Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How to Care for Vintage Chenille Bedspreads

Double peacock chenille bedspread in brown
I love chenille bedspreads and I could probably write a book on them.  I sell a few in my Etsy shop and want to pass along a few words of advice to those who are new to the wonderful world of chenille.  
Love these colors!
If you buy your spread from me, it will be clean and ready for use, but if get your spread from an estate or other situation where it is dirty or smelly (ew!), you might want to give it a good cleaning.  In case you are new to chenille, I thought I'd pass along a few tips:

Before you start

First, take a good look at the ground cloth of the spread.  Most use a heavy cotton sheeting as the ground (some are on a gauzier cotton, or a satin), but countless washings over the decades sometimes leave the fabric very thin--and thin equals weak, which means you have to use extreme care in the cleaning process.   Similarly, even tiny pin holes in the fabric can become big tears if the spread is handled in the wrong way.  Best to be aware of any and all condition issues before you begin.
The small hole you see at the lower left could become a big problem when washing.

I soak spreads before washing them.  This helps get rid of any stains and general dinginess.  I fill a big tub with hot, hot water and a double dose of Oxi-Clean or other such deep cleaner (Biz is great, too).  Stir the Oxi into the water to dissolve it as much as possible. Dissolving the Oxi-Clean is especially important with colored spreads, because it can bleach tiny white spots into the ground cloth if you are not careful. Push the spread into the water.

Gently squish the water through the spread.  If you are using your bathtub, you might have the space to gently stir the whole thing, but be careful.  Wet textiles are extremely heavy and if you tug on them, you run the risk of tearing the fabric. 
Spread with both cut and uncut chenille--the light green yarns are still looped, the white have been cut to create a soft pile.
Soak it.  I will generally let the spread sit at least until the water cools, or even overnight.  I’ve never done any damage to a cotton by letting it soak for a good long time.   I’ll push the spread back down into the water just to make sure it stays wet. 

The water might turn brown and smelly (again, eww, this is often from cigarette smoke), in which case you might want to dump the water out of the tub and start again with fresh water and Oxi. 

Once you’ve soaked to your heart’s content, drain the water and gently squish out as much of the Oxi water as possible.  Again, take care not to manhandle your soggy spread.  Now you’re ready to give it a good wash.

**A special word about rust spots--similar to the rust on your car, these orange-y brown spots on fabrics can be ruinous to your old textiles and will burn right through the fibers.   Scrubbing at rust spots can easily lead to holes.  Proceed with extreme caution.

General Care

Chenille bedspreads are all cotton, and can be laundered pretty much the same way your other cotton items are. I generally use a detergent that specifies that it prevents colors from fading (I like Woolite Extra Dark Care for colors), just to give a bit of added protection.  Using warm water in the gentle cycle of your washing machine is a good idea, and preferably use a machine without an agitator at the center.

As I said, chenilles are very heavy when wet, so take care to handle gently when removing yours from the washing machine. Try to support the whole spread (really get your arms under the whole thing) instead of picking it up from one corner and tugging it out of the machine--you don't want to tear it!  Sadly, I know this from personal experience.  Once I tore a lovely handmade chenille by not paying attention and yanking on a corner to get it out of the washer.  Very sad.
Though I seldom use it otherwise, chenilles really benefit from using a liquid fabric softener (like Downy) in the wash. Dryer sheets don't seem to work as well (and they have nasty chemicals in them). Super soft results.

Line drying is better for the planet, and the original care instructions on some chenilles specify 'hang evenly on a line to dry...just shake briskly once or twice while drying to fluff the tufting.' The dryer, though, will give fast and fluffy results! 

Original Cabin Crafts paper tag with care instructions
But...over time, repeated trips through the washer and dryer will thin your spread, much the way it works on a pair of jeans. It's a little horrifying to see the amount of fluff in the lint trap after drying a chenille bedspread! I keep my chenilles and other bedspreads in rotation so I don't end up washing the same one over and over.

You can also put a dry chenille into the dryer for 10-15 minutes to freshen it up, without running it through the wash.
Cabin Crafts spread, this is the one with the original tag seen above
Most cotton textiles are best kept in a cool, dry, dark place.  Light is a foe to all textiles.

Don’t store your spread in a plastic bag or bin.  Textiles need to breathe.

Every time you store your vintage spread, fold it a different way.  If you fold it in half along the length, then half way along the width every time, that center point where the two folds meet can start to show wear.  Mix it up and fold it into thirds, or don’t fold it exactly in half so that the crease is in a different place every time. 

If I were craftier, I would make big storage bags out of unbleached muslin for each of my spreads--with a drawstring and a tag to identify it.  This will keep the light and dust off of them.  But I am not so crafty, so on the shelf the linen closet will suffice! 

Hope this is useful!  If you have any other questions about chenilles, feel free to be in touch with me.   Enjoy.

You can see more chenilles in my post on all-white summer spreads here.
Brown chenille bedspread with loopy circles

© All text and images are copyright of Jeni Sandberg


  1. Thank you for sharing this information with me. It came in handy with a couple of my spreads. Tammy

  2. Oh man are those some awesome chenille bedspreads!!! Especially the last one!

  3. Thank you for sharing your chenille tips! I found a really pretty vintage pink spread the other day.

    : )

    Julie M.

  4. Wow, these collections are beautiful!

  5. These are sooooo soft! Such memories of childhood.

  6. Can you bleach white ones? or is that a huge no-no?

    1. Hi Sam--

      As tempting as it is, I NEVER use bleach on old fabric. OxiClean works really well for soaking. Soak, soak, soak. Just let the spread sit in water and the fibers will open up to release the stains. Because you don't have to worry about colors running or fading, you can let white spreads sit for days with no concerns. If the spread is really yellowed or dirty, switch out the water every so often.

      For really tough spots, I will sometimes squeeze a little fresh lemon juice on to the spot, then some salt. Gently rub the salt with the lemon in a circular motion. This is an age old remedy!

      Also--though it is ultimately damaging as well, sunlight is another time-tested means of getting whites really white. Old linens would often be spread out on the grass in the sunshine to dry, which bleached the fabric a bit. Just as the UV rays damage your skin, the light will hurt the fabric, but this method does have its proponents.

      Hope this helps!

  7. Thank you for this great info. I was just given a king size chenille bedspread (for free!) as it's owner had stored it in a plastic bin in her attic and when she took it out, it had brown spots on it. She figured I might want to cut it up and use it for crafting. (I will, if the spots won't come out.) I'm going to try the soaking with Oxi first though. :) Thanks again!

  8. hello! I inherited a beautiful large chenille peacock bedspread from my mother in law. sadly, even though it was stored in a plastic bag for a few years in a closet, moisture got in and caused mold spots. my younger (and much dumber) self MACHINE WASHED it and cause several rips and tears. one very large. I am just sick to my stomach about telling my mother in law ( she will kill me!) so now I have been on the hunt high and low for fabric shops that will repair it, or looking for one on EBAY or ETSY that looks identical. But no luck:( if you know of ANYONE in the Dallas area or just anyone who repairs these beautiful blankets please let me know

    scared chenille-less

    1. So sorry to hear of this! I definitely recommend an old pillow case or other cotton bag (muslin works well) over plastic for storing old spreads. I know it doesn't help, but it could just be that the spread had reached the end of its lifespan--sometimes they have been washed so many times over the decades that the fabric has thinned to the point that it can't hold up under even the slightest pressure. Repairing them can be tough, but I would think a good seamstress could help.

      And keep looking for a replacement. It can take a long time, but with patience, you will see the different peacock variations come on the market.

  9. i read through several times. a short sentence like "wash in machine on gentle in warm water and dry on _____ temperature" would have been nice. i still am not sure what temp to dry it on. no, i did not read through all the comments. your bedspread collection is amazing. thanks.

  10. thanks for the beautiful pics. I love chenille!!

  11. Hello! I have another question about care. I've bought a lot of pieces of chenille on Etsy and I'm making a scrap quilt. Before I affix the top to the back of the blanket (which is just a gigantic fleece blanket that I'll cut to size) is there anything you can recommend that I do to the back of the pieces to prevent future problems, such as the tufting coming undone? The back is small stitches & of course that is what becomes the tufts on the front. I'm worried about the stitches coming undone in the far distant future. I obviously wouldn't be able to get to the back of them for smaller repairs once I have the back of the quilt on. O thought about large sheets of Stitch Witch, but wouldn't that make them very stiff?

  12. Replies
    1. Hi--Chenille bedspreads won't stop shedding, the same way your favorite pair of jeans will keep getting thinner and softer the more you wash and wear them. The tufts should not pull out too much, but with age and wear it can definitely happen more. This is why proper care is important! Use and enjoy your chenille, but wash gently and rotate often.

  13. Hi there! and thank you for all of the great info. I'm wondering(and crossing my fingers)do you know if there's any way to repair/replace spots of missing chenille on a spread? I'm considering one that has minimal loss-(of white dotted lines on a bright blue background), and unfortunately in a very conspicuous location. Thanks again!

    1. Hi Cindy-- That's a tough one! I am sure there is some clever person out there for whom this would not be so difficult. would need to find a matching cotton yarn of the right size, then stitch it in along the pattern, and cut and trim it to the appropriate length.

      It's not hard in theory, but I would guess that you might run into problems getting the new yarn to stay in place because the ground cloth of your spread will have been pre-shrunk in the manufacturing? When the spreads were originally made, a critical part of the process was stitching into cotton that had *not* been shrunk, because washing the spread in hot water clamped the stitched yarn in place. I hope that makes sense?

      Sorry I can't help much. If you find a good solution, please do let me know!

    2. Thank you for your response! and yes-your explanation does make sense-even though I'm not at all familiar with the manufacturing process. I surely will let you know if I stumble upon a solution or any useful info!

  14. Thank you for this great blog. I have just purchased my first chenille bedspread from a reputable manufacturer with good reviews. Now, I'm nervous about taking my daily nap on my bed! Should I be concerned about lying on that bedspread? It states that it's washable, and I'm a very neat person, but I 'm concerned I should be laying a sheet or something on top of it - or simply tossing it aside for my daily afternoon snooze. The spread is brand new. I'd appreciate your comments.