Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Cotton Quilt Batting ~ Pre-wash or Not ~ What Do You Do?

The screen printed silhouette quilt is almost ready to be quilted - just the borders to be added. I've decided on cotton batting this time, mainly because that's what I had in my stash. My dilemma has been whether to pre-wash the cotton batting or not and I'm hoping you'll share your thoughts and experiences.

Cotton quilt batting - is it best to pre-wash the batting / wadding, to wash the quilt after it's finished, or just leave it as is. Join the discussion at ~ Threading My Way

I don't actually know why I bought cotton, as my previous quilts had been wool or wool / polyester if I couldn't get 100% wool. I like the idea of wool, as it breathes and is warm. I'm not at all keen on polyester.

I've never washed wool batting, but the packaging quite clearly recommended pre-washing the cotton batting. On the back however, were instructions to wash the quilt, if the batting hadn't been pre-washed.


I checked online and it seemed that if I didn't pre-wash, I'd get a slightly crinkly, antique look, due to the cotton batting shrinking.

Because of the silhouettes, I wanted the quilt to be as flat as possible. I knew Tash, my daughter, would want this too. When we were discussing how I'd do the actual quilting, she commented that she didn't want it to look like an old lady quilt with fancy quilting everywhere. I think the crinkled look may come under the banner of an old lady quilt... LOL!!!


Thoughts online were diverse, varying from those who purely soaked, to those who used a washing machine on the gentle cycle. One person even put the batting in a laundry basket, then put the laundry basket in the bathtub. Many shared success stories, whilst others talked about decimated batting.

After much research I decided to soak in the laundry tub for about 20 minutes, gently squeezing a few times as if I were washing a delicate garment. I did not enjoy the process. Perhaps this was because of uncertainty about the end result.

The water in the tub turned a dirty brown. I hadn't read about or expected this. I should have taken a photo. Afterwards, I found one reference to dirty water. Seems it's a result of the oil in the cotton seeds or perhaps from the outside of the cotton ball.

Apparently, if the batting is not pre-washed, or the quilt washed when finished, small oil spots will appear on the quilt.

Maybe I'm over thinking this, but if the water ends up brown, what happens if you don't pre-wash? I can't say I like the thought of my precious quilting cottons being subjected to washing in dirty water. Needless to say, I rinsed many times till the water was clear.


Gently squeezing water out took quite a while and I gave up before it was finished. Many people said they put the batting in the machine just for the spin cycle and some said they put the batting in the dryer, after putting it on the spin cycle. I do have a dryer, but never use it. Again, opinions varied greatly. 

Where to dry the batting. The packing said to lay flat, so I spread sheets on the grass and put the batting on top. After several hours in the sun, it was still quite wet.


If we had tiles, I would have laid it out flat inside. As we don't I piled it up on two drying racks, only letting short sections hang down. I didn't want it to stretch. The batting is queen size, so much of it was scrunched up on top. 

I thought it would never dry at this rate!!!

Next morning, much to my surprise, it had begun to dry out. I figured it was light enough to hang on the clothes line, hanging it over all five lines, so lots of air all around and not too much weight hanging down.


And that evening, just to make sure it dried completely, I spread it out again, doubled over and hanging on the two drying racks. As it was almost dry at this stage, I wasn't worried about the weight, and so let it hang down.

I have to say, I think the process has resulted in lovely soft batting. It doesn't seem to have deteriorated at all. It was, however, a very time consuming process.

I'm just recounting my thoughts and experience, so please don't read it as a How To!!! I've listed a few of the pages that I read while deciding whether to pre-wash cotton batting or not.

I really would value your thoughts, experiences and opinions on anything I've talked about.

... Pam

16 comments:

  1. Oh my, my computer is having DNS solving problems - I had a comment typed up and it disappeared like disappearing ink on a quilt, LOL! I've never pre-washed a quilt batt - I've never even read the instructions on my packages - will have to check it out when I go downstairs :D I used to use Warm and Natural cotton batting but it went through a stage where quality dropped sharply, and the batts I was getting had thin patches and literal twigs embedded in them. Considering they were (and probably still are) the Go To brand, it was quite annoying! I switched to a different brand and am very pleased :) I used to use poly batts because they were easier to find locally, and VERY inexpensive. Once I discovered cotton though, there was no going back :D One of my sewy friends uses ONLY poly batts as she mails her quilts to relatives in the Philippines, and poly weighs less :) Plus, of course, there's the whole HEAT thing over there, lol. If I washed a quilt batt and the water turned dirty brown I'd never use that brand again - can you imagine what would happen to a snow white quilt? YIKES!

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  2. I've never used 100% cotton only wool until I was given a sample of bamboo/cotton blend. I loved everything about it. How it machine quilted and how lovely it was to hand quilt. Now this is my go to wadding. I like the wrinkled old lady look so I don't pre wash fabric or wadding. Only came a cropper once with over dye. Interesting about the brown water. Thanks for the information.

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    1. I'll have to make myself a quilt and not pre-wash, so I can compare. I'd be happy with the crinkly look. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences, Mary.

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  3. Very interesting. Quilting is definitely one of those things with a very long learning curve!!

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  4. I have never ever washed my batting before quilting Pam. You can wash or not after the quilt has been quilted. Sometimes your quilt will shrink a bit and get a bit of that crinkled look of an old quilt and sometimes not. I don't pre-wash my fabric either. The cotton batting here in the USA years ago recommended pre-washing but only because there were sometimes little cotton seeds that you could see in the batting and the oils of the seeds could stain your fabrics. But now I guess they have improved their method of making the batting and don't say that on the package anymore. In fact the Warm Company batting that I buy says pre-washing is NOT necessary. I think the cotton seeds and shrinkage were the primary concerns for pre-washing. I haven't had any problems with either. I think it's pain in the you know what to pre-wash batting. Oh well you washed yours already, but in the future, you can decide not to if you want, or was your finished quilt instead, which is easier to do.

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  5. Oh my goodness - what a minefield Pam! Glad it all turned out in the end - I definitely would have been worried at the dirty water stage!

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  6. I'm using up some polyester batting I've had for years. I think they still make it. It won't shrink so no washing and depending on thickness will evening be puffy. It won't bunch up and give that old wrinkled look that cotton/wool will give. I'm actually wanting that look so I bought my first 80/20 cotton/wool bundle recently. The package said I didn't need to wash it. When I did wash the quilt later because I was giving to a child, it didn't seem to shrink at all. ?? I was wondering if you could wash/dry batting in a tied pillowcase?

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  7. Thanks for tips and tricks. It's useful for me! Best Dehumidifier

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  8. I don't do any quilting but recently I purchased bamboo batting and I am wondering how to use it. I got a pack but intend to use for only small things to make. Thanks for sharing your thoughts:)

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  9. If I had to do this much just to get batting ready to make a quilt, there would not be any quilting around here. The brown water is quite strange. I shall be paying more attention to which batting I use from now on for sure. Thanks for doing all the experimenting for us!

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  10. Just to let you know what happens when you don't prewash (at least to me). When I washed the finished quilt, it came out in a hour glass shape!! Lesson learned the hard way.

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    1. Oh, no, Sandy. What shame after all that hard work. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  11. Goodness I have never washed batting but I have not used cotton. I have my first cotton lot sitting on the floor waiting and am now worried. As mine was off I roll, I am going to call the quilt shop. I do not want brown water!!! Love your blog

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  12. Oh my, Pam, this was some process! You must have been exhausted by the time you finished all that preparation. I have never washed batting but, as a previous commenter, Daryl, stated most of the batting we purchase in the states these days must have already been prepped for use. I just know your quilt will be lovely!

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  13. I'll enjoy reading the comments later, but I presoak. No soap, but I rinse in a gently cycle and fluff dry. I use 80% cotton, 20 poly mix for loft but it works fine. The batting fluffs and I don't need to worry as much about chemicals. LeeAnna

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  14. Sometimes when you have spent many hours on a very special quilt, as you obviously have here, it's definitely better to take the time to do everything properly and not take any risks - but I bet you were glad to have it finished!

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