How Far Do You Take Pre-Washing?

washing machine

Pre-washing fabric allows for shrinkage before you slave over a hand stitched outfit. The best lessons are learnt the hard way and after some ruined makes, I’ve trained myself to pre-wash fabric the moment it enters the house. I try to wash fabric on a 40 degree cycle to cover myself for the occasions I forget to be eco-friendly. (Sometimes 30 degrees just doesn’t cut it.) Any nasty surprises I want before I start sewing.


But how far do you take pre-washing? Do you pre-wash interfacing, bias tape, piping, lace trim, shoulder pads, zips?! I don’t. Never have. I sometimes wonder if I’m setting myself up for a nasty surprise, but then how careful is too careful? I guess I’ll find out, the first time I launder my current make with its pink satin piping. Just remind me not to toss it into a 60 degree wash…

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56 Responses to How Far Do You Take Pre-Washing?

  1. Alison says:

    Heck, now you’ve got me worried! I’ve never even thought about pre-washing anything other than the fabric. So far it’s not been a problem though so I guess I’ll carry on as before.

  2. debs2748 says:

    I prewash cotton trimmings like piping cord too.

  3. JaneyB says:

    Crikey, I’ve never really thought about pre-washing trimmings etc! I always pre-wash fabric straightaway so it’s ready when I want it. I’ve also learned my lesson the hard way! I can’t see me ever pre-washing a zip though!

  4. boomstitch says:

    I prewash all fabric after learning the hard way. I made my husband a t-shirt. He loved that t-shirt. Then it got washed and turned into a crop top. Never though about all the other stuff though… never had a problem with them so far, touch wood.

  5. Gilly says:

    As well as washing the fashion fabric and lining, I also pre-wash woven interlining and interfacing fabrics such as silk organza, calico and for my current coat tailoring project, the canvas that supports the front sections, back stay and collar. After sweating for over this (three months and counting!), I don’t want any disasters when wearing it in the rain.

  6. Debbie Iles says:

    I prewash anything I’m going to machine wash after (often dryer it too, because it wouldn’t be the first time something snuck into the dryer in my house…). I’d much rather the fabric changes before I sew it than after – I’ll do a swatch first if I’m worried. I’ve learnt the hard way too. I don’t prewash bias tape (purchased) but my me-made bias tape is all prewashed because I prewash all my fabrics ;-), including most silks and wool. If something is destined for tailoring, with shoulder pads and interfacings, I wouldn’t prewash anything because it would all be dryclean only anyway. The interfacings I purchase are all pre-shrunk, but I do pre-shrink twill tape if I use that.

  7. I prewash most fabrics, except ones for costumes that won’t be washed in the machine. I just had my first experience pre-treating wool in the dryer with a wet bath towel… I will see how this holds up.

  8. I religiously pre-wash all my fabrics and sometimes my trimmings (when I remember). Mind you, I never wash anything above 30 degrees and with that rule I’ve never seen anything shrink. I don’t tend to buy much wool fabric either. Those woollen jumpers I have just get slung in the washing machine too. I guess I’m really lazy, if I can’t put it in the washing machine, I don’t buy it. Actually all my old RTW stuff went in the washing machine at 30 degrees regardless of the care label too.

  9. Melissa says:

    I’ve never prewashed the trimmings or tapes or anything like that, but now I’m wondering about that! I do prewash all fabrics except for pre-cut strips or squares for quiltd, because I think those would turn into a mess in the machine and fray and be ruined.

  10. norma says:

    I don’t always prewash: I forget sometimes. I always have a bit of a dilemma with wool and silk – do I wash or not? I know I’m unlikely to take anything to the dry cleaners so I know I ought to….

    • Robin says:

      Me too! I don’t generally pre wash these fabrics because I wear my clothes so lightly, so when necessary I will just spot clean, hand wash, cold water wash, or home dry clean. I have read that people clean and wash clothing way more harshly than is necessary, and especially mistreat wool and silk, so I error on the conservative side of cleaning these two. I do wash and dry the heck out of cotton, poly and linen, and treat rayon somewhere in between, though, for the convenience.

  11. Sewniptuck says:

    Shrunken cotton piping cord is a bi downer, so I’d steam the heck out of that. But as for zippers and things – nah. BTW I’m coveting that lovely pick stitch bias in your pic 😉

  12. jstarr4250 says:

    I go so far as to pre wash and dry stretch denim a minimum of two times prior to cutting. I’d lost a few pairs of jeans due to shrinkage before I began doing this. Once is not enough!

  13. Candie says:

    I usually wash cotton jersey two times because it seems to shrink and change its shape but otherwise don’t prewash any other fabric.

  14. redsilvia says:

    I certainly wash the fabrics before sewing, usually lining and never interfacing. Hmm. Denim gets washed and dried about 3 times before use (though I usually age it some in the stash and wash it again before use…)

    I just started washing wool fabric – yes it’s fine so far. I’m finishing a wool twill skirt with fabric that got washed and hung dry and the world didn’t end.

  15. Jen (NY) says:

    I think that most zippers and many trimmings are polyester, and so they won’t shrink. Even when I’ve used rayon petersham, I’ve never had a problem with shrinkage. I assume that they have been processed so much already that they are stable.

    • Jen (NY) says:

      However…on occasion I have found pre-washing to be counter productive. For example, I pre-washed (and pre-shrunk) some woven cotton lycra for a pair of shorts. Sewed them up to fit closely, but when worn they almost immediately stretch out to the original fabric size. It’s not a good look. So I now try to do some testing before pre-washing whenever lycra/elastane is involved.

  16. rosemary says:

    I agree with washing the fabric the moment it enters the house. Cause otherwise i wonder if I have or havent washed, And when i want to sew with a specific fabric I need to know its ready to go – not waste time washing and drying! But I dont both with washing anything else. I’ve sometimes wondered about bias binding – but now normally just make by own anyway out of scraps (prewashed of course)

  17. Amelia Wray says:

    I never even thought about washing notions and things! I’m bad and have got out of the habit of pre-washing my fabric.

  18. Nina says:

    Golly, I’m a total slacker when it comes to pre-washing – stretch or cheap fabrics get the pre-wash treatment but never, ever trimmings. It hadn’t even occurred to me… But reading everyone else’s comments I feel now like I’m just asking for trouble! New year’s resolution starting today: pre-wash all fabrics!

  19. I always pre wash my fabric, like you it’s usually as soon as it enters the house (I know I’d forget otherwise). I’ve never thought about pre washing bias tape, piping etc. but then I tend to chuck colour catchers in each wash anyway so, so far, I’ve had no disasters!

  20. Sheree says:

    I only pre-wash the fabric, nothing else. Up until 5 years ago, I didn’t even do that. It was only through reading blogs that I realised it was something that ” should” be done. Was lucky to get away with it for so many years. Not one disaster.

  21. Siobhan says:

    I pre wash most fabrics, mainly because I want to ensure that they will stand up to a wash and clothesline. Wouldn’t recommend pre washing fusible interfacing – the glue crystals start to shed! You wouldn’t believe the mess they make.

  22. Lovely red fabric!

    I have a friend, a very experienced dress maker, who used to make clothes professionally. She is horrified by the idea of pre-washing as it takes away the newness of fabric.

    Personally I do pre-wash fabrics, but never notions and never woollens. I even pre-washed some silk velvet the other day, and put it through the dryer. It came out with a lustre and bounce I hardly dared imagine when I saw it for sale in Goldhawk Road

  23. I am rubbish and far too impatient generally to prewash! Naughty I know. That said, about to attempt jeans, so will make an extra effort to prewash my denim…

  24. I do pre-wash or steam shrink almost everything these days after a runway disaster with a lemon silk corset that was a bit bubbled when I steam shaped it. It looked like seersucker. Moral of the story – steam stuff and buy good quality interfacing. I don’t do zips but as I mostly make my own bias and piping they fabric for those will have been pre-washed and then been steamed the hell out of when ironing in the folds and then shaping it to match the edge it gets sewn to. Xx

  25. Toni says:

    I prewash any fabric with any natural-fiber content. Wash cold, tumble dry low. Wools? I take those to the cleaner for steam pressing.

  26. brawhem says:

    I always pre-wash fabric (I mostly use old curtains, bedsheets etc, but as they come from the charity shop they definitely need a wash too!).
    Pe-washing bias binding has come to mind, but I’ve never actually done it, and so far, so good. But I will think of this post and kick myself if it ever goes wrong!

  27. Cherie says:

    I, too, prewash most of my fabrics and findings; a surprise with a lace edging on a knit that shrank in the wash (the edging), and another with bias binding that shrank – I now preshrink those findings. I heat a pot of water and let it cool down a bit, then toss the findings in. I think the washer would be too much “trauma” for those little pieces. Even polyester pieces “relax” off the loom and finishes and can shrink a bit.

  28. Martina says:

    I pre wash everything I plan to wash, but not any trimmings. I get interfacing that specifically says that you don’t have to pre wash it, and I never buy bias binding or piping (if I did, I ‘d wash those with whatever they were going to be sewn onto. I dry clean tailored things, and throw the rest in the washer on delicate and dry flat (even cashmere). So fa, so good!

  29. Leslie says:

    I always pre wash fabric, BUT when I was about 16 I made my then 11-year old sister a really nice flanelette nightgown for Christmas. All was well until it was washed–she woke up the next day with her hands swollen up like baseball gloves (think Captain Kirk in the Star Trek reboot). The elastic had shrunk! Poor thing! Still, do I preshrunk elastic? Only if I’m sewing for little ones….

  30. Laura says:

    New fabric goes straight from the shopping bag to the washing machine! I had never thought of washing notions though. I think that as well as shrinkage there is also the starches that are on many new fabrics which can completely change the hand of the material (and also gunk up your sewing machine and iron). I’d not heard of double-washing denim though, I will definitely keep that in mind.

  31. interesting comments! I am kind of a haphazard pre-washer. Cottons yes, particularly denim but most everything else not. And trimmings, never. I send most things to the dry cleaner if they are seriously handmade (like coats or fancy dresses) . Silk blouses I hand wash in cold water and gentle soap – and have not had a problem with not pre washing. Also I use interfacing that does not shrink – or so they say. I do preshrink wools by tossing in the dryer to steam or using the steam iron. But as I say – very haphazard!

  32. i prewash anything that will run or that might shrink: fabric, trims, lining. don’t bother with non-woven interfacing, but i will prewash woven. i NEVER machine dry thing i make except for knit fabric kids clothes.those always have enough stretch and get outgrown fast anyway.

  33. Mary says:

    I live in Thailand, and fabric here is often over dyed. As in, they never properly rinsed out the excess dye. Also, they definitely do not pre-shrink it either. I boil fabrics, and dump the water till it stops bleeding colour. It helps to put some salt in the water to ‘set’ the colour.
    One denim I’d bought required at least four rounds of boiling before it quit bleeding. That may be my record.

    • Emily Handler says:

      Yes, I’m surprised no one else mentioned colors bleeding! I live in Hungary and have the same problem with fabrics bleeding, even quality ones. So now I always prewash new fabrics in the hottest possible water, as many times as it takes.

      Last time I prewashed some light gray fabric, the water turned dark browny red. I’m still puzzling over that one, but I’m sure happy I didn’t throw it in with a load of lights!

      • Mary says:

        My strangest pre-washing experience involved some orange corduroy. It bled a grey-ish burnt orange colour.

  34. Agreeing with pretty much everyone above: wash the big stuff, steam the small stuff.

  35. Prewash any petersham or grosgrain ribbon – I learnt the hard way after sewing 3 perfect rows of ribbon on a pleated skirt that then shrunk horribly in the first wash 🙁

  36. Jane Last says:

    What amazes me is that everyone these days feels it is the customer’s responsibility to prewash fabric. If you buy fabric and it shrinks when you wash it then it isn’t fit for purpose and you should be able to complain. Why do they not finish the fabrics properly in the manufacturing process? I have even read of named brands of stretch fabric shrinking after being washed 3 times but there was no suggestion that this was a fault. If everyone stuck together and complained then perhaps something could be done.

  37. LinB says:

    Brand-new notions from a first-world company: I see no need to bother. Since the 1970s, all that stuff has been mercerized and stabilized to the nth degree.

    Vintage notions: Use at your own risk. Dyes run. Metals corrode. Thread rots. Silk rots. Cotton shrinks. Rayon shrinks. Might still be usable, just be sure to test it all first.

  38. Laura says:

    I always pre-was fabric, but never thought about trimmings… until I cut a pair of jeans down to shorts and trimmed the edge with some printed ribbon that was a give away with a sewing mag. The trim shrunk after the first wash – so much that it cut off the circulation to my thighs when I sat down! I had to unpick it all and thankfully had enough left over (which I then pre-washed) to re-do the job.

  39. Well, commercially made piping often has a nylon or poly cord in it, however the piping cord we buy to make our own is often cotton so it does pa to prewash it. A 5 minute soak in hot water and left to dry on the heated towel rack is not too much work! Bias may shrink but as it is bias, it would be fairly easy to steam it back into its original shape. Also, take care of colour bleed! But soaking it in hot water and drip drying it won’t upset it too much in terms of fraying etc.
    I do prewash anything going into garments that is not poly – so zips which almost always have poly taping, not a problem.

  40. GayleMI says:

    I worked about 3 weeks on a dress made from ponte knit, black and white. It was inspired by a $900 designer dress. I did not prewash the fabric and the first time I washed it, the black faded and the white turned an ugly gray. I didn’t know double knit would fade when washed as I had never experienced that with RTW double knit. From now on, I am going to prewash or dry clean!

    • Mary Lynn says:

      I was going to ask about Ponte. I’ve seen both prewash, steam like wool or do nothing. I haven’t made anything yet, but think I’ll wash it. What do people do about rayon? That also seems to be a mixed bag about pretreating.

  41. gelasticjew says:

    I pretreat even nonwoven iron-on interfacing by dipping it into warm water, gently squeezing out most of the water, and drying flat…and I never have the dreaded bubble effect, nor had the interfacing separate from the fabric after a wash, since doing this.

  42. Stina P says:

    Depends on the fabrics and notions! I steam my wool, whether it’s the main fabric or an interfacing, I put my silk (both main fabric and organza for interfacing) in a bowl of water slightly warmer than what I intend to wash it in (silk has little if any shrinkage, so no need to put them in the washing machine – if they shrink, they do it immediately.) Cotton gets a ride in the washing machine. Linings in a bowl. Notions – sometimes. Especially if they are in cotton and/or vintage.

    I go with the advice that pre-treating should be slightly harsher than how you plan to treat the finished garment – that way you should be on the safe side.

  43. Liz says:

    I wash every fabric the moment it arrives in my home. I also pre-wash the elastics for Lingerie (mainly to get rid of any possible odours) and cotton tapes or trims if they are in a different colour and might ruin my finished piece. I do this since I read a blog entry about a red rick-rack (is that the English word?) tape that bled into a finished piece. Luckily, most of my stuff is grey or black so I don’t have to fuss about it too much.

  44. I try and wash my fabric when I buy it because when the moment strikes me to sew I don’t want to be a wash and a dry away from doing it. Never done other stuff though. Jo x

  45. I prewash my fabric when it arrives in the house, as you say, so I know it’s been done! Plus it’s there and ready for using. It never even occurred to me to wash the trimmings aswell – eek!

  46. Taja says:

    We do learn from experience, don’t we?

    The fabric for any garment that will be washed or exposed to a significant amount of water is laundered or pre-treated prior to cutting and sewing. Since I plan my sewing projects several months in advance, I’ll usually launder the fabric within a week or two of purchasing/receiving it. I rarely pre-treat sewing notions, although I used to preshrink interfacing. I’ve found a good source online (US) that does not require preshrinking or treating. Yay!

    I believe most zipper tapes are polyester or a blend these days, but did not preshrink them even when they were made of cotton. I do pre-treat bias tape (usually made from preshrunk fabric) and piping, if it will be laundered. Beyond that, I just try to ensure that any trims are suitable for the care I will provide for the garment (laundering, dry cleaning, etc.).

  47. dr P says:

    I never pre wash fabrics…. surely there’s no need to nowadays

  48. morag says:

    i’ve never pre-washed fabrics – probably because i’m scared that it’ll fray?? won’t it?

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