There are many things that you should pay close attention to before washing your quilt for the first time.
The most important of this is to consider the type of fabric that the quilt is made of.
Traditionally quilts are made of 100% cotton or of cotton blends and preferred. If they are made of something other than this you will need to research that medium and care for it properly.
Here are my tips:
Wash your quilt before you make it!
This advice sounds silly but is extremely important! As you would probably already be aware, when you wash new cloth for the first time that have bright colors, you would normally wash it by itself without anything else in the machine. This will help to "set your fabric colors- I like to add 1/2 cup-1 cup of vinegar to the wash- this is also helpful in preserving bright colors.
Another reason to wash the fabric before you use it is because it tends to reshape into its natural "worn" shape. Bolts of fabric will -a lot of times- have a starch or sizing on it to give your fabric a certain store "appeal;" this can, in some cases, be a irritant to skin, and also "force" a shape to fabrics. When you wash this sizing or starch out the fabric will be clean, irritant free and will also give the chance for any excess dye pigments to be released early, rather than after it is made when it can end up ruining the white parts of your quilt!
Detergent that should be used to wash your quilt?
Most detergents are harmless to cotton (as long as you follow proper washing instructions provided by detergent makers), however, some of the additives that can be found in detergent can be harmful to the fabric if used regularly. So here are a few guidelines to follow:
You should always use an unscented, liquid based, color-free detergent to wash your quilt, and refrain from using any detergent that contains a fabric softener.
Fabric softeners, and detergents with the scents, dyes and softeners in them can damage the fibres in the fabric, causing them to stain with a oil like stains, discoloring the fabrics, or break down fibers causing them to wear unevenly or become thin and worn out; and therefore, should be avoided.
AND...whatever you do, never use bleach on your quilt! This will certainly ruin the color and will damage the fibres in the fabric.
The best way to wash a quilt
For regular quilts with 100% cotton based fabrics, the following process is a reliable way to get a safe clean wash:
Fill the washing machine with cold to warm water (never hot!)
Add the detergent before you add your quilt (depending on the size of the quilt use your detergent sparingly)
Stir the water to make sure that the detergent is dissolved completely, so that the detergent doesn't become to concentrated on one part of the quilt.
Once the wash cycle is complete, set your machine to an extra rinse cycle (cold) don't add any detergent. This just help to make sure that all the detergent has been rinsed out of your quilt completely.
Drying your quilt
Once you have finished washing your quilt you will need to dry it. For most well-made quilts with good quality fabric it is usually safe to dry the quilt in a dryer on a air tumble setting or low cycle.
CAUTION!! if you choose this method the quilts will tumble into a ball and can cause a strain on the fabric, just like if you were to wring out your quilt- not a good idea. So pause your dryer every 20 minutes or so, pull out you quilt, shake it out and then place it back in. This will help to spread the low heat evenly through out the dryer over the fabrics and will not scald, or over heat your fabrics, and help the fabric dry evenly.
If the quilt is older, or hand quilted, then line drying is a better drying method. Make sure you are careful toavoid direct sunlight, this can fade the colors and increase the effects of "sun-rot".
Spread the quilt over 2 lines so that the weight is distributed over a larger area. You may also drape it over a porch railing, a banister, or a couch works well.
Never wring out a quilt as this will strain the fabric and may cause permanent creasing.
Please note: these are simply guidelines are not intended for antique quilts or quilts that are not in good condition!