How to Clean Curtains at Home in 5 Steps, Because Yours Are Dirtier Than You Think

Photo: Getty Images/JGI Tom Grill
Unless you're a full-blown, Monica Geller-level neat freak, there's a solid chance that you've never thought about how to clean curtains in your home until this very moment. To you, there's just something about their rigidity, their size, and the fact that you don't have to wear them that makes cleaning them feel like a low-priority task. And though you're likely not alone in your thought process and conclusion about this, this it turns out you'd be wise to reconsider your stance because curtains can actually accumulate a lot more grime than meets the eye.

"We don’t think much about the possibility of our curtains getting too dirty or wearing out," says Katie Brown, owner of Rytina Fine Cleaners in Sacramento, California. Yet there are all kinds of things that may be lurking in your curtains undetected. "[These] include dust, small spills, moisture [from] a wet mop or wet shoes, or—worse yet—your favorite pet eliminating on your curtain," says Brown.

Okay, noted, but even if you're officially grossed out right now, don't break out the bleach quite yet. Dry-cleaning is usually the best option when it comes to freshening up your drapes, so consider your specific curtains before turning to DIY measures. Brown points out that sunlight and the environmental factors mentioned above—like dirt, moisture, or, um, cat pee—can compromise your curtains' fabric and cause them to fall apart in the wash.

"Unless you have a simple flat-panel made from pre-shrunk, no-wrinkle fabric, dry-cleaning is the best method." —Katie Brown, owner of Rytina Fine Cleaners

"Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that this will not happen until it's too late," she says. "Unless you have a simple flat-panel made from pre-shrunk, no-wrinkle fabric, dry-cleaning is the best method." Furthermore, while you can sometimes get away with washing many so-called "dry-clean only" garments at home, curtains often have linings, embellishments, and built-in hardware that complicate the DIY washing process.

But if big stains or a profound case of the icks has you reeling—and you just can't wait to get them professionally cleaned—you might still want to take a chance and wash your curtains at home. In general, cotton and polyester curtains are the best candidates for DIY cleaning using the steps below. If you've got drapes made from a specialty fabric, such as silk or fine linen, check the care label and follow those instructions to the letter.

Ready to give your curtains a spa day? Read on for Brown's dos and don'ts.

How to clean curtains at home like a pro in 5 easy steps.


Before you do anything, look at the label and see if there are specific care instructions for your curtains. And, of course, if the label provides directions like "dry-clean only," "hand-wash only," "lay flat to dry," or any other specific method of cleaning, it's best to heed that advice.

2. Prepare your curtains for the washer

Assuming that any cleaning-method information on the curtain's label doesn't preclude you from using the washing machine, Brown recommends that you plan to use that appliance for the main cleaning event but to first prepare the textile with a pre-wash of sorts.

This means you should vacuum or shake off as much dust as you can before washing, so as to ensure that nothing clings to the curtain's fibers as they make their journey to pristine cleanliness. Also, make sure you take off all removable hardware at this point in the curtain-cleaning process. You don't want any hooks snagging your curtains during the spin cycle.


Unless specific instructions from the label you learned in the first step specify otherwise, plan on setting your washing machine to the "delicate" setting, using the lowest heat setting possible and mild detergent. Furthermore, keep the laundry load small, perhaps washing the curtains alone, with nothing else in the mix.

4. Dry your curtains in two parts

Once your curtains have been washed, Brown recommends running them in the dryer—again, assuming the label did not provide for other, specific instructions—on low heat for a few minutes to get any excess drips out. Then, shake them out and hang them to dry. Air-drying will help prevent the curtains from shrinking.

5. Iron the curtainS so they look fresh

Brown recommends pressing the material on a low-heat setting before you restore your curtains back to their rightful place.

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