To Prewash or Not to Prewash?

by Deborah Norwood

This is a question that always seems to come up between quilters, “Do I prewash my fabrics before starting a project or not?” There is no right or wrong answer, it is a personal choice. One rule to follow however is to be consistent, either prewash all the fabrics used in a quilt or don’t. If you will be stashing the fabric, we recommend not prewashing until starting your quilt in order to avoid mixing prewashed and non prewashed fabrics. Let’s take a look at the differences.


  • Preshrinks the fabric 3% to 5% so that minimal shrinkage will occur during the washing of the finished quilt.
  • Removes any excess dye from darker colors to prevent bleeding on the finished quilt when washed. Not all fabrics will bleed but some colors are questionable, especially red and blue. Prewashing doesn’t always guarantee that fabrics won’t continue to bleed so you may want to use Retayne before your first wash which prevents fabric dyes from running. When ready to wash, separate your fabrics by lights and darks and machine wash in cool water on gentle cycle using a mild soap such as QuiltWash or Orvus Quilt Soap. Gently shake out fabric and place in dryer on low heat. Remove from dryer as soon as fabric is dry or you may choose to remove while slightly damp and then press.
  • Removes any chemicals which can cause reactions to those who are chemically sensitive.
  • Flannel should if mixing with regular cotton (like a regular cotton top and flannel back), or if the size of the finished quilt needs to remain relatively unchanged. Some flannels can shrink up to twice the amount of regular cotton, so you may want to test your flannel for shrinkage (remember to measure your test piece and record the measurements before washing!). If your flannel shrinks a lot, you will want to wash it twice if the regular cotton in your project is prewashed but only once if the regular cotton is not prewashed, so they will both shrink about the same the next time they are washed.

Not Prewashing:

  • Fabrics will be rich in color and stay factory crisp, achieving a bit more precision in cutting and sewing.
  • Small pieces such as pre-cut strips or charm squares should not be pre-washed, or they will ravel and get twisted and knotted, and they may get stuck under the agitator.
  • Finished quilt will shrink when washed, but some quilters like the effect this gives their quilt.
  • Wall Hangings will not usually be handled as often, so they may not need to be washed at all.

If using fabrics that may bleed you will want to do a colorfast test before cutting your fabric, especially if your project has lights and darks in close proximity (for example, a red and white quilt). To test, soak a small piece of the fabric in cool, soapy water and let set about 30 minutes. If the water is colored then you may want to use Retayne to stop the bleeding but you will need to preshrink all your fabric for this project or rethink using this fabric in your quilt. If no color remains in the water lay fabric on a white paper towel till fabric has dried. If the towel is still white the fabric is safe to use.