The Ultimate Guide to Pre-washing Fabric

Posted by Kokka Fabrics_staff on

Pre-washing fabric is exactly what it sounds like: washing the fabric before you cut into it and start sewing. You may think that you can skip this step, however not washing your fabric before cutting into the fabric can lead to a disaster! Read on to find out exactly why you need to pre-wash fabrics and how to pre-wash your fabrics. Enjoy!

Should I pre-wash my fabric?

pre-washing fabric

The simple answer to this question is yes, you should pre-wash your fabric before sewing in most cases. And why should you pre-wash your fabrics? There are two main reasons why you should not skip this step before cutting into your fabric:

  1. To pre-shrink the fabric before you wash the finished piece. 
  2. To wash out any excess dye or starch treatment.

Pre-shrinking Fabric

Have you ever washed a piece of clothing, only to pull it out of the washing machine twice as small as it was when you put it in? Well, that’s what could happen to your make when you wash it for the first time without pre-washing.

Fabrics shrink because they are woven or knitted under tension, and when submerged in water during washing this tension is released before the fibers retract and become smaller.

Natural fibers like cotton and linen are especially prone to shrinkage due to their moisture-retaining properties. Cotton fabrics can shrink to around 5% of the original size, but shrinkage of up to 10% is not uncommon for some fabrics.  

This is why we recommend pre-washing your fabric before sewing, so you can work with the true size of the fabric and prevent large amounts of shrinkage when you wash your final product.

Washing Out Excess Dye or Starch Treatments

We also recommend pre-washing fabrics to wash out any excess dyes left over from the manufacturing process. This is especially necessary for fabrics which are vibrantly colored (especially red fabrics). Red dyes are notorious for bleeding, so make sure to wash red fabric separately so the contents of your washing machine doesn’t turn pink! 

A lot of fabrics are also given starch treatments at the end of the manufacturing process, which gives the fabric a stiff and slightly coarse texture. Pre-washing the fabric will remove this starch and allow you to work with the true texture.

When isn't it necessary to pre-wash fabric

While fabrics made from synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon will not shrink, we recommend that you do a pre-wash anyway in order to get out any remaining chemicals from the fabric and to get rid of any excess dye that could bleed in a future wash.

If you don’t plan to wash your final product (like small pouches or bags), then you can skip pre-washing. 

As all of the fabrics that we carry at Kokka Fabrics are made from natural fibers, please carefully pre-wash all of our fabrics before you start sewing with them.

How to pre-wash your fabric

washing fabric in washing machine

The general rule of pre-washing fabric is to wash it the way you intend to in the future. So if you plan to wash your fabrics in a washing machine, then use the same method when pre-washing. When using a washing machine, make sure to put it on the gentlest cycle, ideally on the delicate setting. 

You don’t need to use detergent when pre-washing fabric, but if you choose to do so, then use around one quarter of the amount that you usually use to launder clothing. 

If you are washing your fabrics by hand, completely submerge the fabric in water and squeeze gently to remove air bubbles. Leave the fabric to soak for around 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the fabric.

How to pre-wash fabric without fraying

putting fabric in mesh bag before washing

Whether you choose to wash your fabrics in the washing machine or by hand, you’re probably wondering what’s the best way to prevent fraying during the washing process. The movement from a washing machine can cause the raw edge of the fabric to fray, causing unraveling. 

In order to prevent your precious fabrics from fraying while you pre-wash them, we recommend that you baste the raw edges of the fabric. 

If you have one at hand, you can put your fabric into a mesh laundry bag to further protect the fabric if you are putting it in a washing machine. 

Drying fabrics after pre-washing

drying fabric after pre-washing

When you have finished washing your fabric, gently squeeze the excess liquid out. Do not wring the fabric, as this can damage the fibers and cause wrinkles. Air dry the fabric until it’s half dry and press the fabric with an iron.

In general, we think it’s best to avoid dryers so as this will help extend the life of your fabrics.

Top tips for pre-washing fabric

ironing fabric after pre-washing

Here are some more tips we have about pre-washing fabric:

  • Wash by itself or with similar colors. You don’t want the excess dye to transfer onto your favorite piece of clothing!

  • Don’t overfill the washing machine with fabric and other clothing. It may be tempting to try and bulk wash of your fabric in one go, but an overstuffed washing machine can cause rippage to your fabrics.

  • If you want to speed up the drying process, put your fabric in a mesh laundry bag and set the washing machine to a gentle spin cycle. 

Now you’re ready to start pre-washing your fabric! While it may be tempting to skip this step, we believe that you’ll get the best results from your sewing if you take the time to pre-treat your fabrics. If you have any questions about this article, or just want to say hi, then go to our Contact Us page where we will be happy to help you. 

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