Debate - Pre-wash your fabric, or not?


Hey there! I’m back again for another Tuesday post, and this week we’re having a debate!

The topic of the debate is: Pre-washing fabric - do you do it, or not?

What is pre-washing? Thanks for asking! It’s when you wash your fabric before you start cutting, piecing, assembling, and quilting. The thought, as far as I understand, is that you avoid shrinkage and color bleeding if you pre-wash.


Pre-Washed fabric

Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash


But I also believe that it frays the edges of the fabric, which results in needing to trim/clean up before you can cut. And you have to iron the fabric before you can start cutting - although perhaps that is a small price to pay, in some people’s eyes.

I have a lovely mother-in-law, Nancy the Quilting Goddess, who never pre-washes her fabric. But my wonderful mother does pre-wash her fabric, and was shocked to hear that I had landed in the No Pre-Wash Camp.

Washing, trimming, and ironing before starting just doesn’t seem worth it to me. I blame it on my lack of patience. I like to just be able to start!

And in addition, I actually like the shrinkage that happens after finishing the quilt and washing it for the first time, because it makes the quilting lines stand out. It’s definitely a different look, so I suppose that is all down to a matter of personal preference.

In regards to the color bleeding, it would be easy to assume that I’ve suffered from ruined quilts because of this. Especially since I love to use vibrant contrasting colors. Those light fabrics are in danger with that first wash!

But I’ve got a solution! I use these color catching washer sheets so that bleeding colors are a non-issue. For particularly high-contrast projects, or for quilts which are especially large, I’ll even throw in two!

So where do you land - do you pre-wash, or not? Why do you operate that way? If you don’t pre-wash, how do you avoid color bleeding, and how do you feel about the shrinkage?

Share with me in the comments!

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  • Carolyn Knees
Comments 49
  • Eva witteman
    Eva witteman

    I am particular about what I pre-wash and what I don’t. Being a 4th generation quilter, I have seen some fabrics that shrink very easily even after being washed several times. There is nothing worse than having to take apart a 100 year old quilt that was made as a family heirloom because some of the block pieces have shrunk so much that the quilt will never lay flat again. Knowing the love and attention that my family members would have given this quilt as they were making it. Every stitch that you touch was put there with perpus and love knowing that for years to come it was going to keep a loving family or friend warm on the coldest of nights. So anyway I pick and choose which fabrics need to be pre-washed.

  • Christine Frymark
    Christine Frymark

    I do not pre-wash my fabrics. I like working with crisp fabrics. Once washed, the fabric is more limp, frays more and needs to be pressed. Piecing just seems easier when fabric has not been pre-washed. I do like the idea of the using the dye catchers in the wash to prevent fabric from bleeding.

  • bethd.

    I prewash my fabric except precuts and fat quarters and fat eighths. I find that the fabric is not as stiff to use. I also use steam and best press on my fabric before cutting. It gets the wrinkles out from folding fabric that I put in my drawer bins.

  • Peggy Dean
    Peggy Dean

    I have been quilting for about 30 years. I have always been a pre washer because that is what I was taught. If I had red fabric or fabric that looked deeply dyed I would test them in the sink before throwing them in the wash with the other new fabrics. So every time I bought new fabric I would wash it right away so at least I didn’t have to wait for that process. My stash became prewashed. Then I started hearing of others not prewashing and thought that sure would have been easier but now I have prewashed fabrics to go with new fabrics and thought; I can’t put them together because they would shrink differently when sewn together. So I would pre wash the new fabrics. I finally made a quilt with all new fabrics and didn’t wash and I agree with you that I liked the texture. I love the idea of using the color catching sheets, I was wondering if they worked. So since most of my fabric is prewashed I guess I am stuck being a pre washer. Anyway that’s my 2 cents.

  • Cora Whitson
    Cora Whitson

    3I don’t think it matters either way. I’ve done both. I had made a black and red and white quilt when I first started. The black even bled when I was doing the piecing. It became a terrible mess. b ut I washed it with the color collecting sheets.BEAUTIFUL.

  • Joan Tonn
    Joan Tonn

    I pre-wash material because I often use fabrics from various companies in a project. They could have different thread counts and shrink differently. No so serious if you are using the same company’s fabric. I knew a quilt store owner who was unhappy when she washed a quilt made for her daughter because it shrunk unevenly.

  • Beverly  Constantine
    Beverly Constantine

    I do not pre-wash fabrics unless when I test a small area they do bleed. Usually red, dark purple or dark blue. Anything else gets color catchers. I use cotton batting and when washed, the quilt has a certain amount of shrinkage anyway, so I don’t worry too much about fabric shrinkage in a quilt.

  • Juanita Vanduyl
    Juanita Vanduyl

    I do a light rinse.but not for small things like table toppers…or if it’s a cheap Walmart fabric. I use color catcher as well. Fabric travels a long ways on trucks. I work retail….in receiving…I see how it comes in. There is fabric sheet that helps with wrinkles…I use best press also. Sometimes starch. Everyone has their preferences….but I hate it when the person that disagrees is rude about to us that wash.

  • Jami Beans
    Jami Beans

    These color dye saver sheets are used while washing correct. Then you have to pre-wash to use them. No matter how good the fabric, I still occasionally get bleeding. So from what I can see this issue still exists without pre-washing, or do you use them after the quilt is made.

  • Valerie Clinansmith
    Valerie Clinansmith

    I am one of the wash first group

  • Sandra

    I’m affraid I’m in the pre wash basket, I usually wash by hand for the smaller pieces,if by the metre I zig zag the cut edges and gentle wash and still use colour catches, unless a light colour.

  • Blanche Brown
    Blanche Brown

    No I don wash my fabric. I think it’s a waste of time. I had 6 kids and my quilting time was limited so the quicker I started on the project I wanted to make the happier I was. I always used color catchers and I always liked the way they turned out after the first wash. A little puffy.

  • Carmen

    I don’t pre-wash my fabrics, unless I’m making clothing, which has been at least a couple of decades. LOL I’ve never had a problem with bleeding. I also starch any fabric that I’m going to be cutting up.

  • Georgine Keeling
    Georgine Keeling

    Not a prewash kind of girl!! I also use the Shout Color Catchers. I have had one huge rag quilt ruined by the color bleeding even with the color sheets!! But, I still don’t think it’s worth all the extra work of pre washing!!💗

  • DonnaleeQ

    I do not wash my fabrics. Too much work. I have rarely had a bleeding problem, but I always use color catchers when I wash a finished quilt. That seems to take care of everything. I also purchase quality fabric, which also seems to be the answer.

  • Marilyn Eichner
    Marilyn Eichner
    When I began quilting about 20 years ago I always prewashed everything! With the coming of jelly rolls and other precuts I have mostly gotten away from that and so far so good!
  • Joyce Jessup
    Joyce Jessup

    I never prewash. Like you, I just want to get at it and not worrry about frayed edges etc. And just as a thought— how often do you wash quilts anyway? Joyce

  • Sharon L Dvorak
    Sharon L Dvorak


  • Marie Horbach
    Marie Horbach

    I always, always pre-wash my fabric. This removes all the chemicals etc that are part of the dyeing process. After pre-washing I then heavily starch the fabric.

  • Audrey

    I am in the non-prewash camp as well. I have did pre-wash when I had red and black fabrics but the hassle of pressing and ragged edges, trimming was all too fussy for me. I always want to get started on the next big thing. I will look for the washer sheets! I have never heard of them. Thanks for the new tip.

  • Elizabeth White
    Elizabeth White

    I was taught to prewash, but fabrics are so much more stable now. I like the look and feel of unwashed fabrics, and I have had no problems.

  • Jeanette

    Any fabric from a yard or more I pre-wash and iron when it comes into the house. But before washing I also serge the cut ends which eliminates almost all the fraying and straightening problems. Fat quarters and eighths I don’t wash. I like having my fabric pre-washed and ironed so when I decide on what to make the fabric is ready to cut and I don’t worry about shrinking or bleeding.

  • Jeanette

    Any fabric from a yard or more I pre-wash and iron when it comes into the house. But before washing I also serge the cut ends which eliminates almost all the fraying and straightening problems. Fat quarters and eighths I don’t wash. I like having my fabric pre-washed and ironed so when I decide on what to make the fabric is ready to cut and I don’t worry about shrinking or bleeding.

  • Jeanette

    Any fabric from a yard or more I pre-wash and iron when it comes into the house. Fat quarters and eighths I don’t wash. I like having my fabric pre-washed and ironed so when I decide on what to make the fabric is ready to cut and I don’t worry about shrinking or bleeding.

  • Renee Pollock
    Renee Pollock

    I prefer to prewash/ preshrunk, fabric and batting, mostly because of the possible difference of % of shrinkage. They can vary from 3-5%, sometimes more. Meaning one fabric may shrink more than others, or batting may shrink more or less than fabric. I know some like the puckered look given when a finished quilt is laundered when items are not prewashed. Personally I love well worn, thread bare aging on quilts. Most of my quilts are not basic guilt blocked . I rarely use preprinted patterns and directions . I do alot of hand appliqué, machine appliqué and machine embroidery ( I do not want fabric shrinking under the machine embroidery) Having said that, using cotton quilt thread will cause a little shrinkage, a very soft pucker. I have also made several “Quilt of Valor” quilts. The QOV association requires you to prewash the finished quilt prior to donation, I prefer to preshrunk everything prior to assembly so when finished there are no surprises when laundered ( using a color catcher in the laundering process prevents the reds and blues from bleeding, and the prewash sets the dyes so nothing fades into the white). For me, when quilting my sewing machines 3 best friends are the washer, dryer and iron. ( My mother taught me to sew 60 years ago ,starting at age 9, and she was a stickler for using a good iron, and pressing everything)
    So, that’s my opinion. Can’t wait to hear others.

  • Maureen Connery
    Maureen Connery

    I do wash my fabric, yes to shrink it if that could happen to whatever fabric I have bought. Yes to hopefully stop any running of colours. But mostly because I hate the smell of new fabric, to me its smells like chemicals. So I like to wash it so that it smell nice and clean. And then yes you have to trim and iron it. I am 67 years old and I guess that is what I will continue to do that procedure because that’s what I do.

  • Dorothea Prine
    Dorothea Prine

    I always wash and iron my fabrics as if you do not they stretch out of shape in your projects after sewn and then washed. I iron, trim and then cut out my pattern. Yes, it takes time to iron, but get gets all the sizing out of the fabric and cuts down on the bleed of color in some of the fabrics. I use color catchers when I wash and have had to wash some fabrics several times to get the bleed out.

  • Laura Moore
    Laura Moore

    I don’t prewash my fabrics. I do press them flat for cutting but, for me, cutting is more accurate if I don’t prewash. They are too soft, even without fabric softener in the rinse, and I can never press enough, even with starch and sizing, to get them to lay right for cutting. I always use color catcher sheets when I wash my quilts and I provide them when I gift quilts along with info on where to get them for future use.

  • Carmen

    I had one disaster with blue/green batiks bleeding into white. I washed it with about 6 color catchers and it came out with the tiniest bit of bleeding (barely noticable) but after drying it in the dryer it had MUCH more bleeding. Very sad.

  • Sheryl

    I do pre-wash my fabric because my very experienced quilting friends have told me to. Haha. I have done both & quite honestly, I like working with the pre-washed fabric better than the unwashed fabric. It’s worth the trimming & ironing & my projects are closer to the size I expect them to be when I’m done assembling them.

  • Julia Kolb
    Julia Kolb

    No prewashing for me, thank you. I too love the look of a quilt after it is washed and also use the color catchers in the wash. I like to starch my fabrics and do not want to wash the sizing out of the fabric

  • Karen Graham Harrill
    Karen Graham Harrill

    As I press all of my fabrics before cutting the need to iron doesn’t matter. I prewash some of my fabrics – but not necessarily all of them. I have some old fabrics (Grandfather was a supervisor for Cone Mills – access to yards of fabrics at huge discounts) passed down to me from Relatives who loved to sew. When I pull these out, they get washed to remove dust/ odors/ pet hair gathered during the years in closets.

    I have gone to warehouse sales and walked out with 20 or more yards of Precut lengths. Some are great – others are dusty or smell of cigarette smoke and I am not 100% sure of the content as they aren’t on bolts – and only have a tag with yards and price stapled on them. Those all get a trip through my machine.

    Most current purchases from quilt shops, JoAnn’s – don’t smell strongly of dyes and have similar starchy feel. I don’t prewash these.

    In 18 years of serious quilting, I have only had 2 to bleed. If caught before dried, use of a spray on spot treatment and another trip through the cold wash (and the color catcher sheets are amazing!) usually fixes it.

    Of the old or questionable fabrics, I have had around a dozen that just don’t make the grade. If overly stiff – I make shopping bags from them. If flimsy – I will cut into 1-2” strips and use to stuff pillows, stuffed animals.

  • Susie

    I have started pre washing lately. I like to iron my fabric because I think it is easier to cut afterwards.

  • Linda Glaman
    Linda Glaman

    I prewashing everything except precuts for a variety of reasons.
    1) most fabrics are treated with insecticides and preservatives, I don’t want to be exposed to these while working with the fabric.
    2) some fabrics are treated with sizing to make it stiffer and or to keep it from stretching while being rolled onto the bolt. I want to know the actual texture and feel of the fabric.
    3) some fabric is stretched or pulled out of square while rolling on the bolts. Washing and drying helps the fabric returned to actual shape…better before than after cutting and piecing.
    4) the potential for shrinkage. Sometimes a fabric will stretch while it is rolled on the bolt so it doesn’t shrink even in all direction once pieced a square could become a rectangle or worse. If you use a cotton batting, that will shrink some when washed and accent the quilting lines.
    5) excess dye removal
    6) gives me an idea of how easily the fabric will unravel. I don’t want to use a ravely fabric for machine appliqué for example.
    7) gives me an idea of how easily the fabric will wrinkle and therefore how it will handle as I piece and quilt
    8) removes excess lint

  • Sherry

    Always pre-wash. It shrinks the fabric to its true size, removes excess dye and any finishing resins, substances, and odors so that you can feel what the real hand of the fabric is. I always machine baste the raw edges together on both ends before washing to cut down on fraying.

  • Elizabeth

    I was always a prewasher her until recently. I took a class from a quilting guru and she does not prewash because it washes the sizing out of the fabric and makes the fabric more difficult to work with. If she does feel the need to prewash she sprays a sizing starch back on the fabric after washing. I am going to try not prewashing on my next quilt and then I will know which I like best

  • Sheri A Guenther
    Sheri A Guenther

    Hi Carolyn! I do wash my fabric first, but I wash it only using Retain and hot water (no matter the color). No laundry soap. No fabric softener. Retain is a solution that helps “retain” the color in your fabric. I know it’s a hassle to iron and trim the frays. But you were saying that you liked the “shrinkage” look of the quilt. I also love that look, but it’s not the fabric shrinkage that gives it that look. It’s the batting shrinkage that does it. My husband doesn’t like that look, so when he decided to make his own quilt because he was bored (“you make quilts, how hard can it be?”), we didn’t wash it.
    Actually, I think “To wash or not to wash” is one’s own personal preference, and it’s a “6 of one, or a half dozen of the other” thing.

  • Donna White
    Donna White
    I am a new quilter and I use a lot of pre-cuts. My question is how and should I wash them.
  • Donna White
    Donna White
    I am a new quilter and I use a lot of pre-cuts. My question is how and should I wash them.
  • Patty Crumrine
    Patty Crumrine
    I used to be in the never wash camp, but due to a couple of bad experiences, I now wash everything. We have a local large corporation fabric store here, and their prices call to me frequently. I have had a table runner shrink far too much to be pretty, and had a very bad color change with a difficult and large quilt. Sigh. So now I wash. But first I surge the ends of a new piece of fabric…I don’t open the fold, I just surge across both folded ends and head for the laundry room. When it comes out of the dryer, it is easy to fold up and put away. If I’m going to use it right away, I starch and press, both sides, before I start to cut. I have discovered it cuts better, smells better, feels better in my hands. I just LIKE it better. I bought four yards of flannel from the same big store, surged and washed. Then I measured it just for the heck of it. It had shrunk a full six inches. I make charity quilts from it for babies, and I wash them again before I deliver them. They look so much nicer.
  • Jacque

    I do NOT prewash…..fabrics have come a long way and I don’t find bleeding to be an issue anymore

  • Babs

    I always prewash cottons for shrinkage and it also helps to straighten the grain. if I am at a class where it is not possible to wash, I thoroughly steam it. I worked in costume making for years and we always steamed the fabric for those reasons.

  • Karen

    I don’t prewash,,,and use the color catchers in the washer,

  • Ginny

    Hi. No I don’t prewash for the same reason and I do use color catchers for first couple of washes especially with reds and blacks to be on the safe side.

  • Diana Newman
    Diana Newman

    I’m squarely in the middle. As in…it depends on the fabric. If I’m looking at pre-cuts, like ‘jelly rolls’ and ‘layer cakes," then no. Unless they are REALLY bright, and running a wet finger across them comes back with a tinted finger. ;) Then I’ll soak ‘em in the sink, rinse and iron, a little like washing and blocking finished knits. I don’t mind ironing. I’ve only had to do that once, btw. I’ll prewash fabric that I plan to use as backing….and if I get a ‘deal’ on cheap cotton fabric (very loosely woven) I’ll wash the devil out of it. That stuff shrinks at a hot look.

    I dislike ironing large pieces of yardage, though. My dog wants to protect me from all that moving material. Ah, well. Just call me confused. If this were a political discussion both sides would hate me.

  • Teresa

    Yes, I pre-wash. Before washing, I do a small zigzag (small stitch stretched out, only takes a minute or two) over the cut edges to keep it from fraying in the wash. I did a test once, cut 4 different fabrics 9 1/2" square and then washed and dried. I was surprised at the different shrinkage, some shrunk maybe 1/8" up to one shrunk 1/2". This seems to me to be a problem if you did not pre-wash and your quilt shrinks at different degrees based on the fabric used. I do use the dye catchers both when I wash the fabric and when I wash the quilt. I recently read that fabric that has been prewashed does not fray as bad when you are cutting pieces and then piecing. I had a friend that, when she started quilting, her hands kept breaking out in a rash. I suggested she pre-wash fabric, and since then, no more rash. If you do not prewash, and then use steam when piecing your quilt, you may see the pieces you worked so hard to cut and sew accurately, shrink up or get a little wonky. I have found this happens occasionally when I have prewashed, so I know it must happen when you don’t. I will admit to loving to press and play with my fabric, so it is not a problem for me when I have to iron it after washing and drying. I use a regular wash cycle with my regular detergent, although no fabric softner. I also dry it in a regular dryer setting and try to get it out of the dryer as soon as it is done as this helps to minimize the wrinkles. This is just my preference and I know many do not agree – I always say, do what suits you, its your project.

  • Deb Ellsworth
    Deb Ellsworth

    I always prewash batiks, solid reds, greens and blacks. I have had a few projects ruined by not prewashing those.
    Most other things I don’t. If in doubt, soak a snippet in water and lay it on a scrap piece of white. You should be able to tell.

  • DelightedHands

    I never pre-wash quilt fabric—only fabric for things I wear! I love the crinkly look of quilts newly made and THEN washed and dried!

  • Carol Molotzak
    Carol Molotzak

    i do not pre wash fabric anymore. I wash quilt when it is completely done. They was so much fraying that it seemed you lost too much fabric before you even started.

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