Your lungs and your health should be the main reason you prewash all fabrics, clothing purchases, etc. If you ever research the number of respiratory diseases caused by people breathing dyes, insecticides, herbicides, etc you will understand. Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones, but perhaps you are not. Caution please.

    Reply
    • Rosemary

      Totally agree with you, marjo. The thought of handling that fabric or making a quilt for anyone, especially a baby, is pretty gross.

      Reply
  25. Karen Vander Molen

    Looking to replace my Husqvarna Viking Sapphire……any suggestions on what to buy!

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  26. Phyllis A. Doane

    Question of how to stitch the quilting for a star Bicentenial quilt. It is of the Mexican/US war in the 1778 era.

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    You do not allow me to unsubscribe from your site. I am not a quilter and have tried many times but keep getting your email soooo please remove me immediately.

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  28. Cathy

    I’m new to quilting. The batting i bought said to wet it and let it dry. What is the purpose and is it necessary?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Dear Cathy,

      Thank you for your patience while I got you the answer:

      Hi,

      This could be to simply flatten out the batting before using, however I am not familiar with this technique. I would recommend reaching out to the batting manufacturer to see if they have tips or instructions on why this should be done.

      Cheers,

      Ashley
      National Quilters Circle

      Reply
      • Karen Boyd

        If you are using cotton batting the reason I have heard is to preshrink the batting. If it is synthetic, I would guess to flatten out. But be sure not to stretch it.

        Reply
      • Stephanie Santmyers

        In my experience soaking batting does make it shrink. Mountain mist 80/ 20 batting is nearly impossible to hand quilt unless it is soaked first. Don’t put soap in the soak. I have also put my batting in the drier set to low heat.

        Reply
  29. Mary Talcott

    I only prewash if I want to make sure the fabric won’t bleed, I like the krinkle of the fabric after the quilt is made.

    Reply
  30. pkstros

    I’m new to National Quilting as well as relative new to quilting. I’d like to look up “how tos” when I come across a problem/answer as to where I look up the information.

    Reply
  31. Pat

    I always pre-wash. I never have a problem with dye running or shrinkage. I know people who did not pre-wash and had shrinkage problems when the item was washed.

    Reply
    • Tanya Ehrsam

      I was taught to prewash. I worry like the dickens if I’m at a quilt retreat and don’t prewash. I prewash fat quarters…you have to press them at some time anyways. It only takes a minute. I do not generally prewash pre-cuts, but I use them usually with like colors in tote bags. I make my own squares out of yardage or fat quarters, because I don’t always need five inch squares and there’s a lot of waste with charm packs. I’m not big on using strips or mini-charms. But I’ve read enough stories of bleeds and shrinkage from not pre-washing that I’m a life time pre-washer. if this hasn’t convinced you, even if the fabric were washed before it left the factory(there are no hypoallergenic soaps) how many hands touch it? How many people sneeze near it? And since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, why risk it? Color catchers are just an added expense…you could get more fabric for that price, but the laundry soap is already there, hopefully.

      Reply
  32. Shirley Fortner

    Thanks I usually prewash unless it is precut, just needed to know for sure which one is best to do .

    Reply
  33. sonia bermudez

    Why the fabrics can not be pre wash before they sell it? When or if buy fabric allway has to buy more just in case it shrink i dont think its ok

    Reply