How to Care for Vintage Chenille Bedspreads: The Definitive Guide

Based on generations of expertise working with vintage chenille bedspreads, this article aims to share our experiences of what we’ve encountered along the way.

What we’ll cover today:

  • Reflections on working with chenille
  • Vintage fabric, the ultimate storyteller
  • How the environment affects fabric
  • 5 Easy tips to care for vintage chenille
  • All about color bleed on fabric
  • Popular tips to fix color run that people try
  • How to eliminate fabric odor from scented products
  • Stitching it all together

Reflections on caring for vintage chenille bedspreads

No time to read the whole thing? These few reflections summarize key points:

#1- In a battle between a vintage chenille bedspread and an old school washing machine with a central agitator, your washing machine will always win. Always.

#2- Here’s a scent secret: love it or hate it, chenille bedspreads that smell a mile away of one of the popular scented laundry products are often the best preserved you’ll ever see. Because not even a moth or a mouse would dare go near scent that strong.

#3- Never take shortcuts. If you’re going to devote your precious time (not to mention money) into a project, plan ahead and test everything for colorfastness and overall fabric strength.

Tempted to skip that step? Just think of your disappointment if you open the washing machine to find your prized quilt covered in blotchy dye marks or shredded to pieces…or both.

Now, let’s begin…

Vintage Fabric Always Has a Story to Tell

All vintage textiles have various attributes that whisper their story: age spots, pulled threads, color variances, small repairs, etc. These bring authenticity and depth to your project, transforming an ordinary design into one that tells a story all its own.

Even New Old Stock (NOS) vintage chenille can show age-related attributes depending on where and how it was stored. That’s why we seldom describe any vintage fabric as “perfect” – it rarely is.

How the Environment Impacts Vintage Chenille Fabric

Environmental conditions where the vintage fabric was stored can have lasting impacts. Here are some common scenarios and their hazards below – these are not unique to chenille but can affect any fabric from any era if improperly stored or cared for.

  • Damp, humid environments can contribute to fabric weakening and lead to dry rot.
  • Tight, uncontrolled storage like wood trunks & chests can discolor fibers or encourage age spotting.
  • Pests like insects & rodents comprise the integrity of the fabric in many ways: holes, soiling, pulled tufts.
  • Storage near direct or even indirect sunlight can lead to irreversible fabric fade.
  • Use of essential oils or body lotions can break down fibers and totally destroy fabric over time.

5 Easy Tips to Care for Vintage Chenille

  1. Most chenille can be laundered with quality detergent in your washing machine. If delicate (i.e. thin, lightweight or compromised in any way), opt for handwashing instead.
  2. We do not recommend laundering in machines with a central agitator. Delicate vintage fabric can easily catch underneath the agitator and tear. Trust us, we know…
  3. Unless the fabric is quite delicate, chenille can be tumble dried. Dryer balls are a great alternative to dryer sheets, particularly if you’re sensitive to artificial scents. *All chenille will shed lint – sometimes a lot – when dried. Exercise good judgment when laundering fabric with raw edges, which can easily unravel, tangle, and even tear.
  4. Avoid harsh laundry products like bleach & OxyClean, which can strip delicate lurex, dull the color to tufts, or discolor fabric.
  5. If you must iron, first test a discreet area of the fabric from the reverse side using a cool iron to avoid damage.

How to Fix Color Run to Fabric (well, sort of…)

Color run or color bleed isn’t just annoying – it can completely destroy your project. That’s why it merits special discussion.

Most vintage chenille fabrics are not colorfast, particularly reds, bright pinks, indigo blues & other vivid colors. You must take responsibility to fully test your fabric to avoid a devastating experience.

How does color bleed happen, anyway?

Simple, actually… Fabric is often dyed using color pigments, which must be “fixed” to the fabric so it stays vibrant over time. When the color pigments aren’t securely attached, they come in contact with the water in your machine and leech dye, which can then transfer to other items or to another area of the fabric itself.

It’s why your mother always told you to separate out dark and light loads of laundry.

  1. ⚠️ALWAYS color test your fabric FIRST to ensure the color does not run. Do not assemble your project and then test – if you do, you run the risk of unintentional discoloration if the color does bleed.
  2. Test your fabric by dampening a white cloth (you can use plain fabric, a sock, washcloth, etc.). Rub the wet cloth on an inconspicuous area of your fabric. Do you see color on the white cloth? It means the fabric is not colorfast & will run when washed.

Although you can use a product designed to lessen the risk of color run like Shout’s Color Catchers or Carbona’s Color Grabbers, I have never found any single solution to be 100% effective in every situation.

What to do if you already accidentally washed your project and the color ran? Unfortunately there is no straightforward answer. In many cases, the damage is permanent. Even if you’re successful at lifting the color, some residual discoloration may forever remain.

Common tips & solutions to fix color run that you’ll find online:

  • If you want to attempt to lift color bleed, do not allow the fabric to dry because the heat can set dye in permanently.
  • Instead, remove the offending item that caused the problem, and immediately re-wash the affected fabric(s) alone.
  • Try commercially available solutions designed to fix color run. Popular products are Carbona’s Color Run Remover and Rit Dye’s Laundry Treatment Color Remover. Follow package instructions carefully.
  • Thoroughly clean the tub of your washing machine, and if used, the dryer. This will save you the hassle of contaminating the next load of laundry.

Bottom line: when in doubt, test & test again! Vintage fabrics are seldom replaceable; it is always wise to plan out your project carefully and test the fabric ahead of time to ensure positive results.

Eeek…How to get rid of detergent or perfume odor from vintage fabric?

Of all questions we are asked about vintage chenille, the #1 is: How can I eliminate detergent/fabric/perfume odors?

As someone who is extremely sensitive to perfumed scents, I know all too well how frustrating it is.

Here are some comments on specific products as related to vintage chenille fabric, which presents a unique challenge because of the raised tufting.

I’ve found that Febreze is the most difficult if not impossible odor to remove because it really seeps deep into the fibers. Some detergents that are heavily scented like Tide and Gain are also very challenging to rectify.

Fabric softeners present a similar dilemma, because they also dig deep into the fibers – those raised chenille tufts just absorb the chemical scent and again, it can be very difficult to lift.

If a dryer sheet was placed in a closed tote for storage purposes but the chenille bedspread itself was not dried with it, the scent may be easier to alleviate than if the fabric was tumble heat tried.

Bleach scents are actually not that difficult to eliminate – I usually just wash the fabric again using my chosen laundry detergent.

My first step is always to place the item out in the open air on a clothesline. Don’t have one? No worries: I’ve hung many a linen over the porch railing. You can even drape the item out on a chair if the weather is agreeable.

Often I’ll wash, rinse and repeat…literally, using a free & clear detergent:

  • Launder offending item.
  • Tumble dry.
  • Place outdoors again.
  • Repeat.

Other common remedies people try to lift offensive odors include:

  • Soak in a white vinegar and/or baking soda solution.
  • Place in a closed bag or tote with baking soda.
  • Apply an unscented commercial odor eliminator.

Many folks will integrate distilled white vinegar into the laundry cycle by adding 1/4 cup to the rinse cycle. If you stop the cycle and give the fabric an hour or so to soak before finishing it, it’s thought that the vinegar cuts through the residue in the fibers. Some will add an extra rinse cycle to really give the fabric a chance to shed residual detergent molecules.

While you many never be able to fully lift the unpleasant odor caused by scented laundry products, you can usually reduce the potency of the scent over time.

Is it really that hard to care for vintage chenille bedspreads?

If you’ve read this far, you might be asking that obvious question. The short answer is: not at all. Or as we say, if it’s lasted this long, doesn’t that speak to its durability as a fabric?

The aim of this article was to offer some commentary on common dilemmas that we ourselves have faced in the many years we’ve worked with vintage fabrics of all kinds, not just chenille.

Stitching it all together,

It’s truly a privilege to own and work with vintage textiles. They offer a glimpse into history, telling a unique story if you’re willing to “listen” to the whisper of each little fiber.

By following a few smart strategies – like testing your fabric where appropriate for colorfastness – you’ll find that working with vintage fabric can be delightfully rewarding.

From the littlest quilt square to elaborately tufted chenille bedspreads & lovingly handcrafted robes, The Cottage Divine is committed to honoring the legacy of this versatile textile.

Questions? Reach us: