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How to clean your curtains so they look great but don’t get damaged

Grey drapes and white curtains on a window with white walls and white marble floors

Curtains not only beautify the home, but they also serve a number of purposes. Curtains allow us to control the amount of light we let in, provide privacy, but most importantly, act as a filter to pollution, dust, and allergens outside. Because curtains are exposed to the elements and protect us from them, they can become dirty quite easily. Not only that, they can begin to serve the opposite of their function; instead of filtering out dirt and pollution, they begin to trap them and bring them into the home. For this reason, and to keep curtains looking their best, it’s important to deep clean your curtains once or twice a year. Keep reading for the whole breakdown on how to deep clean your curtains so they look and work at their best. 

Why you need to keep your curtains clean

Curtains are not only decor, they actually protect the air quality of our homes as well. They block out dust, air pollutants, and allergy-causing pollen from entering the home. As a result, however, curtains can become soiled with these particles and eventually serve the opposite function. Essentially acting as a dust trap, rather than a barrier to keep dust and other particles outside. Your curtains might look clean, but they could be an allergy bomb. This can be especially harmful to allergy sufferers as curtains can trap pollen dust, and dust mites, all of which can exacerbate galleries and cause allergic reactions in allergy and asthma sufferers. 

Neglecting to regularly clean your curtains can not only reduce your home’s air quality, but it can actually reduce the lifetime of the fabric. If not maintained, the fabric fivers can even begin to rot and fall apart[1]. Do a deep clean every year, and maintain your curtains throughout the year to keep them in their best condition and improve the air quality and appearance of your home. 

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Should you machine wash or dry clean your curtains?

Always check the instructions on the manufacturer tag for cleaning instructions before cleaning your curtains. If your tag says to only dry clean, do not try to machine wash them yourself. This could cause the fabric to shrink or become damaged. Most specialty fabrics like “velvet, velour, chenille, tapestry, brocade, wool, or silk should be dry-cleaned”[1]. Your curtains only need to be cleaned about once a year, so it’s best to spring for a specialist to clean them for you if they need to be dry cleaned, rather than risking a wash cycle in the washing machine

If your curtain’s manufacture instructions say they can be machine washed, great! You can save a dry cleaning bill, but get ready to use a little bit of elbow grease. If your curtains are extremely large or cumbersome, you can also outsource the work to a professional. If you’re ready to take on the task of washing your curtains yourself, keep reading for instructions on how to do it properly without any damage. 

What you will need to wash your curtains

1. Large washing machine:

To take on the task of washing your drapes at home, you will need a washing machine large enough to fit your curtains and provide sufficient space for them to tumble. A washing machine that is too small won’t be able to clean the entire surface of your curtains sufficiently, and the weight could also damage your machine. If your machine isn’t very big, you can wash your curtains in smaller batches, or you can use an industrial washing machine at a laundromat. 

2. Laundry detergent:

You will also need a laundry detergent appropriate for the type of fabric and color of your curtains. For example, if your curtains are dark in color, don’t use a brightening detergent, use one for darks. If your curtains are white or light in color you can use a detergent intended for this. 

3. Iron and ironing board

To get your curtains looking their best you will need an iron and ironing board to work out any kinks from the washing machine. You can also use a standing steam iron to steam any wrinkles out of your curtains while they hang after cleaning, and throughout the rest of the year to freshen up. 

Womans hands hanging a grey curtain on a white curtain rod

How to properly clean your curtains without damaging them

Step 1: Remove

The first thing you will need to do is of course remove your curtains from the hooks. Remove any additional hardware like clips, or curtain weights. After you’ve removed the curtains from the wall you can give them a good shake to get rid of any excess dust. 

Step 2: Soak

Your next step will be to soak your curtains in cold water. You can do this in the bathtub, or in your washing machine by pausing the wash cycle after the drum has filled with cold water. Soaking your curtains first will lift any dust, dirt, and pollen trapped within the fibers or the fabric. You can soak your curtains for a few minutes up to an hour or more depending on the soil level. 

Step 3: Prepare

While your curtains soak in cold water, take this opportunity to prepare the windows for your clean curtains. Dust or vacuum your window frames, clean your windows with glass cleaner and sweep or vacuum the floor around the area where your curtains will sit. 

Step 4: Rinse

After soaking your curtains, you can give them a quick rinse to remove any soiled water. 

Step 5: Wash

If you are washing your curtains in the washing machine, don’t use an excessive amount of detergent to avoid any leftover soapy residue. Select a delicate cycle on your washing machine and wash with warm or cold water depending on the instructions on your curtain’s care tags. If washing by hand, make sure your detergent is properly mixed in the water before submerging your curtains. 

Step 6: Spin

After your delicate wash cycle, or delicately washing by hand, get out as much water as possible. Either squeeze as much water as possible out of your curtains or run a few extra spin cycles to remove excess water. Your curtains will be extremely heavy when wet so it is important to remove as much water as possible before hanging them to dry. 

Step 7: Dry

If your curtains permit, you can put them in the dryer on a low or delicate setting. You can shake the curtains out every few minutes to ensure they are drying evenly. When they are about 95% dry[2] remove them from the dryer. Over-drying will make your curtains more wrinkled. Iron your curtains while they are still slightly damp. 

Top view of persons hand ironing sheet of white fabric

Step 8: Iron

If your curtains cannot be dried in the dryer, keep running spin cycles until your curtains are only slightly damp. While your curtains are still slightly damp (or 95% dry) iron them on an ironing board. If your curtains aren’t getting dry enough in the spin cycle, you can hang them to dry on a clothesline, or back on your curtain hanger so long as they are not too heavy. Once they are dry enough you can iron and then re-hang. 

Step 9: Hang

Now that your curtains are clean it’s time to hang them back up! If you don’t have a standard iron and ironing board to iron your curtains before hanging, you can also hang them when they are slightly damp, and they will dry in the correct position. Or, you can use a standing steam iron to give your curtains a once-over as they hang. 

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How to keep your curtains clean year-round

  1. Vacuum your curtains often: Keep your curtains looking and smelling fresh year-round by vacuuming them with a hose or upholstery attachment. Always vacuum or sweep the surrounding floor area so your curtains pick up any dust from the floor. 
  2. Steam your curtains: A steam cleaner will keep your curtains free of wrinkles, kill bacteria, and freshen any stale odors. The hot steam will also kill allergy-causing dust mites. 
  3. Use a deodorizing fabric spray: Refresh your curtains between deep cleans by using a fabric spray. Fabric sprays like Febreze eliminate odors, kill bacteria and dust mites, and also sanitize fabrics. 
  4. Keep your curtains at the correct length: If your curtains are dragging on the floor they’re likely to pick up dust and dirt on the ground. This can then get trapped in the fabric fibers or cause staining. Keep your curtains hanging long enough that they just barely hit the floor, but not so long that they are dragging on it. About a half an inch above the ground is a good rule of thumb. 
  5. Keep your floors clean: The bottoms of your curtains will only get dirty if your floors are also dirty. Keep your floors surrounding your curtains clean by sweeping and vacuuming often. 


Article Sources: 

  1. Good House Keeping. “5 steps to cleaner curtains
  2. The Spruce. “How to Wash Curtains Three Different Ways