House Cleaning Tips > Living Area > How to Clean, Wash and Dry Curtains

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How to Clean, Wash and Dry Curtains

Curtains are an elegant addition to homes but are often neglected.

They look so lovely when you first put them up but you really don't realize how much dust and dirt they collect until, years later, you whisk them open to let the sun in and a cloud of dust circles the air. Now you are faced with two decisions: wash or replace.

These days, draperies are inexpensive, and people change home decor themes often. When the curtains begin to look dingy, they simply buy new ones – usually as an excuse to redecorate.

While we’d never discourage redecorating, there are plenty of reasons to clean your curtains more often than you do now.

Why Curtains Get So Dirty

Curtains are usually filthy, and with good reason. They are the barrier between outside and inside.

  • When your windows are open, the curtains absorb moisture and attract dirt from the outside.
  • When your windows are closed, there are cracks and drafts. If air can get through, so can tiny dirt particles.
  • Draperies are also the places where dust and dirt from ceiling fans and air vents settle.
  • Even normal dusting and vacuuming causes dust and debris to circulate further into the air. A number of those particles will settle onto your curtains.

When you take all of this into consideration, you can see why it’s so important to clean your curtains on a regular basis!

General Dusting: Keeping ahead of Dirt and Grime

No matter how dirty and dusty your curtains get, it would be way too much work to wash them or have them cleaned every week. It would also ruin your drapes.

You can, however, get a lot of the dirt and dust off the surface of your curtains by dusting or vacuuming them every week as part of your general household cleaning. You can use a feather duster, static duster, dusting cloths, a damp cloth, or a dusting attachment that fits onto your vacuum cleaner.

Whichever method you choose, there are a few tips to remember:

  • Start at the top of your curtains and work your way down so the dust falls onto parts you haven’t dusted yet.
  • Concentrate on dusting hems and folds as most of the dust accumulates in those areas.
  • If you use a damp cloth, make sure you dust or vacuum the curtains first to avoid smearing in dirt.
  • It’s best not to use a damp cloth on lightly colored curtains.
  • It’s easier to leave your curtains hanging when you dust them. Consider getting a more secure curtain rod if you aren’t able to hold the curtains taught to vacuum or dust them.
  • Be sure to dust or vacuum both sides of your curtains. Dust and debris collects on the sides facing windows as well, and it can fall onto your floor, cause odor, or cause particles to become airborne allergens.

Steam Cleaning Curtains

Handheld steam cleaners are now widely available and inexpensive enough to be purchased for home use.

But before using a steam cleaner on your curtains, check the manufacturer’s label to be sure steam cleaning is acceptable.

  • If the curtains are machine washable, steam cleaning should be fine, but they will likely clean up much better if tossed into a washing machine.
  • If you steam clean the curtains yourself, follow the steam cleaner and curtain manufacturer directions.
  • Do not leave the windows open while the curtains are drying. Let them dry undisturbed without attracting airborne dirt and debris from outside.

You should avoid dusting and cleaning the house right after steam cleaning your curtains.  Professional carpet cleaners will usually offer drapery cleaning as well.

Machine Washing Curtains

Machine washable curtains are the easiest and least expensive to clean. There are some tricks to getting the best results. Caution is warranted because the sun does strange things to fabrics, and the fibers become weakened.

  • Always wash your curtains on the delicate cycle. Even if the fabric is thick and you think they can withstand a heavier cycle, stick to washing in delicate.
  • If your draperies are heavily soiled, wash in warm water if the manufacturers label recommends it. Otherwise, it is best to wash your curtains in cold water to keep shrinking and fading to a minimum.
  • If your curtains are dark colors, it’s worth the money to invest in a detergent specially designed not to fade color.
  • No matter what the color or pattern, you can also use a detergent like Woolite designed for delicate fabrics when you wash them.

Drying Machine Washable Curtains

Always dry your curtains on a gentle cycle (tumble dry is best) with low or no heat. It might take longer, but it will definitely make your curtains last longer.

Drying your curtains with a hot cycle can set wrinkles, fade colors, and shrink the material. Even if you plan on hanging your curtains on a clothesline to dry, you should put them in the dryer for at least 15 – 20 minutes. It will help avoid wrinkles and ironing!

Don’t hang wet curtains back on their rods to dry. They can drip onto your carpet or flooring, and the gathers and folds will take too long to dry, possibly causing mildew.

On the other hand, don’t dry your curtains all the way in the dryer, either. You should machine dry them until they are still just slightly damp, then hang and arrange them back on the rods. The weight will help them hang better than if they were dried completely.

While you have damp curtains hanging, don’t open any windows, vacuum, dust, or otherwise clean the room. Your curtains will attract all the dirt and dust, and dirt on damp fabrics is likely to stain. Your work will be wasted!

Alternatives to Washing Your Curtains

Curtain fabrics have been put through a lot of abuse. Washing them abuses them more, and it can actually shorten the life of your drapes. The longer you can go before washing your curtains for the first time, the better.

If your curtains are in direct sunlight, exposed to cold or heat can cause the fabric to fade. Your curtains are likely to be faded on the side that faces the window. Be sure to hang them back in the same way so the faded side faces out.

  • Use a lint brush to remove embedded dirt and grime if regular vacuuming and dusting doesn't get all of the hairs and dirt particles.
  • A damp cloth can sometimes help your curtains look better.

For a general “freshening” of your curtains, you can put them into your dryer on low or tumble dry after spraying a little Febreeze on them. Avoid using fabric softener sheets as they can sometimes stain fabrics, leaving a grease mark or sheen spot.

Dry Cleaning Curtains

If your curtain labels say, “Dry Clean Only,” it’s important to follow the directions. Keep in mind, though, that all dry cleaners are not the same. Your neighborhood dry cleaner might not be knowledgeable about different fabrics. They might send their cleaning out to other facilities that may or may not correctly clean your draperies.

It’s important to do a little research before you take your curtains to an establishment. Ask friends and family for references, and talk to the manager at the local dry cleaners. Unless your curtains are very inexpensive and easily replaceable, you should be careful about where you take them to be cleaned.

Our lesson is over. Have fun and good luck.

Image courtesy of OiMax, CC BY.


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Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Mrs Clean (Corina Wilson) is not only the owner of the company, but a very busy mother of 3 children.

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Mrs Clean realized long ago, that a clean home is a necessity, not a luxury when we are struggling to find the time in our day to cover the very basic levels of work and/or family obligations. The battle seems to never end... (but that's why we're here to help!)

When Mrs Clean is not busy managing her house cleaning company or running her kids back and forth to their events, she enjoys experimenting with natural and non-toxic cleaners and learning new techniques to remove stains.

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