To Prewash or Not to Prewash

Do You Need to Prewash Your Fabric?This is a weirdly divisive question in the quilt world.

It’s also one of the most common questions I get. Do you prewash your fabric?

Yes.

Mostly.

How’s that for a definitive answer?

Let me clarify. . .

I prewash all quilting cottons. Always. They go straight into the laundry hamper when I buy them and they’re not allowed into my sewing room until I wash them.

Why?

I have had bad experiences with the fusible adhesive not sticking to fabric because of the sizing in it.

I have had dark colors bleed onto light colors in a finished quilt, washed for the first time. (Absolutely heartbreaking!)

I have had shrink issues with doll clothes where the fabric puckers badly along the seams because it had not been prewashed.

Sure – most fabrics won’t cause these problems if they haven’t been prewashed. But some do! And you never know which will be the problems until after the heartbreak.

Prewash!

I prewash all knits.

They have more of a tendency to shrink than wovens and I want to get that shrink out of the way. I’m getting ready to start handsewing some clothes for myself (using this fabulous book my husband got me) and I definitely don’t want those to shrink after the fact.

I don’t prewash faux fur, satin, polar fleece or cuddle fleece.

They don’t have shrink issues. I’ve never had any of them bleed. The ones I buy never seem to be coated with excessive sizing so they don’t feel icky. There’s no real reason to prewash them.

I don’t really use any other fabrics – so I have no advice to give about rayons, voiles, challis, etc.

One more note. . .

A lot of people say they don’t prewash quilting cottons because they like the crinkle effect they get after washing. I’ve found that I get plenty of crinkle – even with prewashed fabric – by using cotton batting. I use Warm & Natural brand 100% cotton batting and I do NOT prewash it.

Happy stitching!

Best,
Wendi
That's me!

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21 COMMENTS

  1. I pretty much do the same as you! If it’s cotton or if it’s going to be worn and washed it gets prewashed.
    Polar fleece, minky, faux fur, etc don’t because of the same reasons as you! Also, faux fur just doesn’t seem the same after it’s been washed.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. V. Tempel SAYS...

    Do you wash pre-cuts and kit fabric? If so, how?! So many small cuts of fabric…seems dangerous and difficult to wash. Thanks for all of the info you share!

    • I rarely use precuts, but I definitely would NOT prewash jellyrolls or charm squares. Fat quarters wash up fine.

  3. Kathleen SAYS...

    Oh oh! I’ve just completed my first four qayg blocks for my house quilt and didn’t pre wash my fabric. Should I start again? Would hate the colours to bleed when it’s washed. Learning all the time?.

    • I wouldn’t start again (I hate redoing work) – just be super careful when washing and definitely use cold water. Maybe thrown in a dye grabber too – just in case.

  4. Jackie SAYS...

    I definitely prewash flannels. They LOVE to shrink. Also if you don’t have a system like Wendi’s of washing before going to stash, make sure to keep washed and unwashed fabrics separate and labeled.

    • Cathy SAYS...

      I have a flannel kit that came with a Jelly Roll. Can I prewash it? What temperature would I use? Do I put it in the dryer? What temperature? What do you think of putting the precut pieces in a mesh bag?

      • Yes – you definitely want to prewash flannel because it will shrink more than regular cotton. I always recommend putting anything smaller than a fat quarter in a mesh bag.

  5. Lewis Kersey SAYS...

    “Why?

    I have had bad experiences with the fusible adhesive not sticking to fabric because of the sizing in it.”

    What is sizing?

    • It’s stuff that is applied to fabric by the manufacturer to keep the fabric looking crisp and nice on the bolt. Sometimes it repels fusible adhesives.

  6. Donelle SAYS...

    I have completed about 7-8 of the woodland animals quilt and didn’t prewash my fat quarters; should I stop and prewash before making any more or will it be too obvious that some were and some weren’t in the finished quilt? I tried washing fat quarters before and it was a stringy disaster. Took me hours to trim all the fat quarters back to something neat and workable and they weren’t inexpensive either so I’ve never washed fat quarters again. Thank you.

  7. Jennie SAYS...

    I wash it all. The sizing doesn’t like the fusibles, but my asthma hates the sizing. Also if it’s a piece that I pick up at my favorite thrift store or estate sales I often don’t know what it’s made of and some of it doesn’t do well in the washer and drier. Better to know before I spend time with it cutting and sewing. It also keep the lint and fuzz down because much of it stays in the drier.

  8. Donna C SAYS...

    Hi Wendy!
    Thanks for such a great site with so much wonderful information and awesome tutorials!
    Question regarding the warm and natural batting. Where do you find 100% cotton Warm and Natural? I’ve only found “100% USA grown cotton” but the actual content of cotton is 87% and the rest is “polypropylene or something like that. It’s kind of confusing with the wording on the label but I don’t think they make an actual 100% cotton product.
    If you have found one, please share the source. ??? That said, Warm and Natural is super easy to work with and has such a nice hand.
    Thanks again Wendy!!! ???

    • I never even looked at the rest of the content – I’m guessing it’s woven in there to help the cotton hold together. One of the things I like about the Warm & Natural is that it doesn’t shed fuzz off the edges while I’m working as much as some other 100% cotton brands – maybe the polypropylene is why? But the fibers of the batting are all cotton, as opposed to polyester.

      • Laurie Hopper SAYS...

        Hi Wendi! When I pre-washed my fabric, it was a stringy MESS!! How exactly do you put it in washer and dryer and what settings? My colors seemed to fade a little and that disappointed me. What to do?

        • I always wash everything in cold water on a normal setting. If the pieces are smaller than 1/2 yard I put them in a lingerie or sweater bag to help cut down on the strings. I also usually wash them with other laundry (I just thrown them in with whatever loads I have sorted) and that seems to help cut down on their tendency to all bunch together. I dry on normal settings too – nothing fancy.

  9. Cathy SAYS...

    Do you cut the edges with pinking shears before you wash? What temperature? Do you use a color catcher? Do you put it in the dryer? What temp?

    • I never bother with pinking shears – though I know some people do. I wash in cold and dry hot – just like I’m going to wash and dry the finished quilt. I only use a color catcher if I think there will be color bleeding (like red batiks).

  10. What about felt? I’m in my RV and I use the drop off service st the laundromat for my clothes. I just cut my felt into 5 inch blocks t jis weekend (To embroider and then eventually applique on black felt yardage for a quilt). Should I hand wash them all? Soak them in the sink? Just never wash the quilt when it’s done? Lol.

    • Felt is a whole different thing. Most people plan to dry clean quilts with felt applique. If it’s wool blend felt it will shrink a little bit more every time it’s washed, and if it’s acrylic felt it will pill really badly in the machine.

  11. Tina SAYS...

    Never ever have I washed a fabric. I don’t use cotton batting

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