How To Clean Curtains At Home

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You can clean most curtains at home to remove dust, pet hair, mold, and allergens.

how to clean curtains - a woman wearing rubber gloves uses a cloth to wash a stain on a curtain

Curtains or drapes gather dust, pet hair, and dander — even mold spores. Over time, these can make your window treatments look dingy. Plus, dust and other debris swirls around in your home’s air whenever you open or close dirty curtains. Eventually, it lands on your furniture and floors, making your home look and smell dirty. If you suffer from indoor allergies, washing your curtains will help ease symptoms. (So will these other steps to reduce dust in your home.)

How To Clean Curtains at Home

The best way to clean your curtains depends on the material they’re made from, so take a moment to check. Start with seasonal cleaning, then follow the maintenance routine. If you’re unsure what type of curtains you have, stick to the maintenance cleaning instructions so you don’t damage your window coverings.

Garment Fabric Curtains

  1. Remove all hardware.
  2. Shake outdoors if possible.
  3. Wash two panels at a time using your washing machine’s delicate cycle and cold water, or wash by hand in a sink with mild liquid dish detergent.
  4. Dry on a low-heat setting or line-dry them outdoors.
  5. Immediately remove from the dryer to prevent wrinkles and rehang.

Sheer Fabric or Lace Curtains

The lightweight fabric of sheer curtains makes them prone to wrinkling and snagging when wet. For that reason, it’s best to hand wash them in a sink filled with cold water and one teaspoon of liquid dish detergent.

  1. Shake outdoors to dislodge dust and pet hair.
  2. Wash one panel at a time by submerging it in the soapy water for 10 minutes, then swirling to loosen debris.
  3. Drain, refill the sink with cold water, and swirl the panel again to remove soap residue.

TIP: To restore a crisp feel to sheer or lace curtains, dissolve 1 cup of Epsom salt in a sink full of cold water. Submerge freshly-washed curtains for 10 minutes. Drain, gently press out any water but do not rinse. Let the curtains drip dry from your shower rod or laundry line and hang them.

Acrylic Bead or Shell Curtains

Bead or shell curtains get tangled easily, so you’ll need to wash them in place. Here’s the easiest way to clean them:

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  1. Hang a bedsheet behind them and fasten it to the curtain rod with clothespins.
  2. Cover the floor below your curtains with a towel.
  3. Fill a spray bottle with 2 cups of warm water and 2-3 drops of liquid dish detergent and liberally spray the curtain top to bottom.
  4. Wipe them clean with a damp white cotton washcloth, lightly rubbing heavily soiled areas as needed. Move the bedsheet to the other side and repeat.
  5. Take the bedsheet down and let your bead curtains air dry.

Velvet Curtains

Some velvet curtains are machine washable, while others require dry cleaning. Check the manufacturer’s care label to find out which yours are.

  1. Lined velvet curtains should be treated as Dry Clean Only. (See next section.)
  2. Test unlined velvet curtains for colorfastness by dabbing a hidden area with a damp white washcloth. If the dye transfers to the cloth, treat them like dry-clean curtains. If the fabric is colorfast, wash them one panel at a time on the delicate cycle using cold water and half the usual amount of detergent.
  3. Be gentle with damp velvet curtains so you don’t crush the fabric. Never put them in the dryer or hang them on a line. Instead, lay them flat on a cotton sheet to dry.

Dry-Clean Only or Polyester Curtains

The care instructions for formal or lined curtains may indicate they must be Dry Cleaned Only. Polyester curtains usually say this, too. If they’re expensive or you’re concerned about ruining them, by all means, take them to a trusted dry cleaner. You should always take silk curtains or drapery to the dry-cleaner, too, since it is not washable.

If you simply want to refresh dry clean-only curtains, try a dry clean at-home kit. (Here’s the one I buy.) You can also try washing them, but know that washing may ruin them, so there’s definitely a risk.

  1. Wash one panel at a time in the machine on the gentle cycle using cold water.
  2. Remove each curtain panel from the machine immediately to keep the lining from wrinkling and lay them flat to dry.
  3. Do NOT dry them in the dryer, or the liner will most likely shrink.

Maintenance to Keep Your Curtains Fresh

Keep your curtains in good shape between washings with the following steps.

Weekly: Before cleaning a room, give the curtains a good shake to dislodge dust. Wait 10 minutes for the dust to settle before dusting furniture and vacuuming the floor. Inspect your curtains and clean any stains you see with a damp sponge and mild laundry detergent.

Monthly: Use the soft brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner to go over clean drapes and curtains from top to bottom. Pay special attention to the top of any pleats where dust collects. Cover the end with a nylon sock or piece of cheesecloth if your curtain fabric is very delicate. Don’t use the upholstery attachment since its teeth may snag the fabric and destroy your curtains.

Monthly alternative: If vacuuming isn’t an option, you can also remove dust from curtains by running them through the dryer on a “no heat” (or fluff) setting for 5 minutes. Remove promptly and rehang to prevent wrinkles. For curtains that are too difficult or delicate to remove monthly, use a lint roller to remove dirt and pet hair.


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29 Comments

  1. Washing my first set of curtains as I type. I had never thought of doing it before.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I bet by now you’ve discovered they were quite dusty! 🙂

  2. I have washable curtains with grommets. How should I wash them to prevent damage to the curtains and my front-load washer? I have a dryer with steam. Would that work?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I think the steam might cause them to shrink. My curtains with grommets have done just fine in my top-loader on a delicate cycle, but I have no idea how they’d do in a front-loader. If there’s not a delicate cycle so you can do a cold/cold wash and rinse, I’d do them in the tub.

  3. I’m renting a new place that had beautiful curtains hanging when I arrived. It didn’t take long to realize that they were not new and not clean. I’ve been dying to wash them, but they looked too high end to wash in the machine. PLUS it is a front loader that I did not have in my previous home and have never used a front loader (which I quickly discovered, I’m not too fond of). I googled how to wash curtains since I’d always thrown mine in the wash in the spring or dry cleaned my sheers that were in the living room. Needless to say, I’m going to end up dry cleaning these. I can’t chance ruining them. Either that or I’ll bag them and put away and buy some that I know I can wash and resume using my sheer panels that I know I can dry clean easily since I brought them from my house. Dust has a smell and I smell dust. Can’t wait to have clean window treatments!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Dry-cleaning is a smart choice if you can’t risk ruining them. If it’s just dust, you could also try tumbling them in a dryer with NO heat.

  4. Anthony sheridan says:

    How should you store dry clean curtains

    1. Katie Berry says:

      When not in use, I’d suggest carefully draping them over a padded clothes hanger.

  5. Áine Caiden says:

    I have some linen type interlined curtains that need to be cleaned . Can they be dry cleaned?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Yes, lined curtains should be taken to the dry cleaner.

  6. Hi,
    I have large, floor to ceiling, expensive, dry clean only, thermal lined curtains. Unfortunately the dry cleaners won’t touch them because of the thermal lining, which we didn’t know when we had them made up that way.

    What are my options on cleaning them? They are cream and show the dirt, but still lovely curtains.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m surprised the dry cleaners won’t do them, to be honest. After all, the label probably advises having them dry-cleaned. Not knowing what kind of fabric they are, I don’t even know what to suggest. Sorry!

    2. I have worked as a commercial cleaner for 35 years. I would take them down and use a clean rag with mild dishwasher detergent solution, and wipe them down after shaking and beating the dust out of them.Dirt settles in the surface layers and most will be removed that way.

  7. Great article!

    My question is: Can i spot clean formal, polyester, dry clean only curtains? My toddler threw some food now there’s a stain from mayonnaise, about the size of a quarter. It feels excessive to dry clean two huge panels for one spot. However….

    What do you think?

    Thank you!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Louise,
      You should be able to spot clean them. Try to absorb as much of the oil from the fabric as possible. One way would be sprinkling the area with cornstarch or baking soda and gently pressing it in. Let that sit for an hour or so (you may need to prop the drape on a horizontal surface, so the powder stays in place). Vacuum the powder away using your machine’s dust attachment — brushing alone won’t get all of it out. If any stain remains, use a mild liquid dish soap, warm water, and a white rag (which won’t transfer dye to your drapes) to get it out. But spot test a non-visible part of the fabric first, to make sure it’s colorfast.

      Another option is using an at-home dry cleaning kit. Dryel makes one. You can find them at Walmart, Target, and similar stores.

      Good luck!

  8. Thank you, Katie.That is really helpful and i will follow your advice. (And boy, you are fast! Thanks again)

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You’re so welcome!

    2. I have brown condensation stains on the linings of dry clean only curtains How can I remove these stains myself?

    3. Katie Berry says:

      For dry-clean only curtains, you need to take them to a drycleaner.

  9. Jackie Sharpe says:

    HI, I have very large thermal lined curtains. I have to clean them as my son has developed a cat allergy and we have 3. `the cats are now excluded from most of the house. I made the curtains, have tested that they withstand a 60oC wash (I risked a small pair in same fabric and they are fine). I cant fit the big ones in my washing machine, any suggestions? I know I need to wash at about 60oC to degrade any allergen proteins in the curtains). HELP please! Is there any alternative to the bath?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Jackie,
      If you don’t want to use the bathtub, maybe a trip to the laundromat would be worth it? They have extra large washers, so your curtains should fit in without a problem.

  10. Linda Spurr says:

    Can eyelet curtains with plastic tabs be dry-cleaned, please?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It seems like a dry-cleaner would best know the answer to that.

  11. Linda Miller says:

    Hi Katie. Ive been given 4 floor to ceiling formal curtains. They are made from wool as is the middle lining with a cotton lining on the back. Now Ive had a good look at them, they are also very grimy and smelly and covered in dog hair!. The label says dry clean but I dont think that will work on these..do you have any suggestions please?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Linda. With wool curtains of that length, I’m reluctant to recommend laundering at home. Wool loses its shape easily when wet, which is probably why the label recommends dry-cleaning. If they were mine, I’d take them to a dry cleaner and ask their advice. If I didn’t particularly care whether they lasted or not, though, I’d probably try one of those DIY dry-cleaning kits. Dryel is one brand. I’ve used it and the one made by Woolite on wool clothing with luck by following the exact directions on the package.

  12. Hi Katie! I have a lot of curtains with the metal rings made into the curtains. How do I clean them?
    Thank You

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Sabrina! Those are known as grommet curtains. If the care label doesn’t specify dry-cleaning, then you can wash grommet curtains in the machine with cold water and a mild detergent on the delicate cycle. Or wash them by hand in a tub if you prefer. As far as drying, follow the directions on the care label. Most allow tumble drying on low, but you should only dry one or two panels at a time. If the care label is missing, stick with line-drying or even hang them back up, put towels on the floor beneath them, and let them dry in place.

  13. I have custom drapes that I believe are silk. It looks like they are all mounted on some kind of frame at the to. 2 panels on either side with 3 waterfall layers at the top. My dog used the bottom of one panel as his firehydrant. Water and vinegar seem to be working on the stain, but now there is a waterline visible on the panel. Any way to eliminate that?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Unfortunately, there are no solutions that I can think of. Most silk requires dry-cleaning, especially the kind used for custom drapes. But! A good dry-cleaner may be able to help you. I’d suggest taking the offending drape in person, so they can see the actual material and stain.