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Should I Wash Fabric Before Sewing?

There are few things more fun than deciding to start a new sewing project. Sure, you may have a few unfinished ones, but this one is new and exciting. Before you start your new project, should you wash your fabric before sewing?

Yes, in general, you should wash your fabric before sewing. Most natural fabrics shrink when washed. So, you need to wash your fabric before working with it. This ensures that your final items fit properly.

Let’s take a closer look at why it is important to prewash your fabric and how to do it.

Should I Wash Fabric Before Sewing

Should You Wash Fabric Before Sewing?

Most of the time you should prewash, sometimes called pre-shrink, your fabric. The three main reasons to prewash your fabric are to pre-shrink them, prevent colors from bleeding and eliminate chemicals.It is very important to prewash fabric because it makes sure your projects stay true to size. This is especially important for garments when shrinkage could make a big difference in the final fit.

While most fabric does not shrink more than ten percent, it can make a big difference. This is especially important if you are working on garments.Still, if you are working on a quilting project and forget to prewash, your quilt may be smaller than intended. While you can add a border to help compensate, it can be disappointing if your quilt shrinks.

With bold colored fabrics, especially synthetics, it is important to prewash fabrics so the colors do not bleed. If you are especially worried about the colors bleeding, you should also do a color run test. This makes sure you will not accidentally turn your other fabric into strange colors.Pre-washing bold cloth also shows you the fabrics’ true colors. Often colors will look saturated before being washed.

Finally, you should prewash your fabric to eliminate chemicals. This is especially important for people with sensitive skin. While not all fabrics have harmful chemicals on them, you do not know how the fabric has been treated or washed.

Likewise, washing fabric helps reduce stains. This is especially helpful if you bought thrift fabric which may not be perfect. Even after close examination, you may not be able to see all the stains. So, it is best to wash it just in case.

What Fabrics Should Be Pre-washed?

In general, most fabrics should be pre-washed. Cotton, wool, linen, silk, and other natural fabrics should always be prewashed. Flannel, in particular, shrinks quite a bit. Modern flannel is sometimes made of synthetic fibers or wool, but most often contains cotton. So, even when using it in a blanket it needs to be prewashed.

Polyester and similar synthetic fabrics do not always have to be prewashed, but it is still a good idea. However, synthetic fabrics are a bit controversial when it comes to pre-washing.

While most synthetic materials do not shrink, their colors may bleed. So, it is important to prewash them for the best results. However, they can also be washed by hand with good results. Blended fabrics should be pre-washed. While they may not shrink as much as entirely natural fabrics, it is still better to be safe.

There are a few fabrics that should be dry cleaned or not washed in traditional methods. In particular do not wash viscose, traditional fur, or polyamide. Some leathers should also not be machine-washed. If possible, check the label. Polyamide and polyamide blends are uncommon, but you should be particularly careful with them. Polyamide actually expands when washed. It is usually used in fancy suits, especially from Italy.

If a specific fabric is dry-clean only, it should be marked as such. If you are particularly worried, ask an associate at the fabric store. Even if they do not know the answer themselves, they will usually know how to find it.

If you have questions about a certain fabric once you get it home, look it up or ask a friend. Many people have different ideas and traditions, so it is good to get a second opinion. Likewise, there is no set wrong or right answer.

How to Wash Fabric Before Sewing

Once your fabric is prepared, pre-wash your fabric like a normal load of laundry. If your washing machine has a delicate setting, switch to it. If the fabric you are preparing has a care tag, make sure to check it. It can usually give you some specific guidance on how to care for that specific fabric.

Before Pre-Washing

Before pre-washing your fabric, regardless of what it will be used for, examine and prepare the fabric. This may include treating stains, cutting off margins, and taking measures to prevent fraying.

If you are not going to prepare the edges to prevent fraying, you may want to keep the margins and care instructions intact. Then you can cut them off after washing.

If the cloth is particularly colorful, do a color run test. For this, simply dip or soak a piece of the fabric in plain water for 30 minutes or so.

Once the time has passed, check the water and fabric. If the color has run, you should be able to see some discoloration, especially in the water.

This means you should wash and dry this fabric separately to keep it from damaging the other fabrics. If you are particularly concerned, you can also hand wash the fabric. Just make sure the water temperature is hot enough to shrink the fabric.

After Pre-Washing

After pre-washing, examine the fabric. Did the edges fray? Do you need to take more margins or basting off? How much did it shrink?

If possible, take the time immediately after washing to look for any problems. That way, if you notice any stains or other issues you can deal with them promptly. Once your fabric is ready, it is time to iron it.

You should iron or press your fabric before using it. Even if you are going to store the fabric for a while before using it, it is a good idea to iron it. This helps reduce future wrinkles.

While the terms are often used interchangeably, there are actually a few distinctions between pressing and ironing your fabric. Some people feel strongly that fabric should be pressed rather than ironed. However, it is a fairly minor detail, and it is best to go with your own preferences.

Ironing your fabric after it has been washed makes sure you are getting the correct measurements. Usually, fabric only shrinks around five percent. But, that can make a big difference, especially with garments.

Pressing your fabric is also important because it allows you to work with a flat, smooth surface. Working with fabrics that have not been ironed or pressed can result in creases in the fabric and make it harder to sew.

Likewise, if you are cutting fabric that has not been flattened, you may cut it incorrectly. Regardless of if you press or iron your fabric, it is best to do so after you prewash your fabric.

Do You Use Detergent When Prewashing Fabric?

If you are using a washing machine to prewash your fabric, you are probably good to use detergent. However, do not use much. Many sewists recommend using around one quarter of what you would normally use.

When preshrinking your fabric, you primarily need warm water. While adding a light detergent or soap will help clean the fabric, it is not necessary for shrinkage.

Depending on what you are prewashing, you can also use a color catcher. While it is not necessary, it does help. They are especially helpful for synthetic fabrics that are prone to bleeding.

If you are washing the fabric by hand, using just a little bit of soap often helps get a better clean. However, it is not necessary.

How Do You Keep Fabric From Fraying When You Prewash?

If you have the ability and equipment, you can surge the fabrics’ edges before pre-washing. This keeps the fabric from fraying.

You can also do a zig-zag stitch or clip the corners to reduce fraying. Washing your fabric on a delicate cycle and keeping it in a lingerie or other mesh bag also helps reduce fraying.

If you did stitch a border to the edges, you will need to cut it off before you begin working. However, it is usually worth the time and effort to keep the fabric from fraying.

You can also use fray check or a similar product to keep small amounts of fabric from fraying. However, this is best done on small batches of fabric. It can be especially helpful to keep applique and embroidery from fraying after many washes.

What to Do When You Forgot to Prewash Fabric?

If you forget to prewash fabric, do not worry too much! Try to either prewash none of the fabric or all of it. That way it should keep everything even and not put too much strain on the stitches.

If you are particularly worried about mixing prewashed and not pre-washed fabrics, you can hand wash them in warm water. This should minimize the strain on the stitches.

Another potential problem if you forget to prewash, is colors bleeding. If you have very bold colors that you forgot to prewash, you can soak or hand wash them afterward. This may be difficult if you use multiple bold colors, but it will be worth it to help preserve the colors.

If you do not have time or the ability to hand wash fabrics that may have running colors, you can wash them by themselves. Just make sure to use the delicate setting on your washing machine. You should also use a color saver or similar soap for the best results.

If you are worried about clothes or blankets shrinking and are able, you can also add extra fabric. A common way to do this is by adding a slightly bigger border than usual.

In general, it is not a big deal if you don’t pre-wash the fabric. Some quilters actually prefer their projects to shrink a bit after it has finished because it gives the quilt a “puffy” look.

Should You Wash Batting Before Using It?

In general, yes, you can wash your batting by hand before using it. However, you do not usually have to. If you are buying standard batting, follow the package’s recommended instructions.

Most batting these days are made to resist shrinkage, which is a big plus. However, by hand washing and air drying your batting, you will make sure it is clean.

When using a recycled blanket or sheet for batting, you should wash it beforehand. This makes sure that it is in the best condition and proper size for the quilt.

While you should wash batting and many materials used in quilting, do not wash precuts. Precut sets like jelly rolls and layer cakes should be fairly clean when you buy them. If you wash them, you run the risk of them fraying or falling apart.

If you have some precut fabrics that have stains or other blemishes, wash them by hand. Likewise, it is good to air dry them. This helps keep them unfrayed and in working condition.

If you really want to machine wash your precuts, put them in a mesh bag. Also, set the machine to the most delicate setting possible, and air dry. This should minimize the fraying and other damage.

Often with precut quilts, it is best not to wash any of the fabric until after it has all been stitched together. This allows the fabric to shrink all at once. However, you need to consider this when getting fabric for the border and when deciding on sizing.


All in all, it is usually a good idea to prewash your fabric. However, you should consider a few factors first. Fabrics that are prone to shrinkage, should be prewashed. If you have bold or synthetic fabrics, wash them to keep colors from running. However, if you have precuts or other fabric that will fray when you wash them, hand wash them or use a ‘delicates’ bag.

When you prewash fabric, you can use detergent. Remember, iron or press the fabric afterward. While it is good to prewash almost all fabrics that are not precut, it is not mandatory.

If you forget to prewash your fabric, do not worry, there are ways to tailor and fix it even after the project is finished.

You can also pre-wash supplies like batting. Most modern batting is resistant to shrinkage, but it is good to wash before using to make sure it is clean. It is especially important to prewash batting if you are using a blanket or a similar substitute.

When it is all said and done, there are many different opinions when prewashing fabric. It is beneficial to get different opinions but, at the end of the day, it is best not to get too caught up in the details. Find what works best for you.