Cheap ways to clean drapes

Cleaning Drapes Inexpensively

by Dollar Stretcher Contributors

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Cleaning Drapes

We just bought a house that was up on a short sale. The living room has a big window that looks out on the yard. The window is covered by custom draperies. They're not faded, but look like they haven't been cleaned in years. Is there a way to clean them cheaply? We really don't have the money to buy new drapes right now.

Cleaning Drapes Is Not Difficult

If the drapery fabric is machine washable, then your task is easy. Either put them in your machine following the label directions or take them to a laundromat if you need an over-sized washer.

If the draperies appear to require dry cleaning, I suggest that you first take them outdoors and shake them out, or if possible, beat them gently as you would beat a rug. Then try using a home dry cleaning kit to refresh them. Take care to treat any spots first as the kit suggests. This is way cheaper than taking them to a dry cleaner.

If all else fails, then you must take the draperies to a professional dry cleaner, but this would still most likely be far less expensive than replacing them.

Hang When Wet

What type of fabric are the drapes made from? Are they light colored or dark? Are they large panels or small? Do you own a washing machine? The reason I ask is because my 81-year-old grandmother washes all the drapes in her house on a regular basis. They are all custom made, and most are light in color but some are dark. When I help her do this task (usually once a season), we take down the drapes and pop them in the washing machine on the gentlest setting. They are washed in cold water using a fine fabric wash, and my grandmother adds vinegar to the dark-colored ones to keep the color from bleeding. We take them out when the washer has spun out most of the water at the end of the cycle. They're actually still fairly wet. We then hang them back up in their place while wet, and just put some towels underneath to catch any water as they drip-dry. They don't even need ironing, and her curtains always look great!

Proceed with Caution

The first thing that I would do is reduce the suction on my vacuum and give them a good going-over right where they hang. If they aren't too big, I would put them in the dryer with no heat and give them a spin. Chances are that they are not washable. If you are really brave and don't mind risking it, you could take them to the laundromat and wash them on gentle, but I wouldn't. To me, that would be too risky, unless I was prepared to replace them if it ruined them.

Shake Away

If they can be taken off the wall, you can put them in a large trash bag with regular table salt and shake it vigorously.

Just Get Rid of the Dust

Most of the time, drapes just get dusty. Throw them in the dryer on very low heat with a couple of damp towels. Remove immediately at the end of the cycle and hang. They should be just fine.
JD in St. Louis

Fluff and Hang

If you have a dryer, try putting them in at the no heat setting (sometimes labeled "fluff") with a tennis ball for a half of an hour or so. This will beat the dust out and fluff up the fibers. Sadly, it won't work if there were smokers living there as the nicotine isn't so easy to remove.
Jen in PA

Cleaning Drapes in the Bathtub

I have had success cleaning drapes in the bathtub with a small amount of clear dish detergent or Woolite®. I lay them lengthwise in the tub and agitate gently. I press, but don't squeeze. Then I drain, press out, rinse, and repeat. After draining several hours, I then dry them flat on a blanket in a shady spot.

Reveal Spots

Take the curtains down and put in the dryer on air dry (not heated dry). This will help get rid of any dust that is in them and let you see past the dust to what is actually dirty or soiled. If too large to go in the dryer, use a vacuum to remove dust to let you see what needs to be spot cleaned.

Take the Washing Machine Plunge

We bought an older home with lined antique satin drapes. The tops were quite dirty. I received a price quote of $2 per pleat, which would have been around $40 if I had used the dry cleaner in our neighborhood. So, I took the washing machine plunge! I filled my washer with cold water and added a small amount of the liquid detergent. I added the drapes one section at a time, let them soak for three to four minutes, and then agitated them for two minutes on the gentle cycle. They sure came out clean. I put them in the dryer and tumbled with a fabric softener sheet for just five to seven minutes. Then I ironed them with a steam iron.

I did this with these drapes once a year for many years. Last year, they were sent to their reward when the cotton lining (not the drapes) had big problems. Think I easily saved $500 or more in dry cleaning, which more than paid for the new drapes (the new kind that can be easily washed)!

Reviewed January 2018

Take the Next Step:

  • If you do need to buy new drapes, these tips can help you find affordable drapes and curtains.
  • Do you keep your finances as clean as your home? If debt is cluttering your budget, the TDS ebook How to Conquer Your Debt No Matter How Much You Have can provide you with the tools you need to sweep debt away and finally clean up your finances.
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