How to Prewash Fabric for Quilting

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Picture this: you’re in your sewing room with your fabric, notions, and quilt pattern laid out. You’re ready to start your next project but then you wonder… should I wash this new fabric before I use it?

To prewash or not to prewash? This is an age-old question among quilters! The real reason the question comes up so often is because each quilter has their own approach to the topic. (Spoiler: There’s no real right or wrong answer).

I’m here to dive into the pros, cons, and how-tos of prewashing fabric so you can make your own decision!

Pueple, blue and red fabric folded and fanned out.

Should you Prewash Fabric Before Quilting?

There’s no right or wrong choice when it comes to prewashing fabric before quilting. There are a lot of reasons why a quilter may want to prewash, and there are a lot of reasons why they might not. It all comes down to personal preference. It is suggested to prewash fabric on a few occasions, but most of the time it’s up to you.

Let’s review the pros and cons of prewashing fabric!

Pros of Prewashing Fabric

1. Rinses the dyes and can reduce fabric bleed

Prewashing fabric can help the excess dye run off the fabric and reduce the likelihood of the fabric color bleeding after it’s been sewn into your quilt. This is one of the main reasons why quilters like to wash their fabric.

As long as you’re purchasing high-quality fabric and using dye-trapping sheets when you wash your finished quilt, you won’t have to worry too much about fabric bleeding.

If you’re making a very high-contrast quilt like red and white or navy and cream then it won’t hurt to give those saturated fabrics a prewash.

2. Gets rid of the chemicals in the fabric

The fabric manufacturing process can leave chemicals and starch on your fabric. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to remove these chemicals before you assemble your quilt.

This one is a definite reason to prewash for some, and others don’t mind. In fact, the starchy feeling of the fabric is a plus for some people! It can be easier to cut and sew fabric that has some stiffness to it.

3. Shrinks the Fabric

Prewashing cotton fabric helps shrink the fabric before you assemble your quilt.

If you pre-shrink the fabric, then the finished quilt won’t have as crinkly of a look after it is washed. If you don’t pre-wash the fabric, your quilt will have an instant crinkly/vintage feel after its first wash.

Some quilters love the crinkle and others don’t – so this one falls into the pros and cons category!

Cons of Prewashing Fabric

1. It’s Time Consuming

One of the largest drawbacks to prewashing is the fact that it can be time consuming. I don’t know about you, but when my fabric arrives from the quilt shop I am ready to start my project immediately! Washing, drying, and ironing the fabric before you get started can add hours to your project timeline.

2. Limits Fabric Shrinkage

Prewashing fabric will shrink your cotton before you sew it into your quilt top. If you love the vintage, crinkly look of a freshly washed quilt then this is not good news. Keeping your fabric unwashed will allow it to shrink for the first time when it’s in your finished quilt.

Don’t prewash your fabric if you want that crinkly goodness!

3. The Fabric Will Fray

If you choose to prewash, your fabric will fray. If your fabric frays too much, your cut of fabric may no longer be large enough to complete your quilt pattern!

While your fabric will always fray a bit, there are some things you can do to limit the amount of fray. Keep scrolling to learn more!

Those are a few pros and cons of prewashing fabric. Ultimately, the decision is up to you!

TIP: If you are mixing fabric types, I do encourage prewashing. Mixing quilting cotton and flannel for example can result in a different amount of shrinkage and lead to a distorted finished quilt. Flannel is one of those fabrics that I’d always recommend prewashing because it shrinks so much!

How to Prewash Fabric Without Fraying

One thing we can all bet on is fabric fraying. This is a common struggle for people who want to prewash their fabrics. You start with a yard of fabric and end up with 7/8ths because it won’t stop fraying in the wash!

Here’s a pro tip to help reduce fraying: zigzag stitch or serge the raw edges of your fabric.

If you’re washing yardage, the selvage edges are already taken care of for you but you still have two raw edges that may unravel. Do a zigzag stitch along the edges and it will limit the amount of fraying your fabric can do.

This is also great if you’re prewashing large cuts of fabric that no longer have the selvages!

Do You Prewash Fabric with Detergent?

Yes! One of the main reasons people prewash is to remove chemicals from the fabric. You’ll definitely need some detergent to help with that.

While they do make specific detergents for quilting cotton, I’ve found great success using a detergent without fragrance or dyes.

These detergents are becoming super popular and you’ll be able to find them in the laundry aisle at your favorite store. My go-to brand is Tide Free & Gentle.

How to Prewash Quilting Cotton

Step 1: Zig-zag stitch or serge the raw edges of the fabric.

Step 2: Put the fabric in the washing machine. Make sure the fabric is unfolded and that the machine is not over loaded. Separate the loads by color if you’re washing high-contrast fabric like navy and cream or red and white.

Step 3: Use a gentle detergent like Tide Free & Gentle. Avoid blue detergents on white fabric as they can inadvertently stain the fabric. Run the cycle with cold water if you want to prevent shrinkage to maintain that crinkly look after your quilt is completely finished. Run the cycle with hot water if you want to shrink the fabric.

Step 4: Air dry or tumble dry the fabric on low heat.

Step 5: Iron your fabric and begin cutting!

Should you Prewash Precuts?

Generally speaking, you shouldn’t wash precut fabric. This includes all fabric that is fat quarter sized and smaller.

The small pieces easily can become tangled and shrink to a size that no longer works for your quilt pattern. The pinked edges of precuts will limit their ability to fray, but the wrinkled, shrunken, tangled mess is more work than it’s worth in most cases.

But I know some of you will want to wash them anyways! So if you must wash them, hand wash the pieces and lay them flat to dry.

If you insist on using a washing machine and dryer, use a mesh laundry bag to keep all of the small pieces together and decrease the amount of tangling.

If you choose to prewash your precuts, tack on several hours to your project timeline!

Whether or not you choose to prewash your fabrics, you’ll definitely need to wash your finished quilt at some point. Check out my blog post on how to wash a quilt for tips and a tutorial!

Other Posts You May Like:
The Stress-Free Guide to Machine Washing Your Quilt
Beginner’s Guide to Precut Fabric
Simple Quilt Size Guidelines + a Printable Chart
6 Tips for Troubleshooting Your Sewing Machine


  1. It really is one’s preference. I agree. I will prewash darks and reds with color catch sheet. I tend to add 1/4 yd more for the reasons you outlined. With some fabrics I will cut what I plan to use that day because of the fraying

  2. Good blog. I prewash my fabric then press it. I have seen some terrible things with bleed. I also prewash my backing and my batting everything has shrunk. I read somewhere that different fabrics have different shrinkage so this is why I do all. When I gift a quilt I know it has shrunk already and the person who receives it does not have to worry about it shrinking or bleeding. I like the idea of zig zag. Cut ends of fabric. 😃

  3. I like to pre-wash all my yardage/meterage. Only half yard/mtr and upwards, I don’t pre-wash my batting. I have found fabrics from different manufacturers shrink different amounts. I use large laundry bags (handmade from old terylene curtains) to put the fabrics into and that also helps to limit potential fraying (I don’t sew the edges) and like Linda, I always purchase at least a quarter, sometimes a half yard/mtr more than the pattern advises. The leftover fabric is then used to make a gift/storage bag for the quilt. The freshly washed fabric is folded and placed in my stash, I don’t starch and press until I am ready to cut the fabric. I always prewash the completed quilt prior to gifting, that way any unexpected issues are resolved by me and not the recipient. That final wash is when the batting shrinks (usually between 3-5% and I get that lovely wrinkly look.

  4. I don’t wash my fabric first, but I am a huge believer of starching. I think it makes cutting easier and piecing more accurate. Lisa Bongean, from Primitive Gatherings, has a great starching tutorial on YouTube. I always gift a color catcher with quilts that I make to give away. 🙂 Here is the video link on starching. It starts just after the 25 minute mark.

  5. If you are making a scrappy quilt with a few of the colors that may bleed, do you just prewash those or all of the fabrics going into the quilt?

    1. I personally would pre-wash all in this situation. The fabrics that aren’t pre-washed will “crinkle” in your quilt after you wash it while the pre-washed fabrics won’t. The varying crinkle across the quilt would be noticeable enough to me to want to prevent this from happening. There’s nothing wrong with doing partial pre-washing that I know of at its core!

  6. Very nice article on pre-washing. I believe Kaye Wood gave the following tip. When washing yards of fabric, to avoid taking a twisted mess out of the dryer, hold the fabric along one selvage edge and Accordion (Fan) fold it. Then securely pin along that edge with safety pins. Wash on gentle cycle. Remove from washer, leave pins in place, smooth out folds and place in dryer. I fold everything over 2 yards. My folds are generally about 30” wide. If I have more than five folds, I pin the first five layers together and right next to each pin, I pin layer five with the remaining layers. My pins are about 6” apart. Since I adopted this method no more tangled yardage. I often used to wash 5 to 10 yard pieces. For 108” fabric I keep both selvages together, and pin that way but sometimes the center crease remains.

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