to prewash or not to prewash....

...that is the question.

i'm not a prewasher. that's right- i said it! i do, however, throw a quilt into the washer the minute i cut the thread from finishing the binding.

do i worry about bleeding... nope.
do i worry about shrinkage...*shrug* i little...but i prefer the crinkly washed goodness of a quilt. makes it more...quilty. (i'm going to post about shrinkage later)

the bleeding thing can ruin a day. your quilt goes in the washer a red and white quilt, but comes out a pink and red quilt...i can offer help.

i use a detergent called Synthrapol (i get mine from Dharma Trading). dyers use it to prepare fabric for dying and after to help pull out excess dye. (i have my suspicions that it is the same active chemical as in shout's color catchers..just saying)

the coolest thing for quilters about synthrapol is that it neutralizes the chemical bond a dye particle floating in the water has that would otherwise stain the lighter colored fabrics. (it can be used in prewashing fabric that will be used in fusible applique too.)

i love this stuff! i use 1/4 cup per queen quilt and wash as normal. i do add a little regular detergent to the water to make the quilt smell good. if you don't it'll smell like ironed batiks.  the trick is to let your washer fill completely with water and agitate a couple times, then add your quilt. that way the synthrapol is fully mixed in the water. (for you front load owners- there is a low foam version available)

there is another soap called Retayne. I'm not a fan of it cause it has 'fussy' instructions. you have to add so much per yard..blah blah blah....wash the first time in hot water then after that in cold...blah blah blah. synthrapol- just add it to the water, wash, and not have to worry about it again.

want proof? i had a customer bring me a very vintage applique quilt that her mother had done backing in the 30s. it was a bouquet tied with a deep purple ribbon on an off white background. you guessed it- the purple had bleed very badly onto the background. i offered to wash the quilt with synthrapol, what could it hurt? not only did it remove the bleed, we discovered that background was white fabric, not off white.

i am not a paid endorser (i wish) for either synthrapol or Dharma Trading. i offer only my honest opinion based on personal previous experience (at least 10 years worth of washing quilts) do with it what you want :)


  1. Thanks so much for this! I am not a pre-washer either and have had a few problems that always worked out somehow. I am going to get a gallon of this stuff. What great prices at Dharma Trading, too! I really appreciate this tip.

  2. Great tip. Do you use this for every quilt or just when there has been a bleeding issue?

  3. The main reason NOT to use Ratayne is that Retayne is a totally different product that encourages the loose dye molecules to attach to the fabric. Synthrapol pulls the dye molecules away from the fabric. Only use Retayne if everything you are washing is already the same color. I learned this lesson the hard way.

    They are 2 completely different products with different uses. I did 2 blog posts on this a while back if you are interested:

  4. This is a helpful tip, but I might suggest that the older quilt you tried it on (and it worked) had never been washed before. I used synthrapol on a quilt just after I'd discovered that a PRE-WASHED red fabric ran, and synthrapol didn't work. In fact, I tried every product to get out where the red had bled and stuck - under hand-quilting stitches - to no avail. Perhaps some dyes are more "agreeable" to being washed out.

  5. I'm in the opposite camp. I prefer to wash to remove the sizing and deal with the shrinkage/potential color run issues out before I cut, if I can. Thanks for the tip about the synthrapol. I made Christmas placements using some red 2-1/2" strips from a jelly roll. The strips bled so bad that I now have pink patches instead of ivory patches in my placemats. If this stuff works as well as you say it does, then I'll be more confident using my purples and reds - unwashed.

  6. what vicki w said -
    two different products -

    john in nc


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