Curtains are an important decorative element in any home. They frame windows beautifully while also providing privacy and insulation. When buying new curtains, a question that often comes up is whether you need to wash them before hanging them up. There are good arguments on both sides of this issue. Here is an in-depth look at the pros and cons so you can decide if pre-washing is right for your new curtains.
Reasons to Pre-Wash New Curtains
There are some solid reasons why pre-washing new curtains before hanging can be beneficial:
1. Remove manufacturing residues
New curtains may have residues left on them from the manufacturing process. This can include sizing, excess dye, starch or stain-resistant coatings. Washing curtains will remove these extra residues. This helps the curtains look their best, while also preventing any chemical residues from getting into your indoor air.
Fabrics often shrink the first time they are washed. Pre-washing eliminates any future shrinkage issues. This is especially important for cotton curtains or any other fabric prone to shrinkage. Washing before hanging ensures proper fit.
3. Soften fabric
New curtains can feel quite stiff right out of the packaging. Washing helps soften fabrics so they hang properly and have a nicer drape.
4. Remove odors
Some new curtains have a chemical-like “new” odor. Pre-washing helps remove any odors from manufacturing, storage or packaging. It gives you fresh, clean smelling curtains.
While rare, there could be bacteria or germs on new curtains from the production or transportation process. Washing them kills any lurking microbes. This gives you extra peace of mind that your curtains are totally clean and safe before hanging in your home.
What to Wash Curtains With
If you do opt to pre-wash new curtains before hanging them, be sure to:
- Check the manufacturer’s care label and follow any washing instructions provided.
- Use a gentle, fragrance-free detergent made for delicates. Avoid regular detergents as these can be too harsh.
- Wash curtains separately from other laundry to prevent tangling.
- Wash on a gentle cycle using cool or warm water, not hot.
- Line dry or tumble dry on low if curtains are machine dryable.
- Iron curtains on low heat if needed to remove any lingering wrinkles. Check the care label first.
Reasons to Hang Curtains Without Pre-Washing
While pre-washing makes sense in many cases, there are also reasons why you may want to hang your new curtains without washing them first:
1. Manufacturer instructions
Some curtain manufacturers specifically advise not to wash curtains prior to hanging. They often apply a protective finish or treatment that could be damaged by washing. Always check instructions.
2. Fabric damage risk
Delicate fabrics like silk, velvet or brocade could potentially be damaged by washing. The machines, detergents or drying methods used could cause harm. When in doubt, opt not to wash first.
If curtain fabric is prone to wrinkling, washing can exacerbate this issue. The tumbling and heat from drying can set in creases that are hard to then remove. For wrinkle-prone fabrics, skipping pre-washing prevents this problem.
4. Shrinking issues
While preshrinking helps prevent future shrinkage, some fabrics may shrink excessively when washed. This can distort curtains so they no longer fit windows properly after washing and drying. Not pre-washing avoids this shrinkage risk.
5. Curtains are clean
Curtains direct from the manufacturer or store are essentially clean already. There is no real hygiene benefit to washing them, as they won’t have had exposure to dirt, dust, bacteria, or grime yet.
Washing, drying, and re-ironing curtains takes time and effort. If the curtains don’t need it, it’s easier to simply hang them right away.
Weighing the Pros and Cons of Pre-Washing
As you can see, there are good arguments on both sides of this issue. So how do you decide what to do for your new curtains? Here are some tips on weighing the pros and cons:
- Fiber content – Natural fibers like cotton and linen often benefit more from washing, while delicate synthetics like polyester may do better hung right away.
- Fabric quality – Sheer, lightweight or gauzy curtains are at higher risk of damage from washing. Heavy-duty fabrics are lower risk.
- Manufacturer instructions – Care labels provide definitive guidance on what’s best for that specific curtain. Follow them.
- Odor – If curtains have a bothersome chemical smell, washing makes sense. If there’s no odor, washing provides little benefit.
- Use location – Curtains in bedrooms or living spaces have more direct human contact than kitchens or bathrooms. Washing those in frequented rooms has added value.
- Drying space – Without room to lay flat on drying racks, it may be better not to wash curtains. Hanging while still damp could stretch their shape.
- Timeline – Washing extends the timeline before curtains can be hung. If needed right away, you may want to forego pre-washing.
- Functional vs decorative – Insulating or light-blocking curtains in cold climates may not need washing like fancy, decorative curtains where appearance is paramount.
If still uncertain, you could always spot-clean a small area of the curtain to test the effects of washing. This helps identify any issues like excessive wrinkling, shrinkage or damage before fully washing the entire curtain panel. You can also start with a single panel or seasonally rotated curtain to evaluate the washing effects before doing your full curtain set.
How to Soften Stiff New Curtains Without Washing
If you opt not to wash brand new curtains before hanging them up, but find they are quite stiff and crisp, there are steps you can take to soften them up:
- Hang and allow airing – Simply hanging stiff new curtains and allowing them to hang for several days can help soften fibers through natural airflow.
- Steam – Using a fabric steamer, lightly go over curtains while hanging to release stiffness. Avoid over-steaming to prevent moisture damage.
- Warm dryer – For 10-20 minutes, place curtains alone in the dryer on air fluff mode to release stiffness. Avoid too much heat.
- Fabric softener – When curtains eventually need washing, use a fabric softener or white vinegar in the rinse cycle to maximize softness.
- Warm water rinse – Hand or machine rinse curtains in warm water, without detergent, then reshaped on hangers to dry before hanging up.
- Stretch – Gently stretch and manipulate the curtains when hanging them, pulling here and there, to manually loosen the fibers.
With a little time and some simple techniques, even very stiff new curtains can be softened up enough for proper hanging.
Should You Iron New Curtains?
Ironing is another step some people choose to take when preparing new curtains for hanging. The benefits of ironing include:
- Smooth wrinkles – Removes any creasing or folds from packaging.
- Pleat shaping – Helps set precise pleats and hems for a tailored look.
- Kill germs – The heat of ironing kills any bacteria on curtains.
- Stiffness – Heat helps relax fibers and makes stiff curtains more pliable.
However, ironing is not always advised. The risks include:
- Damage – Too much heat can scorch, melt or discolor certain fabrics.
- Wrinkles – For fabrics prone to wrinkling, ironing can set in deeper creases as they try to cool.
- Shine – Heat and pressure from ironing adds an artificial shine to some fabrics like linen or cotton.
- Stretching – Pulling curtains taut for ironing can lead to distortion in shape.
As with washing, reading the manufacturer’s care label is crucial before ironing. If in doubt, test iron in a small inconspicuous area first to observe the effects. Only iron if needed to achieve the specific look desired.
Whether or not to pre-wash new curtains is a matter of personal preference combined with the curtain’s fabric properties and care recommendations. For most everyday curtain materials and styles, either choice is fine. Washing provides added benefits like removing odors, softening, and shrinkage control. However, skipping washing avoids any risk of damage or excessive wrinkling.
If circumstances call for washing new curtains, be sure to use proper methods safe for the material. Gentle cycles, cool water, and delicate detergents avoid problems. Otherwise, simply hanging and naturally softening stiff new curtains works well too. Enjoy the styling versatility new curtains bring to your windows!