How to Wash Curtains and Drapes (Without Ruining Them)

Learn how to wash curtains and drapes in all fabrics. Find out when to machine wash, steam clean or hand wash, plus instructions for each method.

When you think about your regular house cleaning tasks, curtains probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. But just like any other item in your home, your curtains and drapes need maintenance and care. 

Figuring out how to wash your curtains can be tricky, though.

It’s important to understand the right cleaning methods to keep the fabric on your curtains and drapes in good shape for years to come. In this article, we show you how to wash curtains correctly, from steam cleaning and hand washing to machine laundering.


How to wash curtains the right way 

When it comes to washing curtains, it all depends on the type of material. Some curtain materials are machine-washable, while others need to be washed with more care.

In a minute, we’ll go over specific washing techniques for each method. But first, here’s an overview of how to treat each type of curtain material. 

When to machine wash your curtains

Curtains made of cotton, linen, and synthetic blends are often safe to wash in the machine on a gentle cycle with cold water. Don’t use bleach with your curtains, and always check the care label first.

When to steam clean 

Curtains made of delicate materials like silk, lace, and some synthetic blends can be steam cleaned at home using a garment steamer. This is a gentler way to wash the curtains without risking damage from water or agitation.

When to hand wash

If you choose not to steam clean your curtains, hand washing is another option. Delicate curtains like those made of silk can be hand washed using mild detergent and cold water.

When to dry clean

Curtains made of heavy fabrics like velvet or those with intricate embellishments should be professionally dry cleaned to avoid damage. When in doubt, dry cleaning is always an option for washing your curtains. 

How to wash curtains in the washing machine

In most cases, you can wash unlined cotton, nylon, and polyester drapes and curtains in the washing machine. You can also wash lace curtains in the washing machine if they are secured in a mesh bag. 

What you’ll need

  • Mild detergent
  • Water
  • Clothesline or drying rack

Steps to clean 

Follow these steps to wash curtains in the washing machine. 

Check the care label

Before washing your curtains, check the care label for the recommended washing instructions. Regardless of the fabric type, some curtains will be listed as machine washable, while others require steam or dry cleaning.

Remove hooks and rings

Remove any hooks or rings attached to the curtains to prevent them from getting damaged or snagging on other items in the machine.

Load the machine

Load your curtains into the washing machine, ensuring not to overload it. (As a general rule of thumb, load your washing machine no more than 3/4 full. This allows the curtains to circulate freely and the detergent and water to reach all parts of the fabric. 

Use cool or warm water and a gentle cycle.

Add detergent 

Add a mild detergent to the machine and, if desired, a fabric softener.

Was the curtains on a gentle cycle

Let the curtains go through a complete wash and rinse cycle. The exact cycle settings may vary depending on your machine and the type of curtains you have, so always check the care label for specific instructions.

Hang to dry

After washing, hang the curtains flat to dry. If the care label allows, you can put them in the dryer on a gentle cycle and low heat, but make sure to check the curtains frequently and remove them from the machine as soon as they are dry to prevent wrinkles.

How to wash curtains by hand

Unlined drapes and curtains made of nylon, polyester, cotton, silk, and lace should be hand-washed.

What you’ll need 

  • Bucket or basin
  • Mild detergent
  • Water
  • Clothesline or drying rack

Steps to clean

Check the label

Always check the care label for the recommended washing instructions before washing your curtains.

Fill a bucket or basin

Fill a large basin, bucket, or bathtub with lukewarm water and add gentle detergent. Avoid using hot water, as this can cause some curtains to shrink or fade.

Soak the curtains

Immerse the curtains in the water and let them soak for 10 to 20 minutes. This will help loosen any dirt or grime.

Gently agitate 

Gently agitate the water to help further loosen dirt or grime. Avoid rubbing the curtains, as this can damage the fabric. Instead, use a gentle, circular motion to move the curtains around in the water.


Drain the basin and refill it with fresh water. Rinse the curtains thoroughly to remove any soap residue. Avoid wringing the curtains, as this can cause damage to the fabric.

Air dry 

After rinsing, gently squeeze out any excess water and hang the curtains to air dry. Avoid drying the curtains in direct sunlight, as this can cause fading. If the curtains are particularly heavy, lay them flat on clean towels to air-dry.

How to steam clean curtains 

If the fabric of your curtains is fragile, like silk or lace, you should avoid machine or hand washing. Steam cleaning is a safe alternative. 

However, it's crucial that you avoid steam cleaning any water-resistant outdoor curtains, velvet curtains, or drapes. These fabrics need to be professionally cleaned or only spot cleaned.

Pro tip: If it’s machine-washable, it can also be steam cleaned. This means you can also use your steam cleaner at home to clean throw pillows or upholstered chairs.

What you’ll need

  • Hand-held steam cleaner
  • Water
  • Cleaning solution (optional)

Steps to clean 

Follow these steps to safely steam clean your curtains at home.

Prepare the steamer

Fill the steamer with water according to the manufacturer's instructions and turn it on to heat up. This may take several minutes, so be patient or get a snack while waiting.

Start steaming

Hold the steamer about 6 inches away from the curtains and start steaming, working from top to bottom. Hold the steamer steadily and move it slowly to avoid damaging the curtains. 

Repeat steaming each section until you have steamed the entire curtain, and be sure to steam both sides of the curtain for the best results.

Pro tip: Besides cleaning, steaming is also a great way to remove wrinkles and freshen the fabric.

Clean your curtains like a pro

Washing your curtains and drapes can be a simple and cost-effective way to keep them looking fresh and clean. By following the steps in this article and being mindful of the type of fabric, you can keep your curtains and drapes looking great for years to come. 

However, when in doubt about the fabric of the curtains, it's always best to opt for professional dry cleaning to avoid damaging them. They have the expertise and equipment to handle all types of fabrics and can make your curtains and drapes look like new again.  

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