Have you noticed the dust that has collected on your curtains in recent months? First things first: Read the care instructions carefully to determine whether you can wash your curtains and draperies or whether you should have them dry-cleaned. In either case, put these curtain cleaning tips, from Consumer Reports' “How to Clean Practically Anything," to work.

Curtain Cleaning Do's and Don'ts

When to Dry Clean
Even if your window coverings are made of a washable fabric, the linings and seams could shrink in the wash. Play it safe and opt for dry cleaning if you are in doubt. Definitely dry-clean curtains and drapes with stitched-in pleats, swags, or other elaborate ornamentation that may not withstand a washing.

Special Fabrics
You can freshen up velvet draperies without washing or dry-cleaning them; just brush them from time to time with a chamois cloth dipped in hot water and wrung out thoroughly. If silk curtains call for hand-washing, do so in lukewarm or cool water and use mild liquid dish detergent. Swish gently and never twist or wring.

Sun Damage
Constant exposure to sunlight can render even sturdy fabrics fragile. So when machine-washing curtains and draperies, use the gentle cycle, cool or lukewarm water, and mild detergent. If possible, hang on a clothesline to dry, or put them in a clothes dryer on a no-heat or delicate setting.

Sheer Curtains
Wash sheer curtains on a regular basis even if they don’t look dirty, because by the time dirt appears they can be permanently discolored. Clean these fragile fabrics gently. Make sure they fill no more than half the machine, and let them soak for 5 minutes in cold water. Use a mild detergent, and if you wish, a whitening agent. Turn the dial to rinse to drain the water, then run the machine on a gentle wash setting for just 2 to 3 minutes.

Put the sheer curtains and a couple of terry-cloth towels in a dryer set to no heat for another 2 to 3 minutes. Rehang while still slightly damp, and pull into shape. If necessary, move an ironing board next to the window and iron the hems while the curtains or draperies are hanging. Or use a handheld steamer or the vertical steam setting of a regular steam iron to smooth them.

More on Cleaning

Routine Curtain Cleaning
After the deep cleaning, remember to dust curtains and drapes regularly with your vacuum cleaner’s soft-brush attachment or with a soft, long-handled broom with synthetic fibers (they’re much better than natural fibers at collecting dust).

If you use a vacuum cleaner, set it for reduced suction so you don’t draw the fabric into the nozzle. You might want to place a stiff piece of plastic screen between the nozzle and the fabric to prevent that from happening, or secure an old nylon stocking over the nozzle with a rubber band.

If you can take down curtains and drapes and rehang them with relative ease, occasionally air them outdoors on a clothesline or put them in a clothes dryer set to the no-heat or delicate cycle.

A woman on a ladder preparing to clean curtains.

Step-by-Step Curtain Care

  • Measure curtains before washing in case you need to stretch them back into shape. Be sure to remove hooks and any weights, and loosen the tapes so they lie flat.
  • Before doing the curtain cleaning, dust them by running them through a dryer set to the no-heat cycle. Or shake them out, lay them on a bed, and dust with the vacuum brush attachment.
  • Don’t overload the washing machine, and remember that curtains will become much heavier when wet.
  • If hand-washing, don’t rub or wring the fabric; just agitate it gently.
  • Try to dry curtains over two parallel lines so wet surfaces don’t touch. Don’t let the curtains rest on wood, which could stain them.
  • Iron while damp along the vertical length on the side that doesn’t show. If parts of the fabric have already dried, dampen the entire curtain again to avoid watermarks.
  • Stretch seams gently while ironing to avoid puckering, then spread the curtains out on a clean surface, such as a bed, and pull them to the correct size.
  • When curtains are dry, insert hooks and weights, and pull tape to correct width.
  • You might be able to save a step by hanging your curtains, then using either a handheld steamer or the vertical steaming of a regular steam iron to smooth them.
  • Before rehanging the curtains, clean valances fixed to the wall. Vacuum an upholstered valance with the upholstery attachment and a wooden valance with the crevice tool; clean a plastic valance with a sponge dipped in a solution of liquid detergent and water.
  • Rehanging is easiest when one person stands on a ladder to insert the hooks and another stands below to make sure the curtains don’t drag on the floor.