Prewash or Not?

Our staff sewist, Deborah, did some research on prewashing to kick things off. Do you prewash your fabrics?


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. 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 be prewashed 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.

To find more helpful tips and information, check out all of our Tutorials!


  1. Nancy - January 17, 2011

    I would love to order quilt kits already with yardage needed, not cut to specifics. But i’m afraid to wash the kits due to shrinkage and not having enough fabric to finish my quilt. However, I need to wash all chemical residues off fabric before tackling a project. If stores would allow enough fabric for shrinkage in kits, I would buy many.

  2. Melissa - January 17, 2011

    Hi Nancy,
    That’s a good point to mention! I can’t speak for other shops, but at Connecting Threads we always try to make sure that our kits give generous yardage, so that people can prewash their fabrics if they want to. The only kits you would have to avoid are ones that include precut charms, strips, or stacks (it will say in the kit contents window). We stand by our customers, so if they find out that they don’t have enough fabric to complete a kit (very rare!), we will send them more fabric. You would want to make sure to wash and cut out your kit fabric when you get it though because fabrics are limited edition.

  3. Carie Shinn - January 17, 2011

    Thank you for the info! I had just recently ordered the Sweet Rememberance 10 in. stack pack and was wanting to cut the blocks down to 5 inches and then sew without prewashing, but I have always prewashed and didn’t know what would happen! It is also nice to know that I “can” prewash CT kits! You guys are the best 🙂

  4. Nancy - January 17, 2011

    Thank you Melissa for addressing the point I made about prewashing. I’m so glad to read this, because I just received my CT order for your “Good To Be Home” kit. I’m one of those chemically sensitive folks and truly appreciate that little extra. I’ll wash it right away now.

  5. Carol Ann Hinton - January 17, 2011

    This is all very good information, Melissa, but quilters also need to remember that cotton batting also shrinks, and take that into account when planning to wash the whole quilt. (I love the “antique” look myself.)

  6. Barbara Keith - January 17, 2011

    Thanks so much for the info on the prewash or not. I pretty much decide based on whether it will be a wall hanging or used as a quilt for warmth. Especially for wall hangings I don’t want to risk washing out any of the vibrancy of color, so, I just don’t wash that fabric. I do wash though for anything that will be used against the skin including wearables.

  7. Paula - January 18, 2011

    All CT fabric kits I have ever bought have ample fabric in them. I always have a lot left over. CT fabric is also very soft to begin with so I wouldn’t think they had too much factory sizing in it.
    I tend to wash the cheaper fabrics from stores like JoAnns, WalMart, etc…I don’t buy much there to begin with though. I don’t typically wash fabric from specialty quilt shops because I like to work with the crisp fabric.

  8. Stephanie - January 21, 2011

    Great information. I’m a pre-washer and some fabrics definitely shrink more than others. I tend to over buy yardage “just in case.” My new fabrics go right in the wash before making it to my stash. That way I’m ready to sew whenever the mood strikes.

  9. Margo in Maine - January 22, 2011

    I always prewashed and then stopped because the quality of fabric has changed but because of allergies now have to prewash…my experience ..kits do tend to shrink.. I wash finished quilt and find closely quilted ones shrink less is personal…done it all…do like the crispness when working with small pieces but I use starch to firm up..

  10. sara seman - January 22, 2011

    i just love your catalog and web site especially the tuterials. i have 1 more order of canning days then i’m going to start to order from canterberry collection, i can’t help myself i must be addicted. thank you all,so very much sara

  11. Rhonda - January 26, 2011

    I personally don’t wash most of my fabric before I use it. I wait until the quilt is done and then wash it. Some have the “antique” look, but most of my quilts have enough quilting on them that it usually prevents them from getting that look.
    I will wash dark colors like red, green, and blue…with a Shout Color Catcher!!! They are the best thing ever invented to prevent color runs and transfers!!!

  12. deb - February 1, 2011

    It depends on the project when washing fabric. I never wash my fabric when I bring it home, if I am piecing I don`t wash the fabric, most quilting fabric is great quality. When hand appliquing though I will give a light rinse so the fabric has a lighter give for manouvering.