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How to Dust and Deep Clean Your Curtains

Dusty white lace curtains framing a large window.
Christin Lola/Shutterstock.com

Curtains aren’t something most of us think about, or even notice, all that much. However, clean window treatments can go a long way in keeping the rest of your home dust-free. We’ll take a look at how often you should clean your curtains or drapes, as well as how to do it.

Drapes or curtains are probably the most overlooked items in everyone’s cleaning routine. After all, if they’re a dark color or made of heavier fabric, it can be tough to see any dirt or stains. That doesn’t mean they’re not there, however.

Cleaning your curtains can seem like a big job, but we’ve got some tips and a few product recs that’ll help you knock out this chore in no time.

How and When to “Dust” Your Curtains

A stick vacuum standing on the floor; a woman using a stick vacuum above a window
Black + Decker

Curtains often don’t show the effects of wear as much as some of the other surfaces in your home. Plus, as they’re usually backlit by daylight, so it’s easier to overlook them or make them look cleaner than they actually are.

While it’s true that most curtains or drapes don’t require much upkeep, they do need to be cleaned regularly. Otherwise, they can trap dust, dander, hair, and other pollutants that not only look unappealing, but also affect the air quality in your home.

There are two types of cleaning curtains typically need: a regular dusting and a deep clean. Dusting is the simpler of the two, but it also should be done more often. Luckily, all you need is a vacuum!

Every time you vacuum (which is generally once or twice a week for most folks), you can use the extension hose attachment to vacuum your curtains, as well. This will take care of most of the dust and prevent a massive buildup that you’ll have to deal with later.

By far, the easiest type of vacuum to use for this is a cordless, lightweight model. We like Black + Decker’s Powerseries Extreme Stick Vac because it doesn’t have a cord for your curtains (or you) to get tangled up in. It also doesn’t have a bunch of heavy parts you’ll have to wrangle with. The long, narrow shape also makes it much easier to reach high, vertical surfaces.

Whatever vacuum you use, simply run the attachment over the surface of each curtain. Do so as gently as you can, and start out slowly until you get a feel for how strong the suction is.

Figuring Out How to Deep Clean Your Curtains

Even with regular vacuuming, your curtains will need a deep clean every three to six months or so. It will depend on how dusty your home tends to get, as well as any other factors (like pet hair) you have to deal with.

If you have a lot of curtains, you might want to rotate the cleaning schedule by room or floor. For example, if you have a two-story home, might want to deep clean the downstairs curtains in spring, and the upstairs in fall.

There are several ways you can tackle deep cleaning your curtains. You can have a professional service come and do it or, if your window treatments are dry clean only, you can just drop them off.

The most important thing to do before you deep clean your window treatments is to check their fabric care tags. Those instructions should always be followed, or you risk damaging your window treatments.

Below are some other things you’ll want to consider before deep cleaning your drapes:

  • What material are they made of?
  • Do they have any extra detailing (embroidery, beading, lace, fringe, and so on)?
  • Does the tag say they’re machine washable?
  • Is your washing machine large enough to wash them without damaging them?
  • Are you comfortable with handwashing, and if so, do you have enough space to do so?

If your curtains are made of heavy and/or delicate materials, are bulky, have embellishments, or just aren’t very clearly washable, you’ll need to call in the professionals.

However, if you’d rather do it yourself, there are a few ways you can go about it depending on the type of curtains you have.

How to Machine Wash Your Curtains

A curtain drying on a rack on a balcony.

Before you deep clean your curtains, start by checking the care label to ensure they’re machine washable. If they are, and they aren’t too bulky, you might be able to wash them in your washing machine if it’s large enough.

The key to getting a good wash without damaging your curtains is to use the gentlest cycle, detergent, and water temperature. Curtains are bulky, but they can be surprisingly sensitive to laundering, so it’s important to take every precaution. This will help ensure they won’t fray, fade, or stretch.

Tip: Avoid using fabric softener when washing curtains or drapes, as it can leave a residue behind and cause them to attract more dust.

For most machine-washable curtains, you can follow these general steps:

  1. Set your machine on its most delicate cycle and cold water setting.
  2. Add a gentle laundry detergent to the water and let it dissolve.
  3. Carefully put your curtains in the machine, being careful not to overfill it (you might have to do several loads, depending on how many curtains you have), and let the cycle run.
  4. Hang them on a line or place them on a drying rack to air-dry.
  5. If the care label permits, you can use an iron on a low setting or a steamer to remove any wrinkles before rehanging.

Amazon Basics Folding Laundry Rack

A drying rack works if you don't have a clothesline.

How to Handwash Your Curtains

A plastic tub with laundry submerged in water; a person holding up a plastic washing tub

Even if your curtains themselves are technically washable, there’s a strong possibility your washing machine won’t be able to handle their bulk. You can load them up for a trip to the laundromat and use one of those industrial-size washing machines. Or, you might be able to wash them at home in a large washing tub, bucket, or your bathtub.

SAMMART Collapsible Portable Washing Tub

Plenty of space to soak and wash curtains.

Follow these steps to handwash your curtains:

  1. Remove your curtains from the rod.
  2. Fill a large tub with cool to tepid water.
  3. Dissolve a small amount of your preferred laundry detergent.
  4. Submerge the curtains completely and let them soak for about 15 minutes.
  5. Drain the soapy water from the tub.
  6. Rinse the curtains in clean water.
  7. Squeeze out as much excess water as you can, but don’t wring the fabric tightly, as that can damage the fibers.
  8. Hang or line-dry your curtains.
  9. If the care label permits, you can use an iron on a low setting or a steamer to remove any wrinkles before re-hanging.

Tide Free & Gentle Laundry Detergent

Use gentle, unscented detergent for your curtains.

How to Steam Clean Your Curtains

A man putting on a suit jacket with a steam cleaner and drapes behind him and a woman doing laundry with a steam cleaner standing in a corner next to her.
Pure Enrichment

Steam cleaning is one of the most popular ways to clean curtains and drapes, especially if they’re made of heavier materials, like velvet or brocade. It’s a lot easier than machine or handwashing them, too, because you don’t even have to take them off the rods to clean them.

Again, though, you’ll want to check the fabric care instructions first, as some materials are more heat-sensitive than others. To use this method, you’ll obviously need a good steam cleaner. Your best bet is to find a powerful model with a hose that allows you to reach high places.

We like the PureSteam by Pure Enrichment. Not only does it sanitize fabrics and get rid of any pests, like dust mites, but it’s also super affordable (under $70 at this writing). It even comes with a garment hanger for easy de-wrinkling of clothing.

Once you have your steam cleaner ready to go, just follow this process:

  1. Fill the steam cleaner tank and heat it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Starting at the top and working down, apply steam to the drapes according to the manufacturer’s instructions for the machine. Generally, you’ll want to hold the nozzle at least six inches away from the fabric at all times.
  3. Hold the nozzle upright as you work so the dirty condensation runs down into the machine.
  4. Don’t forget to do the opposite side of each panel, if possible.
  5. If it’s not overly windy outside, open the window to allow the air to circulate better and to dry any dampness left behind by the steamer.

It’s easy to overlook them, but clean curtains play a major role in keeping your home and its air clean. Armed with these instructions, though, your curtains will always look their best and can help your home stay allergen- and dust-free.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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