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How to clean curtains and drapes, according to experts

Experts share their tips for cleaning curtains and drapes, fending off dust and keeping your window coverings looking fresh and new.
"Vacuuming drapes helps to keep pet hair and dust from accumulating and really embedding into the fabric," Michael Silva-Nash told TODAY Home.
"Vacuuming drapes helps to keep pet hair and dust from accumulating and really embedding into the fabric," Michael Silva-Nash told TODAY Home.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

The terms curtains and drapes (sometimes called draperies) are often used interchangeably, and both refer to textile panels that hang from rods and cover windows. But what sets drapes apart is that they have a lining to block light, and tend to hang from ceiling to floor.

Both curtains and drapes need to be cleaned regularly — every two weeks is a good start, but if they're hanging in a bedroom or someone in your home has allergies (or both), a weekly once-over is even better. Note that whether you decide to wash or vacuum them, it's best to give the panels a few shakes outdoors first to remove surface dust or debris, or at least go over them with a clothing brush.

How to clean drapes

Here's a step-by-step guide to cleaning draperies and curtains, according to cleaning experts.

How to vacuum and dust drapes

Short strokes and the upholstery brush are your friend.

Using either a handheld vacuum or your regular vacuum's upholstery nozzle, start from the top and work downwards, using short strokes. "If the material is especially delicate, use the lowest level of suction to avoid tearing or pulling the fabric," Sunny Wang, the global public relations manager for Dreame Technology, a home appliance company headquartered in Suzhou, China, told TODAY Home. Doing this regularly will help protect the material over time. "Vacuuming drapes helps to keep pet hair and dust from accumulating and really embedding into the fabric," said Michael Silva-Nash, vice president of Molly Maid in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Wiping also works.

In a rush or concerned about damaging decorative materials, such as beading? "In a pinch, you can also use a clean, dry microfiber cloth to simply wipe the drapes — the important thing is removing the dust," said Abe Navas, the general manager of Emily's Maids, a house cleaning service in Dallas.

How to launder drapes

Identify the material.

Drapes come in a wide variety of fabrics, such as cotton, linen, velvet, silk and polyester blends. If they still have the care label, start there to see if you can machine-wash them. If you've had your drapes custom-made, you may need to go back to the seller to get more details about how to launder them. In some cases, steam cleaning, hand washing or dry cleaning might be recommended instead. Another option is to seek out a professional drapery cleaner in your area, especially if the drapes or curtains have any water spots or other stains on them.

"For hand washing, a big sink or the bathtub works great for cleaning large items that the washing machine would be too rough on," said Silva-Nash, adding, "Of course, if you want to skip it all — send it to a trusted dry cleaner and let them do the heavy lifting."

Go for the delicate cycle.

Regardless of what the care label says, if you're planning to machine wash your drapes, you'll want to use cool water and the delicate cycle. "Over time, sunlight can weaken fabrics," explained Silva-Nash. A gentle cleaning approach is key, if you want to extend the life of your drapes.

Dry carefully.

To further protect your drapes and prevent shrinking, it’s a good idea to line-dry them instead of putting them in the dryer. But avoid drying delicate fabrics on an outdoor clothesline since strong winds may cause them to snag and tear. If they're looking wrinkled, touch them up with a warm iron or a garment steamer before re-hanging. "If you do put them in the dryer, be sure to check the tag or packaging for care instructions for confirmation, since heat from the dryer can be damaging," said Silva-Nash.

How to steam clean drapes

Follow the manufacturer's instructions for steam cleaning your drapes.

In some cases, you may need to attach a special tool that's specifically made for fabric. As you clean, it's always best to work from top to bottom. Note that certain steamers are not for use on upholstery or curtains. Some drapery fabrics can also be sensitive to the high heat.

Test before proceeding.

To ensure that your steamer won't discolor your fabric, test it on a small, inconspicuous area first (such as the back or the bottom) and allow it to dry.

This article was originally published on May 19, 2021.