Prewash Quilting Cotton: To Prewash or not to Prewash

Should you Prewash Quilting Cotton?

Silly face Erin
Pondering the wash, no wash discussion!

I’ve been quilting 7 years and this can be quite a hot debate! So should you prewash quilting cotton before beginning a project? Well, you’ll know very soon what camp I fall into here! First of all let me address that this article is purely my opinion based on my experience.

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A widely discussed topic across any facebook group, especially when a newbie arrives and innocently asks, “Should I prewash my quilting cotton before I make my quilt?” The comments are immediately going like gangbusters because we all love to give our opinion. I am no different. Maybe that is the reason I started blogging – truth be told!

First a Definition

The definition of Prewashed fabric simply means you are washing the fabric BEFORE you use it in your quilt or project. For example: you’ve purchased a 1-yard piece of fabric and you wash it in your washing machine prior to cutting it up into pieces for your quilt.


Let’s break it down: Prewash Quilting Cotton

  • Pre-shrink the fabric
  • Release fabric dyes that might bleed
  • Removes any chemicals or stiffeners from processing

Prewashing your fabric will help reduce the risk of dye being transferred in the wash from your brighter colors to your lighter colors. You’ll want to wash your colors separately and I would recommend Color Catchers (mentioned with link below) and running it through the washer until it is no longer bleeding any dye. Warning: Reds are notorious. The worst offender of bleeding dye into water and onto whites where you don’t want it! You’ve heard of people washing a red shirt with their tightie whities right? Now they have to wear pink undies? Same principle!

Also to be considered in the should you prewash quilting cotton discussion is shrinkage. Quilting cotton is going to shrink a bit when washed and I have definitely found that box store type fabric will shrink at a greater rate than quilt store cotton. Quilt store cotton is a better quality and that’s another argument that is often discussed but we will tackle another time. If you have really tiny pieces, paper piecing with intricate details, or small appliqué you may very well want to consider prewash.

Many people are sensitive to chemicals. So a prewash many make you feel a bit better about the chemicals that could be on your cotton or stiffening agents that might have been used. However as we discuss a little later, you’ll likely need to add something back to your fabric to make it stiff again as that works best for piecing the top.

Let’s Break it Down: No Prewash Quilting Cotton

Pondering erin
Still Pondering!
  • Easy to work with and cut
  • No ironing
  • Time – in an instant gratification world

You might be thinking that Team Prewash has won you over – but wait – let’s discuss! If you are worried about the dye bleeding there is a wonderful product called Color Catchers, that I mentioned briefly before, and definitely grab some to try if you haven’t! They are in a word, WONDERFUL! What these do is “catch” any of the loose dye that is released into the water when washing. So you can finish your unwashed fabric quilt, toss it in the wash with a couple of color catchers, and let it work its magic! If your Color Catcher looks like it did catch quite a bit of color, you can run the wash again with another 1 or 2 catchers to make sure your quilt is done releasing dye.

Continuing on with should you prewash quilting cotton is addressing ironing. No ironing will be needed with the no prewash method. Ok, ok, except for the ironing we all do to get rid of fold lines and such!! Washed quilting cotton will require a good amount of ironing and that is absolutely a thing I like to avoid.

You’ll very likely need spray starch or Best Press to help stiffen it up so that it cuts and handles more easily. I’ve included some links here as you can buy Best Press in a variety of refills. Use your own spray bottle and refills or start with one of their spray bottles. Here are some options if you need help. Best Press is my absolute favorite and the scented ones can really freshen up your quilting space as you work. I like lavender to calm myself down when the seam ripper has been used a lot!

The fact that there might be shrinkage by not prewashing just doesn’t bother me for most quilting projects. I rather like the crinkly, wrinkly quilts because it makes me want to cuddle in them even more!

Time is the other factor here with the No Prewash method. We are in a world of instant gratification. So if you prewash you are putting off being able to start that quilt for another day or maybe even two. Washing, drying, ironing will take a good bit of time, especially if you have colors that need to be done separately. So it’s a good days worth of time spent when you really just want to jump in and cut and sew!

I’ll bet you can guess what camp I am in right about now huh?

Yes, I am in Camp – No Prewash – in fact, I’ve built a cabin and have a fire going where we have s’mores roasting right now! My fabric is always ready to go – I don’t have to remember what is washed and what isn’t. Tip: You do not want to prewash part of your project. It really needs to be an all or nothing type of approach here. Either prewash all of it or none of it for a complete project. Otherwise you will get shrinkage of part but not all, and the result will not be what you were hoping for!

A Quick Word on Pre-Cuts

Do not wash your Jelly Rolls, Layer Cakes, Charm Packs, or Mini-Charms as you will be extraordinarily disappointed! The amount of strings that will come from a washed Jelly Roll pack will make you cry and run away screaming! I’ve seen pictures of some very wadded up messes coming out of the washer and it’s likely a toss in the trash situation. The others will become a bit misshapen and also have too many strings to deal with. Make sure you stick with fat quarters or larger if you plan to prewash!

Homebody Layer Cake Art Gallery Fabrics
Homebody Layer Cake – Sold at The Contemporary Quilter

Be sure to check out my Free Resource Library and my Top 5 Favorite Quilting Tools here! Best Press wasn’t on it, but it’s top 10 for sure. I use it all the time!

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  1. Learnt the hard way with pre-cuts! I personally pre-wash, mainly because in the beginning I got a lot of 2nd hand fabric and I didnt know how they had been stored in the past.

    1. Oh my goodness, yes such a mess with precuts! I think early on I tried it with a few strips to see and what a nightmare! I can definitely see washing second hand fabric.

  2. Thanks for that info. I have never pre washed and don’t recall any problems. But I had wondered about doing it.

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