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Prewashing Fabric Hints

ThreadKoe | Posted in Fabric and Trim on

Prewashing fabric does three things:
preshrinks fabric
removes loose dye
removes starches, fillers, manufacturing process residues, and pesticide residues. Yes, pesticides. These are often put on fabrics to protect them in storage.

To prewash a fabric, Wash the fabric as you would the finished garment.
When you buy the fabric, take note of the content and suggested laundering information on the bolt. Dry Clean Only often means Gentle Handling Only.
Throw it in the washer and dryer. Short cycle needed only. Dry on Permanent Press until Damp. Iron out the wrinkles. If it is a small piece, you can just tub wash it and hang it to dry.
If it is a cotton or linen, hot water will shrink it to the maximum. Denim needs to be washed and dried several times. Silk needs tepid water. Synthetics can be washed in tepid or cold water. They do not shrink. Knits, esp. those with Lycra, need tepid water. Lycra hates heat, and even blends should be air dried. Rayon is a synthetic between cotton and polyester, treat it like a silk. Cool water, hang to dry, or tumble dry till damp. It will change in texture. Acetate is the same, does not like a lot of heat, but can be washed. Hang to dry.
Wool can be dampened or soaked with water, rolled in a towel to blot dry, then air dried. It can also be thrown in a washer, and tumble dried. Just be prepared for a change in texture as it will felt. Although with some wool, this is not a bad thing….

If you are not sure about washing, or are unsure about the finish after washing, make a test run. Some fabrics like Chintz have a shiny finish that sometimes will wash away with laundering. Sample washing will tell you this before you start. Cut a width of fabric, about 1/8 yd. Cut this into three equal pieces. Handwash and air dry one piece. Throw one piece into the washer and dryer. Keep the third piece to compare the other two samples to. See if there are any changes to the fabric pieces, and if you like the changes, if any. Sometimes, the fabric comes out better than you expect, sometimes it does funny things. At least you know what you are working with.

Pinking, serging, or even sewing the ends will prevent fraying. Long yardages of fine fabrics can be pillowcased. Small pieces can be put into lingerie bags.

For Home Dec. projects like curtains, prewashing may be next to impossible. Make sure that you incorporate extra length into hems for rehemming after washing the finished curtains.

You may find some of the following links helpful, I am not sponsoring them, I just found the information to be good.


Hope you find this short bit to be helpful. Cathy


  1. gailete | | #1

    Thanks Cathy, I printed that off to have in my sewing room.


    1. User avater
      ThreadKoe | | #2

      I am glad you found it helpful. When I was doing more research, there was a lot of debate on this issue. The quilting sites ran more towards yes do it. Mostly due to the dye runoff and pesticide issues. Sewing sites ran more to the no, mostly due to time and I do not want to wait issue.
      Personally, I wash everything I make, and do not want any surprises after spending that amount of time and effort on a garment. So I wash before. Then I Know before if the washing is going to change anything. I have had some lovely fabric come out of the washer completely different in colour, texture or hand. Some has stayed exactly the same. I want to know this before I sew with it. Some interesting facts I came across:
      Fabric softeners are often wax based. This is why they can muck up stitches. It gums up the needle. It is often why oily looking spots on polyester garments will show up after being laundered. They will come out after laundering again.
      If you want or like the stiffness that fabric has right off the bolt, use a STARCH to put it back. Spray starch is a natural product that is made from corn, but beware that it will attract bugs that will eat your fabric if you put it in storage. Some spray finishes are not all natural, so read the labels. Cathy

      1. gailete | | #3

        Not only do I save water and detergent with my front loader washer/dryer, but the way it dries clothes I haven't had to use fabric softener in a long time. Another savings. I have contact skin allergies and so was always having to be careful about softeners, so I'm very glad that I don't have that worry anymore!


        1. User avater
          ThreadKoe | | #4

          I have very dramatically reduced the amount of soap or detergent used here for the same reasons, contact sensitivity. Our hard water was not rinsing things clear enough. I stopped using softeners, and switched to dryer balls instead. I am finding them to be much better at softening towels, and towels absorb more water. Everything seems to dry faster as well. I still hang dry a lot, but will warm them in the dryer first, to release wrinkles, and reduce ironing! I tend to soak my loads, rather than agitate, so the soap has time to work, without using the electricity for long agitation. My clothes look newer, longer. Cathy

  2. MaryinColorado | | #5

    Great tips, thank you for sharing them!  I always prewash my fabrics too!  Better safe than sorry!

    1. User avater
      ThreadKoe | | #6

      This message is also for All:
      One of the best reasons for keeping and maintaining my fabric file is to know the content and care of all the fantastic fabrics that are available. So many new kinds have come out in the last few years. The microfibres, and the specialty finishes they put on different outerwear garments. Even if I do not have a swatch, if I learn something new, I make a card with the info and file it. I even copy the care lables and put a copy for reference in there. I guess it is like someone who trades baseball or hockey cards, tee hee, always looking for a better swatch. Perhaps a bit OCD, but if you do not know how a fabric is supposed to behave, how are you supposed to know the good vs the bad, or the appropriate use? Not that there is anything wrong with thinking outside the box, but you cannot accommodate for that if you do not understand how to overcome a fabric's shortcomings if you do not understand a fabric fully. That is where the second part of understanding a fabric comes in, the weave. Most fabrics are named by the weave. It has just as much say in the behavior as content. If you do not understand the capabilities of the weave, you cannot judge the capabilities or suitability(pun intended)of the garment.
      Manufacturers make up their own names for fabrics. Yet the basic weaves have been around for a long, long time. Being able to identify the basic weave, or generic name of a fabric, and understanding the fabric's potential, gives you a huge advantage in the sewing and crafting arena. Cathy

      Edited 1/16/2009 11:37 am ET by ThreadKoe

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